Curling, bowling, crazy golf - It's a Lancashire love-in at Barton Grange's Flower Bowl Entertainment Centre
Five years ago the managing director of Barton Grange Garden Centre joined the Preston Curling Club after realising his ambitions to bring only England's second purpose-built curling rink to Lancashire.
Now, in December 2018, it’s been four months since Guy Topping made that dream a reality with the opening of the Â£8 million Flower Bowl Entertainment Centre.
Situated next to Barton Grange Garden Centre, a business founded by Guy’s father Eddie Topping in 1963, it houses a three screen premium cinema, a restaurant, cafe, crazy golf, bowling, and the flagship curling rink.
“We opened in August right in the middle of the summer holidays, so it was very busy from the off,” Guy said.
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“Since then it’s been steady growth, week by week, with the occasional half term and now Christmas rush.
“We’re delighted at how it’s been received. I was quite nervous because I didn’t know how people would react to this. But we are working at a level two to three total already.
“We have some great staff driving everything.
“We are also getting more people through the door of the garden centre which was part of the plan.
“It’s helped significantly with the farm shop which is growing; it seems to have done what we wanted it to do there.”
In October the flagship curling rink held its first international tournament – the 39th Welsh International Bonspiel – welcoming teams from Wales, Scotland and England as well as Scottish curling champion, Gail Munro.
Now Guy is gearing up for the centre to host curling’s Four Nations competition in January, described by Scottish Curling as an “enjoyable and social weekend tournament” between the home nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The 53-year-old said: “There’s going to be teams from all four home nations coming along and taking part in games between all the countries over the weekend.
“Everyone will be playing everyone; it’s a very social thing.”
As well as curling, part of what makes The Flower Bowl such a unique attraction is the building itself, which has a curved grass roof to blend into the heart of the Lancashire countryside.
Guy, who was brought up at the garden centre’s former home at the Barton Grange Hotel, said: “We wanted it to blend in with the local area and it’s just that really well.
“People are quite surprised when they come in because of how it sinks into the natural environment from the outside.”
Part of the plans are to bring sheep to graze on the roof – something that has been pushed back due to the blistering heat wave during the summer of 2017.
Guy said: “It was a nightmare, we didn’t get any rain for about 12 weeks which is unheard of in Preston. So the grass never grew, we just got weeds and they even died due to the heat.
“Then it rained and the weeds grew back so we’ve had to overseed it.
“The plan is now for spring to come along where we will mow the weed away and we can then finally get the sheep in in the summer.
“It’s all everyone wants to ask or talk about!”
As well as consumer, corporate enquiries are beginning to snowball, which saw Preston North End’s squad visit in November where they sampled all that was on offer.
Alfie Topping is one of Guy’s sons currently working in the bowling section of The Flower Bowl.
The soon-to-be Nottingham University undergraduate said: “It’s a great family business and this place shows it.
“The attention to detail, the finishing touches, it lets you know that a lot of effort has been put in to the place.”
The plan for Alfie is complete his degree in Production Design and work oversees before returning to Lancashire and work alongside dad Guy for the family business, which in 1963 was the first farm shop in the North West.
The 18-year-old said: “I want to be a part of it all and keep the business going into the next generation.
“We have a long term family business. I’ll go to university and then carry on [working for the business] after that.”
Linda Jackson has worked for the Toppings for 18 months, moving from Barton Grange Garden Centre to The Flower Bowl when it opened its doors.
Linda, from Clayton-le-Woods, helps maintain the crazy golf course, which is open to the elements next to the Lancaster Canal, but shielded from the rain.
The 56-year-old said: “They’re a really nice family to work; everyone gets on with everyone.”
Sharon England is a member of the Guest Services team at The Flower Bowl.
The Forton resident said was a former estate agent of 20 years before joining the team at the entertainment complex.
The 57-year-old said: “I thought it was an opportunity to be part of something fabulous. It’s a really lovely complex and a nice place to work; I enjoy seeing people enjoy themselves.”
Part of what’s next for Guy is making sure plans for the 150th anniversary of the Preston Curling Club are set in stone ahead of the big day.
He said: “It’s 147-years-old now. In 2012 it’ll be the big one-fifty so we need to be planning ahead pretty soon!
“It’s gone from 20 members to 65 members in just four months which is a nice side to what we’ve achieved.”