Thetford's last bowls club GW Staniforth fears rent rise could kill club
Members of the last bowls club in Thetford say they are worried the threat of a potential rent hike - from hundreds to thousands of pounds - could end them.
The G.W. Staniforth Bowls Club, which was established in 1951, plays in King's House Gardens and has around 55 members, has been told their annual rent of £300 could be rising to around £3,950.
At a meeting of The Staniforth Trust, landlords of the gardens, a majority voted to offer the club a new lease at a market rent decided upon by its property advisers and in line with the terms offered to the trust’s other tenants.
The club’s previous lease expired during Covid and a 12 month licence at £300 a year was granted to keep the bowls club going, with the aim that a longer term lease could be agreed upon once it returned to ‘normal’ times.
But John Wright, club secretary, said: "We are only just recovering from Covid both as a club and individually – the financial reality is subs would need go up from £50 to £150 a year.
"With a cost-of-living crisis, this is completely unfeasible. We expected a rise – but this seems punitive.
"The town used to have four bowls club, but now we are the last. If we fold Thetford would be the biggest town in England without a bowling green - after 71 years and having one of the best greens in the county, it would be such a loss."
Terry Lamb, a previous club chairman and one of its three trustees, echoed the thoughts of Mr Wright but also felt with the town expanding, with the Kingsfleet Development that could could see 5,000 more homes added, facilities like this should be preserved not lost.
He added: "It is essential we have a facility like this, one of the gripes of the town is that we lack sports facilities for people, this rise will be another nail in the coffin.
"We are a team in the premier league of Norfolk, a top club, so to potentially lose one of the sporting success stories of Thetford just seems crazy thing to me.
"We understand we have been very fortunate with our rent for a number of years, so I hope something can be done to come to some sort of arrangement that will help us carry on."
The Staniforth Trust was formed after town resident George W. Staniforth, left King’s House and Gardens to the Borough of Thetford in 1946.
Its objectives are to preserve and maintain the house and the gardens for the benefit of Thetfordians.
Cllr Stuart Wright, trust chairman, said though he was personally mindful of the club's heritage and the amenity value it offers, the trustees needed to consider the long term financial viability of the trust.
He said: "From a personal viewpoint I would like the bowls club to come to an agreeable amount that allows the club to continue.
"However at this juncture, the trustees have made the decision to offer a full market lease. I am unable to say whether the majority of the trustees would be willing to agree to a lesser amount."
The club, that pays for all upkeep of the green as well as clubhouse repairs, says it will be appealing the decision and hopes for an emergency meeting to take place soon to come to some agreement over a rent rise.