Service above self

A history of the Rotary Club of St Neots 1945 to 1995

As compiled by the late Peter Huckle

Any account of the origins of Rotary in St. Neots inevitably starts with acknowledging the part played by an old friend of the town, Rotarian Harry Manning, and his colleagues from the Rotary Club of Bedford. Many approaches had been made by them during the war years to their friend, senior partner of a long established firm of St. Neots solicitors, with the hope of forming a Rotary Club in the town. Lionel Abrahams, himself a Bedford man, one of four famous brothers, was well acquainted with many members of the Bedford Club. As hostilities ended in 1945 events moved rapidly. Three prospective members were invited to a luncheon meeting at Bedford in January, quickly followed by a series of meetings with others.

On Wednesday, 13th February, 1946, a meeting was held at 5, New Street, St. Neots, attended by Messrs. C. Lendrum, F. Brittain, D.J.Dear, C. F. Tebbutt, F. Fields, W.Ingram, H.W. Lynn, L. Abrahams, C.H. Huckle and H. C. Hodge, together with Bedford’s Vice-PresidentTurner, Rotarians H. Manning, C. F. Kilby and Secretary Johnson.

Rotarian Manning spoke on Rotary in general and the procedure for forming a new Club. At the conclusion a formal resolution, proposed by L. Abrahams, seconded C. F. Tebbutt, was passed unanimously.

The hope had become a reality. During March the complement of Founder Members increased to fifteen with the addition of Messrs. V..H.Ekins, H. P. Emsley, S. F. Fisher, F. Hayward, and R. B. K. Leys.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Club was held on the 13th May 1946.

The Club Officers were duly elected. Founder President- L.Abrahams,Vice president- C. F. Tebbutt, Secretary – H. G. Hodge, Treasurer – H.P.Emsley and Assistant Secretary – D. J. Dear.

The First Charter Dinner followed on the 4th November, 1946 at the Public Rooms. There were seventy-two present, including representatives from the Rotary Clubs of Bedford, Cambridge, Daventry, Dunstable, Ely, Kettering, Luton, Northampton and Nottingham. The original Charter was lost en route from Chicago and the Club received a temporary written copy. A proper replacement was subsequently presented one year later at the Charter Dinner of the Rotary Club of Huntingdon. Since those early days one hundred and sixty-four members have been admitted to the friendship and fellowship Rotary extends and each has played his part in moulding the history of the Club. Rotary’s basic structure of four committees, each pledged to the furtherance of one of its four objects, is the keystone of Rotary philosophy. At St. Neots these Committees have always been emphasised as a dominant feature of the Club’s raison d’ être, strongly stressed at the installation of new members!, and encouragement given that these meetings be held in member’s houses in rotation to further the spirit of fellowship.

The Club Service Committee

 This committee has had the task of organizing the Club’s weekly meetings, and its social activities, creating the bond of friendship making collective endeavour that more effective. The luncheon meetings have been held on Mondays since inception at various hotels and restaurants in the town, but, as ownerships changed, and car parking became more difficult, the venue was moved in 1985 to the St. Neots Bowling Club pavilion where it has since remained. Meetings with our surrounding Clubs have been strongly encouraged to increase the opportunity for friendship and cooperation. From 1962 to 1971 many each-way visits were enjoyed with the Rotary Club of St. Pancras, the next entry to St. Neots in the RIBI Handbook at that time, with some very happy memories. Evening meetings with wives, garden parties, motor rallies, barbecues , theatre visits, the Annual Ball, Christmas parties, the yearly remembrance of the Club’s Charter Day, and the re-dedication that accompanies it, all have played their part in creating an ésprit de corps that manifests itself in the achievements of the other service committees.

