Category Archives: Families

Providing chess services – the Newham model

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Sir Robin Wales is the Mayor of Newham and a supporter of chess in schools and communities.

The London Borough of Newham has taken the lead in providing services for its citizens through a partnership with Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC). Newham is one of the poorest districts in not only London but England and has one of the highest ethnic minority populations. The London Olympic Park and Stadium were located at Newham as part of a regeneration plan. Chess is known to be relatively most effective in improving the educational attainment of children from deprived families and those whose parents were born abroad.

Newham wants to ensure that its children and the wider community are able to access supervised chess sessions. This could only happen as a result of political support. In the last Council the Newham Labour party election manifesto included the promise that “Every Newham child a chess player”. The Council has contracted CSC to provide chess services. Through the partnership between Newham Council and CSC, over 1100 children in 21 Newham schools receive a weekly timetabled one-hour chess lesson. In addition there are another 150 children playing chess in either breakfast, lunchtime or after school chess clubs. This contract is a model that could be adopted by other local authorities.

As part of the contract, CSC also runs community chess clubs in five Libraries. These are popular with over a hundred adults and children playing regularly. Two more Libraries wil join the project in 2016. To continue the community ethos, CSC runs a Newham team in the London Chess League which gives an opportunity for adults to play at a higher level.

Children are also encouraged to be involved in competitive chess. CSC supports the Newham primary school team in the EPSCA (English Primary Schools Chess Association) tournament at the under 9, under 11 level. Newham is to host the 2016 under 9 East of England zone.

This academic year CSC started a five tournament junior grand prix series in Newham, running from September 2015 to February 2016. This gives the juniors of Newham a chance to play tournament chess within three miles of home. The Newham/CSC project has produced some very strong juniors who regularly compete in and win age group tournaments in Essex and Kent. Towards the end of the academic year, CSC hosts a Newham primary school team championship, which this year attracted over 200 children. In summer 2016 CSC is looking to hold an adult chess congress in the Borough.

Richard Harding, the CSC project co-ordinator said “The partnership between Newham Council and CSC gives opportunities not just to its young people,but the whole Newham community to learn the fantastic game of chess”.

Newham Councillor Ken Clark will be the opening speaker at the conference.

In the photograph at the top, Newham children are playing an online match against a team from Sunrise, Florida. The match was organised with the support of the both Mayors.

Chess in Prisons: a big deal

Kajetan Wandowicz writes:

I was somewhat surprised one Saturday to receive apologies for the absence of one of the regulars when I arrived for my weekly chess club at HMP Bristol. “He says he’s very sorry he can’t make it today,” said the guard, “but his sister is visiting.” Don’t get me wrong: it is of course good manners to excuse non-attendance but, after all, it was only a leisurely, drop-in, voluntary chess club session. I never even made any assumptions who would be there and who wouldn’t, much less expected regular participation.

This must have shown in my face as Chris looked at me and said, “You know, it’s a big deal for them. Most men have told their families not to visit on Saturdays because they’ve got chess. He’d never miss it if his sister wasn’t flying back home to the States tomorrow.” I’m sure you can imagine how much of a testament to our little chess club that was. Weekends are naturally more convenient for families to schedule visits, with no work or school to arrange around. Weekday visits are not only trickier to schedule, but they also carry higher cancellation risk. But Saturday is chess day.

I started thinking about prison chess a couple of years ago. Sometime around November 2013 thinking turned to planning, planning turned to excessive e-mailing, lobbying, shameless gate-crashing and all other sorts of prodding which the prison decision-makers had to endure. This in turn led to meetings, and meetings led to us finally starting to work together in January this year.

Theoretically, chess can have huge benefits in a prison – intellectual rigour, channelling aggression, positive attention focusing, cheap and inclusive, teaches social rules, decision making, logical thinking. If the above looks strangely familiar to every single reader, that’s the point: our pitch to prisons can pretty much be a carbon copy of our pitch to primary schools that we all know so well.

The benefits of chess for children, which we always communicate to schools, are directly transferable to this environment. Well, perhaps except boys playing with girls. And even more, actually: whilst we do go to some tough schools, children generally don’t struggle with drug or alcohol abuse. Anyone who’s read John Healy’s brilliant The Grass Arena will have seen what prison chess can do to combat these.

The bottom line is that many many prisoners are there precisely because of their unfortunate inability to make sensible decisions, either through not thinking before making one or through mis-evaluating potential outcomes.

Thanks to CSC’s support, the project is now developing. We’re getting close to securing some key partnerships with other organisations interested in prisoner welfare. Since May, chess clubs have started in one more wing, and we’re hoping to team up with a local charity to open a free chess school for prisoner’s children. As with our chess programme in primary schools, the prison school’s numeracy course has weekly chess.

KajetanWandowiczKajetan Wandowicz grew up in Poland and tried living in France, Cyprus and Spain before discovering that the food and the weather were much better in England. He lives with his fiancée in Bristol, where he teaches 16 CSC classes and a weekly library club.