Leichhardt Bowls Club is celebrating its centenary on 14 April, with a big birthday bash incorporating a bowls tournament, a member photo to recreate the founding members first club photo, official presentations, and veteran Sydney blues band Foreday Riders playing into the night.
But what is making this celebration the sweetest of all is that its 100-year milestone might never have been reached at all, as Leichhardt Bowls Club, just a few short years ago, was a club in crisis.
“While our business model had been steadily maturing over the last decade, COVID caught us pants down and put us in a very scary financial position very quickly, with audited financials on 30 June 2021 listing cash and cash equivalents in the red,” secretary manager Baz Compton told ClubTIC.
Thee 33-year-old former publican recalls the time clearly, sweating on when JobKeeper payments would land so he could pay himself and his staff. At the time, with no end to COVID in sight, the Board were left with no choice but to pursue development to ensure the club continued in any way shape or form.
“Miraculously, we opened from the first lockdown sooner than expected and by borrowing some cash from the affiliated bowling clubs we had just cash enough to order stock and float our tills and pray our members and guests would come back. They came back in droves!” says Compton, who believes that in hindsight, COVID was probably one of the best things that happened to the club, as it allowed them to put everything on pause and really take stock of what was working and what was not.
“Our directors and a small handful of dedicated volunteers put COVID lockdowns to good use and gave the clubhouse a shoestring tidy-up, which started with a lick of paint and ended up with converting a bowling green into the biggest beer garden in the Inner West of Sydney, funded by ‘cutting off a few fingers’ and selling some EGMs.”
With a refreshed clubhouse, giant outdoor area and recently refurbished performance area, the formerly tired Bowlo is now a lively, happening community venue with outdoor areas booked out almost every weekend. There’s also a cellar door gin bar in the beer garden, refreshed craft brewery offerings over the bar, a strong focus on live music and classic Bowlo food available at the bistro.
“It feels like rather than stumbling to the 100th year finish line, we’re now really in our stride,” said Compton.
“The key to our success has been converting one bowling green into a beer garden and what’s been a really nice surprise is now that we’re a more desirable venue to visit, we’re actually picking up more bowlers than we did with two bowling greens.”
Gaming though is on the decline for the club, and while Compton says it’s too early to call it, they remain confident that the steady growth of food and beverage trade they can remain a successful and profitable club without a reliance on gaming.