Just Bowl was developed in 2014 by the Bowls Development Alliance as a community engagement programme and is a fun, easy to play, form of bowls that can be used in care homes, rehabilitation centres and just about anywhere else. In this issue, we share Just Bowl as our Activity of the Month as we delve into the benefits it can offer to residents and staff alike.

For the last five years Just Bowl has been funded by Sport England to work in care homes and, during that time, the staff at Just Bowl have discovered that when residents enter a care facility their daily routine inevitably changes and consequently, several forms of physical activity are no longer possible. One such activity that is synonymous with older adults is bowls. According to Sport England, in 2021 there were over 165,000 people playing bowls in England, but it is estimated that this figure is significantly higher; especially considering there are over 2,700 lawn green clubs, over 2,000 crown green clubs and an estimated 90,000 participants. Sadly, for many residents, when they enter a care home, they will no longer be able to enjoy a game on a sunny afternoon. However, the Bowls Development Alliance is helping to change that by introducing Just Bowl into the care sector.

Ian McCombes, Manager at Just Bowl, explained, “We have been working in the care sector for the last five years to deliver training to care home staff on how to use the equipment. We work with our partners to offer a bespoke training package which is supplemented by our exclusive Just Bowl equipment and additional items depending on the company’s requirements.

“We also provide aftercare support and guidance to ensure that Just Bowl is being utilised to its full potential. The training usually takes place in a separate room away from the residents but occasionally the staff ask if they can be involved, and this is one of the best parts of my job. It is great to see the look on their faces when they first see the equipment, as it is bright and colourful, and then see their surprise when they lift up the bowl and find out that it is lightweight and has the texture of a stress ball rather than a traditional wood. When I see the fun and enjoyment that they are having, and also witnessing the staff sharing that enjoyment, it makes me realise that we are making a difference to some people’s lives.”

The team have also been working with Sheffield Hallam University to conduct research to identify what impact Just Bowl has had on residents in care homes. The findings showed that Just Bowl encouraged inclusivity as it allowed people of all ages and abilities to play. It also identified that 83% of participants had a disability and 75% of the participants were aged 81-101 years of age. Just Bowl also helped to increase average physical activity levels (including light activity) by 40 minutes per week. This is significantly important as research and guidelines issued by the Chief Medical Officer shows that any increase in the volume and frequency of light activities, and any reduction in sedentary behaviour, will contribute towards increased health. The research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University also identified that Just Bowl created a sociable and fun atmosphere, as the participants were able to bond whilst playing the game, which subsequently led to an improvement in the mental wellbeing of those taking part. Research also showed improvements in happiness and a reduction in anxiety.

Additionally, the research established that exercise self-efficacy increased following participation in Just Bowl, which suggests that participants felt more confident in their ability to be physically active. Self-efficacy is the belief and conviction that one can successfully perform a given activity and exercise. It is an important predictor of the adoption and maintenance of exercise behaviours, both of which could have compelling impacts on care home residents in their day-to-day lives. The qualitative feedback was also very encouraging from staff, residents and family members:

“Running the 12-week project has really helped our residents come out of their shells. Just Bowl is easy to set up, easy to play and easy to join in and be involved” Staff member, Orchard House, Guinness Care

“Residents who previously had a stroke and thought they could not participate were able to play, and it made them more confident. Some new residents found this helpful to make friends with existing residents” Hungerford Staff Member

As Just Bowl comes to the end of its funding term, the team are exploring new territory by offering hourly paid sessions in homes. This initiative is being trialled in East Anglia by the Just Bowl Team Leader, Connie Dowe, who explained the reason for this shift in Just Bowl’s delivery strategy: “We were very conscious that many homes do not have the funds to purchase the Just Bowl equipment after COVID, and also that several care homes do not have specialist staff to deliver activities. Consequently, we carried out some research by talking to activity providers, care home managers and NAPA to determine if there was an opportunity to deliver Just Bowl as an hourly paid session and the interest has been great. We are really excited by the prospect of taking Just Bowl to a wider audience and the overall aim is to roll out this model in other parts of the country.”

For further information on Just Bowl or to express an interest in the hourly paid sessions, please contact Ian on 07741873233 or ian@justbowl.org