The 20th May 2021, marks the 90th anniversary of the presentation of the Charter of the Rotary Club of Staines. That splendid occasion took place at the Staines Masonic Hall and was attended by 120 Rotarians, including 15 Presidents, from 28 clubs in the District.
Interest in forming a Staines Club had been noticed and encouraged from the previous year by Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Sutton and then taken up and formally sponsored by the Rotary Club of Kingston-upon-Thames. After some informal meetings at the Angel Hotel (now the Turtle Bay restaurant) an inaugural lunch was held there on 17th March 1931 when the 18 founder members elected the Vicar of St Peter's, Dr W H Flecker, as the first President.
With increasing membership, the club meeting venue soon moved across in the High Street to Dexter's Café, with a lunch price of 2s. 3d (11p). The first President's Evening was in November 1931, at which the guests of honour were the Spelthorne MP, Sir Reginald Blaker, and the Chairman of Staines Urban District Council, Mr Percy Low.
Help for the needy
The national depression of the 1930s led to club members and their partners providing help for the needy, including food vouchers funded by the weekly takings from the Charlie Box. In 1933 a Rotary-sponsored club room and canteen for the unemployed was opened at the Boys' Brigade hut, in 1935 a day’s country outing was arranged for 50 elderly people from the Ashford Institution and in 1938 a bed was funded for the Staines Hospital.
World War II
World War II brought a further dimension to charitable activities. In 1940, the club started a wartime canteen at the “Emergency” (now Ashford) Hospital. Rotary wives helped serve meals there and at the Service Club canteen in the High Street and at the Town Hall canteen for members of the Fire Brigade. The club adopted a Lowestoft trawler crew and sent them woollens and a Christmas food hamper. In 1941 a sum of £1,020 was raised (£53,000 in today’s terms) for refitting the children's ward at Staines Hospital.
In recent times the main fund-raising activity for most years has been the Christmas street collections, some of them made by standing at the shopping streets and centres but also – and often more profitably - taking Father Christmas around the roads of Staines in his carol float to meet the children and extract donations from their parents.
As a result of a local British Legion structure that had left Staines without local Legion organisers, the club has also been much involved in supporting the distribution and selling of poppies for the annual Armistice Day collections. This has been one of the more popular duties for members as the public interest and sympathy is such that the poppies almost sell themselves. A similar response was met to the club’s street collections in early 2005 for the Asian tsunami relief effort.
Car Boot Sales
A huge money-raising opportunity arose in the 1990s when the club negotiated an arrangement with the landowner to stage a series of car boot sales in a field near Shepperton Studios. Local Authority rules limited the number of sales to 13 a year but each sale produced excellent returns. The sales continued for some years until the owner sold out to the Studios.
The Dry Regatta
Another fundraiser was inaugurated in 1997 when the club made contact with the Rotary Club of Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territories and asked them to let Staines stage a local version of the “Henley on Todd” dry regatta, something they had consistently refused to any other Rotary Club. Some years previously the Alice Springs Rotarians had concluded that the absence of water in their Todd River – it flows only every 10 years or so – was no reason for not having a regatta. Their solution was to use bottomless boats and run with them along the dry river bed.
The delicious irony of staging a dry regatta in a field alongside a river fully capable of having a wet regatta was lost on nobody. Alice Springs agreed to the request, advised on how to arrange the event and sent their Commodore to oversee the first running, which took place on the Bank Holiday Monday, 26th May 1997. The Dry Regatta ran for 11 years until it was finally sunk by the local authority. This was for reasons of health and safety.
Subsequent fundraisers have included the regular concerts first introduced in 2009. These have featured the internationally acclaimed Imperial Male Voice Choir and always popular Royal Air Forces President’s Band. These are always well received by the audience, raising over £10,000 for Rotary charities.
Staines-upon-Thames Santa Fun Run
The Staines-upon-Thames Santa Fun Run, inaugurated in 2016, has been a great event for friends and family to dress up and paint the town red with hundreds of Santa’s running walking and wheeling around town. The event, which has grown four-fold in 5 years, is supported by the Elmsleigh Centre, the Two Rivers Shopping Centre and Visit Staines, whose Christmas Parade is held the same morning.
