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Interview: David Stemp

30 January 2015

'Sometimes the game becomes a side issue, a useful tool to start a discussion'

I volunteer in a number of organisations, supporting children and young people in Portsmouth. I've introduced chess to an increasing number of boys and girls at the Breakfast Club at Charter Academy, Portsmouth.

I also help each week at Portsmouth Academy for Girls, playing chess during the lunch break. Two Year 8 girls have volunteered to act as junior chess instructors at Langstone Junior School in Portsmouth: I've organised the after-school chess club there for 12 years, attracting about 28 children each week. We've entered for local and national chess tournaments, winning a considerable number of trophies. 

And I support a Portsmouth junior school as the training governor, and as a volunteer reader, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

I also produce the list of readers and intercessors for St Cuthbert's, and act as safeguarding co-ordinator and process the DBS Disclosure Forms. 

My other role is safeguarding adviser for the Mothers' Union in the Portsmouth diocese. 

I've also served in a variety of adult leadership appointments in the Scout movement since 1957. I meet leadership teams to deliver the safeguarding brief for organising trips abroad for Scouts and Explorer Scouts from Hampshire. 

Chess is a challenge to improve strategic thinking. It's a tool for children and young people, in contrast to spending many hours these days playing with the iPad, the Xbox, and isolating themselves at home in the bedroom with their computers and mobile phones. 

Social interaction playing a board game, with a highly competitive nature, provides an opportunity to express fair play and good manners. Parents tell me that sometimes their child is very calm and thoughtful following our weekly chess-club meeting. 

It's rewarding to see a Year 5 boy or girl improving their game each week, and enjoying success with winning at school or local schools' chess tournaments. 

My grandfather was very patient with my wish to play chess. Looking back at our weekend visits to him in Yeovil, I'm confident he used to let me win sometimes. 

My form tutor, Mr Lewis, ran a school chess club. I learned a lot of chess tactics from his stewardship. During my fifth year in Portsmouth Naval Base, we apprentices would play chess during the lunch break in the design office.

You just need to be willing to learn to play the most complicated board game ever invented. Be prepared to listen, try new and different techniques, and indulge in risk-taking. Experts have stated that children who excel at maths make good chess players, and teachers state that chess helps children to use planning skills and concentrate at their lessons. 

Over a game of chess, or just talking one to one, I'm able to unravel any issues, and particularly with Year 10 and 11 boys and girls. When discussion is about spiritual development, sometimes the game becomes a side issue, a useful tool to start a discussion. The young people sometimes carry a lot of baggage, and once they feel that a high degree of trust has been established, they unload their problems in confidence. 

Belonging to a club, and playing with friends, from all school years, with a win-or-lose outcome, means the youngsters interact between various ages, and boys playing girls, on agreed terms. At competition level, chess rules are rigidly enforced, and this is accepted by the children and their parents when they are representing their school. 

I do sometimes wonder if any form of chess-type game was around among the first disciples. God could be seen as an observer from on high, watching the battle on a chessboard, and the emotions experienced by the players wishing to win. I have heard that chess masters around the world will seek God's help and say a prayer prior to a major competition. 

In my role as the safeguarding coordinator for South East Hampshire Scouts, my training has included sessions on why teenagers self-harm. This helps when attempting to gauge the level of their concerns.

It's a pity that child-protection protocols frighten volunteers off. I think it's a perceived problem. Be confident in what you're doing. Be prepared to attend training. We have a very highly qualified trainer in our diocese, who will deliver an excellent training session for people who'd like to work with children and young people. I have to do this for any of the roles I undertake. 

I completed a five-year apprenticeship as a joiner, and worked at Portsmouth Naval Base with the MOD for 42 years. I had the privilege of working on the Royal Yacht Britannia. After ten years on aircraft carriers and frigates, I was appointed to a position in the Apprentice Training Division, helping to look after more than 600 craft and technician apprentices. I developed one-week residential leadership experiences for the years 3 and 4, and organised sports activities on a Wednesday evening for ten years when we won several trophies. I used to insist on good timekeeping and fair play. 

I was promoted to manage the Non-Destructive Examination Centre in Portsmouth Naval Base, leading a team of qualified staff undertaking radiography, ultrasonics, and Magnetic Particle Crack Detection on all classes of Navy ships and submarines. I had two sessions of work at the Clyde Submarine Base, Faslane, testing systems and the hull integrity of nuclear submarines. I also tested helicopter platforms for the Falklands War. It was a very busy time. 

We were well protected. We used to have to charge a dosimeter, measuring radioactivity, and wear a film badge which measured our monthly dose. We also carried a radiation monitor. We understood what we were doing and why we were doing it. 

We were working to tight time schedules in difficult conditions. I would sometimes say a prayer thanking God for keeping me and my team safe when using high-powered radiation sources, and a number of people whom I worked with had a strong Christian faith.

Running a large Scout troop, with children from various backgrounds, I had to learn to listen. Listening skills are very important for being a successful volunteer. You never quite know what nine- or ten-year-old boys and girls are going to come out with - there's such joy and spontaneity. I find teenagers like to work to a plan. Ask, what is your first lesson today? and out comes their timetable, which they carry in their pockets. They value the structured life at school. 

Within that, there must be fun and spontaneity within the lessons. I do promote high standards and good manners. If you expect that, you get it, most of the time. Some of the family situations that these teenagers have to cope with now - a minority, I'm pleased to say - are quite horrific.

I was born in Salisbury, but the family moved to Portsmouth when I was 11, as my father had gained promotion with Southern Railway. 

Janet and I were married in Yeovil in 1964. We celebrated our Golden Wedding last year with about 80 people from family, church, Scouting, and our walking group, the Solent Strollers.

We have two children, who are both married, and four grandchildren. Sadly, Eloise is disabled. She can't speak or walk; but she has a happy disposition, and always recognises Gran and Granddad, greeting us with a big smile. For a number of years we would all holiday together in a cottage during the summer months. 

We enjoy walking, and weekends with our walking group, which we formed 14 years ago. I like Austria particularly, with its scenery, spacious environment and clean air. 

I enjoy music and reading. Alexander Kent and C. S. Forester are favourites. 

I'd still like to continue to learn more about cooking, play the piano again, and keep fit and healthy. 

I'm happiest being with family, and having a balance of time when I am busy with my volunteering, and relaxing with a good book, planning and organising people and events, hearing about children and young people achieving success. 

I pray for my family and friends, and for people who are suffering ill health or unhappiness.

I would choose Chief Scout Bear Grylls as my companion in a locked church. I'm confident he would help me to escape.

David Stemp was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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