Supersize Your Chess Club

The March 2019 issue of the British Chess Magazine features an article in which Adam Raoof sits down with four members of Hammersmith Chess Club (who are about to win Division 1 of the Thames Valley League) to discuss the club’s rise from what appeared to be terminal decline in October 2014 to its current preeminence.

At that time they had only 19 members and were in danger of bankruptcy. By October 2016 they had 31 members, and now they’re up to 86, with almost 15 new enquiries in January 2019 alone. According to PR and Events Officer John White: “The club had become a bit stale, with no proper governance, few events and a declining membership”. But now they have, in John’s words again, “proper Committee, proper Constitution, good Twitter use, brilliant website that is always updated, get people involved, offer more than just playing chess, emphasize the social aspect, get involved with a junior club”. The club is involved with the local community, raising money for charity through outdoor chess displays every summer. They also organize trips abroad to meet other clubs: Amsterdam and Cork in the past two years, and, this year, Wroclaw.

According to committee member Andy Routledge it comes down to three things:

1. Run the club properly. A committee that functions, not just stale people doing stuff the same way it’s always been done.
2. Do stuff. Organise things other than just league matches.
3. Communicate the stuff you do. Website, Twitter, Facebook, emails etc.

Hammersmith’s neighbours from south of the Thames, Battersea, have been equally successful in the last few years. A little bird tells me a similar article about their secrets of success may be coming soon.

All this is fine, but you need to find the right people. Committee members who are reliable, conscientious and efficient organisers. Committee members who have communication skills, who are good at meeting and talking to people. This takes time, and is unpaid work. Most people have jobs, these days often involving working long and sometimes unpredictable hours. Most people have families. Most people have other interests. It’s not easy to find the right people, and most clubs, especially smaller clubs, don’t have them around. Sometimes you strike lucky and the right person comes along and knocks at your door.

The other problem we have at Richmond at the moment is the lack of a suitable venue to enable us to ‘do stuff’ beyond playing matches and a few social games. Unless you know someone who can do you a favour, decent venues in this part of London are prohibitively expensive.

There are ways forward, but we need more people to get involved. If you can help, or you know someone who might be interested, please get in touch with myself or another committee member.