It has been estimated that the club has raised the equivalent of more than a £1 million since its formation 90 years ago. Many local charities have benefited over the years from donations made by the club, including just recently Daybreak, Homestart, the Penrose Club, Shooting Star Chase, Spelthorne Dementia Support, the Spelthorne MS Society, the Staines Parochial Charities, the Surrey Community Development Trust, Transform Housing Support and Voluntary Action in Spelthorne (VAIS) to mention just a few.
For the last 13 years, all of the children from the local primary schools have been presented with their own personal copy of the Usborne Illustrated Dictionary. This has been funded by the club with some support from Surrey County Council.
RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award)
In recent years, students from the Matthew Arnold School have been selected to attend a five-day youth leadership course run by the Surrey Outdoor Learning and Development at the centre in High Ashurst, on behalf of Rotary. The course, which is known as RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award), brings together each year, students from across Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex, exposing them to testing leadership situations where success is determined by the extent to which they pool their skills and resources.
“New Build Appeal” for the Woking & Sam Beare Hospices
In early 2016, the club agreed to support the “new build appeal” of Woking & Sam Beare Hospices and to seek the help of other local Rotary Clubs, including in Ashford, Ashtead, Chertsey, Egham, Guildford, Ripley & Send, Shepperton & Sunbury, and Woking District. Support also came from a club in Trinidad, St Augustine, as well as a club outside Limoges, Confolens Charente-Limousine. Additional funding was provided by a Rotary District in Scotland.
The outcome of this fantastic initiative resulted in Woking & Sam Beare benefiting from an extremely kind and generous grant of £85,904 for bedroom equipment from the Rotary family, both here in the UK and Internationally. In recognition of the fundraising work of the Rotary Clubs and Districts a commemorative plaque has been installed at the new hospice building in Woking.
Know Your Blood Pressure Days
Since 2010, the club supported by the Stroke Association and North West Surrey Community First Responders have teamed up to host a lifesaving blood pressure testing events in the Elmsleigh Shopping Centre in Staines. Members of the public were able to have their blood pressure checked free of charge, in an attempt to raise awareness of the link between high blood pressure and strokes.
Eradication of Polio
Another of the club’s achievements has been the contribution it has made in donations to help fight eradication of Polio world-wide, which in 2021 there have only been two reported cases so far of the Wild Poliovirus, contained to just two countries, despite a challenging year for global health.
Fighting disease is one of Rotary’s main causes, therefore Coronavirus has been no different, providing financial support for a local foodbank, supply of laptops to school children and a bulletin board on the club’s website giving advice, be it personal or professional.
The club is made up of a diverse membership. On 14th June 1989 the club voted to admit female members - the first in the District to have done so. The first female member joined soon afterwards. A number of female members have joined since, including three that have subsequently become club Presidents.
In 2015, the club welcomed its first Asian President and in 2021, its first West African President.
The meeting venue has changed several times. After Dexter’s Café it first moved to the Packhorse Hotel (now the Thames Lodge) in 1958. Rebuilding at the Packhorse in 1983 saw a move to the Ann Boleyn in the Hythe where it remained for several years, with a break around 1988 across the road at The Swan while the Ann Boleyn itself was extended, then a move in 1998 via a few meetings at The Bells in Church Street to the unlikely location of the George in Wraysbury, and back to the Thames Lodge for the Millennium.
Having been founded and functioning for most of its life as a lunch club, Staines found by the early 1990s that the changing nature of local business brought a need to meet at a different time of day. Failure to reach a consensus on what this should be produced a period in which the club tried breakfast meetings - one of the first in the District to have these - but interspersed with lunch meetings. For 1995-96 it tried a mixture of breakfast, lunch and twilight meetings. The confusion caused by this hybrid arrangement made it short-lived and the present arrangement was established of twilight meetings, albeit with some changes in the day of the week and times.
Sponsor of adjacent clubs
Over the years Staines has sponsored the formation of several adjacent clubs: Rotary clubs in Egham in 1938; Feltham in 1939; Chertsey in 1942-43 and Ashford in 1966 and, in association with the Rotary Clubs of Egham and Ashford, the Staines Probus club in 1970. The Inner Wheel Club of Staines was formed in 1945 and the Staines Rotaract Club in 1986.
Looking to the future
Anniversaries such as the club’s 90th give an excellent opportunity to take stock, remind the club of it achievements and look to the future!
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