Rotary clubs do great work in their local communities

York Press: The annual York Rotary Dragon Boat Challenge The annual York Rotary Dragon Boat Challenge

They may have a rather stuffy image, but Rotary clubs do great work in their local communities, finds STEPHEN LEWIS.

WHAT does the average rotary club member look like? You’ll probably picture a silver-haired businessman in a black tie and jacket, clinking glasses at an exclusive dinner.

Chances are you won’t think of a cheerful woman in gardening gear getting her hands dirty in the communal garden at York Hospital’s Cancer Care Centre.

Christine True is a retired nurse, a ward sister no less. But she is also a Rotarian and is president-elect of the Rotary Club of York Ainsty.

She won’t be the first woman to have held the post when she takes office next year. One or two have held the role before her, she says. But she would like to see more women involved in the movement.

Rotarians do wonderful work for charity, she says – both nationally and internationally, and within their communities.

But the image still tends to put off many women. “I’ve tried to bring some of my female friends in, but they say it is all sitting down and not doing anything.”

Not true, the 69-year-old insists. And it certainly isn’t true in her case. As well as gardening at the cancer care centre, she can also be seen dressed as an elf as the York Ainsty Rotarians Christmas Sleigh does the rounds.

That’s the thing about Rotary Clubs. Despite their stuffy image, they do an enormous amount of good.

Internationally, Rotary organisations have played a major part in the drive to eradicate polio. They also respond to disasters such as the recent devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan.

But it is for their community work they are best known.

In York, Rotarians have been involved in everything from working in the gardens at York Hospital, St Leonard’s Hospice and the Wilberforce Trust for the Blind, to supporting local youth clubs and schools, collecting and repairing used glasses to give to people in Africa and, of course, organising the annual Dragon Boat Race in York.

Too many people still see Rotary as male-dominated, a business club for men of a certain age, admits Jim Murison, the retired university administrator who is President of the Rotary Club of York Ainsty.

But Rotary clubs are trying to change that perception.

“We’re trying to modernise, so that Rotary is not perceived as just a businessman’s club,” says the 68-year-old. “We’re trying to encourage more women to join. And we want to encourage younger people to get involved in our charity projects.”

Many Rotarians have had successful business careers, agrees Jim’s fellow York Ainsty Rotarian Steve Cluderay, a former York fire chief who now runs his own fire safety consultancy.

But what drives them is the desire to give something in return.

“It is about people wanting to put something back into their communities,” Steve says.

In order to do that Rotary needs to attract younger members and more women.

That’s why the York Ainsty Rotarians will next year be launching ‘satellite’ groups for those who don’t have the time to attend a meeting every week, but would like to get involved. “They might even meet in their local pub,” says Christine True. It will be Rotary without the formality, and may be just the thing to attract a younger generation.

In the meantime, there is plenty of community work being done by Rotarians in York.

The city has three clubs: The Rotary Club of York, founded in 1921, and two younger groups: the Ainsty club, and the Rotary Club of York Vikings.

All three are involved in community projects. There are too many to list them all. But here we look at a few, to give a sense of the work Rotary is doing – and also explain how you can find out more about each of the York clubs.


Rotary Club of York Ainsty

Glasses for Africa

Every month (apart from December) a group of York Ainsty Rotarians meet at the Copmanthorpe home of optometrist Ruth Perrott to sort, wash and measure used spectacles.

These are taken by Ruth on her regular visits to Africa. Earlier this year, Ruth spent 11 days in Malawi with another optometrist, Sarah Dineen from Glossop. Between them they prescribed and dispensed about 800 pairs of glasses to local Malawians, during a series of clinics around the country.

At the end of January, Ruth will be going to south Senegal to dispense more glasses. About 500 pairs have already been sent out: she will take more (many sorted by York Ainsty Rotarians) with her.

Wilberforce Trust

York’s oldest charity, the Wilberforce Trust works with blind and partially sighted people, helping them to live independent lives. York Ainsty Rotarians help in a number of ways, not least by gardening.

“The gardens are good for the blind and partially sighted because they enable them to smell and use their other senses in the absence of sight,” says Philippa Crowther, a spokesperson for the trust.

