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Rotary News

One hundred years of Rotary in York celebrated

One hundred years of Rotary in York celebrated

York Rotary has just celebrated its centenary, the 36th club in Great Britain and Ireland to do so since Rotary began in these islands in 1912 with the London and Dublin Rotary clubs.

It was in January 1921 when some prominent members of the York community were invited to the Mansion House where they were encouraged by the Rotary Club of Leeds to set up a club in the city.

And so, on February 4th 1921, the first meeting was held at the Royal Station Hotel, now the Principal Hotel, with the then Lord Mayor of York, Alderman Edward Walker, elected as the first President.

Rotary Club of York in the 1920’s

In 1921 Rotary itself was a new phenomenon, the idea having been conceived in Chicago by lawyer Paul Harris in 1905 as a way of enabling businessmen to exchange ideas and address the difficult social issues of the time.

Gradually, Rotary’s reach spread throughout the world, with its vision expanding to focus on humanitarian service.

When the Rotary Club of York was founded it became the 36th Rotary Club in the United Kingdom, and 1000th in the world. In 2021, worldwide, there are in excess of 35,000 clubs and 1.2 million members.

Rotary club of York today

One hundred years is a long time in the life of any organisation.

In 1921 there were 25 members, each of whom was personally invited and nominated, with only a single person allowed from any one line of business.

By the middle of the 20th century membership of York Rotary had grown to 100 and remained at that level for 50 years.

However, until more recent times, it was still a male organisation, very formal and structured. Attendance at weekly meetings was essential.

In 1921 Rotary itself was a new phenomenon, the idea having been conceived in Chicago by lawyer Paul Harris in 1905 as a way of enabling businessmen to exchange ideas and address the difficult social issues of the time.”

In 2021 things are very different. York Rotary is a much more inclusive, welcoming, and diverse group. The membership currently stands at 80 and new members are actively sought from both men and women.

One aspect which is as strong in 2021 as it was in 1921 is the concept of helping the community.

For example, it was an initiative by York Rotary which led to the setting up of the Council for Voluntary Service in the City. This is an organisation which, over the years, has been of major benefit to the whole voluntary and charitable sector.

For York Rotary today, service involves not only fund0raising – each year York Rotary distributes in excess of £110,000 to local charities supporting different areas of the community – but practical input as well.

Rotarians serve as Trustees on a number of charitable bodies, bringing their expertise to bear in new arenas.

In 2021 things are very different. York Rotary is a much more inclusive, welcoming, and diverse group. The membership currently stands at 80 and new members are actively sought from both men and women.”

And, at the other end of the spectrum, help with moving luggage and marshalling at local sporting events can be physically demanding!

York Rotary also works extensively with children and young people, providing interview experience, outdoor and social activities in conjunction with schools and other referrers.

Just recently these have included ‘Young Chefs’ and ‘Young Musicians’ competitions, and, working with the other two York Rotary Clubs, the provision of 20 new computers for children struggling to cope with home schooling.

The annual Dragon Boat Challenge is one of York’s premier events. Since York Rotary introduced the challenge in 2003, in excess of £1.2 million has been raised for York and Yorkshire charities.

Coronavirus and lockdown has provided a real challenge to an organisation that previously had enjoyed meeting weekly, face-to-face.

Coronavirus put a stop to York Rotary’s usual annual Dragon Boat race, so they got creative and made the event virtual.

Undaunted, the previously unknown Zoom was embraced and weekly meeting have continued throughout the pandemic, with speakers continuing to give their talks, but now remotely.

Neither has fundraising been neglected. Since the first lockdown in March, York Rotary has raised in excess of £60,000 by embracing new opportunities and rethinking how things are done.

For example, with the 2020 Dragon Boat Challenge having to be cancelled, a virtual Dragon Boat Challenge raised £20,000 to fund a well-being garden for patients and staff at York District Hospital.

Media officer, Michael Fieldsend said: “Like everyone else, York Rotary is looking forward to the ending of the pandemic and the return to some form of ‘normality’ – whatever that may look like.

Since the first lockdown in March, York Rotary has raised in excess of £60,000 by embracing new opportunities and rethinking how things are done.”

“Some of the lessons learned this year will undoubtedly carry forward.

“For example, the ability to interact remotely as well as face-to-face will help potential new members who wish to give something back to the community, but for whom weekly face-to-face meetings are incompatible with busy working diaries.

“York Rotary has completed 100 years of service in the local community.

“The past is something to be proud of, but we live in the present and look to the future.

“The next years will bring their own challenges, but York Rotary has every confidence that it will continue to thrive and flourish, reacting and adapting to meet changing needs whilst still adhering to that original objective, ‘service above self’.”