Rotary Club of Penrith
Home | Public Relations & Membership | Impressions of a first year in Rotary
I have completed my first year as a Rotarian. I expect a second, hopefully a third but who knows?
I already knew about Service Clubs. For more than 10 years in three Round Tables I had rattled collecting tins, and blagged raffle prizes from local shopkeepers. I had taken deprived children on holiday, bussed pensioners around the Lake District, organised a train trip for the disabled, chopped logs, distributed Christmas parcels, won a prize for my Boy George impression at the Area Song Competition and I became a champion Copper Crapper (don't ask.) Incidentally I would have won the mountain top darts challenge had not a cruel blast of wind taken my final dart over a cliff.
We were young and we had big ideas. We injected huge amounts of steam into them and shared the risks. We visited other clubs, attended a multitude of black tie dinners and dutifully brought greetings back from all and sundry. And we drank too much at a time when licensing hours were seen more as guidelines rather than limits.
But that was then and now is now. I had been invited to a Rotary membership evening and was 20 years older. How would Rotary compare? In truth I hoped it wouldn't, I didn't fancy rerunning history in an older body.
I arrived in a positive frame of mind and was warmly received. An existing member delivered a rousing validation of Rotary. Then, someone took me to an information board, outlined the club's achievement and put it into the context of Rotary worldwide. It was a good pitch and I was convinced. If I joined I was to attend weekly, each Monday evening 6pm for dinner, and be co-opted onto a committee with an expectation that I would contribute to the wider fundraising and social life of the club.
I already knew some members but was Rotary right for me? What about attendance rules, I spend some time away from home? Not to worry, I was told, the quality of contribution is more important than the quantity. Most members lead busy lives; some with family dispersed across the world and many travel widely.
But did I need the commitment after the world of work? I had just escaped that particular straitjacket but I would not join to become a sleeper, a shadowy figure who is absent when work is to be done. In the event I applied for membership and was accepted. So how has it been?
Well it has been an extremely rewarding year, I am lucky to be in a great club and I am proud of my Rotary membership. I have listened to many interesting speakers, enjoyed good company and have always reflected on a Monday evening well spent. Specifically I have ball spotted at a golf tournament, marshalled a cross country run and a midnight walk, rattled tins for charitable organisations, and encouraged passers by to a free blood pressure check. I have visited a deer farm where we ate venison burgers, I 'walked and dined' with other members, loaded up 'Bikes for Africa' and got involved in all manner of other things.
I was co-opted onto the Public Relations Committee so throughout the year I have written up many press releases. This is a gift role for a new member as it requires reflection and interpretation of club activities. In this way I was quickly up and running, witnessing and describing the strength of Rotary across its many activities.
I have picked up some impressions along the way:
Ø Although Rotary likes its pomp and ceremony it is more relaxed and non-judgemental than I remember Round Table. There is no obvious status competition.
Ø Visibly our membership is overwhelmingly male, all white and with an average age nearer to seventy than to sixty. Jackets and ties are the default dress code. At first, I felt quite racy turning up in an open-necked shirt. Meetings are quite formal, a sit-down dinner starts with Grace, followed later by The Loyal Toast and concluding with the Toast to Rotary. These punctuations are signalled by Mr President sounding the Rotary Bell. Two of the club's honorary members are in the House of Lords, one being a Conservative Party Life Peer and the other an elected Hereditary Peer. Through all of this, the demography, the dress and the ceremony, the club signals how it sees itself and, by extension, what kind of people it might want to attract as members. Will this serve it well in the future?
Ø To begin with I was puzzled how so much was being done without any obvious debate and decision making at the Monday meetings. Then I realised that all the meaningful discussion takes place in the Council meetings, where ten or so principal club officers meet monthly. Without attending Council meetings backbench members may believe they have joined a gentle dining club.
Ø I don't understand the fixation with member occupation/ business category particularly in my club where most are retired.
Ø If I was a new broom Chief Executive in RIBI, I would question the district structure. Could not clubs work cooperatively within a 2-tier organisation? This would reduce admin whilst allowing a mini-army of Rotarians to put their whole energy into their clubs rather than attending widespread meetings et al.
Ø Rotary magazines reflect our values. They remind me of the glossies the local councils deliver to our homes, exclusively good news and largely self-promoting. No problems with that as part of a PR effort but could we add other copy? As Rotary is continually adapting and improving, could clubs give more prominence to that agenda in their magazine contributions? e.g. what they are doing to increase membership, raise their profile or become more public facing? This will suggest that we develop and change and are not self-satisfied.
Ø How does my club see its future and where does it want to position itself? How does it distinguish itself from other service clubs such as Lions? Many activities, doubtless worthwhile, are unconnected save for the need to raise charitable funds, £20K last year through the books. Is this a good annual return for a membership of 40 talented people? I don't really know. We undertake, 'bag packing' at supermarkets in exchange for a donation. Are Rotarians with their experience, talent and skills under using their potential here? Should we leave bag packing to the Scouts?
I am getting a lot out of Rotary; I spend time with great people and have made new friends. Recently I attended this year's Membership Evening and wrote up the notes extolling Rotary to our visitors. I sincerely hope that our new members will be as positive as me after their first year. As I reflect over the year, I feel sure that I have added my grain of sand onto the Rotary mountain.