Brentwood bowls club closure leaves future of picturesque building in doubt

A long-standing bowls club in Brentwood has folded after 22 years – leaving in doubt what may be put in its place.

Picturesque Hutton Poplars Bowls Club will close for good at the end of the 2023 season after the club announced it would not have enough members to continue.

The club had been told it had to vacate its clubhouse and could not get support from the 30 members the council had insisted on in order for it to get council assistance.

Brentwood Borough Council have already received interest from a national nursery operator to take a commercial lease of Hutton Poplars Lodge which the club was using for its toilet and kitchen facilities. Finding a new tenant has become acutely important after a burst pipe on New Year’s Day 2023 caused extensive flooding through the building.

However, the council said it was reluctant to pay for the £10,000 a year costs of maintaining the green despite no bowls being played on it and said it would look at all alternatives for the site as options came to it.

Councillor Keith Barber (Con, Hutton North) said at a Finance, Assets, Investment and Recovery Committee on September 13: “I would actually want to to seek some kind of guarantee or commitment from the council and the administration that we will recognise the fact that that bowling green is a community facility.

“It was gifted by the builders of the estate to Brentwood Borough Council as a community facility and that should persist and I think there will be some residents within the local area there who will be quite concerned that that may be looked at purely in terms of development opportunity.

“And I would want to make sure that that does not happen and that we look at maintaining that for the community.”

Chairman of the committee Councillor David Kendall said: Kendall there will be a full review of the options in terms of what happens with that. We’re not going to start that debate or discussion now, it’s not the right time because the bowls club has just folded. So I think let’s get to grips with that.

“But in due course, we will look at that there will obviously be options and choices going forward.”

The Bowls Club was started in 1991 – on part of the site of the Residential Children’s Home which was opened in 1907 by George Lansbury chairman of the board of Guardians operating in the London Borough of Poplar – 25 years before he would become leader of the Labour Party.

The administration of the home was eventually passed to Hackney Borough Council and closed in 1982 when the site passed to Essex County Council and was sold for housing redevelopment.

The green itself was constructed by the builders of the new estate and provided for a main bowling green but with a public rink to encourage other local community groups to use it. The club was formed in 1991 with an initial membership of 130.

A spokesperson from the bowls club said: “Over the years the club has thrived although in recent years membership started to fall and in 2021 Brentwood Borough Council informed the club that it would no longer support it with access to Hutton Lodge or with greenkeeping services. They did, however, agree that the club could continue provided it was entirely self-funding which would include the erection of a new pavilion to include kitchen and toilet facilities along with changing rooms and a meeting room.

“The costs were prohibitive to the club and despite the recent change in administration at Brentwood Council along with a more supportive approach to maintaining the site, the membership had dwindled further due to the lack of a certain future for its bowlers and the decision was taken in September 2023 to close the club.

“Hutton Poplars Bowls Club has been the heartbeat of the summer season for those who enjoyed its fun and friendly atmosphere but sadly it is time to seek a new home for those who wish to continue playing this sport – one of the few sports that young and old can play on equal terms.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter