Monday, 25 June 2007

Barry's Blog 15

By now most of you who take the time to read my blog efforts will also have seen the Board's proposals for the future of the Union. I am delighted that many members have responded positively but, of course, some have not.

What I am going to try to do in this blog is to explain some facts, from my perspective, which is wider than most because I see things from both sides of life - as an EBU member and an EBU employee involved with the people who are determining the future policy of our 77 year old organisation.

As a member; I am on a good day an average club player; time permitting I play at a few different clubs. The major problems that I see are the behaviour of players and the ageing of the membership. At the ripe old age of 56 I am frequently one of the youngest people in the room. This is, I am often told by our members, because there are not enough young people entering the game. At the time of writing we have just 243 members under the age of 25 on our books, that is less than 1% of our membership.

So I ask why that is? I learned to play card games from my parents and grandparents. It was thus not a big stretch to learn the rudiments of bridge at a relatively young age. I did little with that for many years until I was no longer working, when doing something taxing with my brain became very important. I will pose a question to all of those parents and grandparents out there; how many of you have taught your offspring to play bridge or something similar? I was astonished to discover only recently that many (perhaps 30% of) EBU affiliated clubs proudly announce on our web site that junior players are "not welcome"!!!

As a manager and employee of the EBU; what does the EBU do to encourage new entrants to our game? The answer is, not enough. We just do not have the staff resources or the funds, so we are reliant, in the main, on volunteers. Guess what? Getting volunteers is not as easy as it used to be. There are some wonderful examples for us all; for example, Dave Bessant (who was recently presented with an EBU award) from the Isle of Wight has, totally as a volunteer, put bridge onto the curriculum for all schools on the Island. There are many others too, who do a great job in their local areas.

However, as the work is voluntary, and volunteers come and go, the results are patchy. What we need is more money so that we can spend it on developing our game for future generations. As things stand at present if you are under the age of 50 it is hard to see who you will have available to play against at a club in twenty years!

As an EBU employee, apart from my staff in Aylesbury, I work very closely with many people who give their time, for no remuneration, to carry out remarkable work for bridge. They spend time ensuring that competitions are provided, that the game in England is ruled well (yes, I know you will not all agree with that, please don't email me!), that Tournament Directors are trained; teachers are trained and so on. Some of these people work much longer hours than I do and receive nothing back for it - except frequent and ill informed criticism from a small minority of members who think they know better, yet only infrequently do these people offer constructive comments.

What the Board is attempting with its new strategic proposals is a root and branch change to the manner in which the EBU engages with its members and its clubs; in order to do that they have proposed that all members who play in EBU clubs will be EBU members. This is the way that the most successful bridge organisations in Europe work. They are all increasing their membership numbers - ours steadily decline year after year. The status quo is defunct.

If every player who currently plays at EBU affiliated clubs were to continue to do so, as an EBU member after the changes, it would mean that the EBU would have something like 75,000-90,000 members. At that level of membership it is highly likely that the additional table fee we are presently estimating would be very significantly less than 30 pence per session. Please remember this is not a major fund raising exercise. Extra revenue raised will be used for immediate investment in support of members, clubs, teachers and students; not for the payment of exotic expenses or bottles of wine - just for the development and promotion of bridge in England.

What I am asking every bridge player who plays in our clubs to do is to look beyond themselves and ask, "Can I help the future of this game that I enjoy so much?" If the answer is yes, then I beg you to consider the Board's proposal positively. If the answer is no, then I doubt there is much that I or the Board can say or do to change your mind. If you have some constructive comments to make this would be a great time to pass them on, so that the Board can consider them before it is too late.

Please, please, please "look to the future, or there will not be one"...