Bowls England 5

Building for the future

Head of Business Operations Helen Slimm explains how England Bowls have used the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic to reassess their governance structure and build towards a stronger future for the sport

Date: 7th Apr 2021

Author: Helen Slimm, Head of Business Operations, Bowls England

The global pandemic saw a pause to most sporting activity in England and gyms closed, facilities shut and bowls greens up and down the country lying empty. There was a concern as to whether the players would ever come back.

Yes, 2020 was a challenging year for sport in so many ways. Yet it also provided an opportunity for National Governing Bodies, local clubs and grassroots members to reflect and innovate. To not only ensure the return of the players, but to make sure that there was something even better waiting for them when they arrived back.

As an NGB, Bowls England utilised the lockdown period to undertake a comprehensive programme of research, reviews and surveys. As well as asking our existing players and membership for their responses, we extended our reach to other sports fans and stakeholders.

2021 will see the launch of our new strategy which will address the challenges our sport faces and will take advantage of the huge opportunities ahead. With this new strategy, as well as new leadership and a refreshed purpose, we concluded that there would be no better time to undertake a complete review of the governance structure.

Our Governance Journey

As a sport, we have many different variants played in England. Each variant has their own governing organisation. Therefore, we have not been eligible for Sport England funding. The first step of our journey was getting support from the organisation to review the governance model, without a promise of funding in return. 

As with all levels of governance, getting the right people is of paramount importance. For the first time a working party was widely advertised, seeking influences from both inside and outside the sport. The level of talented interest in this area was unbelievable and has been a great asset, providing the foundations for the work accomplished.

Once the working party was formed and a pattern of meeting fortnightly established, a benchmark needed to be identified. We quickly, through discussions with Sport England, reviewed the Code for Sports Governance and decided that the highest standard of governance - Tier 3 - should be the target benchmark. 

Key to the success of the working party was communication and transparency within the board and the organisation more widely. Two board members and two staff members joined the group at their meetings, with interim updates of all work and discussions provided to the board.

The first stage of the process was a simple gap analysis looking at where we were in relation to the recommended practice. This gap analysis worked on a traffic light system: Green for compliance, Amber for small amendments and changes needed, and Red was a Board and AGM level change. 

We then removed the ‘compliant areas’ and divided the remaining sections into themes: 

    • Board structure – appointment process, size and composition
    • Board capability and integrity
    • Board policies, procedures and evaluation
    • Committees

Keeping each meeting structured on the themes, we set ourselves four decision making principles:

    • does it help us build an organisation that can robustly deliver our strategy?
    • does it improve overall governance and allow us to operate effectively?
    • does it improve the quality of what we deliver?
    • does it help us attain the Code’s Tier 3 standards?

Committing to improvement

Six months into the Governance Working Party’s review, we as an organisation have already committed to a number of key decisions that will benefit the sport at all levels: an overhaul of our policies and procedures, regular surveys, board training and evaluation, a constant review of the governance system and a commitment to keep striving for an improved governance system. 

An opportunity to join us on our journey

To demonstrate this commitment, we are currently recruiting for a People & Governance Officer to work closely with our Governance Working Party.  If you are passionate about the need for good governance and are looking for a fresh challenge where you can add real benefit within a sporting national governing body, please check out our vacancy at:

So whilst Covid pressed paused on bowls activities, it did not stop us from advancing in our journey of reflection and improvement as we strive to leave our organisation and the sport in a much stronger place than before.

Helen Slimm is Head of Business Operations at England Bowls, with responsibility for the governance of the organisation, liaising with the governance working party and key providers to ensure that governance structures and policies are regularly reviewed and updated.