Thanks for Life - A Window of Opportunity

Tue 23rd February 2010 - Sat 27th February 2010

Part of the RIBI Thanks For Life Project

Thanks For Life - A Window of Opportunity

The Rotary Clubs of Durham, Durham Bede and Durham Elvet combined forces ("Rotary Works in Durham") to seize a "Window of Opportunity" by taking over a shop in the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre in the centre of Durham city from Thursday February 23rd through to Saturday February 27th, 2010, to promote the End Polio Now campaign.

Take a look at the Thanks for Life website to see what it is all about.

The shop unit, previously occupied by Jessops the photographic retailer, was used to display material that tells the history of polio and the Rotary International polio eradication campaign.  Alongside this there was information about the wider work of Rotary and the benefits of membership.  Using a selection of posters, photographs and DVDs, the display was both eye-catching and informative.

On the first day -Tuesday 23rd, Rotary Day - the Mayor and Mayoress of Durham, Councillor and Mrs Dennis Southwell, and District Governor Tony Fairley visited the display, together with the Presidents of the three Clubs for the formal launch at 3:00pm.

The shop was staffed by volunteers from the Rotary Clubs of Durham, Durham Bede and Durham Elvet, assisted quite often, by members of the associated Inner Wheel Clubs.

All this was made possible by the tremendous generosity of the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre management team who have been most helpful - and to whom we are deeply grateful.

Our thanks must also go to the staff of Beamish Museum for their help with the loan of an iron lung last used in Darlington Hospital in the early 1950s.  And to members of the Friends of Beamish Museum for their help in transporting it from, and returning it safely to Beamish.


And we must thank the Durham Markets Company for the loan of tables, The Three Tuns Hotel for the tablecloths and Clayport Library for the DVD player and display panel.  Thank you all!

To round the week off, we also collected for the End Polio Now fund at the Tesco Extra store in Durham, on Saturday 27th, in common with many other Rotary Clubs at over 300 Tesco stores around the country.

A further selection of photos has been placed on a separate page - click here to see them.

As you'll see below, we also kept a Visitors' Book in which many people left messages.  Thanks to the hard work of Julie, these have been transcribed and can be seen by clicking here.

Tuesday 23rd - Rotary Day

We got off to a great start with166 people coming into the shop to see what it was all about.  Many people recounted their experiences - both direct and indirect - of polio, leaving messages in our Visitors' Book.  At the same time, it was surprising how many people knew very little about polio - and went away rather better informed.  It was also gratifying to be able to talk to people about Rotary - again, to correct ignorance and misunderstandings.  This, of course, is what it is all about - raising awareness of the polio eradication campaign and the work of Rotary International.
We had fun posing for photographs with the iron lung outside the shop, with the Mayor and Mayoress and DG Tony Fairley!

Wednesday 24th

A wet, cold, "raw" day!  Not many people in town so the "footfall" of 59 people was not too bad.  We were happy to see Carol Pritchard of the Birtley Club and Assistant Governor Tony Wortman among our visitors.
Again, people left messages in our Visitors' Book - some of them quite touching, recounting personal experiences of polio.  I shall have to figure out a way of publishing a compilation of these messages.
And several more people left a lot more knowledgeable about the work of Rotary International. 

Thursday 25th

The weather was a little better today - until late afternoon when it started to rain.  And there seemed to be rather more people about in the city so we welcomed 126 visitors to the display, including a few more Rotarians from around the region.
A pattern seems to be emerging which emphasises the great value of this "Window Of Opportunity", in that many people are simply unaware of what Rotary International is all about.  And, thanks to the great work being done by our volunteers, we have been able to "seize the Opportunity" to inform these people, to make them aware of what we do, how we do it, and that we have fun doing it.  So there's a lot more people out there that now know that Rotary is not a bunch of grey men in grey suits in a private club, occasionally raising a bit of money for charity!

Friday 26th

A filthy, horrible day - wind and rain, people with their heads down and umbrellas up - definitely not a day for window shopping! 
But there's no doubt that the iron lung is "earning its keep".  Many people have caught sight of it and their reaction has varied from "eh! what on earth is that?" to "eee - I remember them!".  So, despite the weather, we were still able to welcome 30 visitors.  One young lady, a student at the university, came in because she is studying the history of medicine but had never seen an iron lung; she went off determined to get her fellow students down to the shop tomorrow.

Saturday 27th

Despite a wet start to the day, the City was very busy - as you would expect on a Saturday. A total of 119 people, including my two young granddaughters, came into the shop to see the display.
Again, many people told us of their experiences of polio - as victims, as relatives of victims or as nurses, reminding us all that the disease is still very much with us.  There is no room for complacency - the disease must be eradicated!
The collection at the Tesco Extra store at Dragonville went exceptionally well - the generosity of the people of Durham never ceases to amaze me!


I believe the week has been extremely successful - we welcomed around 500 people into our "Window Of Opportunity" to explain the importance of the polio eradication campaign and to inform them of the work of Rotary International.  This may be a tiny proportion of the people who passed the Window, but they all left us better informed and in a position to "spread the word".  We may have received only one firm membership enquiry, but who knows what the final "membership dividend" may be as a result of our efforts?
Along the way, we raised nearly £300 at the Window and almost £600 at the Tesco collection - therefore, as a result, over 4,000 children will be saved from this devastating but preventable disease.  Our sincere thanks go to all who contributed.

One particularly pleasing and successful  feature of the display was the inclusion of the Visitors Book - many people left comments on the display and notes on their experiences of polio, some of them very touching.  As noted above, these have been transcribed and can be seen by clicking here.

And finally ...
This event has taken a lot of hard work to put together, but it was all well worth it.  And it is a splendid example of the way a small group of Rotary Clubs can work as a team, to pool their resources and expertise and put on a great show for a great cause!  My sincere thanks go to all who were involved.

And a further footnote ...
A few weeks after the event, I received an email from Richard Toynbee - manager of the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre -
to say that they would match the amount raised in the shop.  So, a further £300 has been added to the total collected.  I feel that this is a magnificent gesture, given all the help that the Prince Bishops people had already provided.  As I have said above, we are deeply grateful.

Eric Colling - Rotary Club of Durham