Well, yet again we've all had an extra-ordinary year with plenty of ups and downs and ins and outs! We’ve seen once more the importance of community, of helping each other - and of giving people something to look forward to in times of stress.
Here in Canterbury us Rotarians are taking a look back at what we've been up to in order to help others locally, nationally and internationally over the year. For us it's been a year in which we've been able to enjoy each other's company and to also show our support for each other and members of our Rotary "family": sadly this year we lost several of our Members. We miss them a great deal.
Back in January we wanted to start the new year with optimism, and to give young people (who had to struggle with lots of changes over the previous year) a reminder that they have exciting days ahead. So, we launched our "Dear Future Self" competition. We wanted youngsters to write a message to their imagined future selves ... and were delighted later with the winning entries. First prize went to an unusual poem about human rights.
Later, we also held our Innovation Competition in association with Canterbury Christ Church College - a first for us as the competition final was held entirely online. Both competitions were extended to include Kent, Essex, Sussex and Surrey, giving more youngsters a chance to win our prizes. The winning entry was for "Terranovus" - a simple device for testing soil quality.
As we've done for the past few years, several Members helped give mock interviews; these help young people prepare for real interviews and are something our Members enjoy greatly. We also helped the local branch of the English-Speaking Union (ESU) run its Schools Public Speaking competition - again online rather than in real life. One final thing to mention for schools - the team that we've supported and encouraged for the F1 in Schools Competition are through to the 2022 World Finals! We’ll keep our fingers crossed for their success!
This year our Club will be celebrating its Centenary, marking 100 amazing years during which the Club has contributed in all sorts of ways to the local community and to charities and causes both here and overseas. One of our most ambitious plans, a drinking water filling station housed in a carved-stone column called The Point, received planning permission from Canterbury City Council earlier in the year and now we’re busy raising funds for this exciting project through donations, grants and a soon-to-be-launched crowdfunding campaign. We see it as a gift to Canterbury that will help reduce plastic pollution but also draw visitors to the City Centre.
The biggest fundraiser for our usual causes is our annual Duck Race at Westgate Gardens, and we were delighted to be able to hold it once again thanks to an easing of pandemic restrictions over the summer. (Our little ducks hadn’t just rested on their laurels in the interim - for instance, they helped Junior King's School raise funds for its own Children in Need appeal). The ducks also got an international mention, which made us laugh!
The weather for the Race itself was lovely and it was so nice to be able to bring a smile to so many people's faces. As always, the little ones (and a lot of grown-ups) loved cheering on the ducks! To top it all, we raised around £5,000 in total from the event.
On the topic of fundraising, although people now carry less change we were pleased to have our wishing well back in place at Tesco Metro in Whitefriars. Do give your coins a spin and make a special wish if you're passing.
Locally, donations have been made to a project providing secure accommodation to vulnerable young mothers, and to other smaller causes. Internationally, donations were made to humanitarian relief organisation Shelterbox and to microfinance organisation Lendwithcare. Following the earthquake in Haiti we funded another Shelterbox later in the year. A donation from us to Mary's Meals (which provides meals to some of the poorest children in the world) will be doubled up in value thanks to the charity's generous supporters.
Last year we wrote about a Covid-19 testing lab we’ve contributed towards in a Cancer Hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The lab has received its certification and has since been busy testing patients, meaning cancer patients - many of them poor and from rural areas outside Dhaka - can receive treatment much earlier than they would have had previously. More recently, we have given another donation to the cause via the Rotary Club of Dhaka. We’ve also donated funds for "phaco" eye operations for around 10 people - giving the gift of improved sight to underprivileged individuals in rural areas of the country. We hope to have more news about this in the new year.
In October, together with other Canterbury Clubs, we marked World Polio Day by lighting up St Dunstan's Church in purple. The purple colour symbolises the dye used to temporarily mark the fingers of children who have received their immunisation against polio during immunisation days. We also launched our purple-themed recipe e-book to help raise awareness about Rotary's global efforts to combat polio. With more than 80 recipes, plus ideas for purple-themed fundraising, we think everyone will enjoy the free book - though we hope that some of those downloading the book will give a small donation, so supporting Rotary's efforts against polio.
Our Members helped with efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic in various ways. For example, some Members helped pick litter at Kent & Canterbury hospital - freeing up hospital staff to focus on other duties within the hospital. Other Members helped with the massive vaccination effort by volunteering at vaccination centres in the cold. We love volunteering when we can, and in June we were delighted to help raise awareness and mark Volunteers' Week and the 1st ever National Thank You day with a cheer for volunteers!
One of our hugely successful projects, in Juba, South Sudan, came to an end this year. This was a joint project with five other Clubs across Europe - our "Pentangular" partners - to help support a local school in one of the poorest countries in the world. The students have done remarkably well and despite the pandemic the school continues to flourish. Zoom also gave us a chance to meet with our fellow European Pentangular Rotarians and find out more about the various projects that the clubs individually work on.
Earlier in February we saw purple crocuses blooming all over Canterbury and local villages - again, to raise awareness about polio. In November we sold thousands more crocuses that should be popping up their heads to greet Spring, 2022. Others were donated by our Members to local schools and organisations and a special fundraiser was set up in memory of one of our Members who had always been a keen supporter of the project.
