A Brief History of the Club

1921

In the aftermath of the First World War Rotary was a growing international force. At the suggestion of a Rotarian from the Margate Club (Canterbury’s Mother Club), Alfred Baynton of Canterbury and General Manager of the East Kent Road Car Company convened an informal lunch at the County Hotel, Canterbury, on 2 December 1921. This was followed by the Charter Night and Inaugural Dinner on 9 February 1922. Wives of Rotarians set up an Inner Wheel in 1925. The first President was Wright Hunt, then Mayor of Canterbury. Alfred Baynton was elected as Secretary, becoming President of the Club 1926-1927 and District Chairman in the following year.

The Club met at the County Hotel, at first fortnightly. It continued to use this venue for 62 years; in 1984 it moved to the St Lawrence Ground of Kent County Cricket Club, where it has now remained for 25 years. The Club continued to grow during the inter-war years, serving the local community and Rotary international ideals.

Paul Harris

In 1928 Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, visited Canterbury while on a tour of Europe and was welcomed by the then President Harold Young. Rotarians from eight neighbouring rotary clubs joined the Canterbury Club in a gathering to meet him.

Harold Young had a distinguished career in Rotary, becoming District Governor, President of RIBI and in 1948-1949 Director of Rotary International. When Paul Harris died in 1947, Harold Young described him as “the man who believed in Friendship”.

Rotary founder, Paul Harris, visiting Canterbury Cathedral in 1928. (Copyright Rotary Club of Canterbury)

Rotary founder, Paul Harris, visiting Canterbury Cathedral in 1928. Click for larger image.

(Copyright Rotary Club of Canterbury)

Harold Young, President at time of Paul Harris's visit in 1928. (Copyright Rotary Club of Canterbury)

Harold Young, President at time of Paul Harris's visit in 1928. Click for larger image.

(Copyright Rotary Club of Canterbury)

The Club decided to continue during the Second World War. It provided hospitality for forces personnel serving in the area and sent 100 cigarettes (later 200) to serving Club members every month. It gave succour to those who suffered great losses in the Blitz of Canterbury on 1 June 1942.

International Contacts

In 1947 the Club celebrated its Silver Jubilee under the Presidency of John Thompson. In this year our first international contact was made, with the Rotary Club of St Quentin, France. This contact is as alive today as it was in 1947. The French Club went on to draw Clubs in Belgium (Leuven), Germany (Lüdenscheid) and Netherlands (Utrecht) into a four-way grouping, from which our Club remained aloof.

However, European circumstances changed. Britain was poised to join the European Community in 1972, the year of the Club’s Golden Jubilee. The Club President David Thompson (son of John Thompson and father of current Rotarian Stephen Thompson) invited the Presidents of all the four Continental Clubs to the Jubilee Dinner in February and to the Trooping of the Colour in London in June. Thus was born the Pentangular grouping of all five Clubs, which continues to grow from strength to strength.

Links with the Cathedral

Also in 1972 the Club undertook the restoration of one of the bays in the Cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral. Using the professional skills of Rotarians, it produced a 16 mm thirty minute film depicting the history and needs for restoration of the Cathedral. This was circulated to Rotary Clubs in Britain and the USA, and the requisite funds were collected for achieving the project. Through Club membership and individual service close links have been maintained with the Cathedral. With a special Music Hall Evening at the Marlowe we were able to donate a considerable sum to the “Save the Cathedral” Appeal in 2007, and we currently have Archbishop Justin Welby, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Carey of Clifton, former Archbishop, as Honorary Members.

Sponsorships

In 1977 our Club sponsored and promoted the formation of the Canterbury Forest of Blean Club as an evening Club. This opened up Rotary membership to those who could not be present at lunchtime meetings. A close relationship has been maintained between the two Clubs, in large measure due to the existence of an Inner Wheel common to both Clubs. We went one step further in 2007-2008, sponsoring and helping to set up a Sunrise Club in Canterbury. This has had the effect of bringing into Rotary a good number of younger Canterbury professionals.

A spectacular project took place in 1991: our Club and the Rotary Club of Maidstone organized a multi-sponsored event on the M20 Motorway, prior to its official opening. The two Clubs raised large sums for a joint presentation to Kent Air Ambulance and for donations to their own individual charities.

75th Anniversary and Beyond

Under Michael Talbot as President the Club celebrated its seventy fifth anniversary together with the St Quentin Club – which celebrated its own Golden Jubilee – and the other Continental partners. The Club at that time counted 71 members. An informative brochure on “The first 75 years” was produced.

Following the Anniversary the Club decided to mark the Millennium year 2000 with a Millennium Scholarship Trust Fund, to give financial assistance to young people wishing to participate in recognized charitable projects in distant lands for a limited period. Its working is described elsewhere on this website.

Whilst the Club has remained essentially a lunchtime Club, it has provided more flexibility for members or potential members finding difficulty in getting to lunchtime meetings. Besides Guest Nights on fifth Tuesdays, it now holds a supper meeting on the second Tuesday of each month.

Beside its work of supporting local and international charities, the Club has sponsored the Sunrise Club (as mentioned above) and promoted closer links with other Clubs in the Canterbury District. For several years it expended considerable energy on sponsoring and assisting an Interact Club based at the Simon Langton School for Girls.

It works more intensively with the Rotary International Foundation for achieving international aims of Rotary. In 2008 a Rotarian joined an international Rotary mission helping to eradicate polio in India and another represented the Club on a Pentangular visit to Ghana, where our Rotary grouping is restoring and extending a country hospital serving a large area.

