“The Friends of Chess” was founded in 1969 with the express objective of restoring Britain to the leading place it had occupied amongst the world’s chess nations in the nineteenth century. The founding members were C H O’D Alexander, David Anderton, Sir Richard Clarke, Harry Golombek, Ralph Hopton and Sir Stuart Milner-Barry. A yearly subscription was instituted in order to provide funds to aid and initiate such chess enterprises as international tournaments, matches and team events and, perhaps most importantly of all, to assist British chess players to take part in suitable international tournaments where title norms were available.
Although affiliated to the English Chess Federation (“ECF”), the Friends represent an organisation that operates and makes decisions independently of ECF. The management of the Friends’ business is carried out by the Committee, comprising the Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary, and between two and five other members. The Committee is elected at the Annual General Meeting which is normally held either on the middle weekend of the British Chess Championships in August, or later in the year in Central London. Committee members are elected for a one year term, save for the Chairman who is elected for a four year term. Following changes to Charities legislation, it is hoped that in due course the Friends (which represent an unincorporated association) will be able to obtain charitable status and invite gift-aided subscriptions and donations.
What do the Friends do?
The Friends make financial support available in the chess world in ways which are perceived as making a difference. Given the wide-ranging objects (which are expressed as “to advance, encourage, support, sponsor and promote the playing of chess and all activities and interests concerned with chess” and which contain no geographical limitations) there is no limit on the type of chess-related activity that can be supported. However, the majority of grants awarded in recent years have fallen into one of the following four categories.
Support for individuals seeking titles
This is central to the Friends. A significant proportion of the leading English players who have achieved Grandmaster and International Master status have received financial support from the Friends during the early stage of their chess careers, and the need for such support remains for new generations, particularly in relation to players who have ceased, on attaining the age of 21, to be eligible for support from the John Robinson Trust. Players supported in recent years include Danny Gormally, Jovanka Houska, Andrew Greet, Simon Williams, Lawrence Trent, Lorin D’Costa and David Eggleston.
Support for events offering norm or rating opportunities
Assistance to congresses is also a core part of the Friends’ activities, with particular emphasis being placed on new events which are seeking to establish themselves. Events supported in 2009 included the South Wales Masters, Big Slick International, Uxbridge International and Jessie Gilbert Celebration International. Events supported in recent years include Hilton Blackpool, Coventry International, Hastings International and the Staunton Memorial.
Support for teams
This has tended to be concentrated on teams participating in the European Club Cup, which can prove to be a costly venture for clubs. Teams supported in recent years include Barbican 4NCL, Hilsmark Kingfisher, Slough Sharks and White Rose.
Support for players with disabilities
Awards have been made to the Braille Chess Association and the London Deaf Chess Association to assist blind and deaf players to participate in individual and team international events.
How are grants funded?
The core income that the Committee is able to allocate is derived from the annual subscriptions paid by members. However, the total grants it has been possible to make in recent years have been significantly boosted by the receipt of one off donations and legacies, in particular from the late Harry Golombek and the late Mike O’Hara. The former bequest was taken to a separate “Golombek fund” which was used, in accordance with Harry’s expressed preferences, to support tournaments in England.
These legacies enabled expenditure levels to be maintained despite a generally declining membership base, but have now been exhausted. The Committee believes that the long term future of the Friends is dependent upon the membership base being expanded. The new membership leaflet was the first of a number of initiatives aiming to achieve this, but the key is likely to be achieving charitable status.