The Vocational Service Committee

 Of these Committees, Vocational serves as the conscience of the Club and it has constantly tried by example to lay stress on the furtherance of ethical standards in business practice. One of the more important concerns has been to consider the moral and educational welfare of young people in the difficult transition from school to commercial environment. Members have given talks to senior students, interview techniques have been discussed and practised to improve the vital application for the first job or university entry. Prior to its conversion to a full scale prison Gaynes Hall housed a Borstal Institution and successive Governors became valued members of the Club. In return regular visits by other members helped augment the difficult task of preparing the young offenders to return to the community. Self-expression and communication skills have been encouraged by public speaking contests on subjects of public import, together with essays and art competitions. Work experience for school leavers has been provided by members in co-operation with the schools. Together with the Schools Liaison Group, and the Industrial Society, career conventions and seminars have been organised to improve young peoples’ chances in their efforts to create a career.

Earlier retirement and redundancy have led to a study of the problems that arise and a booklet “Retirement” has been published as a result of long deliberations to help those already retired and those about to do so.

Being fully aware of the immense importance of developing leadership and creating initiative, the committee regularly sponsors candidates for Outward Bound and similar Leadership Courses, together with sailing and exploration activities, including opportunities for the blind and physically handicapped.

Community Service

 From the outset the Club has been concerned with service to our community starting with the launch of a Christmas Parcels Fund for the old and needy in its first year. 1947 found the Committee deeply involved in flood relief when St. Neots High Street was flooded to a depth of four feet. Each year since, special needy cases have been helped with food, fuel, seaside holidays, home expenses, transport, and many other different ways. In those early days an Annual Giant Jumble Sale was a major fund raising event, aided by members’ tax covenants to the Benevolent Fund Account. Each year since 1967 the Committee has organised a Musical Evening or Old Thyme Musical Entertainment for Senior Citizens, jointly with the St. Neots Round Table, an event made originally possible by the formation of the St. Neots Music Hall Society and latterly the St. Neots Operatic Society which since 1994 has been called the V.A.M.P.S.

Support for the handicapped has always been to the fore with donations, visits, and individual personal service to Mencap, PHAB, the Bargroves Centre and Bromham Hospital. The District Rally at Barnwell Manor has been strongly supported each year and, in response to an invitation from our Dutch friends, a team was taken to Assen to compete in their World Handicapped Games in 1990.

Regular visits to the Old People’s Homes at Shortsands, Glenariff, and the Hillings have been accompanied by many donations to their activities. Association with Darby and Joan and Over Sixties Clubs and contact with widows of former Rotarians are all part of a continuing pattern.

Donations to local and national appeals for specific objects have been many and varied as revealed by those mentioned below:

  • Holidays for N. Irish Children
  • Furniture and fittings for the Priory Centre
  • The Cheshire Home at Brampton
  • Adventure Playgrounds
  • The Women’s Voluntary Services
  • National Scout and Guide Orchestra tour to U.S.A.
  • A Guide and Brownie Headquarters
  • The St. Neots Amateur Boxing Club
  • The St. Neots Rowing Club
  • Helping Hands
  • British Red Cross Transit Van
  • Shortsands Day Centre greenhouse
  • Computer for Papworth Hospital in partnership with Rotaract and the Rotary Club of St. Neots St. Mary’s
  • The Disabled Sailing Trust
  • County Youth Orchestra
  • Heartstart Machine from the British Heart Foundation for the
  • Cambridgeshire Ambulance Service
  • Furniture for Vietnamese refugee families.

Over and above all these continuing activities two achievements warrant special mention. In 1954 discussion started on the possibility of providing rest-room accommodation for elderly and disabled persons visiting the Town Centre and funds were gradually accumulated and earmarked for this purpose. In June 1958 a start was made with a room and toilet made available in the offices of the St. Neots Urban District Council in Huntingdon Street. This proved to be very popular but soon the use outgrew the space available. However in 1964 the Boys Church School building in Church Walk came on the market and by virtue of some generous anonymous donors it became possible to acquire part of the property.

At the same time as these events were progressing the Club sponsored a proposal to unite as many organizations as possible in the town into one overall service unit and thus to be able to co-ordinate help and assistance throughout the community. From this initiative was born the St. Neots Voluntary Welfare Association which took over the operation of the new Rest Centre at the School. Increasing co-operation with the official Social Services Departments has resulted in the later addition of kitchens to provide Meals on Wheels and a whole host of additional facilities and entertainments

Although, in accordance with Rotary principles, the Association has continued as a separate entity once the project was successfully launched, the Club has remained closely concerned and has made regular contribution to upkeep and renewals. Two Rotarians, John Chapman and Stanley Shepherd, now alas both gone, provided the inspiration and leadership, as Chairman and Secretary, for some twenty-five years.

