A BOWLS club which was saved from the brink of closure when the pitch was in a "muddy" state has finally reopened.

Bantham & Ongar Bowls Club, which meets in North Weald, was given a £54k grant from the National Lottery Foundation to clean up the pitches and help secure its place in the community.

Club captain Francis Czuba originally applied for a grant from the organisation in 2015, but when his plea was rejected, he refused to give up.

The 66-year-old said: "People were crying at the thought of it closing - it's very important to some people who have been going for years and years.

"People were very concerned. We knew that with no green, there would be no club. Money had dwindled a bit as membership dropped, so we weren't getting the income.

"People would come to play here and comment on how the pitch was muddy and they'd get stuck.

"After our initial bid was unsuccessful I was determined this wouldn't be the end of our club. People were pessimistic but I tweaked our bid and when we found out we'd been successful, we were over the moon.

"We couldn't believe how lucky we were. I felt like a minor celebrity. Everyone was ecstatic."

The club was given the money in May 2016 and it was opened at a champagne reception by a number of dignitaries, including the president of the Essex County Bowling Association, Mark Cohen.

The vice chairman of Epping Forest District Council, Cllr Richard Basset and his wife, the new Mayor of Epping, Tony Church, also attended.

Before cutting the ribbon to open the green, Mark Cohen gave a speech on the future of bowls and the relevance of the artificial surface to the modern game.

After the speeches, twelve bowls clubs took part in a triples competition sponsored by Daniel Robinson & Sons Funeral Directors with clubs from across the county.

Seamus Setterfield, on behalf of the sponsors, then presented prizes of hampers to the top three teams: 3rd -Falcon Bowls Club (Chelmsford), 2nd - Stock and Buttsbury Bowls Club (Stock) and 1st - Halex Bowls Club (Chingford).

The club opened in 2000 and bought two homeless bowls clubs together.

Today, it has 50 members on its books and hopes to continue expanding and can play in all weathers, because of the new artificial pitch.

Grandad-of-three, Mr Czuba, who joined with his wife, Sue, the honorary chairman, nine years ago, added: "It was wonderful to see local politicians supporting community sports activities and showing such an interest bowls.

"Perhaps things can be best summed up in the way one visitor described the day 'perfect, the best bowls event she had ever attended, perfect green, wonderful food, brilliant bowls, the two professionals as superb, great entrainment, lovely atmosphere and surroundings and a really warm welcome.' I hope this will encourage more people to join our club and take up bowls.

"It's more than just a sports club - it's a very social community hub for people who have been coming here for years, and have friends here."

To join, call 01277 362955 or email at Banthamandongar@gmail.com.