Well, not quite as planned, was it?
During the last few months of 2019 the calendar of my presidential year started to take shape, and gradually the days were being filled with interesting events.
Then COVID-19 came, and changed everything. I should have been telling you about how the (last) Rotary GB&I Presidential Handover at Ufford Park went off; about the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen, and about “Music in the Gardens” in Sheffield, among other highlights. But none of them happened.
We did have a Presidential Handover – on Zoom – and I was able to thank Past President Donna Wallbank for her stewardship of Rotary GB&I in 2019/20. Ironically, holding it on Zoom actually meant that some people who had clashing commitments and couldn’t have come, were able to “attend”, and there’s a lesson there.
Moreover, online attendance at a number of district events has generally been higher than was the case with face-to-face events. So something’s lost, and something’s gained.
The lesson is that while we need face-to-face, human contact; while being present in the same room as a speaker and presenter allows for the whole range of non-verbal communication to play its part, you can reach more people if they don’t have to travel to a central event; if they don’t have to decide which of two clashing events to attend.
Some vast majority of Rotary clubs, I’m pleased to see, are meeting in some way or another, online, as an alternative face-to-face meetings. And again, the message I’m getting is that, generally, attendance at online meetings is better than it was for ‘traditional’ lunch or dinner speaker-meetings.
So when we finally completely emerge from this “twilight world” of lockdown or semi-lockdown, I don’t think we’ll all go back to where we were before.
I think clubs and groups will go back to face-to-face meetings – but will mix them up with online gatherings. I believe that this flexibility will potentially stimulate some people who were not able to balance their time and commitments with a weekly in-person meeting. The challenge to Rotary clubs up and down Great Britain and Ireland is to grasp that potential and welcome new members on board.
The challenge to Rotary clubs up and down Great Britain and Ireland is to grasp the potential of flexibility and welcome new members on board.”
So what have I ended up doing?
Well, I’ve mentioned the handover, and I seem to have been living on Zoom, with lots of “business” meetings conducted while I sit in my dining room, as well as social gatherings with the 2020/21 cohort of District Governors, celebrating their taking up office.
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But there have been at least two highlights.
On 17th July I was privileged to attend the chartering of a new Rotary club: Northwich Weaver Valley in Cheshire. Chartering a new club is always a delight, but to be able to do so online shows that today’s constraints are no barrier to growing Rotary.
The journey from the original concept of creating a new club in Northwich to its realisation has been quite a short one, and proves once again that once you have a small cohort of interested, committed people, they will find others. Good luck to Northwich Weaver Valley; may you prosper.
The second highlight was attending a meeting of Grantham Sunrise Rotary. Now a Rotary GB&I President usually doesn’t have too much opportunity to visit a regular club meeting, except perhaps of his or her own club, but again, the growth of online meetings has opened up the unexpected opportunity to get in touch with the grassroots of Rotary.
Grantham Sunrise is a diverse and ‘hands-on’ club – they’re currently refurbishing a room at a local special educational needs school – and their early-morning meetings are short enough to let their members get off to work. This is the real Rotary – where Rotary’s work happens – and I’m looking forward to meeting a whole range of clubs online in the next few weeks.
Towards the end of the month I attended a meeting of the Rotary GB&I Disaster Recovery Trust, of which I am a Trustee.
The Trust is not involved in the immediate response to disasters – there are, happily, many agencies which can offer prompt and relevant aid – but it can come in at the stage when the community affected by the flood, earthquake, bushfire or other disaster is rebuilding itself.
Whenever appropriate, the Trust will open a Fund to receive donations directed towards that disaster, and then will work with Rotary members in Great Britain and Ireland and, if the disaster is overseas, the affected country to support reconstruction projects.
Another great pleasure for me just before I took over as President was to attend a meeting of my first club, Selkirk Rotary in the Scottish Borders. I was only a member there for less than two years before work took me to England, but I’ll always be grateful that Selkirk gave me the gift of Rotary. And it’s another go-ahead club, with a vibrant service-oriented relationship with a club in the Philippines.
And in case my wife reads this, I ought to mention that in July we celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. A low-key event with a couple of friends joining us for a socially-distanced lunch.
So that’s the first month; looking forward to meeting more of you in the next few weeks!