President Alan's welcome

Written in July 2020

Welcome to the Rotary Club of Canterbury website!

My name is Alan Mepstead and it’s my privilege to be the 99th President of the Rotary Club of Canterbury. In a past life I’ve been Company Secretary and Director of Finance for a number of organisations, both commercial and charitable.

Twelve months ago, when I was first asked if I’d become President, the world was very different. Our Members met together every Tuesday – not only at the Cricket Club in Canterbury, but also at other venues. We had outings, fun evenings and looked to help not only local charities and good causes, but international charities as well.

A time to embrace change

During this current uncertain situation, we have two choices. Either we hibernate and wither away - or we embrace this as an opportunity to promote fellowship and friendship, and serve the community, in new and exciting ways.

Even before Covid-19, our Club was focussing on regeneration. Past President Peter Hermitage gave us an excellent presentation and got us engaged in how we might recruit new members while making sure that our present Members both felt involved and needed. There was emphasis on being relevant to the present-day world. More than ever, we must now work together to make every Member, new or old, feel valued and involved.

Chair of our Membership Committee, Past President Martin Ward and his team have been looking at Membership and regeneration. We already have three potential new members for this year and we will drive on for more by showing the community the range of things we do and showing potential members what a great group we are.

Our website and social media (Facebook, Twitter) continue to be updated regularly, keeping Members and others, including prospective members, up to date with our activities. We’re delighted to have had a two-and-a-half page spread on our Covid-19/lockdown-related activities published in the Canterbury Community Ad Magazine, which means that many more people in the local community hear about us and our endeavours.

As for the welfare of our own Members, our Club’s Council has set up a pastoral scheme whereby each Council Member has agreed to regularly contact one of our more vulnerable Members so that they not only feel engaged with us but also have a direct and dedicated contact with the Club.

Our activities, local and international

So, what do I think our Members will be doing this coming year?

One way forward is for the Club to not only fundraise and to support our charities, but also for us to give more of our time. In past years, our Vocational Services Committee has spent a great deal of time and effort reaching out to local schools with our Annual Innovation Competition, Primary School Writing Competition, Public Speaking Competition (with the English Speaking Union), and mock interviews. We hope to continue our efforts, although this may be challenging as several of our Members are in the vulnerable category and social distancing will be a problem. Moreover, I imagine that schools will be catching up on their curriculum and may be subject to some form of virtual teaching and or social distancing.

I know that our Membership will come up with new solutions and ideas. For example, although this year’s Innovation Competition has had to be called off, we have already launched a stimulating new ‘popup’ competition in its place (in Association with Canterbury Christ Church University). Youngsters can take part in this online, with minimal burden on teachers.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been very severe on our Club and its ability to raise funds. Worldwide, membership of Rotary is 1.5 million - it’s an International organisation. But we are local and our Community Services Committee depends upon the funds that we can raise. Since the lockdown they have donated money to the Prince of Wales Youth Club and, through that, helped disadvantaged youngsters in our local community. The Committee has also been finding other ways to be of service.

We hope to continue to support the local community. But we need to raise more funds. I will not be nominating a specific President’s Charity this year and any general funds raised this year will go to the Club Charity account for our Club Council to decide its allocation.

Sadly, we have made the decision that there will be no Duck Race this year due to the current situation. This was very much our major fundraiser, but given the circumstances this was the only possible decision we could make. However, we are already planning a charity auction and our Fundraising Team, steered by Tony Loughran, will continue to explore other fundraising avenues. We recognise that the economic situation will make this more difficult, with many members of the public possibly still on furlough or worried about their jobs or businesses. We are always grateful to local businesses and the local community for their support and are always happy to receive fundraising ideas.

I anticipate that the impact of Covid-19 on developing countries, with poor health infrastructures, may well be catastrophic. Many charitable organisations will struggle to maintain their past level of service and I anticipate that international charities will be particularly badly hit. It is imperative that our Club tries to follow the Rotary tradition and does what it can to support the poor and needy worldwide. We’ve already been able to take positive action (during Neil Fraser’s last few months as President) – we’ve supported disaster relief charity ShelterBox and also the Rotary Club of Dhaka in Bangladesh; through the latter, funds are being used to help those affected by the super cyclone that hit the country as well as by the coronavirus lockdown.

