Celebrating 100 years of Rotary in Wales

Celebrating 100 years of Rotary in WalesCelebrating 100 years of Rotary in Wales

Maggie Abbett, Public Image Chairman for Rotary Southern Wales, reflects on 100 years of Rotary service in Wales.

The closing months of the Great War may not have seemed like the most auspicious time to start a Rotary club, but on May 22nd, 1917, nine businessmen from Cardiff met at the Park Hotel to discuss the possibility.

Although doubts were expressed about the appropriateness of starting a Rotary club during wartime, the proposal to form a Rotary Club in Cardiff, in affiliation with the British Association of Rotary Clubs, was agreed.

The first formal luncheon was held at the Park Hotel with electrical engineer, William Ashcombe Chamen, the founder president for the 17th Rotary club in the United Kingdom.

A few months later in 1918, several members attended the inaugural meeting of the Rotary Club of Llanelli, and in 1919 the Rotary Club of Swansea was formed.

So began a centenary of Rotary service in Wales.

The Rotary Club of Cardiff has always played an active role in local and international communities. For the club centenary, the members raised £25,000 towards building a Maggie’s Centre, alongside Velindre Cancer hospital, Cardiff.

Centenary celebrations are being held across Wales, continuing throughout the Rotary year.

Any commemoration in Wales would not be complete without singing and on Saturday, October 21st, massed male voices from seven West Wales clubs are staging a centenary choral concert in Llandeilo.

Then on November 1st, Cardiff Rotary Club’s centenary celebration dinner will be held, with a commemorative oak tree planted in a city park the following day.


“Rotary is ideally placed to play a role for people who
want to give something back.”


A number of landmark community fundraising projects are also in the pipeline including a Rotary Centenary Mile. Clubs will be teaming up with leisure centres to encourage the public to complete a sponsored mile by treadmill, static bike, rowing machine, running or swimming.

Money raised will go towards End Polio Now and Tenovus, to support a treatment room for the cancer charity’s mobile treatment unit which treats cancer patients on their own doorstep.

Two years ago, centenary District Governor, Maggie Hughes, began working on the legacy project to make Wales a dementia-friendly country. It’s a partnership with adjoining District 1180, which covers North Wales, along with the Inner Wheel, plus Scouts and Guides groups.

Maggie met with the Welsh Government and other bodies to create a new dementia strategy for Wales, and arranged for dementia to be added to the information form in the Message in a Bottle container.

These are small plastic bottles with a green cross on the label, which are usually kept in a fridge, and contain vital medical information for emergency services in the event of a call-out.

As a result of this groundwork, many Rotarians in Wales are now sitting on dementia-friendly steering groups, and trained as both dementia friends and also dementia champions to train other Rotary clubs and community groups.

Rotarians are involved in initiatives including Memory Cafés, such as the one in the image above, in Rhiwbina and Narberth, dementia engagement and empowerment groups in Kidwelly and Llanelli, sensory gardens and education programmes.

Brecon was the first community in Wales to receive official ‘working to become dementia-friendly’ recognition from the Alzheimer’s Society, and Brecon Rotary is playing an active role. It has sponsored books explaining dementia for schoolchildren and supported a sensory garden at Trenewydd Care Home.

Celebrating 100 years of Rotary in Wales 3
Rotary clubs in Wales are actively involved running Memory Cafés and sensory gardens


Rotarian Hayley Ridge Evans (Rotary Brecon) Rotarian Mary Adams (Rotary Narberth & Whitland) and Rotarian Paula Pippen (Rotary Henllys) have been appointed dementia ambassadors to bring the initiative to completion.

Maggie says she is proud of the role the Rotary family is playing to achieve her legacy aim. “Although there is much work still to be done on this project, the work of Rotary in Wales is supporting the government’s target that all communities should be dementia-friendly by 2020, so I believe we have made a positive start,” she said.

Like other parts of the UK, Rotary in Wales has realised that it has to continue to adapt and change to attract and retain members.

Rotary Club of Cardiff’s centenary President, George Mercer, was awarded the RIBI President’s Award as a Champion of Change last year for his concept of satellite clubs as a new membership tool. While the Cardiff Satellite Club is aimed at attracting new working members, George also believes that there is a large untapped resource in newly retired people.

“Many of us are living longer and in good health” he said. “Rotary is ideally placed to play a role for people who want an active retirement and want to give something back.”

Subrahmanyam Ganesh is still in active retirement in his eighties. A Past District Governor of Southern Wales and a director for the Jaipur Limb project for over 20 years, he believes that Rotary needs to adapt to changes in the workplace.

“When I joined Rotary, it was very different to what it is now” he said.

“Today the workplace is very different and people are much more time-poor. Rotary clubs have started to recognise that they need to change the way they meet and run their clubs if they are not to die out.”

Henllys Rotary Club near Cwmbran has a younger profile than many clubs in Wales with its President and President-Elect both in their thirties.

President Andrew Pippen believes Rotary is under-selling itself to younger people. To him the unique selling point is the opportunity to help multiple charities and international projects, rather than focussing on one.

He said: “Rotary needs to let go of some of the perceived formality surrounding the way clubs operate and to ensure younger members don’t feel like they are taking a step back in time when they go to their first Rotary meeting.”


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