Bullseye: Lancashire’s sharp-shooting ‘archery bezzies’ on the Bowmen of Pendle and Samlesbury and facing each other in the National Tour Finals
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Fellow members of the Bowmen of Pendle and Samlesbury, self-confessed ‘archery bezzies’ Helen Brown and Kim Doherty are not archers prone to relying on coincidence. Despite the serendipity of them both hailing from the same sleepy road in the Lancastrian village of Newton-with-Scales (population 1,442) near Kirkham, their sharp-shooting journeys are all about precision.
“I got into archery after a friend who was caring for her mother with dementia found herself with a weekend off and invited me to a have-a-go session,” explains Helen. “She asked if I fancied coming along, so I said I would and I was absolutely terrible! But I really enjoyed myself nevertheless and so signed up for the beginners’ course on the spot.
“I’ve been addicted ever since,” she adds. “It was pure luck that I decided to give archery a go, but I liked it because it was just something a bit different. And I’ve never been one for sport, so to actually find a sport that I was quite good at and which I enjoyed was really nice, too. From the start, I was hooked.”
“I used to travel quite a lot with work and spent a lot of time in the US going back and forth, so when I knew that was coming to an end, I thought it was time for me to get a hobby or else I’d come back down to Earth with a bump,” Kim explains. “I’d tried archery once when I was at Guides many moons ago, so I booked myself on a beginner’s archery course.
“Archery was just something I’d tried and never really given much thought to again, and even when I started the beginners’ course, I’d have never said that there was that much of an interest in it!” she continues. “It’s amazing how things change: from a desire to try something new and different I got hooked very quickly.”
Having met seven years ago during a beginners’ course with Spartan Archery at Much Hoole Village Hall, Helen and Kim were soon well and truly enveloped by the world of archery and the vibrant social scene which defines it. They joined the Bowmen together and, over the course of the next few years, established themselves as two of the UK’s top archery talents.
“While I was rubbish to begin with - I was literally missing more than I was hitting - I just loved shooting, which made me want to keep at it,” says Helen. “Kim can attest, she was miles better than me when we first palled up and started training together and learning from each other. But, as I improved, people at the club encouraged me to compete.
“Because I was getting better and because I’m fiercely competitive, I thought ‘go on then, I’ll give it a go’,” she adds. “But, as much as I love shooting, it’s the people that make it - I’ve made so many friends and shooting helps me forget the day I’ve just had. I can just focus on the target in front of me: it’s a real mental well-being thing for me, so I’ve kept it up.”
Kim agrees, calling the people at the Bowmen of Pendle and Samlesbury ‘fantastic’. “We were lucky to find the club,” she explains. “There’s just such a great mix of people of all different ages and backgrounds and it’s lovely to mix with such a wide range of characters because I’ve spent so much time with similar sorts of people in the past through work.
“When I started shooting, I wasn’t too bad - I started with the basic ‘try and pop this balloon’ and, when you managed it, it was so exciting,” adds Kim. “But, even then, I was fairly averse to competing initially because I’d never been into sports and I’d take up archery as a hobby and as a way to meet new people. But, as your scores get better, you start to wonder.”
Both proponents of the pared-back discipline of barebow archery as opposed to recurve bows with their stablisers or compound bows with their pulleys and cables, both Helen and Kim extol the virtues of keeping it simple when it comes to tech.
“I like how the barebow is just me, my bow, and my instinct,” says Helen. “Then it’s all down to my form. With the barebow, there are no stabilisers or sights, it’s your decision and where the arrow lands is down to you rather than your kit. While I can’t directly compare disciplines, I think you get a bit more satisfaction from using a barebow because it’s all down to you.”
“I’ve tried a bit of recurve but, for me, the more things you start adding onto the bow, the more messing about you end up doing,” adds Kim. “Just pointing and shooting with faster results was what it was all about. Everything’s stripped back - getting your arrows where you want them takes more work, but it’s very satisfying.”
And so, fittingly given the archery theme, to Nottingham. In mid-September, the bucolic Wollaton Hall on the outskirts of the city played host to the National Tour Finals and to a tight final between Lancashire’s archery bezzies, with Helen just pipping her friend Kim to the gold medal over the course of a well-fought bout.
“It’s the first year they’ve had barebows at the National Tour Finals, so we were honoured to be invited in the first place,” says Helen. “Then, for Kim and I to reach the final together was extra special. We train together, so we know what the other’s like and how they shoot, so we knew we were never going to give each other an easy ride.
“It was always going to be close, but it was really fun,” she adds. “Just being there was amazing - amongst the other compound and recurve archers in the comp you had national and Olympic champions taking part, so to get barebow in there was such a great opportunity. Hopefully we’ve encouraged others to give it a try.”
“Nottingham was great and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there with anybody else,” says Kim. “It was the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had in a long time, so it was great to be there with my archery bezzie. It was such a great experience - all through our practice, we trained together so, when we had to shoot head-to-head, we'd already done it.
“To have barebow archery included was fantastic because it’s a growing side of the sport,” she adds. “It was an honour to be part of such a prestigious event and fingers crossed it’ll be repeated. Hopefully someone else will see us, see how much fun we're having, decide to give it a go, and end up following in our footsteps!”