The newest venture being explored between the trust and the Rotary Club is the possibility of a buddy system.

“We want to provide tailored one on one care for the blind and partially sighted, and make sure all their needs are being met,” Philippa says.

St Leonard’s Hospice

Ainsty Rotarians did some building work in the hospice grounds to help create a stepped area. “We’ve got a lot of skills to share with people who need them,” says Jim Murison.

• To find out more visit


Rotary Club of York

The Rotary Club of York, the city’s longest-standing Rotary group, was formed in 1921. The president for 2013-14 is estate agent Nigel Naish, a great grandson of Joseph Rowntree.

He agrees with Jim Murison that rotary clubs are keen to change their slightly stuffy image. “We’re all young and fit!” he jokes. In fact, he cycles to Rotary meetings – and poses obligingly for a photo to demonstrate.

The Rotary Club of York’s main fund-raising event of the year is the Dragon Boat Challenge. It has been going since 2003, and in that time, as well as becoming one of York’s favourite public spectacles, has raised more than £700,000.

Teams taking part raise money for their own causes, but also give one third of what they raise to the Rotary Club’s nominated charity. This year, that was Help for Heroes.

York Rotarians are already working on next year’s event, says Mr Naish. The charities supported will be Applefields Special School and the Jack Raine Foundation.

Club members also run or get involved in a series of other fund-raising and community events each year. “We have a community services committee,” say Mr Naish.

Like the other two rotary clubs, the Rotary Club of York supports Door 84. Other projects in the past have included everything from tree planting to presenting the Minster Gates Clock to the City of York in 1972 to commemorate York’s 1900th year since the founding of the Roman city of Eboracum.

• To find out more about the work of the Rotary Club of York, visit


Rotary Club of York Vikings

Graham Harris, the president of the Rotary Club of York Vikings, is a former travel agent who now runs the Roman Baths Museum in York.

Given the club’s name, it is hardly surprising that the first charity he mentions is one with a nautical theme: the Ocean Youth Trust, which gives young people the chance to go ocean sailing on its 70 foot ketch the James Cook.

“In the past we have only sent one or two York-based kids on the boat,” Graham says. “But we chartered the whole vessel this year (12 people plus crew) and have just booked and paid for it again for next year.”

Sailing with the Ocean Youth Trust is a character-building exercise, he says. “We only take youngsters whose schools feel they will benefit. The hardest part of the deal for the ‘kids’ is coming back to our club and telling us about it, with a microphone in their hand.”

There is a youth emphasis to much of the charity work, he says. They recently gave a cheque for £10,000 to SASH, a charity which works with homeless young people, to help towards their new premises in Walmgate. “York Vikings are also very involved in the Rotary Young Musician competition – one of our members Peter Acaster is one of the organisers,” Graham says.

“Another ‘York Viking’, Trevor Woodward, organises the local heats of the Rotary Youth Speaks competition when school teams have to chose a subject and debate it.”

York Vikings also sponsor sets of masonry tools for apprentice nasons in the Minster stone yard.

“At the other end of the scale age-wise one of my favourite ventures was to supply an extra three defibrillators for the centre of town,” Graham says.

• To find out more about the work of the Rotary Club of York Vikings, visit


Door 84

YOU could hardly get less stuffy than Door 84, the youth club and charity in The Groves that provides activities for young people aged eight to 17.

It began life about 45 years ago as the York Boys Club, changing its name to Young Groves and then, following a refurbishment in 2010, Door 84 (from the address).

The club organises activities ranging from camping trips to percussion workshops, outward bound adventures and wildlife activities.

“We like to give kids a chance to get out in the open and do things they wouldn’t have a chance to do elsewhere,” says the youth centre manager Heidi Haywood.

All three York Rotary clubs have supported the charity, Heidi says –financially, and with hands-on help and advice.

Apart from their other support, Rotarians from the York Ainsty and York Rotary clubs are on the charity’s organising committee. “So we get a lot of personal input from them as well.”

The York Vikings, meanwhile, sent a youngster from Door 84 on a sailing trip with the Ocean Youth Trust.

“He came back really excited,” Heidi says.


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