The Fall and Rise of Taunton Bridge Club

Submitted by English Bridge Union on

Members of Taunton Bridge Club

Kate Pilkington, Chair of Taunton Bridge Club has written about how the club has overcome a tumultuous few years since Covid and is now beginning to thrive once again:

Re-wind, to 2019. Taunton Bridge Club is a thriving club, with well over 100 members who meet on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesday night tends to be the more “serious” night, with some of the best players in the County regularly turning out to do battle. It’s usually a quieter night than Friday, with perhaps 7 tables. On Friday, the evening is a little less intense and often boasts 10+ tables and a good night is had by all. Then, one day in March 2020 everything changes. Covid shuts down all the clubs and we are forced to look for another way to get our weekly fix. In an effort to keep the Club alive, the committee starts an online session once a week on BBO.

Fast forward, to 2021. Life is slowly returning to normal, so the Club committee contacts all its members to say we are hoping to re-open one day a week initially, and takes a poll as to which day would suit the majority of members. Friday is selected, the online session stops and the Club re-opens it’s doors.

No doubt, this scenario would sound familiar to a great number of bridge clubs around the country. However, despite asking the members which day they would prefer, the early sessions were not well attended and the club started to slip into a gradual decline. By mid-2023, we were lucky to get 4 tables, 3 were much more likely and on occasions, we were forced to play a team event with only 2 teams. Once or twice, only 3 pairs showed up and so the evening was cancelled altogether. It seemed the fewer people attended, the worse the situation became. Although we were in contact with each other, we had not held an AGM or even a committee meeting since Covid and the Chair was reluctant to arrange one for fear that the entire committee would resign en bloc. Then, in late 2023, we lost our Chair and the future seemed bleaker than ever.

It was at this point, that I felt we had nothing to lose. If we took no action, the club would disappear anyway, so it was time to grasp the nettle. I called a committee meeting, and we sat down to decide what to do. To their great credit, most of the committee agreed to continue in post for another year to see if we could somehow rescue the situation. We needed a new Chair. I was the slowest to stand back, inheriting the post by default really, but with the support of the remaining committee and a new Secretary from our very depleted ranks we set about the task of revitalizing the Club.

The first step was to contact all our old members again, informing them of the changes to the committee, and asking them if they would help by telling us what was stopping them from returning to face to face bridge. They were also asked if they would be more likely to come on a different evening, and how they felt about the premises. We had already heard some complaints about our venue so it was no surprise when many of the responses we received were critical of the hall we were using. We collated the responses and took notice of the three main issues that were highlighted. One was the dislike of the hall, another was disappointment that refreshments had been discontinued and a third point raised was that we had stopped putting the hands on the website after a session so people couldn’t look through and see where they had gone wrong … or right! 

Members of Taunton Bridge Club

The quick fixes were updating the website (courtesy of our new Secretary), and easiest of all, refreshments – tea, coffee and the all important biscuits were reinstated immediately. We then organized a tribute evening to our previous Chair, and invited people from bridge clubs all around the County, offering a spare partner for one night only so everyone who wanted to come would be guaranteed a game. He had been a very active and respected figure county wide, and the evening was well attended. It gave us an opportunity not only to honour his memory, but also to advertise the new Taunton Bridge Club.

We had lost some of the people who were computer savvy, but one was still coming regularly and it was obviously important to get more people trained to use the dealing machine and the bridgemate system so we could address the lack of information on the website. We were fortunate to have a few who felt confident enough to take this on and although it took a little while, we now publish the hands every week and have a small pool of people who can cope with the technology. Taunton Bridge Club Chair does not number amongst those, but we all play our part in some capacity!

One of the biggest challenges was finding a new venue. I had contacted around a dozen local halls to no avail – either they weren’t free on a Friday, or they cost silly money which we simply couldn’t afford, even if our table numbers did increase. Some had no parking, others had parking but not right by the hall which would have meant a longer walk than was reasonable for some of our less mobile members, across unlit, uneven ground. Eventually, one of our Committee members suggested a fairly new hall I didn’t even know existed. When we contacted them, all our prayers were answered. The Hall was a good size, a very good price, and had parking on site. There was a lockable cupboard, which was big enough to take all our belongings and the Chair of the managing committee even built us a cart on wheels where we could store our tables. The deal was struck!

The final piece of the puzzle now was to convince people to return to us – like the “Field of Dreams”, we hoped that if we built it, they would come. I produced a flyer, advertising the Club as under new management, with new premises and a promise of a friendly club, which was a good place to get some bridge. This was sent out to various local clubs, and the committee also used word of mouth at the other clubs where we play all around Somerset. We encouraged players of all abilities to come and try us out, and offered a system to find a partner for those who didn’t have regular partnerships. We waived the stipulation that non-members could only play three times in a calendar year before they had to join or stop coming. Given that the table money is more for non-members, there is still an incentive to join. Anyone playing once a month would pay less if they joined. That said, we had collected no subscriptions since Covid anyway!

We moved to our new premises in December, and on the first night, we had more tables than we had been getting for months. This trend continued, and as the word got out that Taunton was properly back in business, offering a reasonable number of tables, the more people began to filter in. By January 2024, I announced that subscriptions were now due and to my great joy, almost everyone who was present that evening produced their £5 and joined on the night. Taunton Bridge Club was on the up, and it has continued to grow. We are now getting 6/7 tables most evenings, and our membership is back to 40. There is still a way to go to get back to our pre-covid levels, but every week is a triumph and a credit to those members of the committee who stuck by the club, and the small nucleus of members who resolutely refused to allow it to die.

Obviously, every situation is slightly different, but to me the message is clear. Good communication, listening to what the members want and advertising was paramount to getting people back to the Club. Keeping them is the next step, and I believe that will depend on the atmosphere at the Club. We stress that it is a friendly club. Of course, we take the competition seriously, but I hope we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The best part of our evenings as far as I am concerned is seeing the smiling faces and hearing a good amount of laughter too. We all know that bridge is a serious business, but in the final analysis, most of us come out for an enjoyable social evening. As long as I am at the helm, I will strive to make sure that is exactly what you get if you come to Taunton Bridge Club.

Members of Taunton Bridge Club


Blog tags