Curling at a Garden Centre

CURLING AT A GARDEN CENTRE

We quite often get requests to put on curling at strange locations and this year I received an email from the Beckworth Emporium which is about 40 minutes from my home which said :

Each year the Emporium undergoes a major transformation when part of its garden nursery section is turned into a 520 square metre ice rink for the winter – and new for this, its fifth year in operation, it is offering visitors the chance to try their hand at curling! It has sourced some stones specially and I know that a number of local bowls clubs (among others) have booked to try their hand at the ‘winter version’ of their sport!

My first visit was on the Monday on the way back from Stranraer and the ice rink was flooded – the plant had broken down but I did get to see the stones they had sourced:

stone2 stone

These are two of them – apparently they had bought 8 of them from somebody in Scotland for £900. They had no idea what they were buying and had not thought to contact anybody in the ECA until they had done so. They were due to start curling sessions the following week and so action was required, especially as one of the stones had a rusted together loose handle and another had a bolt standing proud of the bottom of the stone and therefore catching on the ice.

Of course they would not be playing ‘real’ curling – the rink was not long enough, the ice was not going to be properly scraped or pebbled (it was only a small rink), they had embedded circles in the ice which were about 4 feet in diameter (as used in New Age Kurling in church halls). Also they only had two (admittedly new) brushes and had not thought about hacks!!!

The following day (Tuesday) I returned to the emporium with 12 brushes and a pair of hacks I had in my garage – the ice was melted again – another call to the suppliers and it looked like it would be OK the next day. As it was a Tuesday I was going to Fenton’s to play and at Fenton’s the London Curling Club has stored its supply of brand new reconditioned stones (well half of them are actually in Sheffield) and so I quickly put 4 yellow handles and 4 red handles on 8 stones and took them home with me that night and delivered them to the Emporium on the Wednesday (my poor car was racking up the miles at an exponential rate it seemed). At last there was some ice and so a quick lesson with the staff who were going to be running the curling and they were all set.

Now they were not going to be sliding at all and the distance between hacks and circles was a maximum of 12 metres – and sometimes reduced because of ice conditions – so what they were playing was target curling – but all 8 stones would never fit into the small target area anyway!! The curling was advertised for a maximum of 8 people – so one stone each but with an ‘end’ taking perhaps just 5 minutes they got plenty of throws in their 2 hour slot.

To add another surreal element to the game, the players were equipped with anti-slip protectors such as elderly people might wear to stop falling over on icy pavements!!shoe

So all the elements you might think for a PR disaster of immense proportions. To try and add a bit of background and to explain about the differences between real curling and Emporium curling I went up a further 5 times to the sessions (which were only held three times a week owing to pressure from skating – sounds familiar) and you know what – everybody was loving it!! I got a few brave souls to take off their protectors but most were happy to keep them on. The last day I went up was very mild and it had been raining and there they were splashing around in an inch of water and still having fun (and still getting the stones to the house)!

The Emporium plans to run it again next year but with a bit more advance notice maybe we can improve things – watch this space next year for an update. What it did prove to me was that as long as people can achieve their aim – which in this case was getting the stones into the circle – and there is a competitive element, especially among work colleagues or family members it does not really matter that the conditions were pretty poor – they are generally going to enjoy it. We also had a group of people with learning disabilities who thoroughly enjoyed pushing the stones to the targets with the brooms – again next year I shall source some cues instead.

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