Winners from the Rowans bowling league

Bowl Together – Benefits of starting a bowling league 

Video: Bowl Together. Research documentary from Dr Emma Jackson and Andy Lee

Bowling leagues have seen a steady decline over the last 10 years. Centres are not able to provide the conditions eligible for league bowling and the commitment requirements are not so attractive. However, we’ve uncovered a bowling league which has bucked the trend with its innovative approach. 

Rowans in Finsbury Park have adopted a Fun League approach which has proven to be hugely successful. Having started out with six bowlers in 2007 the Rowans Bowling League had over 100 bowlers compete in their latest seasonal tournament. 

Starting the league

The creation of a bowling league at Rowans was the idea of Senior Technician, Sam Huckle. After three years at Rowans Sam had noticed that there were a few people who bowled regularly each week. These guests appeared to come at roughly the same time, every week and were clearly looking to improve their bowling. Having been given the go ahead by the Owner and General Manager, Sam begun to build his league. 

Starting small, Sam chatted with the regulars about starting a bowling league. This was to be an opportunity to bowl against others, share tips and look at how their game could be improved. With six people on board (only two of whom had their own ball) the league began. 

The principles were simple: no fees, no need to come every week, play two games and Sam would keep a record of the scores. The league bowlers would get to use the upstairs lanes and were allowed 30 minutes of free practice time before the league session started; they could also hire shoes for free. Each week the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed bowlers received a cash prize (£10, £5 and £2.50). 

From the start Sam was clear with bowlers that Rowans would not be able to provide special lane conditions or state-of-the-art equipment. They had what they had and that was all that was available. However, Sam was convinced that bowlers would be able to significantly improve their game and benefit from playing together, regardless of any limitations of the facilities. 

Quote from some at Rowan's bowling league

Bowling for all

Sam was there every Tuesday welcoming guests, getting to know them and finding out what they wanted out of the league. For those wanting to develop their technique Sam would come alongside and give coaching. As the games progressed Sam would return to the casual bowling lanes downstairs and seek out other people who appeared to be working on their game or were achieving good scores and invited them to come along and try the league. 

The use of a handicap system created a level playing field for all bowlers adding to the fun and excitement of the night. With first timers awarded a 50-point handicap, players soon discovered that winning was an opportunity available to everyone, which encouraged them to come back again.

Each league season culminates is a celebratory prize giving night, where friends and family come to enjoy food supplied by Rowans and of course, the reveal of the winner of the coveted trophy. The top two players from all four seasons compete in a grand final tournament for the Ben deMeza trophy. Ben and his dad often played at the league. When Ben sadly passed away the league named the trophy in his honour to remember the reason Ben and his dad come to the league; to have fun.

Quote from someone involved in Rowans Bowling League

Financial and social benefits

The financial benefits to the company became apparent fairly quickly. Lanes, which were usually unoccupied, were now being used every Tuesday night. The bustling and relaxed atmosphere led guests to stay on after their bowling to enjoy further drinks and food with their new friends. Quite often any winnings from the night were quickly spent on celebratory rounds at the bar. 

However, it has been the social benefits which have stood the test of time. Thousands of people have participated in the league over the last 16 years, since it started, enjoying its relaxed atmosphere, making new friends and celebrating wins together. Staff and customers know each other by name, creating a strong connection between the bowling centre and the wider community. Some staff have even joined the league. 

Photo with Friends


It wasn’t long before guests begun asking to play more than the two games required for the score sheet. People stayed on after the bowling to enjoy drinks and analyse their game play, discussing changes to their technique that had improved their scores. 

A small group of bowlers started their own Friday night competition, giving them another opportunity to meet together and enjoy the sport they love. On the last Friday of every month they hire out two lanes and run their own event. Many of them now have their own equipment and have even made team t-shirts. The Friday night group play downstairs, alongside the regulars, so that they can showcase the league in action, attract attention and hopefully new recruits. 

We asked league pioneer Sam Huckle what he thinks has contributed to the success of the league at Rowans, he said: “It’s all about having that one person who everyone knows. At Rowans that was me. I invited our regular bowlers along, I was there to greet them when they arrived, I managed all the scoring, it was me who would come alongside people who wanted to improve and gave them tips. From there it was all about continually talking to the bowlers, finding out what they wanted out of their experience and how to make it even better.” 

Sam has now passed the running of the league onto a committee, made up of league regulars. This transition included finding a new figurehead, Chris White, who would be the face of the league, the new go-to person. Chris has magnificently taken up the reigns and continues to nurture the thriving league community. However, like any proud father, Sam is still there at every prize giving, celebrating the success of the league and relishing in seeing the bowlers delight at having achieved their personal goals. 

Rowans aren’t running a traditional bowling league, but what they are doing is drawing people together and building a community, who have developed a love of bowling along the way. 

Quote from someone involved in Rowans Bowling League

Quotations and video taken from a documentary created by sociologist, Dr Emma Jackson from Goldsmiths, and film maker, Andy Lee. The documentary forms part of a research project into leisure practices and urban change, conducted at Rowans. 

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