As we've done in previous years (but not last year, due to the pandemic), our members were out shaking cans on behalf of the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal in November, taking our total contribution over the years to well over £40,000! We were represented by Canterbury Forest of Blean President David Milham at the Canterbury remembrance ceremony held in the city on Remembrance Day.
In June, our previous President Alan Mepstead handed over to current President Stephen Thompson, who now leads us into our Centenary year. For him this continues a family line as he follows in the footsteps of both his father, David, and grandfather, John, who were also Presidents of the Rotary Club of Canterbury (in 1971/72 and 1947/48 respectively).
Later, in July, we met back in person and held our first hybrid meeting (face-to-face and Zoom); this hybrid model has proved to be a great way of having Members who are unable to join in person attend meetings and hear speakers.
Stephen's theme for the year has been "The Food we Eat," which ties in well with Rotary's newest area of focus: the environment; so often the environment and farming go hand in hand. The theme has meant some very interesting speakers and some fascinating visits for our Members - and a much greater appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes to put food on our plates. For instance, we heard about local fish & shellfish, bees & honey, and cheesemaking, while Members enjoyed visits to a "mixed" farm as well as a specialist spinach farm.
Our other speakers have also been wonderful - and yet again Zoom gave us the opportunity to hear from some prestigious people such as the Hon’ble Justice TH Jillani (who spoke on Democracy & Judicial Independence in the context of India & Pakistan), consultant intensivist and anaesthetist Dr Simon Hellings (who spoke about his contrasting experience of working with Covid-19 in the UK and Australia at a time when the responses in our two countries were very different), and maritime pilotage expert Don Cockrill (who spoke about the Evergiven and the Suez incident that received so much international news coverage).
We had fascinating job talks from two of our newest Members, Shabana Raman and Crispin Rampling ... and look forward to hearing soon from Jim Gascoygne and another Member due to be inducted in early January. The most amazing presentation we had during the year featured live animals, when we heard about falconry and saw some truly magnificent birds in action! There were also other very interesting talks. Judith Collins spoke to us about the HERstay project, a service provided by domestic violence charity the Rising Sun that offers accommodation to 16- to 24-year-old girls from Kent who are pregnant, have been subject to domestic abuse and are at risk from further exploitation and homelessness. We learnt about the local RSPCA's work (including their efforts to have cats fostered). Other talks over the year covered Bird Wise, the English Civil War, the Spitfire simulator & museum, the Trans-Siberian Express, climate change, and environmental engineering. Prompted by the latter, several of our Members reminded others of ways of recycling things - we can all make our own small difference to the planet.
When Government guidelines allowed and we thought it appropriate, we had a great deal of fun too over the year and recall happy times with some of the friends we lost. In March (!) we held an online Panto - where all sorts of characters joined in the fun, including an evil "Fairy Liquid". The theatrics continued later in the year with a murder mystery by Zoom and a subsequent "free Philly" campaign. (Christmas was not quite over for us with the Panto - we also announced the winner of our Children's Christmas-themed Short Story Writing Competition in the same month.)
We had a challenging Quiz Night, had eyes down for bingo, enjoyed a wonderful open-air performance of Macbeth, a Wimbledon Ladies Final (with Strawberry Tea - that raised £160 for Polio Plus), savoured an "American-Supper" style lunch, relaxed during a sailing barge trip, and had a run-around for our Treasure Hunt.
We've also enjoyed some events with the two other Canterbury Rotary Clubs (Forest of Blean and Sunrise); for instance, we had a Bat & Trap challenge, a Croquet Championship and a Charity "Horse" Race that raised over £500 for the causes we support. Our Members' bookclub continued to meet, and we decided to share a little about the books they read on our website so that others might be inspired to pick up a book too. Some of the books read in the year were "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi, "Our Man in Havana" by Graham Greene, "Shane" by Jack Shaefer, and "Hamnet" by Maggie O'Farrell
The last few days and weeks of the year were taken up with Christmas-related events. We helped a local special school take some of their pupils out to see reindeer in Ashford, held our Christmas Dinner for Rotarians, guests and Rotary Widows, and hosted a 5-way evening of carols with our Pentangular partners.
Now we look forward with great excitement to the year ahead, which will feature this year's "Dear Future Self" and "Innovation" Competitions, awarding the the prizes for the Christmas story-writing competition, two special Centenary events, 50 years of Pentagular (hosted here in Canterbury), launch of the fundraiser for our drinking water filling station, our Duck Race, and many, many more fundraisers (such as a Jumblebee), events (with an Eastern flavoured one planned for May), meetings and speakers.
Once again, we are immensely grateful to the local community - and to our own Members - for their generosity and support. We are thankful to local media and other organisations who have given us publicity - including the Kentish Gazette, Community Ad, and Rotary's own new District Magazine. Then we would also like to thank those of you who follow our steadily growing social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and like, share or re-tweet our posts. You help us to get word out there about what we do.
We would like to praise the organisations and individuals that have continued to help others through this pandemic despite extra demand, adversity and uncertainty - particularly NHS staff and essential workers and those who work locally to help others. And we look forward to working with others towards a better world.
We really encourage members of the public to get in touch with us if they want to join, help, or have ideas for activities. To follow our activities, please visit our news page: https://www.rotarycanterbury.org.uk/canterbury-rotary-news/
Finally, please like, follow and share our social media accounts:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rotarycanterbury
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HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY. LET'S HOPE IT'S A GOOD ONE!