Carl Portman – Visit to HMP Coldingley 5/10/18

HMP Coldingley was opened in 1969 as a Category B training prison. In 1993 it was re-designated as Category C training prison. It is focused on the resettlement of prisoners. It provides a framework to support the achievement of realistic resettlement goals by offering opportunities to prisoners willing to work hard and accept responsibility for achieving those goals.

This is only the second prison that I have visited twice. I was asked to return to give the chess club (which I helped set up in 2014) a boost after many prisoners had since been moved or released and there is now a new group of chess players. I was delighted to accept and the chief organiser at the prison – Peter Bamber – has been encouraging chess for several years. We are indebted to him for this.

I donated a couple of chess clocks and some books and a magazine on behalf of the ECF and it was a joy to see that prisoners had made their own good quality chessboards. The prison had purchased chess pieces and some simple digital clocks. The library also had chess books – this really is the way to go.

I delivered a couple of hours of chess including Opening and Endgame themes and chess problems, one of which was very well received by the prisoners who worked very hard as a team to try to solve it. The reason behind giving this problem (where one promotes to a knight to win, rather than the obvious queen) is to get people to think that the ‘obvious’ solution in chess, as in life is not always the correct one and to step back and consider other options.

I then mixed with the prisoners as they played chess between themselves, using my experience in the coaching of ‘teachable moments’ to give hints and tips for their chess game. During my chess Q&A it was very interesting to note that the prisoners were keen to ask how and why the ECF supports chess in prisons. My very presence there confirmed the how and the ‘why’ was answered by stating that the ECF fosters and encourages chess in prisons as much as in schools and any other area of the community.

Many thanks to the ECF and all at HMP Coldingley for their support of this visit. It took me several hours to get home, thanks to M3, M25 and M40 debacles but it was absolutely worth my time. Finally, note that throughout, the prisoners were attentive, polite and courteous and very keen to play and improve their chess. Government Ministers would do well to keep chess in prisons on their radar.

Carl Portman, ECF Manager of Chess in Prisons