While speaking at the Rotary clubs of Manchester Breakfast, Winchester and Kilsyth in North Lanarkshire last month, a new Rotary revolution was launched.
Get Rid of Tabards – or GROT, such is the Rotary way with acronyms – is a frivolous, tongue-in-cheek campaign, hatched by my good self, designed to smarten up Rotary.
So, what is it with this tabard fetish? That crazy compulsion to dress like a health and safety officer at any community Rotary event.
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One wonders whether there is psychological counselling for extreme sufferers of tabardophilia who resort to wearing their day-glo uniforms in bed or in the bath? Should there be scientific research to discover whether the public act of tabard-wearing releases a steady flow of endorphins to the brain which creates temporary feelings of self-importance?
Now, I absolutely get it with stewarding at community events where there are hazards and a genuine safety need. The inevitable risk assessments say so. In fact, a luminous tabard, complete with the Rotary logo, is the de rigueur fashion accessory for any serious parking attendant, or event marshal – usually accompanied by a silly hat!
We hear the phrase ‘People of Action’. Well try this one for size: “Join Rotary, be a part of the community and wear your tabard with pride!” I think not.”
But when I flick through social media photographs of Rotarians refurbishing a picnic spot, engaged in tree-planting, decorating a special school or collecting money in the town centre only to get a searing eyeful of dazzling yellow bibs, I ask myself: seriously?
Come on, be honest: it’s not a good look. Call the fashion police. Arrest the miscreants, Constable, for visual pollution in a public place! Tabards remind me of the obsessive Martin Bryce, played by the brilliant Richard Briers in the BBC sitcom, ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’.
Now while conducting that random image search on my @rotaryeditor Facebook page, I stumbled upon Rotarians in Penicuik near Edinburgh promoting the club at the town’s street fair, resplendent in Crayola Blue jumpers with the correctly branded Rotary logo. Very smart gents.
And there are numerous examples of Rotarians engaged in community work sporting stylish and colourful branded polo shirts, jackets or t-shirts, some adorned with the strapline ‘Rotarians At Work’.
Why does this matter? Because it is about public perception. As society picks itself up from the ravages of Covid, so Rotary is dusting itself down with a firm focus on membership. Now, more than ever, everything we do in the name of Rotary has to have added membership value.
So, what is it with this tabard fetish? That crazy compulsion to dress like a health and safety officer at any community Rotary event.”
If you’re collecting for Ukraine, then make sure you’re promoting your club too. If you’re hosting a youth competition, tell the parents your club exists and follow up with an open house invitation. And if you are organising an environmental project, then engage the community to take part by promoting the activity widely on social media – and again, follow up with a set-piece event.
Frequently there is talk about how we attract the younger generation. We hear the phrase ‘People of Action’. Well try this one for size: “Join Rotary, be a part of the community and wear your tabard with pride!” I think not.
Tabards are as fashionable and modern as Worzel Gummidge. There are right and proper reasons for wearing high-visibility garb, particularly with matters of safety, but surely there are smarter ways of presenting Rotary without resorting to luminous yellow.
Sign up to GROTS today, although I hear there could be opposition from SORTS – Save Our Rotary Tabards. More likely out of SORTS!