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Three years ago we gained access to run an after school club in an Inverness secondary school. Despite massive publicity and the full support of the rector we got a very low uptake. The feedback we received was that bridge was “not cool and only for old people”.

I decided that we needed to do something to change this attitude and started attempting to recruit potential tutors, gathering information on the advantages of children learning bridge and contacting primary schools to try to gain access initially in curriculum time or after school. Most head teachers did not reply!

I recruited some volunteers from our bridge class (2nd - 3rd year students) and a few bridge players. As none of us had any experience of teaching bridge to children, 5 of us went to see what they did in Aberdeen Bridge Club where Lorraine Findlay was very helpful. We learned that children learn much faster than adults! We applied for disclosure certificates and I continued to write to different schools. We also developed an 8 week course. I was aware that many bridge players do not want a long term commitment and that the school curriculum is very crowded, so a short course seemed the answer.

Eventually in Nov 13 we got a breakthrough and were invited to meet the head teacher in Ferintosh Primary. In a five minute interview, we were able to convince her of the educational benefits and gained access to both Ferintosh and Mulbuie primary schools as they shared one head teacher. By lunch time on the day of the interview, I also had an invitation to Tore Primary and also started a course there in Jan14 Three schools was as many as we could handle at a time. All the schools so far were small country schools.

The children thoroughly enjoyed the course, the teachers were impressed and twelve children went to the national mini bridge tournament in Stirling. I sent round a feedback questionnaire to the teachers and a summary of results are shown on the SBU education web page. This summary was sent to the Director of Education with a request to access more schools and to consider training the teachers. Volunteer recruitment continued, but we realised that we could not sustain teaching in many more schools without changing the way in which we were working.

From the autumn this year, we are asking for parent helpers in the schools in which we teach. We spend approximately one hour training both the teachers and the parent helpers in the basics of mini bridge.

This term we are going into two large primary schools and teach forty children in one and thirty two in the other. Both schools have ambitions to run after school clubs after the course finishes and the intention is that the teachers along with parent helpers will be able to run these clubs with a little support and teaching material from us. We will also run occasional mini bridge tournaments.

The exciting change this term is that now schools are approaching me as the Director of Education has circulated the feedback form last session’s work to all primary schools in Highland Region. We even have a school in Glenelg starting this term- and a bridge tutor living in Glenelg!

So where do we go from here? I will try to access the secondary schools that our schools feed into for next year. We have possible tutors lined up.

The long term aim is that a few may continue bridge through their secondary school years and that all will have happy memories of bridge and may come back to it later in life without the prejudice that it is only for old people. We are also finding that both the teachers and parent helpers are expressing an interest in learning more and we will consider a parent and child club if we can recruit the volunteers to run it and find suitable accommodation.

Ann Wickens