May 26, 2022

Toys, tools and schools: Rotary in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire take collective action at home and abroad

Birstall Luddites, Shipley, Pontefract and Barrow Meridian and Rotary clubs demonstrate how collaborative action can have a big impact on individuals and communities.

Five years ago, Rotary launched its "People of Action" campaign. Today, Rotary in Yorkshire and Northern Linconshire’s collective action can be seen and felt in big and small ways around the world. From collecting toys at Christmas, to helping provide skills and education to improve life prospects, Rotary clubs across District 1040 are doing their part to support individuals and communities at home and abroad.

Birstall Luddites: Engaging and preparing the next generation

Most weeks during term time, a small group of people from Birstall Luddites Rotary visit five RotaKids groups across schools in the Birstall and Batley area. 

In total, the club supports approximately 95 children aged eight to eleven years, with the newest RotaKids group having just been chartered on 24 May 2022. They also support two Interact clubs in the local area.

By focusing on youth programmes and projects, the club is slowly introducing a new generation of young people to Rotary and its values while also providing a fun and practical approach to support the citizenship element of the national curriculum.

Students from Carlton Junior and Infant School get creative during a RotaKids meeting

One of the key people behind the popularity and success of these local RotaKids groups is Rotarian Pat Taylor. According to Pat and fellow Birstall Luddites member, Jeremy Parkinson, RotaKids meetings are full of fun and learning and the children quickly grow in confidence. The group elects their own President, Secretary and Treasurer and within weeks they are running their own meetings.

Each RotaKids group also decides what charities to support and how they can raise money. "Fundraising events, more often than not, involve cake..and chocolate," says Pat.

They all memorise and recite a pledge and every year they celebrate their charter. They also conduct a research project on Paul Harris and how Rotary started.

According to Pat, it’s important that the children lead the meetings and projects. To support this, school staff are asked to take a step back and not get actively involved in meetings. This allows the children "to develop that confidence to make decisions for themselves."

At the end of Pat's meetings, the children are given free time for arts and crafts or other creative activities. For many children, RotaKids is the only time in their school week they can have unstructured time for play and creativity.

"They love it," says Pat. "One of them said to me yesterday, 'Oh, you're the best teacher we've ever had!'"

“Teamwork makes the Dreamwork” Carlton School RotaKids show what they’ve learned about Rotary, teamwork, collaboration and leadership.

Though RotaKids aims benefits the children, Pat and Jeremy agree that it's just as impactful on the adults as well. "When you're there in the school, as I've been in Lydgate [Junior School], and you see the enthusiasm from the children, that rubs off on you," says Jeremy.

"We do see it as extremely important," says Jeremy. "If we continue with Rotary in the old way, then you're just going to get older people as members...For me, if you don't get the youth involved, then there is no future. It's a great way of introducing young people to talk about Rotary, the organisation, [and learn] what we do."

Shipley: Strengthening networks for a better Christmas

Change and action doesn't mean that something has to be new. For 26 years, Shipley Rotary has been running their Children's Toy Appeal, collecting toys and other gifts to give to young people whose families may be struggling at Christmas.

"With being one of the older clubs we do the same things each year," says Shipley Rotarian Robert Smith. He explains that some people might be concerned that doing the same projects year after year means you always get the same results. "But we found that not to be the case with this."

Every year, the Christmas appeal runs in very much the same way. Shipley Rotary contacts their network of local schools to help identify families and children who might need support at Christmas. Shipley Rotary members then base themselves in the foyer of ASDA for a full week, collecting money and toys from the community.

“We also have a Christmas tree there with the with little stickers on it saying a 'toy for a boy age seven' or a 'toy for a girl age six.'" Robert explains that after so many years of doing this, many people in the community expect them to be there and come prepared with gifts. Gifts are then wrapped and taken to the schools to be distributed to the families.

"But when COVID came along, we couldn't do that in person,” says Robert. “We started to look at ways of bringing in money and getting other organisations interested."

Allen Davis from Shipley Rotary collecting donations during the club's most recent Christmas Toy Appeal

They started collecting money online through Just Giving page and their Facebook page. People could also send a text to donate £5 to the toy appeal or donate directly to the club’s charity account.

Realising that creating a network of partners would have a greater impact, they approached Shipley and Baildon Town Councils and businesses for support. "So we've now got into into their grant giving process. And we work with three local big businesses in Shipley and they collect amongst their staff and give them toys, etc."

Having transferred the money raised into vouchers, Shipley Rotary connected with Bradford North Foodbank to help distribute them to local families. "It's gradually grown over the years. So we've got a network. And that's one of the reasons why we do it every year, because if that network is there, we might as well utilise it."

Through online and in-person community donations, as well as working with partner organisations, they collected 410 gifts for young people. An additional £2,254 was collected and redistributed in the form of ASDA and Amazon vouchers to over 75 local families. 

The club also uses charity funds from other fundraising initiatives to buy tickets and take 50 local students to a pantomime each year.

With increasing prices on utilities, food, council tax, national insurance, fuel and more, Shipley Rotary believes that the community will be in even more need this year. They plan to do their annual Christmas Toy Appeal and will continue to strengthen their community networks so that more children and families are supported during the holidays. 

