Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - August 2020

Sponsored by The Ulverscroft Foundation
Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Memories of the Chess Theme Breaks

By Peter and Celia Gibbs

During the early days of the opening of the Cliffden Hotel in Teignmouth, Devon, Stan Lovell, the then Secretary of the Braille Chess Association, and his wife Jan, spent a holiday there. They were so impressed with the luxury and setting of the hotel, which was then managed by the Guide Dogs Association specifically for visually impaired guests. The hotel featured many facilities for VI guests such as Braille menus, and catered also for guide dogs by providing grooming rooms, spending areas etc.

Stan Lovell discussed with the young manager, Nigel Potts, the possibility of holding a Chess Theme Break which would be a week of chess training and competition combined with social events and outings for both chess players and their friends and family. The Braille Chess Association, under the Chairmanship of Alec Crombie invited Peter Gibbs to organise the event. Peter, an Associate Member of the BCA, had for some years been coach for the then British Blind Chess Champion, Geoff Carlin. Peter was an experienced chess player and arbiter, and was used to working with VI players. Peter accepted the offer.

The more experienced chess players would provide training for the trainees and the trainees would enter a Chess Handicap Competition during the week.

The first event took place in February 1994 and proved to be very popular. It took place once more there in 1995. In 1994, the winner of the Chess Handicap Competition was proud Welshman Des Watkins who came along with his wife, Shirley. In 1995, also at the Cliffden, the chess trophy was won by Geoff Patching.

In 1996, the event moved to recently opened sister hotel - Windermere Manor, and continued to be held there until February 2020.

During the first visit to Windermere Manor, the chess trophy was won by Shirley Watkins, a staunch supporter both of the hotel and the Chess Theme Break.

Geoff Patching won the trophy in both 1997 and 1998. In 1999 Eric Gallacher won the chess competition followed in 2000 and 2001 by Alan Davey.

In 2002 Steve Thacker won the competition and once more in 2005 and 2009. In 2008 Steve tied with George Phillips.

In 2003 George Plechaty was the winner and in 2004 he tied with Philip Gordon.

Philip was the outright winner in 2006. In 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018 George Phillips was the winner with the highest number of times as the winner of the trophy. In 2011, one of the Irish contingent of players who enjoyed the Chess Theme Break, Michael Meaney was the proud winner. Gary Wickett was the winner in both 2014 and 2019. In 2017 Mark Hague and John Jenkins tied as winners of the trophy and Mark was to win once more in 2020.

In addition to the chess training and competition, at each hotel outings were arranged so that guests could become familiar with the area in which they were staying.

At the Windermere Manor Hotel the event evolved over the years. Chess players benefitted from the training they received from the more experienced players in the group, enjoyed the rivalry of the chess competition and also enjoyed the relaxed holiday atmosphere in delightful surroundings. Over the years the musical talents have become a feature of the week. Having so much talent among the group, a regular Soirée evening was held each year. In the early days this was compered by Juliet Reeve and for many years Joan Shorrock has continued to be Mistress of Ceremonies. As a group, we have enjoyed the musical contributions, the poetry, the monologues, the singing and the pure enjoyment of being together in a friendly atmosphere.

On the final day before leaving the hotel, Peter organised a simultaneous chess display for trainees of the chess event. John Toothill (sadly now deceased), who lived in Kendall came along for several years to run the display. Peter has run a simultaneous chess display on numerous occasions and Mark Kirkham has also provided a simultaneous display.

Celia organised a Quiz Night and also ran a Bingo session for several years.

Over all this time, we have had the opportunity to visit numerous attractions of the Lake District. These include a visit to the wonderful waterfall at Aira Force, Grizedale Forest, the Wool Centre at Cockermouth, Lake Coniston, Derwentwater, Grasmere, Keswick, Kendal, a candle factory, Hawkshead and have enjoyed many cruises on Lake Windermere. With the help of Terry (now retired from the hotel) we were introduced to the life and works of William Wordsworth. Terry drove us on outings in the minibus and managed to give us a wonderful commentary at the same time. He introduced us to beautiful poetry. Whilst many of us are acquainted with 'Daffodils', Terry also recited the poignant poem 'We are Seven' a joint effort of Wordsworth and Coleridge. He also read to us 'The Cataract of Lodore' by Robert Sowrey.

Following Terry's retirement the Events Organiser at the hotel was Shery. We had loved the places Terry had taken us to and then Shery opened up some new destinations for us. She drove the minibus and introduced us to the Donald Campbell Museum, Kirby Lonsdale and Cartmel which had become firm favourites with our group.

We have seen many managers at the Windermere Manor over the years. They and their staff have provided our group with friendship, courtesy, good service, good food and a comfortable environment for our Chess Theme Breaks.

After 27 years at the helm Peter and Celia decided it was time to pass on the responsibility for the Chess Theme Breaks. Accordingly they have returned responsibility for the 28th Chess Theme Break to the Braille Chess Association and we wish the organisers well.

We would like to thank all the trainers and trainees who have given their time, expertise and interest in the Chess Theme Breaks. We would also express our thanks to all those from all corners of the UK who have attended as well as our friends from the Republic of Ireland, Canada and Sweden, who have added to the success of the Chess Theme Breaks.