The second major community project the Club takes pride in was the setting up, successfully, of the Talking Newspaper enterprise whereby local news and sport was recorded on cassettes for weekly distribution to blind and physically handicapped persons. In 1977, following a luncheon talk on the subject by Mrs. Matthews of the Cambridge Talking Newspaper, an ambition was fired to provide a similar service locally. Originally to be a joint operation with Huntingdon, it was soon decided to set up associations in both towns raising money by local appeal. The St. Neots Carnival Committee generously adopted the

project as their aim for the year and subsequently provided much of the initial equipment for each Club. In St. Neots, the first tapes were delivered at Christmas 1977 to some fifty people. A devoted band of voluntary helpers, readers and technicians, have continued the service ever since Rotarian Ron Maith as Chairman, Harold Naylor providing accommodation and recording the tapes. Mrs Viccy Mountford as Editor, with the indefatigable John Chapman as Secretary and responsible for distribution each gave leadership and enthusiasm that ensured success.

International Service Committee

 This Committee also quickly got to work in 1946 setting up discussions with local German prisoners-of-war, something that required special permission from the Foreign Office, and also contacting the Polish Army Hospital at Diddington. Following this early start the Committee work has evolved on three fronts. Firstly to inform themselves, and subsequently the Club, on as wide an aspect of life overseas as time permitted. Secondly, to widen the Club’s personal knowledge of other nations’ life styles by visits of adults and young people who would stay in a home environment of a foreign country.

Thirdly, they have explored how best the Club’s necessarily limited resources could be directed to relieve suffering and improve life in less fortunate parts of the world. Study started in 1949 on the changing status of the British Empire and the emerging Commonwealth.

Through the years the life and customs in India, South Africa, Tanzania, Malaysia, Greece, China, Czechoslovakia, Israel, and Russia have been studied in turn. Eye disease in the Third World and the provision of clean water have received special attention. An in-depth study of Oxfam’s work showed the value of the large relief organizations.

As a direct result of these studies many varied worthwhile causes have been supported and the following list again gives some idea of their range:

  • The Pestalozzi Children’s Home
  • Aid to Greek Children
  • Support for World Refugee Year
  • The Frejus Dam Disaster in France
  • The Belize Hurricane Relief Fund
  • Earthquakes in Iran, Jugoslavia, Colombia
  • Fires in Hobart, Tasmania
  • The Ockenden Venture
  • A Heart Machine for Bombay Hospital
  • Digging Artesian Wells in Bihar, India
  • Equipment for Aboriginal Schools in S. Australia
  • Village Wells in Tanzania
  • Assistance to Pakistan Clinical Research
  • Equipment for Seva Niyalan Clinic in S. India
  • Polio Plus
  • The Bangladesh Flood Disaster
  • The Jaipur Boot for Amputees
  • Mobile Eye Operating Vehicle in Africa
  • Spectacle Collection for the Third World
  • Cataract Operations in India
  • Alternative Technology
  • The Warboys Home in Brazil.
  • Relief Journeys to Croatia and Bosima

The growth of the European Community has perhaps been the most detailed and lengthy research of the Committee. Starting in 1951 with Western Union, Benelux and the Coal and Steel Community, the subject was under constant review and culminated in 1970, just three years after the formation of the full Community, with a detailed study of each of the Common Market countries, comparing directly systems of education, family life, shopping, wages and prices, social security benefits, medical schemes, housing ,local and national government structures, taxes and police. The results were reported to the Club at regular intervals at lunchtime meetings. When Spain and Portugal joined the Community in 1978, two members of the Commission in Brussels came to speak to the Club on the subject. The next year Mr. Jack Peel, a former British Trade Union leader, but then a member of the E.E.C. Directorate, addressed a meeting on European Employment. In 1985 it was the turn of Sir Fred Catherwood, our M.E.P, to give us further information. In 1988 twenty-six members and wives visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg and in the next year a party of sixteen went to Luxembourg to see the Palais de Justice and the working of the European Court.

