Club Management Focus: Winter 2012

Developing Bridge in Yorkshire & Leeds

by Lesley & Ron Millet

At all levels in Yorkshire there has been a concern for some time over the declining numbers and rising average age of those who play duplicate Bridge. We have always been aware of this but real concern was probably triggered by the EBU Strategy Report published in April 2008.

To underline this point the average EBU member is 62 years old. That simple statistic is a stark pointer as to where we are heading if radical action is not taken.

In Yorkshire the figures paint a similar picture with the vast majority of players who are in the 55 – 80 year bracket.

Figures (Nov 2011) compiled by David Musson, Membership Secretary, YCBA

We pressed for the establishment of Development and Education Committees both in Yorkshire (YCBA) and at our Club, Leeds. Our views were welcomed at both levels in fairly quick succession. To be fair education facilities existed already but needed a tonic with a new approach and priority. Our approach was to place Education centre stage by making it the core of Bridge Development.

The County Committee was set up 2 years ago and the Leeds equivalent got going 6 months later. We were aware that we needed to concentrate on providing lessons as a means of attracting people into Clubs. This was to be the vehicle for driving forwards the development and maintenance of Bridge in the future. Lesley had been on the original EBU Clubs Committee. Her contacts from this as well as her experience at the YCBA and as a former Chairperson of Leeds gave her the contacts and standing to push this forward.

Meanwhile Ron persuaded the Millennium Fund to donate £3000 towards the development of Bridge in Yorkshire. The argument that was made and accepted was that Bridge could be crucial in preventing the early onset of Dementia. Everyone at Yorkshire was enthusiastic that results could be achieved. Under the Chair of David Waxman this sum was matched by the YCBA to spend on our campaign. Our work included a new bespoke Website developed specifically to encourage Bridge education - With a further contribution of £500 from Leeds we now had a campaign fund of more than £6000.

Without a seriously expensive and penetrating marketing campaign it is probably impossible to make Bridge a “Sexy” game like Poker. Indeed we are not sure that we would want to achieve results in this way.

What we have achieved is as follows...

  • Using Leeds as a template, we worked towards a system of payment for teachers. This has been at least for expenses and ideally for a decent fee. We believe that this increases respect both for the teacher and from those learning. At the same time, we have encouraged fees to be paid by those learning, with the aim of making lessons self financing and even providing a surplus to the Club. In the case of Leeds, in the first full year this has been greater than the initial £500 contribution.
  • Encouraged new teachers to attend EBUTA teaching courses with 17 attending the most recent one in Leeds. This was jointly funded by the EBU and the YCBA.
  • Contacted several local schools and set up new lunch time or “after school” Bridge clubs
  • Increased the number of courses being held at Clubs. For example, at Leeds the new seasons' courses started in October. They now have beginners and improvers sessions on Monday, Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays – all with different formats. This includes Improvers + (those who have been playing for some time but still need supervised Bridge). Leeds now has at least 80 newcomers learning Bridge at all levels at any one time and we expect this number to increase.
  • Advertised our lessons in local “on-your-doorstep” magazines, supermarket notice boards, local newspapers and on our own Leeds Bridge Club website and the specially created learnbridgeyorkshire website.
  • The learnbridgeyorkshire website not only advises the public what is available but has started to get Bridge Clubs generally a bit more enthusiastic about their activities.
  • At Leeds those learning Bridge at the Improvers+ level become full Club members. There is a positive policy of encouraging their early involvement in all aspects of the Club. This includes the creation of a masterpoints ladder, the creation of quarterly prizes for different levels including one for Club master and below and the reservation of at least one position on the Club Executive from the Improvers+ section. In fact all beginners/improvers are eligible to join the Club and they are encouraged to do so. In this way we hear their views and smooth their integration into the Club.

What has made us Successful

With all the effort that has been put into developing Bridge education in the Yorkshire area there are certain things that are needed to be successful:

  • Financial resources to get going
  • Positive support and understanding both from the County and the Clubs who share our perspective on Bridge development. Both the YCBA Executive Committee and the Leeds Club Committee have been particularly constructive in this area. As we achieve positive results other Clubs have become enthusiastic as well.
  • A good team of capable and willing teachers who have a “can do” approach.
  • A structured and sensitive approach on teacher development AND retention.
  • The development of the campaign has been a 3 way discussion between the YCBA, the teachers and the relevant Clubs. This has begun to build up the sense of being part of a team - something coherent and self driven.
  • Good publicity, especially the use of the free newspapers that most areas have.
  • The website learnbridgeyorkshire which is available for other Counties that may choose to develop and vary it to suit their own needs.
  • We think that crucial to our success has been our restrained approach of providing assistance and encouragement as a background service only when and where it is requested.

What remains to be Done

Whilst we have been successful, this has been limited to the Leeds, Bradford, Wetherby and York areas. We are acutely aware that in other areas many Clubs soldier on with only one or two lone teachers. Sometimes they have abandoned teaching altogether. This situation is made worse because the potential Bridge population is small or very little is known about the game in the area where they teach. The danger for the future is that Bridge will become restricted to a few major centres of population – with nothing beyond.

Once newcomers have started a series of lessons they may then be lost to Bridge. They drop out half way through or more importantly, they disappear “off the radar” to play social Bridge, away from their local Club. In the long term we see the need to develop a system of personal follow up, so that all the effort that has been put into teaching has not been in vain.

So far, although it has taken a lot of time, the work has been comparatively straight forward. Now we will need to raise interest in the smaller towns, villages and rural areas where Clubs may be either struggling, or not gaining any new membership.

This next stage will require a lot more effort, patience and resources.

Remember that from April 2010 the EBU has trained 202 club teachers representing approximately a third of all affiliated clubs. The numbers are growing. If your club hasn't taken advantage of a Partner Teacher course yet, please visit or contact

Lesley & Ron Millet

Contact Details

Lesley Millet
Tel 0113 320 1230