Pontefract: Supporting access to education in Darjeeling

Rotarian Phil Bratley first visited Darjeeling in India's West Bengal state as part of a holiday tour in 1979. Though the trip made an impression on him, he didn’t realise that Darjeeling would come back into his life and the life of Pontefract Rotary.

In 2012, Phil ran into Hugh Heron, an old friend who in retirement retrained to teach English as a foreign language. Wanting to go to a place where his skills were needed, he chose Darjeeling where he spent three months teaching English. There he learned about the Darjeeling Children’s Trust (DCT) and in 2009 he joined as a trustee.

The charity aims to "provide money and support to improve the opportunities for the education of children and young people in the Darjeeling area." Pontefract Rotary saw this link as an opportunity to support educational efforts in Darjeeling.

In 2014, Pontefract Rotary officially began supporting DCT's initiatives. "Partnering with the DCT was vital because our club simply didn’t have enough active members for us to manage the projects in Darjeeling ourselves," says Phil.

The DCT undertakes many activities including supporting a children’s home (sometimes referred to as a hostel) with separate boys and girls accommodation. The home is run on a day-to-day basis by the Kripasaran Buddhist Mission which provides free education, shelter, food, clothes and medicines for 60 boys and 40 girls aged 5 to 17.

"All of the children are from poor families, many of which are tea garden workers. Without this facility, these children would not be able to attain a level of education that would enable them to find good jobs and rise above the poverty line," explains Phil.

One of the main priorities for the DCT was to rebuild the homes where the children lived. "The boys’ home had been badly damaged by an earthquake. And the girls’ home, it was in a terrible state," explains Phil. "So the plan was to rebuild [the homes] and get it all on one site and make it modern accommodation with proper sanitation and things of that nature."

Rotarian Phil Bratley and wife Pam take tea with Pema Bhante, a Buddhist monk who manages the children’s homes. The red building in the background is the old boys dormitory which was damaged by earthquakes. New dormitories for both the boys and girls have now been completed.

Due to complications with Rotary funding and bureaucracy, Pontefract Rotary decided that they would sponsor the educational needs of students–such as tuition, books, uniforms and accommodation–so that other incoming money could go towards rebuilding the homes.

"The tea garden workers will earn less than two pounds a day. And they are trying to bring a family up on that basis," says Phil. School fees are just one of several issues that might prevent a child from receiving an education.

Having visited Darjeeling now several times, Phil describes how children often have to travel 10 to 15 miles to get to school. With limited and unreliable transport options, children are often unable to get to school even if they can pay. "So basically, these children wouldn't really get the chance of an education. So, what they do is go to live in the hostel."

That first year supporting DCT, Pontefract Rotary sponsored the first year of schooling for 12 children while the sponsorship for remaining years came from another donor. The club has since raised funds to cover tuition, books, uniforms and vocational placements to help two students become qualified nurses and to help three more students achieve a nationally recognised diploma at the Darjeeling Food and Crafts Institute. 

Through their committed partnership with DCT, Pontefract Rotary are making education accessible to more people and helping DCT achieve their mission of creating a brighter future for children and young people in Darjeeling.

Barrow Meridian: Supplying essential tools to create livelihoods

While many Rotary projects are focused on the local communities, clubs around District 1040 also use the privileges we have here in the UK to support communities abroad.

In July 2021, Barrow Meridian Rotary in North Lincolnshire began collecting items to support Tools with a Mission (TWAM), an UK based charity with a “mission to empower people in Africa living in extreme poverty to create their own livelihoods.”

TWAM collects, refurbishes and distributes a variety of tools—from sewing machines, power tools, gardening equipment and more—and distributes them in the form of trade kits to skill centres in Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. The kits are then used to upskill individuals, helping them to create their own businesses, generate income, build independence and grow local economies

"So what we do is we collect old tools from people in the community that people don't want to use. That could be like sewing machines or gardening tools," explains Rotarian Abigail Pickard. Items requested by TWAM change regularly depending on the needs of the communities. The collected items are then sent to one of the charity’s UK refurbishment centres to be checked and mended before they are carefully grouped into useful kits and shipped to their final destinations.

Since Barrow Meridian started their Tools with a Mission collection in July 2021, they've received a positive response from the community. By posting information on Facebook, putting up physical posters and relying on word of mouth, the club has created an awareness amongst the community. Responding to the community’s interest, Barrow Meridian is now registered as an official drop off point, allowing them to be found by anyone who searches for a drop-off location on the TWAM website.

While collecting, repairing and distributing tools are good for people and communities, it's also a positive for the environment. According to TWAM, most of the tools that are donated were in people's homes going unused and likely headed for the tip.

By providing a collection point for the community, these items are given a new lease on life and put into the hands of people that want or need them–contributing to the global circular economy and supporting Rotary’s cause in protecting the environment 

Continued collaboration is key

Through partnerships with like-minded people and organisations, Rotary in Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire are reinforcing the importance of collaborative action. Whether our efforts are focused at home or abroad, working together will often get us further than working alone.

Thank you to Rotarian Rebecca Mendoza, a freelancer from York Rotary, who wrote this article as part of a trail commercial partnership with Rotary International District 1040. Home / Rebecca A Mendoza

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