Twinkle-toed care home residents prove bowling is right up their alley

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Young-at-heart care home residents in their 90s are proving age is no barrier to fun after signing up to a new ten pin bowling team.

The Old Vicarage care home in Llangollen has launched its own ‘Dream Team’ in support of a national campaign to tackle ageism – and has been bowled over by the number of residents willing to give it a go.

So dedicated are the new bowling stars that staff have even had to order plush burgundy varsity jackets emblazoned with the words ‘Old Vicarage Dream Team’ to give the residents a competitive edge.

Among the 10-strong team is 99-year-old Ena Strange, originally from Wilmslow in Cheshire, who surprised herself by winning her very first game!

“I have never ever in my life been tenpin bowling!” she said.

“I’ve seen it on the TV and that’s all I knew about it. It was good fun. There were three of us playing in our match and to my astonishment I won! It must have been beginner’s luck or something.

“It was a new experience and something I’ve never done in my life at 99 years old and that’s a bit of a record for me.

“The jackets were not really my style but needs must!”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of social care champions Care Forum Wales, could not agree more.

“What a fantastic way to shatter stereotypes about age,” he said.

“I admire the spirit and enthusiasm of these residents who are proof that there is no age limit

when it comes to keeping active and having fun. I wish The Old Vicarage Dream Team every success in their new adventure and hope they will be supported by other members of their community to raise awareness of the negative impact of age discrimination.”

Other members of the team could not wait to try on their new bowling attire including former Wrexham county councillor Iola Roberts, 86.

“The bowling jackets are absolutely beautiful,” said the grandmother of six, who is originally from Acrefair, Wrexham.

“I’ve been bowling years ago when my children were young and I really enjoyed it. To see 100-year-old ladies bowling gives you great hope for the future.

“We all hope to live a bit longer and to me you have to make use of every single minute of every single day. That’s what will help you go on living. It’s important to have something to work towards.”

The care home is now challenging other residential homes in the area, schools and community groups to take on their bowling champions and hope to organise a series of friendly contests to break down age-related stereotypes.

Bethan Mascarenhas, who owns the home alongside her brother Richard, 40, said: “The youngest person in the team is 85 and the eldest is 99. They are mainly all in their nineties.

“It amazes me how up for a laugh they all are and how young spirited they are. It reminds me that age is just a number.

“We’re slowly building the momentum. They love the jackets and many are wearing them every day to go into town.

“It’s a team sport and something everybody we can all do. It’s something that’s accessible for everybody and something we can also invite schools to and other care homes or even businesses to join us.”

Bethan is delighted with the support she has received from Tenpin Wrexham, based in the town’s Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre, who provided their first taster session free of charge and agreed to provide future games at a discounted rate.

Tenpin general manager Martin Carrigan said: “We are delighted to support The Old Vicarage’s project to tackle ageism and warmly welcome the residents to our centre. I hope the fantastic example set by the Dream Team members encourages other members of the community – young or old – to get involved and share their passion for the game. We look forward to seeing their talents developing over the coming months.”

Care home staff came up with the idea after receiving an inspiring visit last year from Heléna Herklots CBE, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.

Heléna is taking action against ageism and age discrimination and has launched the Everyday Ageism Campaign to highlight the ageism faced by older people. As well as raising awareness through social media and marketing, the Commissioner wants to empower older people to challenge age discrimination in positive ways.

“It’s something that really resonated with us,” explained Bethan, 30, who grew up in a residential home in Llangollen, owned by her parents.

“I’m a relatively young provider at 30 but I’ve grown up in a residential home and I don’t see age in the same way that other people might.

“I like to encourage the residents to try new things. They too have habits and might say ‘I’m ninety-something I shouldn’t be doing this’ so it’s trying to get out of that mind-set that just because you’re older, you shouldn’t be trying new things.

“It’s creating a culture in the home of positive risk.”

Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Helena Herklots, said: “I was delighted to see that the residents of the Old Vicarage had set up a bowling team to support my Everyday Ageism Campaign and challenge ageist stereotypes.

“So many assumptions are made about older people and the things they can and can’t do, but the Dream Team are proof that age really is just a number and that it’s never too late to try something new while having a huge amount of fun.”

Bethan, who also runs her own theatre company, studied theatre marketing and business at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London before working on marketing campaigns and community projects across the West End, including Shrek the Musical and various festivals.

She returned to Wales in October 2017 when The Old Vicarage came up for sale.

“My brother and I both went away and studied but that longing for Wales stayed,” explained Bethan.

“When this home came up for sale it made sense for us to use the skills we both

With experience delivering community arts projects across the UK and internationally, Bethan felt she could play her part in changing the perception of older people within the community.

“We’re trying to encourage people in the town itself to try different things and not shy away or become invisible just because they’re older. It’s about getting involved and being present.

“We’re also trying to make Llangollen a dementia-friendly town. We are part of an action group for that, building understanding and empathy in the town to accept people as they are.”

Tenpin bowling is something every generation enjoys and Bethan sees the project as an opportunity to bring different age groups together as well as tackling isolation.

“I’m very keen on intergenerational work and bring all generations together,” she said.