As you’ll already have seen, we’ve come to the sad conclusion that there will be no Bury St Edmunds Chess Congress in 2020. We’d like to take some time to explain why, and to share some early thoughts about alternative ideas for this year and plans for 2021.
We’ve been at the Apex, right in the centre of town, since moving there from the Corn Exchange in 2010. It proved to be an excellent venue for our event. When I took over the organising of the event from Bob Jones in 2015, the venue was costing a little over £2,000 to hire for the weekend. That was already a large sum, but by finding savings elsewhere, securing extra sponsorship in some years, and a bumper entry in other years, we’ve been able to keep the finances in balance. The costs have steadily increased since then, but in respect of 2020 we were facing a futher increase of around 25%, taking the costs to over £3,000.
We immediately began thinking about a change of venue. As Bury is a relatively small town, there aren’t many options, and there would be no telling if we could have any new venue on the dates we’d originally advertised. After thinking it over we decided to stay with the Apex for another year if we could at least match our previous years’ sponsorship, nudge up the entry fees, and perhaps be a little less generous with any discretionary prizes. To break even we’d still be depending on another big turnout, but a small financial loss would be acceptable.
That was our thinking, and then COVID-19 hit. At the time of writing we’ve been in lockdown for almost four weeks, and speculation about how long it will last is rife. While we’re obviously hoping that the restrictions on public life will be lifted by the time of our event in the Autumn, many voices seem to be suggesting that some form of social distancing will still be necessary. If that’s the case, we’re likely to get fewer entries, perhaps especially from more vulnerable senior players, who usually make up a significant proportion of our entries. The numbers required for us to break even begin to seem like a stretch. The venue was pressing for confirmation plus a non-refundable deposit of £500. With some sponsors yet to be confirmed, we decided we couldn’t take the risk.
Moreover, while we’re in lockdown, it’s not now possible to do the necessary leg work to find an alternative venue in an aim to reduce costs. Checkmate.
We’ll be looking for a new venue for the 2021 event. By then COVID-19 shouldn’t be an issue, but the costs at the Apex are simply not sustainable for an event such as ours. If you have any thoughts about what makes for a good venue, feel free to share them in the comments here, via our social media channels, our contact form or over email.
For 2020 we’re considering holding an online tournament around the same time of year that the Bury St Edmunds Congress usually takes place. Details are yet to be decided, but if this goes ahead (and it is very much an if at this stage) it’s likely to be a one day Rapidplay event, open to ECF members and with at least some prize money available. If entry isn’t free, it will certainly be no more than £5.
We’re really sorry to be disappointing all who have been loyal supporters of our event over the years, and hope you’ll be back with us again in 2021. In the meantime, watch this space for more news about plans for this Autumn and next. Stay safe.