'Tokenistic' £50k levelling-up chess tables slammed as they arrive in parks across Lancashire

Equality has arrived in the north west - in the form of stone chess tables. But not everyone is happy.

the features, which have been erected in parks throughout the region are part of the government's levelling up agenda. Although at a cost of £50,000, the project has been slammed by some as 'tokenistic'.

The 20 black and white square-topped tables and seats, worth £2,500 a piece, have been erected across Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria. Ministers said they had agreed to give councils the outdoor furniture for free to help young people hone their skills in “patience and critical thinking”.

But locals visiting Farnworth Central Park, in Bolton, Gtr Manchester - which has one table - called the pricey seating arrangements “weird” and a “waste of money”. They also said no one used them to play the strategy game, partly because they had not been supplied with chess pieces.

University student Laiba Amjad, 20, said: “I don’t really think the chess boards are helping level up the country as I wouldn’t go out in the park to play chess.


“Obviously, you go out to get fresh air and walk and stuff - and there are no pieces. It’s funny that the government thinks young people are interested in chess because they are not. You are not going to see anyone playing chess there.

“So they’ve spent £2,500 on a very expensive table. I didn’t know how much they cost. I was actually shocked that it was so expensive.”

The government announced in August last year that they were putting together a package of measures to “inspire the next generation” of chess players. And part of this included a commitment to give out 100 chess tables to 85 local authorities in England so that they could be installed in public parks.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it would be providing the £250,000 funding required for the initiative. And they said councils receiving the Levelling Up Parks Fund (LUPF) and considered to be "most in need” of improved green spaces would be prioritized for them.

But Laiba from Bury, Grtr. Manchester, wished the government had used the money to fund other projects in her local area.

She said: “Chess boards aren’t relevant to us, we never noticed it until today. I don’t place chess, it’s really bad, but the younger generation is always on our phones, so I don’t think it’s useful.

“I think the government should be putting in more money to services and other things for the local people.”

Marwa Ahmed, 22, another local university student from Blackburn agreed that placing the chess table in Bolton was not the best use of public cash. She said: “I don’t think it’s a good use of public money because I don’t think most people are going to use that chess table. I think it probably could have been spent in better ways.

“I think it’s a waste of money, in my opinion. I’ve never seen people playing chess in the park. It’s just an expensive seating arrangement. It’s a shock to learn that the government has spent £50,000. It’s a bit improved. It’s a good idea. But I think it’s not going to be useful.

“It’s also a bit weird. I don’t think I would ever use it. Nowadays, there are so many online games. It’s mostly old people that like those games [chess].”

Henri Murison, from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a think tank advocating for business interests in the North of England said the tables were not helpful. He said the initiative “summed up just how tokenistic levelling up had become" and felt the money should have been spent on what people “want and need the most".

Mr Murison told the BBC: “It shows the misunderstanding the prime minister has about how local government works, because his job in central government is to give local government enough money to pick its own priorities, not to throw sweeties at the provinces.

"If there's money to spend, it should be spent on what local people want and need the most. Now, nothing locally happens without some sort of top down initiative.”

However, local mum Leanne Leatherbarrow, 37, believed the chess table in Bolton's Farnworth Central Park was in fact value for money. She said: “I think it’s really good – the chess board.

"A lot of people use it. Some people don’t really play chess but they sit and have picnics and do other things around the table. They should do things like that more often - put things like that out. I’ve just left the place and there are loads of people sat at the table with their kids and stuff.

“I think it’s a good use of public money.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We’re giving local authorities £250,000 to install chess tables in public places, so that we can give people access to a free activity in their area. These tables will level up our communities by improving local green spaces, and will inspire the next generation of players by encouraging people to play together.”

Bolton Council have been contacted for comment.