If the residents of any other town in the UK saw the members of The Deal Rotary Pirates striding down their streets in their usual swashbuckling attire, they may worry they’ve accidentally travelled back in time.
However, residents of the coastal town in Kent, have come to know the increasingly popular club as a force for good in their community and beyond, the pirate costumes only helping the interest in the club’s activities.
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As Club Secretary Dave ‘Dandy’ Lister explains: “When I’m walking down the high street with a Rotary tabard on, me being an old bloke with grey hair, people cross the road to avoid me. If I’m walking down the high street with my pirate outfit on people come across the road to meet me to find out what’s going on.”
Officially called the Rotary Club of The Three Castles of Deal, when the club obtained its official charter, the first club in the South-East to do so for over 10 years, Dave was the only member already a part of Rotary – a testament to the club’s spectacular organic growth.
The concept started when Julie and Gary Kemp, Past-President and Project Coordinator for Deal Rotary Pirates, went to the pub to meet up with Dave, then a member of the Rotary Club of Deal, to discuss potential fundraising projects.
Dandy suggested the pirate outfits as part of a fun-run and Julie and Gary thought the dress-up idea would work as part of a treasure hunt across town, something the couple organised back in the village where they used to live.
The people that have joined us, nearly everyone’s joined because they’ve seen the values of the pirates in action.”
The treasure hunt across Deal has become an annual tradition for the club and the pirate look is now an integral part of the club’s fun-loving reputation.
Gary recalls: “We liked the brand right from the very beginning, and with my background and now Julie’s background as well with design and print, we created the Rotary Pirates logo, and it seems to be well-known throughout the town and beyond.
“We have been told by one or two people there were no pirates in Deal but because we’re pirates, we don’t worry about things like that!”
It’s not all just eye-grabbing outfits though, everything Deal Rotary Pirates does is in the name of promoting Rotary’s core values.
Dave explains: “We are Rotarians and we believe in service above self and all the things that Rotary brings with us.
“We do read The Five-Way Test, which is a standard Four-Way Test but the fifth one is read by a different person at each meeting, and everyone joins in on number five: will it be fun?”
Apart from the club’s fun-loving attitude, something else to be admired is the level of diversity it maintains, with the club’s membership being predominantly female.
Julie Kemp says of the club: “We are three quarters female, which is unusual, and that isn’t something that we particularly driven for. It’s just the way it’s happened.
“We’ve got people from all walks of life, as well. It’s not that everyone’s a professional person or ex-professional person – we’ve got all walks of life as well as different ages, backgrounds and skills.”
It’s that mix of backgrounds and skills that Deal Rotary Pirates take special care in nurturing, with member Laurie Phillips finding that his background in PR and media training has been used to its full potential, whether it’s putting together promotional films for club activities or getting club members ready to be interviewed on local radio.
Laurie commented: “One of the values that Julie has encouraged is that people bring whatever skills or talents they’ve got to the party – everyone’s got a value, and everyone’s got something they can do.”
When I’m walking down the high street with a Rotary tabard on, me being an old bloke with grey hair, people cross the road to avoid me. If I’m walking down the high street with my pirate outfit on people come across the road to meet me to find out what’s going on.”
When asked what it is that has made the club so warmly embraced by the Deal community, the different members named different elements of the club’s structure such as more informal meetings, subgroups allowing different members to focus on different projects and different payment schemes that ease the burden on those most affected by the cost of living.
However, the two common themes throughout their answers are flexibility and a willingness to engage.
Laurie elaborates: “The people that have joined us, nearly everyone’s joined because they’ve seen the values of the pirates in action.
“They haven’t come because of the strong Rotary ground, which I don’t think was understood at our level, they seem to come along because they recognise these are real people and friendly.
“One of Julie and Gary’s values quite early on was that we wanted to make people, from day one when they walked in, feel welcome and find a structure they could engage with so they didn’t have to wait to get involved.”
With the club continuing to establish itself as a constant feature of local events in Deal, there’s no reason why The Deal Rotary Pirates can’t provide a template for other clubs to become equally treasured parts of their communities.
As Dandy eloquently puts: “We are out there for ourselves because we thoroughly enjoy it and we’re out there promoting the pirates, but we are also sustaining Rotary in our local community that is very important to us.”