After being in the red, a blue green celebrates silver


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Dunedin lawn Bowls Stadium 25th Jubilee Tournament

Two weeks ago, the Dunedin Lawn Bowls Stadium celebrated its 25th silver jubilee.

That’s quite young in lawn bowls terms.  Bowlers don’t get to go to many club 25th birthdays.  In fact, reading the Queen’s telegram is more common at club anniversaries.

But back in the early 1990s, a group of passionate Dunedin bowlers got together to hear what a returning ex-pat, Pat O’Dea, had discovered about indoor stadiums in Hong Kong.  Chaired by Maurice Friend, the group (including Keith Ellwood, Neil Williams, Colin McKenzie and Ernie Andrews), caught Pat’s enthusiasm and resolved to build New Zealand’s first purpose-built lawn bowls stadium - so that their favourite sport could continue to be played during Dunedin’s winter.

Such was the passion for the project that the meeting resolved to go ahead with the build on the assumption of ‘build it and they will come’ ... not only will the people come, but the money will also come for the build as well.

Keith Ellwood became the driving force for the new stadium.  It would effectively be a whole lawn bowls facility - a full-sized bowling green, two lounges, a bar, a kitchen, and toilets – sheltering from the Otago winter.  In other words, everything that make a bowling club a bowling club.

The people came.  But the money not so much.

“The stadium opened in 1995,” recalls current Stadium Vice President, John Latimer.  “It was profitable, but not profitable enough to meet the promised debt repayment schedule.  There were banks, councils, corporates and debenture holders wanting their money.”

The situation culminated in a meeting in 2002 at which 138 stakeholders attended.

“Under the guidance of Alan Nichols from Sport Otago and Paddy O'Neill from the Stadium, the idea of running the stadium with volunteers rather than paid professionals was developed, so that the stadium could use the savings to meet its debt obligations totalling $1,382,000.”

The model worked fabulously.

“As of last week, the only debt outstanding is $100,000 to individual debenture holders and $36,000 to club debenture holders.  And we expect to repay that quickly.”

It’s quite a turnaround.  But it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat … and tears.


Life Members Daphne Hynes cuts the jubilee cake watched by Jean Shelton


However, all that was put behind them at the recent jubilee dinner that saw 75 stadium supporters celebrate this wonderful lawn bowls facility in Dunedin … which even after 25 years still scrubs up as something special.

“The green may now be blue,” laughs Latimer (the original green carpet was replaced with a blue carpet some 4 or 5 years ago). “and the 600 fluorescent tubes have now been replaced with LEDs (we used to have to change 200 tubes every year!), but the stadium still feels as new as on day one.”

“The goal now is to get the facility better utilised over summer.”

That mightn’t necessarily be for lawn bowlers, because Dunedin lawn bowlers (like most of New Zealand’s lawn bowlers) still like to feel the sun on their backs … rolling up on an outdoor grass green during the long summer days.

But there’s a heap of other opportunities for community use of the stadium to not only take advantage of the full-sized 36.6 metre x 36.6 metre ‘blue’, but the lounge, kitchen and bar as well.

“The place is used for birthdays, anniversaries, wedding receptions, floral art displays Christmas corporate functions and numerous other activities as well as providing a safe space for community groups to be introduced to the game of bowls” says Latimer.

“We are one of the few bowling clubs in New Zealand with a charitable status,” Latimer adds.  “That means that we’re recognised for providing a charitable service to the Dunedin community, which in turn gives us a headstart when it comes to raising community and grant money.”

What also gives the stadium a headstart is the sweat equity that numerous volunteers have invested in the stadium over the years. There is no doubt this is what saved the Stadium.

“The time and effort put in by everyone, coupled with 90% of our debt being repaid, has emboldened us to think about the next 25 years,” says Latimer.  “And we’ve got some great plans currently being worked on  for the future.”

Watch this space.