Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Barry's Blog 5

First things first……bye, bye M25.

Now the important stuff; last week the EBU board approved a new project which will promote Clubs and Teachers into the place they should always have been, the centre of the EBU universe.

I have always thought that many of the non EBU members in affiliated clubs get the benefits of the organised game without directly contributing towards it. They are likely to have been taught by an EBUTA trained or certified teacher, their weekly session is likely to have been run by an EBU trained director, the club stationery they use are at reasonable prices because of the EBU presence in the market place and, most importantly, their club night is assured in the long term because of the investment the EBU puts into education at all levels. Next time you are at your club maybe you should ask a non EBU member what they are doing to contribute to the future of the game that they enjoy so much, especially as it costs less than 40 pence per week.

The EBU are widely regarded as being the best when it comes to organising tournaments, and we are very fortunate in having the World Bridge Federation’s Chief Tournament Director on our permanent staff. Of course we are proud of any compliments that come our way and we are never complacent, always looking at ways to improve services to our tournament players.

However, while tournaments and congresses are very important to us it only represents a fraction of what the EBU is all about. Take the clubs for example; there are almost 1000 affiliated clubs; I wish we had time to visit them all. You cannot fail to be impressed by the amount of work done by volunteers in the clubs. I call them the unsung heroes! Week in, week out they open up the bridge room, put out all the stuff, collect table money, calculate the result, make the tea, organise competitions, collect subs, stick things on notice boards. These people are the “Real Deal EBU”.

A week or so ago, I went to one of my regular clubs and chatted to one of the Committee. He told me that he had been at work that day, came directly to set up, collect money etc, but as he was the night’s host, was unlikely to play, which he didn’t. So, selflessly, he went home!

But, probably the most undervalued people in the bridge world are the teachers. In fact without the teachers there wouldn’t be an EBU because they are the primary recruiters of new people to bridge. I think that teachers know more about the game than any of us. They know that new people enrolling on courses often do so for reasons other than the game. They know that building a new community is more important than the weakness takeout and if they are to keep their students happy, a glass of wine (or sometimes tea I suppose) is more important than a Ron Klinger flipper. Teachers are the best at spreading the word – that bridge is more than just a game.

The EBU is often accused of being out of touch with ordinary members – being more interested in bridge hands than bridge people and yet during my short experience in bridge administration I’ve found the opposite to be true. Over the summer months, a development committee, commissioned by the Board have been visiting lots of bridge clubs - big city clubs, small village hall clubs, sports centre clubs. Their task has been to find out how the EBU can improve and build on its services to members and clubs. They have listened to what members had to say. Many clubs are worried about falling numbers; some said that the average age in their club was rising every year. This agrees with our own figures – we have the same amount of affiliated clubs as we have had for decades – but membership is gradually falling.

Thanks to our teachers, the numbers of new students to the game remains buoyant and our teacher training courses are very popular. The problem lies with the transition of graduating students into our clubs. We recognise that the solution to this lies with the relationship between the EBU and its teachers. Over the coming months we will invite prospective teachers to help us bridge that vital gap between classroom and club room. We shall be introducing a new category of teacher – the EBU “Partner Teacher” along with new “Partner Teacher” courses. We are sure that our new innovative package for these teachers, with its great new incentives, will inspire ordinary members to become teachers and existing teachers to become even more effective in helping students make the transition into organised bridge.

And that’s not all. Existing clubs, fledgling clubs and even non affiliated clubs need more help in recruiting new members. We shall, in due course, be announcing new packages available to all clubs to help them achieve their aims.

These are very exciting times and I feel privileged to be a part of the EBU at a time of such optimism.