History

How the “Angel” began

On a November evening in 1979 four local bowlers, John Hewlett, Jack Skinner, Stan Rawlings, (Tonbridge), and Peter Burtenshaw, (Whitefriars), visited the newly opened six- rinks purpose built facility at Eastbourne. They were much impressed by what they saw and gained valuable information to take back with them to Tonbridge concerning the financing, building and administration of such a facility.

Imbued with a wave of enthusiasm, the four set about bringing to Tonbridge a centre to match that at Eastbourne, and a steering committee was formed to investigate the possibility of building a centre in Tonbridge and an intense programme of canvassing commenced for financial support.

In the autumn of 1980, Tonbridge and Malling District Council made available the present site lease and a promise of financial assistance. Cygnet Building Group was approached to quote for a fixed price, design and build centre, similar to that at Eastbourne.

A figure of £400,000 finally emerged as the sum to build and fully equip a Centre, which in 1980 when inflation and interest rates were well over 10% and the economy in deep recession, seemed a formidable target to raise, and to get it in its current context, would probably cost today well in excess of £3 million.

So the task of raising £400,000 began. A business plan was drawn up together with a five year forecast for presentation to potential backers. Firstly the Sports Council promised a maximum grant of £50,000. At a meeting in March 1981 a grant of £40,000 together with a loan of £200,000 was agreed by the Tonbridge and Malling District Council, Carrington Brewery promised a loan of £14,000 and members had pledged loans of £40,000.

This still left a shortfall of £46,000 and thanks to the National Westminster Bank and the local manager David Straddling, himself a keen bowler, an overdraft facility was arranged to cover the shortfall.

The final piece in the jigsaw was now in place and building started in April 1981, and on 21 October 1981 bowling commenced when the first match against Sittingbourne was played; just under 2 years after the idea was first conceived, and on budget and time, a remarkable feat in view of the financial climate at the time and the tremendous amount of work involved.

Founder members will well remember the euphoria surrounding the centre when it first opened. The only purpose built stadium in West Kent, all rink lights blazing like dazzling stars upon the vast expanse of the green playing surface, rink usage running at over 80%, and a long waiting list to join. The money just kept rolling in and the icing on the top of the cake came during the financial year ending 30th April 1996 when all long term liabilities were paid off; over £300,000 in 15 years and 5 years in advance of original forecasts.

Peter Burtenshaw