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HEATHER HOUSE: Bowls club can no longer play due to community centre closure

Friday 27th May 2022

A BOWLS club dating back nearly 40 years can no longer play due to the closure of a much-loved community centre in Park Wood.

Lakeside Short Mat Bowls Club, founded in 1983, has not been able to meet at Heather House for more than two years.

Chairman Veronica Harris (87) claims members were told by Maidstone Borough Council that they would be able to continue meeting at Heather House until the new building was built next door.

But the group says they have received “unreasonable treatment” from council officers who have ignored their pleas to access the building as normal.

Mrs Harris argues the uncertain future has had a massive impact on the members’ mental health.

She said: “The members have told me that the club kept them young and they are really missing the company, atmosphere and exercise. They feel they are saying goodbye to 39 years of sport and friendship.

“It gave them purpose. Some have lost their wives and husbands so meeting friends for a couple hours a week gave them an incentive to go out.”

Secretary John Tong (82) said: “The council invited users of the hall to attend a Skype meeting in July 2020 where they point blank told us we could continue using the hall whilst they built the new community centre next door.

“We thought this was encouraging news and as soon as the government restrictions ended, we were so excited to go back. Four other bowls clubs who used the hall have now suffered the same fate. The council officers should be ashamed and we feel completely let down.”

Thousands of pounds worth of equipment also remains locked in a cupboard at the hall.

An MBC spokesman said: "Unfortunately Heather House no longer has a full-time caretaker and It was therefore the decision of the Council to close the venue to hirers. Maidstone Borough Council understands that this is disappointing for former and would-be hirers, but is currently unable to provide regular access, supervise visitors or cleaning of the premises. 

"The Council is pursuing the redevelopment of the site and dependent on obtaining planning permission targeted currently for June 2022, construction of the new development is hoped to commence January 2023. It is envisaged there will be a 15 month build programme, with practical completion estimated for May 2024."