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Connected Communities Fund – Middle Barton Bowls Club: Combating Loneliness, One Bowl at a Time

As Middle Barton Bowls Club celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, the century-old institution received a boost from the Connected Community Fund to help sustain its vital role in bringing people together and combating social isolation.

Founded in 1923, the club has become far more than just a sporting venue over the decades. As club captain Bob poignantly stated, “Without the club, people would suffer, lots of people are lonely.” One longtime attendee who has lived in the area her whole life summed it up: “This has become my community; we are more or less a family here.”

The Fund provided support that allowed the club to enhance its accessibility and extend an inclusive welcome to members of all abilities. Signs were installed to help those unfamiliar with the area locate the facility more easily. Funds also covered advertising and catering for open day events aimed at attracting new members to join the tight-knit bowls community.

But perhaps most impactfully, the grants facilitated purchases of specialised equipment to enable players with mobility or vision challenges to keep participating in the sport they love. Ball lifters allow those unable to bend over to continue bowling. Coloured mats increase visibility for those with fading eyesight. And customised folding walking sticks let members with hip, knee or other issues navigate the green safely.

Peter, the club’s safeguarding lead, summarised the club’s profound impact: “It is an antidote to loneliness.” The club welcomes all ages from teenagers to over ninety-year-olds, who bundle up to play indoors even in the winter months.

Stories exemplifying the club’s community benefits abound. A couple facing mobility and health struggles found their overall fitness improving after joining, to the point they could manage a steep hill walk they previously couldn’t. Members undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer or grief after a loss find solace in the support and camaraderie. As one member shared, “This sport offers friendship and somewhere they can be part of a team and club.”

With an ethos of inclusivity, Middle Barton Bowls Club has spent a century bringing locals together across generations. Thanks to the Connected Community Fund, this unique space helping to combat loneliness can continue that mission.

For more information about Middle Barton Bowls Club follow the link:

Written by Jaime Hewett

OCVA Development Officer

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Connected Communities Fund Project Visit – The Harwellian

I travelled from North Oxfordshire to the Vale of White Horse to visit The Harwellian, a sports and social club in Harwell which also acts as a vibrant community hub and home to a weekly Warm Space Café and a monthly Music for Memories café and music session for those with dementia and their carers. I was greeted with a lovely welcome, and a much needed cup of tea and slice of cake by Debbie the Chair. The café is run jointly with church and community volunteers who greet people and chat and ensure everyone has refreshments. Carol, the busy volunteer for the day said she ‘likes to help, meet people and socialise’ and recognises the importance of the café to give people mental stimulation through playing games and by providing company for those who would otherwise feel isolated.

The atmosphere was lively and very friendly at the café and I was so glad that the Connected Communities Fund (CCF) was able to provide support to run both initiatives to employ a staff member, purchase games and provide the food and drink for everyone who attends the Warm Space Café and fund entertainment at the Music for Memories café. Debbie shared that the funds are vital for keeping the cafes going, without them the club would have to keep fundraising, increasing the burden on volunteers.

Music for Memories is a closed session for those with dementia and their carers and a different music act is booked each month to sing, play instruments and tell a few stories, encouraging people to sing along and dance in the aisles! Some participants go to the Music for Memories café and also attend the warm space. In a few cases the cafes have provided an introduction to The Harwellian so that people feel confident to come and enjoy company at the club outside of the arranged sessions.

The café is also more than a social space and has hosted an advice session, talks, information from draught busters about how to stay warm in winter, a visit from a social housing provider, ear checks and games for everyone to enjoy – a table of ladies were playing scrabble the day I visited.

One attendee makes sure her lifts to visit her husband in hospital are timed so she can come to the café. Some walk, one person came in a mobility scooter and others drive from further a field. The café attracts older members of the community, refugees, some with dementia and carers and sometimes parents or grandparents and children, creating a lovely mix of people.

It’s clear that people love the café and were eager to tell me why they come, “They make us feel so welcome and nothing is too much”, “It’s a laugh and a slice of cake”, “Nice to see the same faces”, “A lovely environment”, and “A place to meet close friends as well as new people.” It’s a welcome oasis for many who have lost partners and/or who live on their own. One lady shared that it’s a friendly group where everyone is approachable, “It’s like a second home, where I feel safe.” Others said, “I live in the middle of nowhere and no one comes to visit, it’s important to come and meet others, otherwise it’s just the tv for company”, and “I’m quite isolated because its all young people where I live and I have no family.”

Four months ago, two friends began talking to a lady and her carer at the café, and now, “They always look out for us when they come.” New friends are made and say goodbye as if they’ve known each other for years, showing that, the Warm Space Café is a place where new friends become old friends and everyone receives a very ‘warm welcome.’

Written By Lisa Stead, Project Development Manager

Community First Oxfordshire

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