In 1967 the local council decided to provide sports facilities for the people living in Ponteland and the surrounding area.  The Sports Centre was built with a Sports Hall and changing rooms and various outside pitches for football, rugby, cricket and archery.  There were two houses on site, one for the grounds man and one for the steward who ran the bar and provided bar snacks, lunches and other meals when needed, making it easy to arrange special events.

All users of the site had to be members of a club, so it was relatively easy to monitor intruders.  However there were occasions when non-members were discovered.  For instance, one sunny afternoon when we had been shooting for some time we were startled to see the faces of a lady and gentleman rise from out of the dip at the top of the field where they must have been too absorbed in each other to notice us setting up and shooting.  Another not so pleasant occasion was when the remains of a family picnic were left on the pitch including food wrappers, milk cartons and dirty nappies!

When sites were allocated it was agreed that Ponteland Archers would shoot on what is now No 1 Rugby Pitch.  An ideal site, with shooting from north to south, plenty of overshoot, an unused orchard and market garden over the hedge at the end of the field and target storage nearby.  The treasurer sent off fees to GNAS and the County amounting to £11.10s, 15shillings (75p) for each senior and two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) for each junior, there were three targets and some very basic beginner’s equipment and the club was up and running.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the restricted equipment, membership dropped in the next few years to about eight regular members.  In 1972, this was supplemented by 5 refugees and quite a bit of equipment from North Walbottle Bowmen.

Despite being a relatively small club the members undertook to host a number of important events including Three Cornered Shoots in 1973 and ’76 and the County Open Championship in 1975, ’89 and ’91 and the County FITA in 1980.  Catering was always made available at these events and we managed to offer tea and other hot drinks throughout the shoot and even had a leader board facility (very hard work, mainly because archers seem to delight in hiding their score boards).

We also offered courses to other organisations like the Rangers, Boy’s Brigade, the WI (who found archery rather tame after their previous sky diving experience) two memorable Have a Go’s for the army at Albermarle Barracks and Hexham Race Course and another memorable, but not so pleasant experience, at Dunston Hospital when patients and visitors alike seemed bent on suicide.

Each year saw newcomers to the club, but many members tended to disappear completely after a winter of inactivity although we did shoot on Boxing Day to bring us all together.  After the most hardy had shot the requisite number of arrows we adjourned to the house of one of the members, together with family and friends, and had hot soup and casserole dishes and coffee to thaw out during the prize giving – when the aftershave was always awarded to the hirsute members because of some chicanery on the part of the organiser.  As we grew in membership this friendly get together had to be transferred to the Club house, which offered coffee, sandwiches and light snacks.  Under the new management, however, the club facilities seem to be no longer available and we had to fall back on the local hostelry, still pleasant but possibly lacking in club spirit.

To try to keep members more closely in touch during the winter various indoor venues were tried, including a Boy’s Brigade hall in Byker which was so cold that spilt coffee froze on the floor.  We were fortunate enough to be able to shoot at Walbottle School for a few years.  The backstop netting was Tony’s old carpet and we supplemented the lighting with some retired traffic lights.  One winter season ended in an Open Evening and we gave a shooting demonstration in the Assembly Hall, when arrows were shot through a dustbin lid and two archers played noughts and crosses.  Unfortunately one sight slipped and an arrow went through the stage curtains and thunked into a boat which happened to be there.  It could have been worse, the male voice choir was next on the programme but not yet assembled on the stage!  The most satisfactory indoor venue was West Denton High School, which was spacious and well lit (but chilly) and we had the cooperation of a wonderful caretaker.  After a few years there we were offered shooting facilities at Ponteland Leisure Centre and because we had had one or two incidents of cars being vandalised at West Denton we decided to move.

During all this time changes were taking place. The Squash Courts were built at the Centre, taking some of the length off our shooting range, but expanding the bar and catering facilities.  On the negative side the orchard overshoot area was developed into what is now Fairney Edge estate.  This made shooting from South to North unsafe.  We tried shooting from west to east across the pitch but one of the occupants of the new houses objected to our using the area and sent for the police three times.  He and his wife also brought their two young children out and stood them in front of the targets on one occasion!  Unfortunately , nobody had an apple.  Although the police agreed we were taking every safety precaution, the Centre Manager felt the constant harassment was unsatisfactory and offered us an area on the far field, next to No 3 football pitch, which was to be ours and ours alone.  We were delighted!  In a fit of enthusiasm Tony Griffin and two helpers did a professional survey showing the piece of land that was to be the club’s shooting ground and its relation to the existing football pitch.  Unfortunately, when this was presented to the manager he realised that there was actually room for two football pitches on the field if he moved one pitch into the area which had been promised to the club.  We were back to sharing a shooting area.  Despite this we soldiered on even when the storage caravan was blown away in a gale.  In ’91 the club raised £1092.50 to buy a container and this was sited in view of the Centre for safety but meant that targets had to be carried a much greater distance, demonstrating that you cannot win them all.

