Club Focus: Winter 2011

Bridge is thriving in Southeast Sussex -- Part I

by Ray and Angie Bittan (with Krys K)

Bexhill Bridge Club is situated in a very pleasant part of East Sussex. We meet in St. Augustine’s new Church Hall, which is approximately 200 metres from the sea. Our environs attract a balance of people in retirement, and there are several Bridge Clubs in the vicinity that meet the needs of players, many of whom wish only to play in the afternoons.

Bexhill Bridge Club meets only in the evenings, and for some time our membership has been declining, due to the factors outlined above. Our Committee decided that we must take some positive action to reverse the trend, and so we set out a plan of action.

Firstly, as Secretary, I contacted the EBU Club Liaison Officer (Krys K -, who was most helpful. He gave me advice over the telephone and sent some papers on possible ways forward.

We then began to organise a Free Club Open Night. Information was relayed by word of mouth, Members’ invitation and local advertisement. Our Chairman, who had previously made good contacts with a journalist at the Local Observer newspaper, managed to persuade the Editor to print a feature on the Club and, within the piece, advertise the forthcoming Open Night. The local paper also gave us continuing free advertisement and sent a photographer on the Open Night to take pictures, which were printed in the paper the following week. Simultaneously, I contacted the local Mayor’s office, and we enlisted the support of our Mayor Mr. Jimmy Carroll, who came on the Night wearing his Chain of Office and he, happily, as one of our Members, welcomed all our guests.

The Committee informed all of our current Members about the special evening and explained that after a preliminary meeting with Guests we would endeavour to play some bridge. We therefore would be glad of any Members who would be willing to participate.

The Open Night began with welcome and gifts of specially marked pens. Refreshments were served whilst our Guests were gathered in a circle, together with Members and given time to discuss their various situations and bridge experiences if any. The Committee gave details of the Club informally and later invited Guests to join in a short bridge session. We were pleasantly surprised that approximately 30 Guests came, and a similar number of our Members helped and supported the event.

The Mayor suggested that all guests gave their email addresses which were later drawn for prizes. That information, of course, provided us with future contact potential. We also had previously ascertained that our Club Referee, Mr. Brian Gould, would be attending the Course for Teaching run by the EBU, so were able to take names of guests who were not yet confident to join in the play on the Night and inform them of the forthcoming courses, run by Brian, and partially supported financially by the Club.

Since the Open Night we have organised various special evenings, usually on a fifth Tuesday or Thursday in the Month, when we have given Free to Play Vouchers as prizes. The twelve beginners at Brian’s courses have also been invited to these evenings and have also been awarded small prizes, which Brian has presented at his classes the following week.

Rewardingly, since we started this initiative, we are about to welcome our 22nd new member.

It has taken a good deal of aforethought and commitment by our Committee, of which there are only six. However, we have had tremendous support from our existing Members, who have been very willing to welcome our new players. It is their approach that has made such a difference to our continuing success.

Ray Bittan (Chairman), Angie Bittan (Secretary), Bexhill Bridge Club – East Sussex