COVID-19 Pandemic – We speak to the Tenpin Bowling Proprietors Association

Things were ticking over quite nicely in 2019. Bowling was more popular than ever and streams of people were giving the large chains and others some great profit figures. Lots of new centres were still being announced and opened and the future was looking bright. 2020 comes along and destroys the progress in one foul swoop.
 
Six weeks or so after the industry was halted in the UK. We start to talk about how bowling can re-open again and how that may look. Social distancing measures are a certainty but what might that look like? We took the chance to speak with the TBPA general secretary Gary Brimble about the current crisis and going forwards.

 

Not in the almost 60 years of the Tenpin Bowling Proprietors Association have we had a crisis like this. The Industry has and still is taking a massive hit. How has the six weeks been for you in dealing with and informing the TBPA members on almost a daily basis and what plans are you working on for a possible future re-opening of the Industry in the UK?

We have not faced a situation like this and since the closure the TBPA have been focused on informing our industry on all the measures available to help them come through this period of uncertainty. UK Hospitality and BALPPA have been a great source of information and I have had regular, almost daily, updates for members. Initially, to save jobs through the Coronavirus Grant Scheme and the Job Retention Scheme both of which have been vital. Sadly the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme(CBILS) has been of no practical use and I have many tell me they have been refused access to the scheme and am not aware of anyone who has been successful. All businesses will need more support in order to survive and soon.

We have been lobbying constituency MP’s and the chancellor to fix CBILS and to extend the grant scheme to all businesses in our sector as most operate from large premises with a rateable value that exceeds the current criteria.

Planning to re-open is challenging due to the uncertainty of how and when the lockdown will be relaxed.

Nevertheless, we have a policy to help centres operate as soon as the restrictions allow. This is currently being reviewed by the Executive and membership.

The reality is that until we have some solid information from the government it is difficult to plan ahead. The industry will need more support while closed. We will need continued support during the re-opening transition period until all restrictions are lifted.

There cannot be a “One size solution fits all” in bowling centres with them all being different layouts and sizes. Is it correct to think the TBPA role in this will be to gather all eventualities and have some kind of solution or plan for each. This is obviously hard with so many unknowns I guess?

We have a“Best Practice” for operating in the pandemic transition period that is adaptable to different layouts. The real issue is that it may be that centres are going to run at 30% – 40% capacity and for many this will not be viable. Especially if support is lifted for businesses that are partially open.

It is very difficult to see normality soon and when bowling centres open it will be trying to operate with your arms tied. It is particularly frustrating as bowling was as popular as ever and chains were recording good profits. In the old days when business was slack it was the sport side that was able to guarantee some regular income. Given this pandemic, the sport side is likely to struggle to operate as it has over two lanes in competition in centres. If the sport side can also arrange and implement safe social distancing measures do you see a way the sport could actually survive also or will they simply just be able to come like social bowlers and bowl for practice?

Working on the assumption that this virus is not going disappear overnight, I envisage family groups being among the first allowed into our centres as lockdown is relaxed. League and tournament play will be further down the line but the sport will prevail. Bowlers should take advantage of the opportunity to keep active and bring their families for some social bowling. It’s a whole new experience and I think they will enjoy it! But seriously, until we have more certainty your guess is as good as mine.

This is not going to be easy for anyone in the industry and if anything a chance for the TBPA and BTBA to work together to come through this stronger for the future. It’s fair to say the Industry and Sport have not always seen eye to eye and we could talk for hours about why. With the 60th Anniversary for both associations coming up, is now the time to unite and grow in new ways again?

I think there are always going to be different points of view here and that is healthy but we have enjoyed a good relationship with the BTBA for some years now. Indeed, Martin Webster has attended and participated in most of our meetings over the past 3 years. In fact, only yesterday did I contact Martin asking for his help in making the case for bowling centres to re-open as soon as it is safe to do so.

It is a real concern that we are not considered as being the same environment as smaller pubs, restaurants or cinemas and theatres.

We would all welcome some certainty from the government to allow us to plan a route through this crisis.

What can bowlers do to help the industry survive?

Bowlers can help by making regular visits as soon as restrictions allow and help staff by exercising common sense and setting a good example to the casual visitor.

It would also be helpful if you would contact your local MP when you feel the time is right and ask for your local centre to be allowed to open. You can do this by email, my MP receives messages daily from me and always responds.

We will be checking back with Gary as announcements are made but you can follow all the industry news on the Go Tenpin Facebook page here

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