As a club, we have always aimed to make archery a pleasant and companionable activity.  This was the reasoning behind our first venture into an indoor Open Tournament .  During the Christmas holidays the hall at Ponteland was under booked, and the manager offered us the use of the hall for a whole day at a greatly reduced rate, provided we took it during this quiet period.  Thus was born the Vegas, or the Hangover Shoot, which was usually held on the first Sunday after New Year.  Because we wanted to make it a social occasion, as well as an opportunity for people to shoot indoors, we decided to build lunch into the price of the ticket.  This meant that everyone would come together over the meal and have a chance to mingle and natter between the morning and afternoon sessions.  This arrangement was welcomed by all competitors and it is sad that the custom has been dropped.

A similar facility was offered and much appreciated at our Open Tournament.  One competitor from another club confided that he loved shooting at Ponteland because of the ‘lovely grub’.  Unfortunately, because of changes in stewardship we can no longer offer this hospitality.

During the early years finance was always a problem in the club and members frequently had a ‘whip round’ to raise money to buy targets and other equipment.  Our only other sources of income were infrequent grants from bodies like the Parish Council and the ‘Have a Go’ stalls we put on around the area.  Some were very profitable, others very disappointing.  We were also rather unrealistic in our charges for beginner courses.  Charging £10.00 for four sessions, with £5 going towards membership fees if the beginner joined the club.  It was only when one young candidate kept trying to hand over £10.00 each session, at the behest of his parents, that we realised that we were completely out of step with the rest of the sporting world!  After that we raised the initial fee, with no refund.

Fourteen years ago we were asked to put on a display and Have-a-Go at Belsay and from this the Belsay Longbow Shoot was born.  Initially a one day event, it became so popular that we were spending lots of money sending back application forms to people we could not accommodate.  When we mentioned this to Sue Bolam, the Belsay Trust Estates Manager, she immediately suggested a two day event and it has been run successfully over two days for the past few years.  The Have-a-Go is one of the most important fund raising activities for the club but it is exhausting and is now held on the Sunday only, giving club members a much needed break and enabling them to shoot on the Saturday with a clear conscience.

Membership began to increase in 1985, when we started to shoot at West Denton.  New members were attracted through the West Denton High School connection as well as through publicity in local papers and libraries.  Membership rose to 60 at that point.

About this time it also became clear that we should increase the stock of beginner equipment for use in the beginner classes.  Up to that time we had used ‘jelly bows’ but these were now more difficult to buy, especially in the lighter draw weights, and take-down bows were reducing in price.  Some equipment had been donated by members over the course of the club’s history but this was not always suitable.  It was decided to invest in some lightweight take-down bows, suitable for beginners, and we gradually acquired some heavier bows which were suitable to take new members over the first season of shooting.  In the past many members had been lost because they could not afford to buy suitable equipment.  There is also a tendency, if archers buy their own equipment too quickly, to find that performance drops off because they are struggling with a bow which is too heavy for them.  To counteract this the club decided on a ‘hiring’ policy, where the archer could hire a light weight bow and exchange it for a heavier bow as their muscles and physique developed.  This seemed very successful.  Another innovation, aimed at helping the newcomer, was a scheme, initiated by Chris Broad, for beginners to shoot to a plan, achieving a certain standard at 20 yards before moving on to a longer range.  A medal was offered at the end of the plan.

Over the years we have had the pleasure of shooting with members from overseas.  Among them Keiko Takekawa was a member for two years whilst her husband did post graduate work at Newcastle University and Bjorn Haug was over from Norway and joined us with his son, who is now married and children of his own.  Other visits from Germany, America and the Far East have also been welcomed from time to time.

At the present day the club is very successful and catering for a range of abilities, from beginners up to County and even National Team standards.  Even now, though, we are still struggling to achieve that Nirvana – a piece of ground we can call our own!

Audrey Hughes

October 2009

18/10/2019, 15:50
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy
11°C
real feel: 13°C
wind speed: 4 km/h N
UV-Index: 1
sunset: 18:02
 
October 2019
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