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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

The Bangalow Bowlo’s future is in the hands of their membership

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The Bangalow Bowlo – what are its options?

Luke Simmons, Norths Collective CEO responding to the recent article by Professor Linda Hancock on Why Norths’ takeover of Bangalow Bowlo is bad for the community.

Professor Linda Hancock in last week’s Echo said it best: ‘It is important to defend and preserve community social sustainability.’ This is the primary objective that the Bangalow Bowlo’s board, management, team of staff and hundreds of members have set out to achieve these past few months by looking at a range of options before them to secure the future of what is their much-loved community asset with its rich history.

Not-for-profit clubs often sit at the core of the communities they are privileged to serve and are arguably more valuable in rural and regional communities. Clubs support kids in sport; they assist those less fortunate, especially during times of need; they employ tens of thousands across the country; have countless connected suppliers; rely heavily on local tradespeople and, most importantly, are a comfortable and welcoming place for local community members to meet and socialise. 

The Bangalow Bowlo recently celebrated its 112th anniversary, making it one of the industry’s oldest clubs. The Club is so much more than just a venue that provides people with food, beverages, entertainment, community events, family gatherings, sports functions and gaming — and it must be preserved so future generations can enjoy what it truly represents. 

The preservation of this community asset is an enormous responsibility that must consider the needs and wants of all people connected to it. Local Bangalow community members who enjoy playing rugby union, bowls, soccer, netball and cricket, as well as those that love to dance, dine, share a drink and even have a bet are entitled to make a decision that will see their club flourish for decades to come.

Just over ten years ago, the Bangalow Bowlo was lifted out of administration thanks to the fundraising efforts of many loyal Bangalow community members. The work to survive, whilst honourable, has seen the Club at varying times have to fundraise from members and the community, sell off a parcel of land adjacent to the tennis courts and sell gaming machine entitlements — just to remain open. 

Unfortunately, while the Bangalow Bowlo is still trading thanks to fast-thinking management, inspirational effort from the team and a hard-working volunteer board, there just haven’t been funds available to re-invest back into the aging building these past few years, leaving the Club with a mounting list of repairs totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

It is no secret that COVID-19 has been tough on many industries, from travel to retail. Clubs were not immune. Fifteen, mostly smaller regional clubs, have been forced to close their doors over the past two years, unable to remain sustainable in the wake of pandemic lockdowns and rising operating costs. Flooding in northern NSW earlier this year was also devastating, arriving at a time when the industry was experiencing something of a return to normal operations.

Thankfully, many clubs have been able to secure their future through finding strong partners, by negotiating memorandums of understanding — contracts that guarantee items such as repairs, investment and sports club sponsorships — that deliver value for everyone connected.   

One of them, the Beecroft Bowling Club in Sydney’s north, recently partnered with Norths Collective. Like the Bangalow Bowlo, the Beecroft Bowling Club had been operating for more than 100 years, but unfortunately COVID-19, combined with an increasingly competitive hospitality environment, forced them to look for a partner who could invest capital into the revitalisation of their beloved meeting place. 

Norths Collective’s history of amalgamations is impressive, with North Sydney Bowling Club, Seagulls in Tweed Heads and the Businessman’s Club in Lane Cove also joining over the past 30 years. Whilst not an amalgamation, Norths Collective, as of two weeks ago, commenced operating all food, beverage and functions services at The Cheltenham Club. Acre Artarmon was also re-launched by Norths Collective as The Glasshouse Artarmon, a fantastic food and beverage venue, in August 2022.      

The Bangalow community has been vocal in sharing its views on what they wish to see in and around their club over the long term. 

Gaming, and the way it is operated is one important issue. Our proposed memorandum of understanding, which has been negotiated between the boards of both clubs and is close to finalisation, sees gaming extremely limited both in terms of the number of poker machines, and also the size and prominence of the floorspace allocated to poker machines. Location within the clubhouse is a point of consideration — the space will be well disguised and separated from other areas of the premises. 

The Bangalow Hotel has 19 poker machines in operation and entitlements for more. Hotels around the State are permitted to have up to 30 machines in operation. Profits from those machines are for private use by an owner and not required to be re-invested back into the community or facilities, however legislation requires Norths Collective and other similarly structured profit-for-purpose clubs across NSW to re-invest in venues and communities — we exist purely to run clubs for the people they serve. 

More than 53,000 people are employed by clubs across the State. At present, the Bangalow Bowlo provides direct employment opportunities for close to 30 local community members. The connection with suppliers sees this employment benefit increase even further. 

Norths Collective alone contributes toward $2 million annually in cash and in-kind support across the numerous communities it operates within. This level of support is far in excess of what they may be obligated to provide under the NSW ClubGRANTS scheme every year. 

We are proud of being able to offer the Bangalow Bowlo a viable pathway that will see the community club thrive for many years to come and not simply survive day-to-day at risk of closure with building issues and limited trading hours being a constant concern for management. 

As we have demonstrated elsewhere across many unique, diverse communities, we can help shape that future in a way that respects the proud traditions of the Club and the broader community. Our track record with partnerships of this kind speaks for itself. We have never amalgamated with a club, only to close it and sell off the assets. We have instead chosen to invest millions of dollars in all our venues over the past few years to make them more attractive, relevant, welcoming spaces for our members and local communities.

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