The period leading up to Christmas usually sees multiple ‘Trees of Light’ lit up in towns across Great Britain & Ireland as part of a ‘Light Up Rotary’ campaign.
A Rotary Tree of Light can usually be found in a local town square, churchyard or hospice covered in fairy lights that are sponsored by the local community, with a light acting as a memory for someone they have lost that year.
It’s one of the most popular campaigns amongst Rotary clubs across the Isles, providing an opportunity for communities to remember lost loved ones.
However, the campaign would not have reached the level of popularity it is at now without the hard work and determination it took to get ‘Light Up Rotary’ rolling.
I think our target was to raise £5 million by the Rotary centenary – we reached £10 million and today the amount is over £100 million.”
To recall the story of how ‘Light Up Rotary’ came to be, Rotary spoke with one of the campaign’s Founders, John Hughes, a Leamington Rotarian who has done over two decades worth of integral work with Rotary including the Rotary Youth Leadership Programme, which changed the lives of young people all over the world.
The start of the journey came when John was visiting Shropshire in 1994 and decided to visit the local Rotary club.
“I went up to The Rotary club of Wem in Shropshire,” remembers John, “and there was a chap called Paul who was giving a talk on the Trees of Light that he had seen in South Africa.
“He had brought it over and he set up a Tree of Light in Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, and I was impressed with it.”
This was fellow Rotarian Paul Firmin who, after a brief meeting with John after their talk, agreed with him that they could set up a project using the Tree of Light concept called ‘Light Up Rotary’.
However, promoting their new idea in the days before the Internet had taken off and Rotarians were familiar with the idea proved a challenge.
John recalls: “We designed all the paperwork and put it on a three-inch floppy disk. We then went around Rotary clubs trying to promote the idea.”
John and Paul had to take on promoting the idea themselves, travelling far and wide to different Rotary clubs around the country to explain the concept of ‘Light Up Rotary’ and their efforts were soon rewarded.
“Eventually it started to take off, once one or two [Rotary clubs] set up trees we had an example. The main one I helped set up was for Evesham Rotary Club back in 1999 and it has raised over a quarter of a million since it started.”
The project has proved a success for Rotary clubs around the country, with the Rotary Telford Tree of Light raising over half a million pounds and receiving the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
When you think about the project, it’s not actually me or Paul that’s done this, it’s the individual Rotary clubs, the individual hospices and all the people that have have picked up on it.”
John still remembers how amazed he was when the project started to become the success that it is today: “Around about 2002 or 2001 we just lost touch with the amount that we had done and it had just snowballed. We were amazed with how many Rotary clubs had picked up on it.
“I think our target was to raise £5 million by the Rotary centenary – we reached £10 million and today the amount is over £100 million.”
Despite getting to witness the great success of his and Paul’s idea over the years, John has always been keen to reiterate that the plaudit’s for the longevity of ‘Light Up Rotary’ should go to the Rotarians who organise each campaign.
“There’s an old logo I use on the [Light Up Rotary] website which is ‘Create Awareness, Take Acion’, so we created the awareness.
“When you think about the project, it’s not actually me or Paul that’s done this, it’s the individual Rotary clubs, the individual hospices and all the people that have have picked up on it.
“It does make us very proud of what we’ve done, but we don’t want to be in the forefront of it.”
If you want to find out more about ‘Light Up Rotary’ and how to set up your own Tree of Light, all the information you need is on this website.