I’m just back from a visit to Stamford Bridge Club, where I last played as a schoolboy, almost exactly 40 years ago! Then it was a club with shared premises, which met twice a week and averaged about 7-8 tables per game. Now it has large purpose-built premises that are used to capacity virtually every day, making them currently the fourth largest club in the EBU, by player sessions. No doubt a huge amount of effort over a long period of time has gone into achieving this steady and sustained expansion, and they seem to have a large number of willing volunteers as well as their formal committee.
The reason why I was invited there along with their local MP Nick Boles, was for their second Inter-Schools event, where the club was filled to capacity by 100 pupils from eight junior and two secondary schools, some coming from quite a distance. Also present helping, along with numerous teachers and club members, were a couple of members of our junior teams and junior coach Alan Shillitoe.
This is all part of the Stamford Youth Bridge Academy, an initiative started by former teacher Liz Dale to get bridge teaching welcomed into schools by tailoring it to the National Curriculum and Ofsted’s Inspection Handbook criteria. Liz has written a book about her process, Starter Bridge – a Handbook for Schools, available in the Bridge Warehouse so that other interested clubs can build on their success.
Last month I had also visited another club, Stansfield in Suffolk, which raised £1,500 towards the cost of sending our four junior teams to China later this year, by selling prints of artwork by local artist Rui Paes. Here too I was impressed by the enthusiasm and organisational efficiency of its committee and members, who have created an expanding, welcoming club with the emphasis on the enjoyment of playing bridge – along with wine and home-made sausage rolls at half-time!
Quite a bit of my job is involved with considering the problems that many of our member clubs face and trying to provide solutions and help to them. It’s refreshing once in a while to be reminded that there is another side to this picture and that for some clubs the biggest problem they face is how best to manage the expansion of their membership.