We look forward to supporting the next Joint Pentangular Project (a project that we take on with five other partner Rotary clubs in Europe). Promoted by the Saint Quentin Club, this project aims to help the care and teaching of deaf children in Chisinau, Moldova. A priority for our International Committee is to also ensure the successful completion of the Juba School Bursaries Pentangular Project, through which we’ve supported the education of underprivileged youngsters in South Sudan. We thank all of our Pentangular partners for their support with this project.

Poliovirus used to be a big killer or cause of great suffering around the world – but thanks to the success of vaccination campaigns the disease has nearly been eradicated. World Polio Day falls on October 24th and we had plans to have a stand in Whitefriars with, perhaps an iron lung on display and Rotarians shaking buckets. Our plans have changed, but we still hope to light up a building purple as part of increasing awareness about the Purple4Polio campaign. We also hope to sell purple crocus corms to raise funds.

Although the Millennium Scholarship Trust Fund is technically a separate entity, I must mention the tireless efforts of the Fund’s trustees who, under the chairmanship of Roger Power, continue to promote the Fund and make it relevant in today’s world.

A great group of people

With the help of our Members I’d put together an exciting programme covering the next twelve months, but that programme will now need a lot of adjustment as the next year evolves.

Nevertheless, we still have three events in our Calendar for our Members. In October, we hope to hold our second Arts & Crafts fair at Lower Hardres. A Christmas Concert is planned at St Gregory’s Canterbury Christ Church University and of course we hope to have our usual Christmas Supper at Darwin Hall, University of Kent. Hopefully these will go ahead as planned, but we will have to wait and see.

We also hope that the Pentangular visit to Ludenscheid next year will go ahead next May as planned. On the Saturday they are planning to take us on an all-day trip along the Rhine, returning by bus from Cologne. (Sounds good to me!)

Looking further ahead, 2021/2022 sees both Pentangular’s 50th Anniversary and our own Centenary – both of which give us a wonderful opportunity to re-energise. As well as being President Elect this year, Stephen Thompson will be spending a lot of time working on next year’s Pentangular programme (it will be hosted in Canterbury) as well as making preparations for our Club’s 100th anniversary celebrations. I am sure our Members will lend him all the support possible.

Future meetings

I’m often asked when will the Club come together again face to face, and my guess is no better than anyone else’s. However, I think it may be some time yet. We will not meet face to face until the Membership itself is confident of returning. Before any decisions are made, we will ask Members and the decision will be theirs and theirs alone. But this does of course give us difficulty in planning for this forthcoming year.

Past President Richard Kemball-Cook has put a lot of effort into setting up Zoom for our use. I was delighted to see 45 members logged on to our handover meeting, which is more than usually attend our luncheons. Not only that, we were able to host external visitors as well. This is a positive sign and shows that we need not be afraid of change.

What will the new normality be? Lunch meetings at the Cricket Club? Zoom? Or tea and biscuits at the local Church hall? Or a mixture of all three? Again, no decisions will be made on this without the full consultations of Members, but we do now have additional opportunities to attract new members and be more accessible too.

When we do get back to some normality, we will re-vamp our social programme and re-inject a sense of fun into what we do. Social distancing may well still a problem – but we will do our best to meet such challenges

A final word

Although this introduction is about this coming Rotary year, I should like on behalf of our Members to thank last year’s Council Members and Committee Chairs. Three people in particular deserve thanks. Firstly, as Club Council Chair, Past President Neil tirelessly sought new ideas and presided over meetings with enthusiasm and energy. Secondly, thanks go to treasurer Stephen Thompson, who has spent a lot of time keeping our accounts in good order and presenting them to us with great clarity. Lastly (and not least), thanks go to our Secretary, Past President Lewis Norris, for whom nothing seems to be too much trouble.

And so there we have it. Uncertain times, but nevertheless great opportunities for our Club. I will continue to seek inputs, ideas, suggestions and energy from our Members. Above all else, and particularly at this time, we need to remember the importance of fellowship. 

Alan Mepsetad, July 2020