Stoke Mandeville - Birthplace Of The Paralympics Is Losing It's Faciltiy For Wheelchair Bowlers

SM Bowls Centre

5:52am 8th June 2011
(Updated 10:23am 8th June 2011)

Buckinghamshire, world famous for being home to the start of the Paralympic Games - is about to lose one it's facilities for disabled competitors.

Officials at the home of Wheelchair Sport at Stoke Mandeville are closing the indoor bowls hall after this coming Christmas, and depriving members of the British Wheelchair Bowls Association of the home they have occupied since 1974.

The British Wheelchair Sports Foundation (BWSF) - now known as ‘Wheelpower’ – have decreed that the facility is too costly, and have plans to convert the building into something more profitable.

The closure will effectively be the death-knell for the able-bodied Stoke Mandeville Indoor Bowls Club, who are based there, and will cause problems for the Britain’s top wheelchair bowlers.

Ian Blackmore, the chairman of the BWBA told Mix 96, "It’s a sad day for us, because bowls has been an ever-present sport at Stoke Mandeville since the late 1940’s, when Dr Ludwig Guttmann pioneered the idea that sport could be part of the rehabilitation process for people who have suffered spinal injuries.

To be honest, we consider Wheelpower’s figures to be suspect, but they apparently made their decision as long ago as last November, and kept quiet about it until April".

Mr Blackmore added "The decision is all the more questionable because it comes in the year leading up to the Paralympic Games. Some of our members are 'dismayed, angry and bewildered' and some of them, who have been members for twenty years or more, and are normally mild-mannered individuals, are ' incandescent, and ready to man the barricades. It has come as a tremendous blow.'"

The Stoke Mandeville Stadium was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1969, and was the birthplace of the Paralympic Games, at which BWBA members have won numerous medals over the years.

Martin McElhatton, Chief Executive of WheelPower, the national charity for wheelchair sport said "Unfortunately due to reducing membership of Bowls and increased costs of utilities the building is no longer viable as a Bowls Centre.  The WheelPower Board is discussing alternative uses which will contribute to the financial sustainability of Stoke Mandeville Stadium and continue to provide excellent facilities for disabled sport and the local community."

Mr McElhatton added "We appreciate this will be disappointing news to members of the local indoor bowls club and the British Wheelchair Bowls Association who use the facility currently.  WheelPower will be working with local authorities to help facilitate the bowlers at alternative clubs locally.

In these tough economic times WheelPower has had to take this action as neither the charity or Stoke Mandeville Stadium can sustain continued losses within this area of the business."

Listen here for the full interview with Mr Blackmore:

 

To read more about Wheelpower, click HERE

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