York Rotary is one of the largest Rotary Clubs in the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire area of the UK.
To be strictly accurate this headline should read ‘101 Years Young’! York Rotary came into existence on 4 February 1921 and a strong programme of events and initiatives was planned to mark the Centenary. Unfortunately, like so much else, COVID-19 caused many of the events to be deferred. The final Centenary events took place on 13 May 2022 when the Acting Dean of York, Canon Michael Smith, unveiled and blessed the restored sundial on College Green.
In his address Canon Michael announced that the sundial would become a focal point of the revamped College Green, which will become a COVID-19 Remembrance area under the newly adopted Minster Neighbourhood Plan. The ceremony was also attended by the Sheriff of York, Sheriff’s Consort, Stephen Lusty, Chair of York Civic Trust, and representatives from the Minster Stone Yard, who had worked on the restoration.
Somewhat battered over the years, York Rotary decided to fund the restoration of this splendid sundial as a gift to the City of York to mark 100 years of service to the local community. This follows a line of previous gifts including the Minster Gates Clock in 1971 for the 50th anniversary, and the Tactile Map of York outside the Minster West Door, along with York Ainsty and York Vikings who are the other two Rotary clubs in York, to mark the Millenium.
This sundial, dating from 1730 was originally from Drakelow Hall in Burton-on-Trent and was erected on College Green in 1955. It is Grade II listed.
After the unveiling, Club members joined the Sheriff of York for lunch in the Mansion House.
Having the Mansion House as the venue for this celebratory occasion was entirely appropriate, as it was here, in January 1921, that a few York citizens gathered to discuss the formation of a Rotary Club in the City. The Club was formally inaugurated on 4 February 1921 at the Royal Station Hotel, now the Principle, with the then Lord Mayor of York, Alderman Edward Walker, elected as the first President. One of the luncheon guests on 13 May was Robert Coates, the great, great grandson of Edward Walker.
Responding to a toast, the Sheriff, Councillor Ashley Mason, congratulated York Rotary on its longevity and confirmed the important role it continues to serve in supporting community work across the City. He said he looked forward to what might be achieved in the next 100 years!
On its formation, York Rotary was the 36th club in the UK and 1000th worldwide. Nowadays there are in excess of 46,000 clubs and 1.4 million members across the globe.
In 1921 the Rotary Club of York was very different from today. Then there were 25 members, with only one representative of each profession or business allowed into membership, all of who were men. 100 years later, York Rotary has a much more inclusive membership of 80 men and women and new members are always actively sought.
In line with the Rotary motto, ‘Service Above Self’, York Rotary supports both local and international charities, raising and distributing some £110,000 each year. A wide range of fund raising activities have been organised over the years, but the most money, by far, is generated through the annual York Rotary Dragon Boat Challenge, held on the River Ouse each July. Since the first Challenge in 2003, some £1.3million has been shared between more than 150 York and Yorkshire charities. Owing to COVID-19 it was not possible to hold a Dragon Boat Challenge in 2020. Nothing daunted, the Club organised a virtual event that raised £20,000 to fund a Wellbeing Garden at York District Hospital.
Locally York Rotary has helped organisations as diverse as Brunswick Nursery; a Dementia Café; the Hospital Broadcasting Service; flood relief and other natural disasters; and, during the Second World War, the German Internment Camp on the Knavesmire.
In 1939 it was York Rotary that was instrumental in setting up the Council for Voluntary Service in the City, which for the last 60 years has continued to play a major role in supporting and championing York’s voluntary community and social enterprise sector.
Not all support is financial. Rotarians serve as Trustees on a variety of charitable Boards. One such is Door 84, a facility for young people and the community in the Groves area.
In recent years Members of York Rotary have often worked as stewards and baggage handlers for some of the major sporting events that take place in the City.
On the international front, York Rotary has contributed to the Rotary International initiative to eradicate polio worldwide. This ambitious undertaking began in 1979 and working with others, the goal is so close to being achieved but work still needs to continue to wipe out the few remaining pockets of the disease. Elsewhere the Club has provided resources for refugees in many different parts of the world – Rwanda, Greece, and currently Ukraine to name but a few; help build and renovate schools in Africa; raised funds for many different medical initiatives utilising trains, boats and planes to bring help to areas with limited infrastructure; and supported Ambassadorial Scholars from around the world studying in the UK.
In 1940 York Rotary undertook a somewhat different sort of support when it adopted HMS Cape Argona, a requisitioned trawler converted for anti-submarine warfare by providing creature comforts for those aboard. It was pleasing to know that this vessel survived the war.
In more recent times York Rotary has had a particular interest in supporting both the elderly and the young. This can be through working with other charitable organisations or, as happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, through direct intervention. With home schooling the norm in 2020, it swiftly became apparent that there was a severe shortage of laptops available in schools to make this possible. The three York Rotary Clubs worked together to supply laptops and tablets to schools with a particular need.
Also, during COVID-19, several members of York Rotary volunteered to help at testing and vaccination sites. One member even qualified to administer vaccines himself!
One positive outcome from COVID-19 is that York Rotary has become very comfortable in using technology to enable it to continue in as normal a manner as possible. Even now, when their weekly face-to-face meetings have resumed, York Rotary continues to attract national and international visitors through the use of Zoom to participate in the meetings.
York Rotary has completed 100 years of service in the local community. The past is something to be proud of, but we live in the present and look to the future. The next years will bring their own challenges, but York Rotary has every confidence that it will continue to thrive and flourish, reacting and adapting to meet changing needs whilst still adhering to that original objective, “Service Above Self”.
Anyone interested in exploring a possible involvement with York Rotary should, in the first instance, visit the website www.yorkrotary.co.uk From here there are links showing how you can connect with someone to ask questions and discuss opportunities.