Archery has been yet another sport brought to a standstill by the covid pandemic. Nevertheless, club life goes on – to some extent. Behind the scenes at clubs up and down the country, members and committees are often working tirelessly to figure out new ways to function and move forward. We spoke to Dan Poulson of Pilgrim Bowmen, a Kudos-affiliated archery club based in Boston, all about the club, and some of their great ideas in dealing with the ever-changing landscape of grassroots sport.

KUDOS: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the club, how it got off the ground etc?

Dan Poulson: The club was formed by a group of teachers and a few others who were interested in archery in 1954.

Our first venue was the lawn at Fydell House and the club decided on the name of ‘Pilgrim Archers’. We affiliated to Lincoln County Archery Society, East Midlands Archery Society and the Grand National Archery Society. Then we were informed by GNAS that there was already a club with that name. So we became ‘Pilgrim Bowman of Boston’. We decided to be Pilgrim because Fydell House was next door to the Guildhall where the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned, we wanted the badge to symbolise the name of the club. The conch shells were an everyday item used by the Pilgrims. The bows are used by bowmen. Crowns are the Boston Coat of Arms.

In 1958 some of the Boston Sports Clubs twinned with Laval in France. When the French came over for the first time there were no archers. Our secretary John Robinson (rather a big fellow) was on the door to stop gate crashers at the farewell dance. He was wearing a GNAS lapel badge. One of the French sportsmen told him that there was a archery club in Laval and gave him the address of Marcel Gesbert. The following year about ten archers went to compete in Laval and thus our archery link was formed and still going to this day. Eventually the club moved to our present ground at the Mayflower Sports Club. We were the first sport to be there. Later we had to move temporarily to the Co-op field and then to Burton House whilst the Mayflower field was being drained. After it was reseeded we were able to move back and were joined by the football, cricket and hockey clubs. Eventually an indoor range was built for the rifle club and our club to use. Other extensions were squash courts, toilets, changing rooms and bar area. Then later, addition of a hall, mainly accommodating table tennis, then a conservatory as an additional room.

About a dozen people started the Pilgrim Bowmen and membership has fluctuated over the years. I am pleased to say at present we have a strong membership of over 30 archers. Many friendships have been formed and this has created a friendly club that gives a warm welcome to new members

What does your role at the club entail?

I am the vice chairman for the club and was added to the committee at the last AGM. I was told my duties would mainly be chairing meetings in the absence of the chairman. I was told I was being put forward as I am calm and level headed, but I think they were trying to flatter me so I wouldn’t say no. My duties really this year have been focussed on how the club could operate safely when the first lockdown was lifted and putting in place, with the help of other members, the necessary systems and procedures. I am also a level 1 coach and normally run beginners courses with the other coach to encourage new people to take up the sport and join the club.

Does the club have a particular ethos? And what kind of age range do you have at the club?

We are a really friendly club, our youngest member is my son at 8 years old and we have members in their 70s. Some of our members have a huge amount of experience in the sport and have been shooting for many years. We also really welcome new members. We are a very welcoming club and a lot of members shoot for the social aspect as well as the sporting element. We are fortunate to have a bar next door as part of the sports club and members often go next door for a chat and a drink at the end of a club night. We also have quite a few members that enjoy shooting competitively and attend tournaments locally and further afield. It is fair to say we all have a real passion for the sport.

How has the club dealt with the challenges of covid-19 this year?

COVID really hit all sport hard and when we went into lockdown the club shut immediately. As a committee we all agreed to refund members the lost months of membership and lost shooting to all members. It seemed unfair to ask people to pay membership for something they couldn’t take part in or enjoy at that time. As lockdown lifted we had to then look at how we could reopen safely. Initially all shooting was outdoors, we introduced a new online booking system and asked all member to pre book a range to shoot on so we could manage numbers. With the summer evenings we could have an “early shift” come and shoot, pack away and then a “late shift” of a different six archers come down and shoot. We put together documentation explaining to members how shooting would have to work in our own club, with archers on their own targets and the targets spaced out much further than usual. To make it simpler all the targets were at 30m, so we missed shooting the longer distances but we were grateful to be shooting at all when we know so many clubs weren’t as lucky as us in having their own field. We ensured there was plenty of hand sanitiser available, at the time it was still difficult to get hold off so I ended up buying four bottles from a whiskey distillery who had retooled to make hand sanitiser instead.

Some of these new things we are keen to keep, and we have agreed that the booking system has been a real benefit. Normally club members would pay a shoot fee in cash each night they shoot. To avoid handling of lots of cash we asked members to pay their shoot fees for the month via bank transfer. This has been great, as I no longer have to save pound coins and can pay my fees with a few taps on my phone.

As the weather changed and the nights drew in we started making preparations for shooting indoors. We installed screens on the shoot line and bought screens to be placed between the targets. Again numbers were restricted only allowing a maximum of 6 archers per session to fully adhere to government guidelines.

With the latest wave of restrictions and the tier system we are currently in tier 3 and agreed that indoor shooting should stop temporarily. We can still shoot outdoors weather depending.

We passionately believe in the notion that being a member of a grassroots sports club can help in ways exponentially above and beyond just the playing of the sport. Do you see examples of that being the case?

I think grassroots sport is really important. If we want archers to compete at a county, national or international level then they have to start somewhere and this is where local clubs come in. As mentioned we are a very social club so as well as the physical benefits of the sport there are also the mental health benefits. With covid and lockdowns peoples mental health has perhaps been challenged more than ever and the participation in sport as a “release” is hugely beneficial. The club also has links locally with Mencap and we run nights for their members two or three times a year.

And last but not least – it’s fair to say archery isn’t and probably never will be a mainstream sport, but we love it. What do you love about archery and how would you try and sell the idea of joining Pilgrim Bowmen to someone who might be thinking about it?

I got the archery bug over 4 years ago. I shot a few arrows at a stall run by a different club at a village fair and I was hooked. I remember ringing the club on a Thursday evening to discuss doing a beginners course and started the next night and never looked back. People think that archery is really easy, you just pull the string back, aim a bit and let go. Since I joined I have seen just how much more technical it is, how the slightest change in what you are doing can have a massive impact on what happens at the target. This technicality in itself is really enjoyable when things really start coming together and scores improve. I also find it a massive stress reliever. Friday night is a club night and I enjoy nothing more after a long week than going down the club and shooting. If anyone is considering taking up archery they absolutely should, a lot of the beginners I have coached have also had that same archery bug. Clubs will happily lend equipment to get people started so that shouldn’t put people off joining.

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Thanks so much to Dan for giving his time and an illuminating interview. The club is doing great work in the face of major adversity and we reckon a lot of clubs could do worse than adopt some of Pilgrim’s methods. If you’d like to get involved at the club, you can contact them via their Facebook page or via their website.

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