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Stroud Bowl is back – with a knockout new look and grand designs for the 2020s. Simon Hacker got in the swing.

Aiming squarely at maximum family fun, Stroud Bowl, on the top of the Five Valleys Shopping Centre, has enjoyed many happy years as a straight-run success for a decent day out.

Diane Johnson and daughter Katie | Strike a like!
Diane Johnson and her daughter Katie. Picture: Simon Hacker.

Two years after the 16 track lanes opened, the Johnson family took over the business in 2005, steadily building a reputation on the national and international map as a key venue in the sport of Tenpin Bowling.

But when the pandemic forced the attraction – subject to the same tight rules as theatres and casinos – to close, owners Kim and Diane wondered if they could spin a crisis into an opportunity. 

Which is where their daughter, operations director Katie Johnson, stepped up: “We took a long look at what we could do to make the experience of tenpin bowling more exciting, not only for the serious bowlers who come from all over the country, but for local families,” said Katie, who has spent many years working in hospitality. 

“The challenge was that it was looking tired and a facelift was vital, but the question was how to do this without the funding that some big leisure chains might rely on.”

Lee Townsend | Strike a like!
Lee Townsend. Picture: Simon Hacker.

The solution though, she added, was simple: they decided to do it all themselves. Swapping her heels for a hard hat, Katie was joined by the regular staff who all rolled up their sleeves to add building and redecoration to their skill set.

With staff having been on furlough, the team response was staggering: “Everyone was hugely keen to get on with the job, to learn new skills such as tiling, grouting, laying carpets and decorating. It’s a huge space, which is a great bonus as a venue after a pandemic, but the volume of work didn’t deter anyone for a minute. I think we were all just happy to be getting on and improving our venue for the future.”

Mark Patrick, general manager, worked closely alongside Katie and said the DIY ethic has boosted Stroud Bowl’s work dynamic: “I don’t think any of us realised how the process of doing this ourselves would transform how everyone feels. In a word, it’s all about pride. And when you add the big change we’ve made in taking on direct ownership of all the arcade games and machinery, it makes for a venue that can give so much more to the community.”

With all arcade equipment now owned directly, Mark explained, any problems and maintenance issues can be immediately rectified – spelling an end to shut-downs and waiting for third-party help. 

Having sorted the muscle for the job, to underpin the design brief the Johnsons turned to celebrated artist and signwriter Mark Amis, who lives in Ebley and whose skills have included past work for Gifford’s Circus.

Artist Mark Amis | Strike a like!
Artist Mark Amis. Picture: Simon Hacker.

“When Diane asked me to work on all the signwriting here, we wanted to tie in with the look and corporate feel of Dransfield, but also pick up on the classic vintage-feel to the culture of bowling, which is all about inter-generational fun and excitement,” Mark said.

“Stroud’s in such a good position,” he added. “As we hope to move on from the pandemic, we have this great sense of companionship and community, of people working and playing together – and Stroud Bowl sits literally in the middle of all that! 

In keeping with the more muted palette to the interior redesign, Mark’s stylish handiwork has helped banish any vestiges of faded 1990s seaside venue, but as Diane explains, more ambitious plans remain for the venue, beyond the new look: “As well as the new party packages, cocktails bar and drinks menu, in two weeks’ time there will be a new evening dining menu for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”

Such change increase local appeal, but Stroud Bowl’s core value has always rested upon its status as a celebrated venue on the UK’s Tenpin Bowling map. 

Ron Griffin, vice chair of the British Tenpin Bowling Association explained: Stroud Bowl is already an important premier centre in the UK for its conditions – and its can-do attitude. Nothing is too much for the Johnson family to promote the sport, the venue being part of the national championships every year, as well as hosting major European events and USA visits. Stroud Bowl supports people locally through youth teams and county league bowling. This is a very special place to us!”

IMG 5536 | Strike a like!
Owner Diane Johnson presenting Lane Technician James Walker with a thankyou gift for ten years’ dedicated work. Picture: Simon Hacker.

Diane Johnson, however, says the venue’s past and future prospects have been reliant throughout upon the technical wizardry of James Walker, Stroud Bowl’s technician – a man who spends his working days at the helm of the machinery and tech that keeps each game flowing.

Celebrating ten years’ hard work for the venue, Diane presented James with a gift of a family trip to Legoland at the venue’s official opening this week.

“We’ve been blown away by the work that James and the team have put in to take us into an exciting new chapter,” said Kim Johnson. “And the best thing we’ve all seen is the faces of families queuing up outside coming back to support us.”

For details on prices and booking, visit Stroud Bowl at www.stroudbowl.co.uk.

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