The struggling Balmain Bowling Club is set to pin its hopes on a much younger crowd as talks progress to lease out part of its premises for a childcare centre, despite strong opposition from some members.
The smaller of the 135-year-old club’s two bowling greens will be leased to childcare provider My Stepping Stones, which currently operates childcare centres in Leichhardt and Haberfield, following a decision by the club’s board just before last Christmas. The move has been cast as a lifeline for the club, which is under financial pressure.
The plan would involve the construction of a 270 square metre single level building, and include on-site parking.
The proposal is still being fleshed out by My Stepping Stones in response to feedback from club members and the council, but club secretary Tim Waygood is hopeful the parties can work together.
“This is a group of very professional people and they are going to do all the upfront work with council,” said Mr Waygood.
But while the board voted for the lease in December, and a motion was passed by members at an extraordinary general meeting last February, some members feel they were not adequately consulted.
Many members opposed to the lease said they did not receive notification of the meeting where the issue was to be debated. Only 40 out of 368 financial members attended. Some said the club did not clearly state the meeting’s agenda in notices they did see.
The Inner West Independent has also been told that the talks may lead to the club’s closure, as the plan may require a dividing wall to be built along an outdoor deck, obstructing the view. This would remove the ability to host barefoot bowls, a key source of income.
Club president Terry Thurtell said that all financial members were sent an email, and that 183 of those emails were opened.
“[That is] higher than what normally happens with any other emails we send out to members,” Mr Thurtell said.
Of the 40 members who attended the meeting, 20 voted for the proposal, 15 against the proposal and five people abstained.
Both Mr Thurtell and Mr Waygood contest the allegation that members were left in the dark.
“We gave them two months of preliminary notice, then a final notice a month in advance, then we sent out emails to all of those members we had email addresses for,” Mr Thurtell said.
The club is working with My Stepping Stones to address a number of concerns about the proposal raised by members, such as the impact on parking, and the suitability of a licensed venue for a childcare centre.
Kath Hacking, chair of the Rozelle and White Bay Precinct Committee, said that similar concerns were raised by residents at the March precinct meeting.
“They’re concerned about the parking difficulties, they’re concerned about the location being in a club, with children … in the vicinity of liquor,” Ms Hacking said.
Lawrence Goldberg, one of three directors at My Stepping Stones, told the Independent that he is working with the club and with council in addressing the issues.
“We have taken careful note of all member opinions and desires and will accommodate them to the maximum extent we can,” Mr Goldberg said. “The process will be open and transparent.”
The club is feeling the impact of shifting demographics in Balmain, and a move away from lawn bowls as a popular recreational activity.
The proposal also coincides with a shortage of childcare facilities across the inner west.
“We do need more childcare in the area … Any application that is submitted will be assessed through a proper process,” Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne said.
My Stepping Stones hopes to lodge a development application in the near future, and expects it to be approved this year or next.