We interview the new BTBA Chair Lisa John

We interview the new BTBA Chair Lisa John

“I really want to inspire more people to get involved and as probably the youngest chairperson of our association, I hope that this will go some way to showing people that it’s good to get involved.”

The BTBA were pleased yesterday to announce that Lisa John has been appointed as the new Chairperson of the National Governing Body. Lisa has pretty much done and won it all in what seems like a long career already in the sport which started in junior bowling and continued through adulthood with her winning major events and medals across the World for Team England.

In 2015 she was recognized for her achievements on the lanes and inducted into the UK Tenpin Hall of Fame. In recent years she has stepped back off the lanes but stepped up with the Association and now takes on the leader role. We jumped at the chance to speak to a bowling legend and someone who already has the respect needed at what has become a time of crisis in the World and in our Sport.

Congratulations on your new appointment Lisa and officially the first UK Tenpin Hall of Famer to lead the association.  You take the chairperson spot in a time of great uncertainty, Is Covid 19 and possible return to bowling the top priority at the moment?

Most definitely!  Martin Webster has been working very closely with the TBPA and supporting them in their bid to get us all back on the lanes.  Having said that, we need to be patient and make sure that we do everything at the right time.  I know that some countries opened their bowling centres quite early and have been shutdown again.  We don’t want that to happen here so we have to know that we are doing things at the right time.  Bowlers’ safety must be a priority and the TBPA are making sure that they have all the possible safety measures in place to protect us before we get back on the lanes.  Personally, I can’t wait to get back out there!

The BTBA have been in various video meetings with the Tenpin Bowling Proprietors Association about a return to the lanes, how will the association adapt to social distancing in leagues and tournaments until such time as pre covid19 normal comes back?

That’s an impossible question to answer right now.  There will not be a ‘one size fits all’ for leagues and tournaments and each proprietor will probably have a slightly different opinion on how this might work.  Our league and tournament bowlers will have to work with the centres and proprietors to find that common ground.  It is going to be a testing time for everyone so we will all need to be patient and work together.

Lockdown did not mean the BTBA stopped working, what things has the association been discussing and implementing in the downtime?

You’re right, we didn’t stop working.  Martin was constantly in touch with the TBPA as we have already mentioned and Terry Searle was in contact with organisations such as Sport England and the Sport & Recreation Alliance.  Personally, I have been working on how I would like the association to look if/when I took over as Chairman and the various changes that I would like to make.  A copy of the document that I prepared will be available on the BTBA website shortly.  We also had a lot of work to do in preparation for the AGM and this took up a lot of time for our Executive Council.

Our Sport before the lockdown was suffering with lower membership numbers and less places to play, are you confident we can consolidate numbers now and start to regrow and make stronger tenpin bowling in England even while our hands tied behind our backs at the moment?

I really hope so, yes.  Everyone is really struggling with the unknown at the moment and we need to work together and get everyone to buy in to the association and appreciate that we are trying to make bowling a better place for our members and improve our membership benefits.  We will be reaching out to Local Associations to help us grow the association as they are our closest link to those potential new members.

It was announced a few months ago that Team England would not be sending squads to international  events in the coming year or so. Given what has happened in 2020 this looks an inspired and lucky move. It maybe that very little international bowling is upcoming for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. As an international player yourself, I guess you want Team England back as soon as possible but stronger than before?

The decision to not send Team England to any World Events for 2 years was not one that we took lightly but it was one that I supported.  The financial situation of the Association has been really suffering as costs to send our teams overseas kept increasing year on year.  We just couldn’t afford to keep up that level of spending and it isn’t fair on our general membership to spend so much of our income on a small percentage of members.  The plan when we discussed it, in my mind, was to use the 2 years to work on a new Team England regime which could help boost their funding from within and I know our Head of Team England, Chris Hillman, has been talking with some of our bowlers to see how this might look and work for us.  I’m looking forward to the ideas that they will be putting forward so that we can get Team England back where they belong.

Another recent announcement was Junior Bowling taken back under the wing of the BTBA and re-named. What was the reasoning for this change?

When the previous Chairman of the NAYBC resigned from his position, we felt that it was a good time to ‘re-brand’ Junior Bowling and give it a new look and feel.  Personally, I felt that the structure the old NAYBC had wasn’t working for us anymore and had become a bit stale.  The shake up has injected new enthusiasm into the Youth Bowling England committee and we have a great group representing our Junior bowlers again, who will be working cohesively to deliver the best service to the future of our sport.

If we had a poll for the most popular BTBA Chairperson ever, you would win hands down. A much liked, loved, decorated and respected person in our sport. How do you aim to stay at the top in one of the most difficult and sometimes thankless tasks of stepping up to be counted as the leader of the association?

Haha, thanks!  I’m actually really excited about the role that I’m taking on.  I know it can appear to be a bit of a poisoned chalice but I want to dispel that myth and prove to people that leading the association that looks after the sport we love, isn’t such a drag after all.  I really want to inspire more people to get involved and as probably the youngest chairperson of our association, I hope that this will go some way to showing people that it’s good to get involved.  I’ve loved working as the Director of Membership Services and looking after our members…this seemed like the natural next step for me.  I’ve introduced a couple of new roles within the organisational structure and I really hope that we can get some new faces involved over the next couple of years.  I love our sport and I love the people that work to try and make it better day in day out.

Now more than ever bowlers have a role to play in the survival of bowling in the UK. Some may not want to pay their membership with no bowling going on and some may moan about a rebate from 2020. What can you say to our fellow bowlers at this point in time about supporting the BTBA into 2021 and beyond?

I’ve had a lot of people asking me if we will be extending memberships or reducing our membership fees for next year because of the Coronavirus but unfortunately, we cannot afford to do it.  Since the lockdown started, we have had less than 100 members renew their membership.  As you can imagine this has taken a huge toll on the financial situation of the association.  If we were to extend memberships to cover the 3 or 4 months that play has been suspended, the association would not survive as we still have outgoings that we need to pay.

You’re right, now more than ever we need our bowlers to support our association and keep us going so that when play does resume we can provide the best possible service to them.  Covid-19 has thrown us a real curveball and dealing with it is something that none of us could have predicted.  We need to be working together and supporting each other over the coming year.  I’m a bowler and a member too and I truly understand how our members are feeling.  The next year is going to be tough for all of us and I hope that I can lead from the front and others will follow.

In these exceptional circumstances, would it be right to even think the BTBA membership might actually need to increase the membership price to at least £50 a year?

We know that our membership fees are low in comparison to other sports who offer less for higher fees and we have a lot of discussions about the cost of memberships each year.  I’m caught between a bit of a rock and a hard place with this one to be honest.  I know that increasing memberships would help our association get back on track but I know that we would receive a lot of bad feeling from our members who are really important to me and the association.  It is a really difficult situation and I know that over the coming years we will need to increase membership prices, but right now we have frozen them for a year as a goodwill gesture to our members.

Finally Lisa, I think I speak for many in wishing you success in your new role and excitement at someone who has lived the bowling life from junior to adulthood taking on the top job at a young age. The initial response to the announcement of your position is already giving the BTBA Facebook page its best post numbers for years haha.

Haha, thank you very much.  As I’ve said before I am really excited about this new role.  I know it is going to be a challenge but I love a challenge ?