The Bradford West Rotary e-group started with a shoebox collection during the 2020 winter holidays. Rotary members, along with their family, friends and acquaintances gathered items for children and teenagers, packed them in boxes, and distributed them throughout the local Bradford area.
According to Richard Greenwood, member of Bradford West Rotary and the District 1040 Governor for the upcoming Rotary year, this project was a catalyst. Having now experienced a Rotary-led hands-on service project in the wake of the Covid pandemic, people wanted to do more with Rotary, but also wanted an alternative to Bradford West’s traditional lunchtime weekly meeting. Nine people joined, and the e-group was born.
Among its members are Trish Greenwood, who is also President of Bradford West Rotary and leads the e-group, as well as Trish and Richard’s daughter and their grandson. The small group range in age with their youngest member joining at the age of 19. They are all Rotary members, most are in full-time employment, they meet online once a month. The e-group is project-driven, working on shorter-term and ad-hoc projects under the wider Bradford West Rotary umbrella.
E-groups, also known as e-clubs, are not the only alternative to a traditional Rotary setup. In the past few years, we’ve seen the options grow across Rotary in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire and internationally. There are now e-clubs, passport clubs, cause-based clubs, and direct membership opportunities, to name a few. As explained in the November 2023 article in Rotary Great Britain and Ireland Magazine, these clubs offer variations in their approach and appeal to different people.
In Knaresborough, Rotary members have taken their own approach to dealing with the modern challenge of volunteering. What started as a group of community volunteers helping out with hands-on tasks during the Covid pandemic has now turned into a new group within the Knaresborough Rotary family.
Meeting once a month, the Knaresborough Revolution are a group made up of people mainly between 35 and 50 years old (most of whom are working parents). The group operate as a separate team within Knaresborough Rotary, creating their own projects and choosing how they want to support the community. Most recently, the group of nearly a dozen members has focused their efforts on the needs and aspirations of young people and have acquired a bus specifically for their use. The bus is an inclusive space for hanging out, activities and can also host events and workshops.
The Knaresborough SPACE Bus is fully kitted out to reach not just the Youth of the town, but also many other groups and sectors in the community and the Rotary district. The bus has the latest games consoles, outside TV and awning, off-grid power, Chromebooks and is staffed by qualified volunteers. Photo credit: Knaresborough Revolution website
Revolution members can be involved in any Rotary activities, but the flexibility suits busy lifestyles and is particularly helpful for those in full time work and with young families. Rotary Adventurers passport club launched in summer 2022 and was also set up as a flexible option for people unable to commit to a more traditional-style Rotary club.
Rotary Adventurers is available to anyone across Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire to join. Being a passport club means that members can go anywhere in Rotary to volunteer, whether that be to help a club in their own geographical area or get involved in a project or lend a hand elsewhere. The group meets online weekly and keeps in communication about projects and initiatives through chat groups on WhatsApp.
For Caroline Murie, Rotary Adventurers member and a Rotary District Assistant Governor supporting the Bradford area clubs, Passport clubs add another choice to the various Rotary offerings. Members range from 19 to 80 years old, and all are all just as involved as each other in projects and activities. Like many Rotary clubs and groups, they are also open to ad-hoc and regular visitors. There are a few Rotary members from other clubs who are regular visitors to the Adventurers online meetings because they enjoy the vibrancy of the group and what they get up to. These “affiliates”, as the Adventurers call them, are always welcome and encouraged as it’s good to be exposed to different people and ideas.
A passport group, just like any other type of Rotary group, is for some but not always for everyone. A few members have joined and left Rotary Adventurers because they realised it wasn’t a style that suited them. But that’s ok, and that’s part of the beauty of having a choice Caroline explains.
Most recently, members of Rotary Adventurers and Bradford West have linked up to establish a local Rotary Community Corps. This is a group of non-Rotarians who share Rotary values, interest, and commitment to providing service to communities. The two clubs started the initiative in December 2023 to keep volunteers involved in projects. Less than two months later, the group now has 17 members in the Bradford area.
Rotary Community Corps members are mostly younger people from the local Asian community, with several other members in the 20 to 50 age range. They get involved in hands-on initiatives and have their own branded banners to give them some visual legitimacy when doing projects in the community. Though still in its infancy as a group, the hope is they can grow to 50 members.
The Direct Membership Network is the latest addition to the Rotary family. People who join through direct membership are full members of Rotary and they provide service through their own projects or by working alongside existing clubs regularly or on an ad-hoc basis with their initiatives. It’s a new way of connecting volunteers locally and internationally under a shared passion or interests through online hubs and meetups.
“We aren’t a traditional Rotary club that you can touch,” says Les Bown, coordinator of the Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire direct membership hub. It started as a UK Rotary initiative but remains part of a Rotary GBI pilot to provide opportunities for people to join Rotary in a flexible and different way. It was developed as a Rotary for busy people, able to suit different lifestyles or circumstances. There is no expectation to join for a certain amount of time, and people are encouraged to find ways of volunteering that suit them personally.
RGBI Direct membership video link.
There is now a Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire Hub, with approximately a dozen members. Several of them have come from traditional Rotary clubs but due to changes in circumstances have found direct membership more suitable for needs. It’s another option for keeping people involved in Rotary, and bringing new people in, who may have otherwise not been able to commit to any other Rotary format. Members are encouraged to reach out to different Rotary members and clubs. Les sees this as a two-way street where people in direct membership seek opportunities to work with other Rotary clubs, and where other Rotary clubs can call on the support of people in direct membership. With direct membership still in its infancy, it will no doubt continue to take shape and strengthen its unique offering and identity along the way.
The addition of more types of Rotary clubs means there are more ways to get people involved as well as keep people involved. As culture evolves and demands of work, finances and other aspects of daily life intensify, having more flexible options for volunteering that meet different needs is sensible, appropriate, and necessary.
However, it’s not the names or labels that are important. What matters is that these are all real examples of how people of different ages, backgrounds, skills, and ideas can come together under the same values and provide service to others.
And isn’t that what Rotary is all about?
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Rebecca A Mendoza is a freelance writer and member of York Rotary. You can learn more about her work at www.rebeccaamendoza.com