It was January 21st this year, the coldest January day for years in darkest Surrey, when Rotarians from across District 1145 bravely faced the bitter wind and turned out en masse for our one-day District Conference at the new Civic Centre in Guildford.
A few weeks before, Professor Judith Pratt, Professor of Systems Neuroscience at Strathclyde University and a member of Cuckfield, Lindfield and Haywards Heath Rotary, had introduced our conference team to the team at Bipolar UK.
Listen to this article
Judith had been working for over a year with Dr Cheryle Berry, the Humanitarian Service Lead for Rotary Great Britain & Ireland to develop a relationship with Bipolar UK, invited the charity’s Chief Executive, Simon Kitchen to speak at the conference.
Simon blew the audience away with his passion and knowledge, including what could be done to raise awareness and deliver practical assistance to those affected. He then introduced Nicky Chinn, half of the songwriting duo Chinn and Chapman who have written hits for Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud, Tina Turner and Huey Lewis.
Nicky described in powerful and emotional terms how lucky he had been to be diagnosed with bipolar in his teens so he could develop coping strategies to channel his creative highs and allow him to cope with the lows.
It was inspiring and led to a conversation with Cheryle, who floated the idea of a cause-based e-club.
For the past fifteen years or so, my wife Carolle and I have cared for someone very dear to us who is bipolar, so I jumped at the chance to help Cheryle and Steve Martin, Membership Lead for Rotary GB&I, to work with Simon and Bipolar UK to make this happen.
It was decided to establish an e-club, hosted by District 1145 but open to anyone from anywhere, and aimed at those who were not Rotarians. Bipolar
UK worked wonders and soon had a cohort of people ready to join – but couldn’t reach the magic 20 to charter. Rotary GB&I came to the rescue. Under a Rotary International pilot being conducted in these isles, new clubs can charter with less than 20 members, so long as there is a good chance for growth.
Within ten days, the new club was chartered on July 1st.
Current RI President, Gordon McInally, has been one of the driving forces in the partnership between Rotary and Bipolar UK, serving as an ambassador. I spoke to him at the RI Convention in Melbourne when he agreed to present the charter certificate to the club and meet the new Rotarians.
That’s what happened on August 10th, in an online ceremony with 250 people registered from nearly 20 countries – and 50% of them were non-Rotarians.
It’s been a long journey for the new Rotarians who have high hopes. They want to work with any club interested in their projects. They can give guidance and advice, and they are looking to spread the word to break down the stigma associated with mental health. Contact the club via email.