Celebration of our 90th Anniversary

Under the Presidency of Harry Cragg in 2012 an informative and well-illustrated brochure was published, entitled "Celebrating Ninety Years". It carries forward the story of our Rotary from the 75th anniversary in 1997. Another recently created source of information about the Club's past activities consists of personal accounts by Presidents of their year. The first account concerns the year 1965/1956, and so far 29 Presidents have put pen to paper. Read as whole, these accounts demonstrate how much each club has achieved and how each President makes his year different from anyone else's. They also enable readers to discern long-term trends in composition of Rotary membership and in activities - all of course within the general framework of Rotary.

Perhaps the most significant event of recent times was the admission of two women to the Club in 2007. In 2016 there were 13 women Rotarians out of 65 members. Together with excellent intakes on the male side, they have worked hard and ensured that the Club has flourished. The Presidents in 2017 and 2018 will both be women, in accordance with elections on the line of succession. We have several examples of sons of previous Canterbury Rotarians joining the Club; now we have as a member Jo Nolan, daughter of a previous Rotarian, Derek Evans, President 1982/1983.

Another new path in the present century has been the building of a Club website in 2007; this was re-launched with a brighter, better and more easy-to-navigate design in 2017. The website has given us the chance to present ourselves to other clubs and to the world and provides a new source of recruitment. Rotary clubs have a complex but effective structure for conducting activities, and the website helps with events management and transparency. It enables records to be kept without a vast expansion of paper archives. We have learned that building and maintaining a Rotary website involves hard work and much problem-solving.

Funding of Projects

Our ambitious charity work requires ambitious funding. Three main projects have helped us in this regard over the years: our Duck Race, Top Choir Kent and Christmas supermarket collections.

We have a collection of over 4,000 numbered plastic floating ducks, and once a year since 1999, we "sell" their numbers to the public as well as to businesses and race them down the Stour; the winners get prizes generously provided by sponsors. This is a steady earner for our fundraising.

We have organised a "Top Choir Kent" competition since 2010. This leads up to a highly entertaining musical evening in Canterbury, when choir finalists from around Kent do their best to be chosen as the winner. It is good for singers all over the county and good for the reputation of Rotary. The concert hall is packed, and over the years we have funded a good deal of charity work from the proceeds.

We also raise money through Christmas supermarket collections and through particular events. We help others to raise money, notably the British Legion, the Lord Mayor's collection for Christmas parcels and Kent & Canterbury Hospital's annual fete. We have also turned out with our collection buckets in the case of major natural disasters.

Local and International Projects

We aim to spend the funds raised on projects where our contribution will make a difference. This applies to projects both within our local community and internationally. Our Community Service Committee looks favourably on requests for financial assistance from local organisations, particularly those dealing with youth, older people and the disadvantaged. It is generally close enough to the requesting organisation to be sure of the bona fide nature of its request.

Our other spending committee is the International Committee. This has responded to many international emergencies and projects in developing countries. The choice may be difficult where larger amounts are needed and distance renders supervision difficult. Sometimes a Rotary club in the country concerned can help supervise, sometimes we have participated in a project abroad initiated by another local organisation which is able to send out a representative to check on work being carried out.

Nowadays we have at our disposal another way of solving the problem of needing larger funds and ensuring adequate supervision - through our Pentangular grouping of five clubs (See also above "International projects"). This grouping, with ourselves, St Quentin (France), Lüdenscheid (Germany), Leuven (Belgium) and Leiden (Netherlands), meets for a long weekend every year in a city of the grouping by rota. It is good to see that the Pentangular flourishes over fifty years since inauguration, and that newer Rotarians participate fully. The Pentangular broke new ground in 2008 by organising a jointly funded five-year project to rebuild a hospital in Dodi Papase, Ghana, servicing a large part of that country as well as an area of Togo. The project was proposed by the Lüdenscheid Rotary, in conjunction with German Rotary Volunteers (a body recognised by Rotary International), who were able to supervise work on the spot. It attracted grants from Rotary Districts and Rotary International, so that the contribution by each Club of €10,000 over the five years 2007-2012 became £172,000 through matching grants. We sent a representative to the laying of the foundation stone and to the opening ceremony of the refurbished hospital in February 2010. Thus by working together with others we were able to participate in a project of great impact.

The same principle has been applied to other projects, and we now have a four-year project with the Pentangular Clubs to allow a substantial number of boys and girls from South Sudan to undertake a four-year course of secondary education. The school is the first in that new African country to have as many girls as boys in the school population. It should be borne in mind that secondary education starts at 16, which means that all who have a place are very keen to learn. A Canterbury Rotarian has been visiting the school concerned over several years and is due to supervise the project, which has Pentangular, District and Rotary International support. The length of secondary education in South Sudan was increased from three to four years by the South Sudan Government after our financial negotiations covering a three year period had been concluded. We were fortunately allowed at the last minute to tap into a Rotary International Emergency Fund to cover the funding shortfall.

Any discussion of our international activities should mention the great efforts made by our Club, and in particular one member, in the struggle through Rotary International to eliminate polio completely from the world.

Youth

It seems fitting to end this history with a round-up of some of our work for young people. Our Pentangular Mini- Group Study Exchange event brings together two young people from each of the five cities concerned, which take it in turn to organise the week-long event in their city.

Our Millennium Scholarship Trust Fund continues to allow young people to spend a period with a recognised charity in a job connected with people in a developing country.

We work together with the English Speaking Union to allow schools to participate in a local schools debating competition each year (the first round of a national contest).

In the third year of our Schools Rotary Innovation Competition 43 entries were lodged by 60 students aged 13-14; the final at the University of Kent campus was judged by local business leaders and academics from the UKC Business School.

Fellowship

The fellowship involved in working together in all these ways can only be judged by reading most of the other items in this website!