A WITNEY chess group that was on the brink of collapse seven ago has now been named the top club in the UK.
Witney Chess Club had just a handful of members and struggled to enter competitions but now has a pool of 40 players, many of them youngsters.
They have been named by the English Chess Foundation, the body that oversees chess in the UK, as the top club in the country.
The award follows the success of their young players, who – after teaming up with Cumnor Chess Club – won the junior national league last year.
Mike Truran, the club treasurer, said: “We are absolutely delighted.
“It gives confirmation that all the hard work we have been trying to put in place is worth it and is recognised by the English chess scene.”
It has been a remarkable turn in fortunes for the club, which Mr Truran said was on the brink of closure just seven years ago.
He added: “A handful of volunteers said enough is enough, we are going to turn it around, and we are delighted we have now been successful.“ The club, which meets on Monday evenings in Ducklington, focuses on recruiting young players and often goes into schools to teach the game.
Mr Truran said: “Chess is a very good educational tool and in many European counties it is on the school curriculum.
“It is seen as very good at developing cognitive skills – logic, pattern recognition and memory learning – and in team games, which we concentrate on, it teaches team work and playing for others.”
He added: “It is very encouraging in Witney at the moment and we are very hopeful for the future.
“We have got a very strong crop of juniors coming through and if they carry on it is possible they will be in the running for national championships in the future.”
Next year, Oxfordshire’s top young player, Marcus Harvey, who is ranked third under 17 player in the country, will join the team and help teach.
Mr Truran added: “For me, chess is about the comradery of playing as part of a team – the game has a fantastic social side.
“But I also like seeing the junior players coming through and getting stronger so that they can take over from us lot one day.”
Witney Chess Club was originally founded in the 1960s and, before its fall, had one of the highest memberships of any club in the UK in the 1990s.
The club meets at Ducklington Village Hall on Monday nights from 7.30pm. l For details, visit witneychess.co.uk or telephone Mr Truran on 01993 708645.