How Woodborough Bridge Club increased its membership
by By Jane Hall (Secretary to Woodborough Bridge Club)

Woodborough Bridge Club (WBC) was founded 30 years ago and right now is flourishing. With more than 70 members we have three “Teams of 8”, and two “Teams of 4” in the County Leagues. We take part in national Sim.Pairs events, and this year ran our first afternoon charity event. Some of our members play for county teams, others are relative beginners. We have members who teach, and members who attend classes. We have members who provide refreshments, and members who enjoy the food. We have the latest electronic equipment with a Dealing machine, Bridgemate2 score pads and software for analysis of hands and players’ performance. How did this come about? Certainly not by sitting back and hoping for the best.

In 2012 our membership was falling, and attendance on the decline. We were averaging 6/7 tables a night. It was obvious that something had to be done, and done quickly. We were fully aware that moving from a small, cosy club to one attracting a wider range of members carried risks and might even result in some members leaving. However, the option to do nothing would almost certainly lead to the end of the club. The committee therefore prepared a plan of action for the club AGM where it was enthusiastically discussed.

Following the very positive reaction at the AGM we have initiated several projects during the last four years:

Teaching: The need for the club to offer classes for all standards of players was considered to be vital. We were fortunate to have a member who had been independently teaching beginners and improvers and was willing to operate under the umbrella of WBC. We paid for a teacher from another club to deliver seminars for intermediate players. We started team practice sessions for our more advanced players. To help and encourage new members we introduced a system of mentoring; where a more experienced player supports a relative beginner. We have a specific lead role on the committee for teaching and development.

Outcome: the classes, which are open to members and non-members, have resulted in new members. Many players have improved their game. The less experienced feel supported and gain knowledge.

Publicity and Communication: We are in competition with several clubs within a 10 mile radius, including the City of Nottingham. We needed to make sure potential members could read about our club and what we have to offer. Now every month an article appears in six local publications. We have used posters in golf clubs, sports centres, libraries and even a bus shelter. We improved our website. Within the club we improved the regular communications with members to create a better feel of ‘club membership’.

Outcome: new members have joined in direct response to our publicity. Visitors have supported our special events and then joined. Demand for classes has increased. Members feel better informed.

Open Evening: We recognised that many potential members are wary of coming to a club for the first time. Who wouldn’t be? Although we read that Open Evenings were not successful in attracting new members this is not our experience.

Outcome: our beginners’ class can come along for a relaxed and supported session, members can bring along their friends. Players new to the area, or wanting to play duplicate for the first time, have come along and subsequently joined.

Welcoming visitors and new members: All new members and visitors are given a “Welcome to Woodborough Bridge Club“ leaflet, and followed up with a call or email. We try to attach a host pair to visitors to make sure they are not left fending for themselves. We have a committee member who acts as the contact point for anyone looking for a partner in advance of the club night.

Outcome: we receive good feedback on how welcoming and friendly visitors found the club. They come again!

Investing in Technology: We were aware of the range of electronic equipment enjoyed by other clubs. We felt we had to keep up with the top clubs as players were increasingly expecting the latest equipment and the improved playing experience. We were fortunate in having a very experienced IT professional who was able to research the options available and provide advice. This helped the committee decide which of the many options would be best for WBC. We felt confident enough in the future of the club to raise money through interest free loans from members to enable immediate purchases.

Outcome: the record of hands and scores is a valuable teaching aid; members enjoy being able to scrutinize their results. No one spends time inputting scores and results are published on the website within half an hour of close of play. No one is any longer worried about playing North and scoring as the score pad works it out for them! Far fewer scoring mistakes are made.

Now and the future: When we bought the scoring equipment we decided on enough for 12 tables to be on the safe side. On the 4th Feb this year we had 14 tables with two tables on paper scoring! So things are going well.

The growth of WBC in a relatively short time has required changes in how we manage the club. The roles of director and scorer have been shared among more members, committee members have specific roles, and the club has become more tightly managed. We may now need to consolidate for a while but there are already items on the “wish list”. We would like to try a hosting system for single visitors if there is demand and we might even consider a second club night. Who knows? The main thing is that WBC did not fade away and is still successfully operating in a Nottinghamshire village.