The radio discussion follows a formal UK Government announcement this week on a funding package of just under £1m to develop chess in England, which will be shared by the English Chess Federation, local authorities, and primary schools in disadvantaged areas. Culture Secretary Liz Frazer said the investment is focused on young people, and designed to help give them, “someone to talk to, something to do and somewhere to go.” She also stated chess teaches young people important skills, including critical thinking and patience.
Caitlin invited Harry Marron, who manages junior club Lenzie Chess Academy, to join her for the discussion on providing young people in Scotland with greater exposure to over-the-board chess. The conversation featured the following points:
Caitlin: “We’re quite a new Club, we had to take a break during the pandemic, then we came roaring back in 2022. We have 45, 46 members now, last year we had seven, there’s been an absolute boom in popularity. We have quite a wide range of people, all different backgrounds. The main reason I got back into chess was over lockdown… I had a revenge arc to learn and beat a friend! What’s nice about chess is, you don’t need anything fancy, whether you are new or a Grandmaster, you always have the same board, the same pieces.”
Harry: “Chess is more popular to young people than it has been for a long time. It’s thriving in Scotland – during Covid young people started playing online… Queen’s Gambit was very entertaining and the chess part was done particularly well. Parents watched and they encouraged their children [to play].”
Caitlin: “We have tennis courts, outdoor gyms, basketball courts – outdoor chess tables isn’t anything different. We go to random picnic benches at the moment and bring some chess boards along. What you find is, people come walking past and go, “Oh – chess!”. It’s almost always that they play chess as a child and haven’t played in a while and come back. Being physically visible is really important, and promoting chess to young people is really important.”
Harry: “I had a five year old visit Lenzie, who is now the number 2 ranked under 9 player in the world. Although he knew how the pieces move, I taught him. He has sight, determination and a tremendous work ethic. At the top it’s 1% talent and 99% hard work. But there’s a lot of creativity in chess too.”
Caitlin: “We play in pubs and cafes around the southside, we currently play in the downstairs area of a pub! People think of chess as being in a big silent hall, and you’re not allowed to talk or do anything, but times are changing, it’s in parks, pubs, cafes. There’s more than sitting silently for three hours. I like the chess side – the focus, the patience – and also the social aspect. It helps with social connections, people have said they came to the Chess Club when they had their schooling disrupted and they were a bit isolated, it was really helpful to have a shared common interest.”
Listen to the full broadcast here. The chess discussion took place on the 24 August show with Stephen, and started at 10:50am (1h:50m into the 9am-noon broadcast). It will be available for one month following broadcast on the BBC Sounds app and website.
Meanwhile, following our recent letter to Alison Thewliss MP, Alison has helpfully written to the Prime Minister to ask for clarity on whether there are plans to extend, or proportionally match, the UK Government chess funding package in Scotland. We will share further developments when a response has been received.