The Sobell Bridge Club has been a long standing supporter of Michael Sobell House. A club dedicated both to fundraising and to providing a community group, it has raised funds for the building of the Michael Sobell Centre, supported its members throughout COVID-19, and at its heart is a warm and welcoming group. Our Communications Officer met with current Chair Peter Cobden to learn more about the club and its connection to the House.
First founded in 1992 by Stanley Nicholls and a group of 30 other people, the Sobell Bridge Club is open to people of all bridge playing abilities and proudly emphasises its friendly and relaxed nature. Originally established as a community group to raise funds for Michael Sobell House and provide a social space for everyone, especially those recently bereaved, it has remained true to its mission for the past 31 years.
Peter Cobden, the current Chair, explained how the Club’s welcoming nature has always been at its core, “Right from the beginning in our Constitution it says that the Club shall be open to all irrespective of age, sex, race, religion, and in particular shall welcome friends and relatives of the patients and ex-patients of Michael Sobell House, disabled people, and those living on their own. That’s very important to us and something we never forget. Yes, we are here to play bridge but we are also here to raise funds for Michael Sobell House, to support those people who have sadly had a loved one die and to always be inclusive of and accommodating to our members who have disabilities or are ill.”
Whilst bridge is a competitive card game played between teams of two using bidding and skill, the Club itself is not over competitive in nature. Its trophies are offered to the most successful pairs but these are not the main focus. “It’s a very wholesome club,” Peter mused, “we’ve worked hard to make sure that it’s friendly. We don’t want people criticising one another or letting the results of one game influence the next. We always remind our members that the Club is as much about socialising and meeting people as it is about playing bridge and raising funds for the Inpatient Unit. You don’t have to be a good bridge player to join us. I mean I’m the Chair and I’m not a great player!”
“It’s a very wholesome club … we’ve worked hard to make sure that it’s friendly.”
Over the years the Sobell Bridge Club has also held numerous training sessions, to introduce new players of all ages to the art of bridge and to provide an additional stream of donations to the Inpatient Unit. As Peter recalls, “I was really pleased because we were charging £125 for a course per person that was over 12 weeks and we got 20 people in the first one which we ran on a Monday morning. That was great because some people were just retired and seeing their families at the weekend. So, this meant that more people could join us and we had this additional money going straight to the House”. Separate sessions after the courses also provided course members a relaxed environment to develop their bridge until they felt confident to become fully fledged club members. “I always make a point of ensuring that the Director on the day introduces new club members so that everyone can offer them a little more support during the evening,” Peter remarked.
Alongside their training sessions, the Sobell Bridge Club hosted five sessions a week before COVID-19, with regular social gatherings, parties, and holidays together. Peter recalled “we even had one wedding!” Whilst the impact of the pandemic was felt across the Club, especially for those members who lived alone, it did not diminish the Club’s desire to continue playing and raising money. And so alternative playing methods were found. “What we did was we started doing online playing sessions. Some of the not so young members had to learn technology and how to use a keyboard for the first time! It was important to keep meeting, even online, because it meant that everyone was still in contact with each other and seeing each other.” In September 2021 the Club opened back up in person with strict COVID measures in place to protect its members. “I think it’s because we were so stringent about our COVID rules that we attracted so many people back, people felt confident that we were working to keep everyone safe”.
“It’s very personal in the House … they do those extra things, even if they’re small, to look after the person and their family.”
Since it’s conception the Sobell Bridge Club has not only been an invaluable space of social support for its members but also a dedicated and important supporter of Michael Sobell House. This commitment is what fuels their activities and lies at the heart of the Club. Working in collaboration with the former Friends of Michael Sobell House (now part of Harlington Hospice) they fundraised to build the Michael Sobell Centre in 2006. A space to be used as a clubhouse, a base for the Fundraising & Communications Team of Harlington Hospice, and a place of Education and Training for healthcare professionals across the Borough. Peter reflected on the importance of Michael Sobell House, “I think it must be very comforting for people who need support at the end of their life to know that they can come to the House and be very well looked after. But also, for the families of people staying at the House; I know that one of our Directors passed away in the House and it was a great comfort to him and his wife, being supported by the team. It’s very personal in the House, the care that is provided, they do those extra things, even if they’re small, to look after the person and their family. Everyone who works there are exceedingly good . So, we must do what we can to support these people who spend their last days in the House or who stay at different times during their illness. It’s very close to my heart and we never forget why we come together and play bridge. The House is always a part of what we do at the Club. And we are always hoping to encourage more members, maybe some younger members, to join us.”