By Chris Lohan
Director of Teaching, Folkestone Duplicate BC
Kent Education Officer
Falling membership in bridge clubs and what can be done about it is an issue that the EBU is frequently asked to address. Unfortunately, members are more often than not of the older generation so inevitably numbers will drop for inescapable reasons. The only way that clubs can survive is to bring in new blood - and waiting for potential members to move into the area is never going to be the answer.
The policy that has been adopted by Folkestone Duplicate Bridge Club has breathed new life into this friendly, welcoming club and it is thriving. It now has an active membership covering all abilities from complete beginners to Grand Masters who play alongside each other quite happily. As a result of its increased membership it has been able to invest in new equipment – 2 dealing machines and bridge mates, new tables and so on.
This has come about largely through the successful teaching programme begun some 10 years ago. At that time one of its members took up the EBU offer to train as a bridge teacher, first teaching beginners whom she quickly realised needed to be integrated into the club. With this in mind, the students were invited in initially to play their own prepared practice hands on a given topic previously covered in the lessons. They had a commentary on the bidding and playing of each hand that they could study and discuss - so this was, in effect, an extension of the classes. Importantly they also were able to get the feel of the club and mingle with members over coffee. Subsequently they were given some hands to play that were also being played in the main room – fewer of them and at a slower pace - and ‘Gentle Duplicate’ was born! They had the added benefit, as do all the members, that the hands are published on the club website so can be revisited and even replayed.
It is estimated that 25% of our present membership has come through classes and/or Gentle Duplicate. That original teacher has been awarded professional status by EBED and the club now has 2 more teachers trained under the scheme. We have thirty more students coming through the system, ranging from beginners to improvers and intermediate. In addition, monthly seminars are given by two experienced players to other club members. We have now also extended our teaching into two Primary schools to attract the next generation into the game – and maybe even their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents – the list is endless! FDBC has truly become a hub for good bridge teaching in East Kent.
However, we are not sitting back on our laurels as a club. We advertise ourselves and our classes wherever and whenever we can. We also hope to attract yet another member to train as an EBED teacher.
As we see it the equation is simple - more teachers = more students = more members.