Following the experience of entertaining parties of children from the continent the committee invited twelve children from the Netherlands for two weeks in 1959. As a result of this the Rotary Club of Assen in Drenthe, issued a return invitation to our children which was happily accepted. Exchanges with adults and young people followed in both directions and have continued over the years creating a strong bond of friendship which was exemplified by the attendance of forty-six members and wives at the Dutch Club’s Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations in 1989. We are looking forward to welcoming them at our own Jubilee in 1995.

Our other good European friends we met later when making the Strasbourg Parliament visit. The Rotary Club of Saverne, some twenty miles from Strasbourg had very kindly arranged our hotel accommodation for that occasion and also welcomed us officially with heart-warming friendship. They have now come to see us several times and we have made return visits. Coming from the crossroads of Europe we have found them entirely lacking in insularity but intensely proud of their region’s traditions which is a great omen for the future.

In 1949 the Inner Wheel Club of Bedford sponsored the formation of a St. Neots Club. By 1950 they had received their Charter, and with some strong leadership soon developed into a thriving organisation. With aims of friendship and service running parallel with those of Rotary, their co-operation with our Club has been enormous help over the years, and we too, in our turn, have been able to give support to many of their endeavours.

The Club strength has increased from the original fifteen to an average of forty-two but the wish to extend Rotary membership has not been confined to within the Club. We have been pleased to be associated with the formation of both the Sandy and the Ramsey Clubs, and were proud to sponsor our sister Club, St. Neots St. Mary’s in July 1985.

Our own Rotaract Club was formed with thirty-five members in 1979 and has done sterling work since on its own behalf, and has always been ready to help at Rotary functions. It has had the constant support of a very active Rotaract Committee within the Club.

In 1953 the Club called a meeting at the Bridge Hotel to discuss bringing Round Table to the town. As a result a Club was formed which has gone from strength to strength and gives enormous service to the community.

From a similar meeting in November 1972 arose the Probus Club of St. Neots with an inaugural meeting in January 1973. Now with a membership full to capacity, and a long waiting list, it brings new friendships to some seventy retired professional and business men in the area.

Membership for women in Rotary has been on the agenda for many years. In March 1993 the Club was required by Rotary International directive to declare its wishes in this matter, required by law in some countries of the world~ The Club resolved by a significant majority to be designated as a dual gender Club in accordance with the officially issued criteria but there have been, to date, no proposals for lady members.

The Rotary Foundation provides funds for many forms of international group exchanges and for university fellowships. St. Neots has put forward several candidates over the years but has so far been unsuccessful in receiving an award. Being strongly appreciative of the remarkable worldwide work of the Foundation, the Club has meticulously maintained its annual financial contribution but has become acutely conscious of a wish to make its own awards independently of outside judgment. To this end it was resolved in 1983 to set up its own Trust and a start was made to build up an appropriate capital sum. Thoughts on the exact form of the scheme developed as the yearly increments mounted. By 1994 formalised rules had been approved, with detailed instructions for applications and nomination of a date when candidates could be interviewed and grants made in accordance with the yearly investment income available.

The money raised for all the Club’s varied contributions to local and national causes derives from members’ personal involvement in many different forms of fund-raising activities involving hospitality, entertainment and education, to which the public have responded generously.

Some schemes have been one-occasion affairs, others have come to be established events in the Towns s social calendar. The Annual Ball, a feature for many years, is once again a regular event, now organised in rotation with our friends from the Rotary Club of St. Neots St. Mary’s. The Club’s Wine and Cheese Evening first held in 1963 has been an annual function each January since, growing in size and format to the present Wine and Cheese Reception at the Priory Centre, with its Dance and Disco, raising over the years some £50,000.

The Butterfly Walk, taking its inspiration from the famous event at Nijmegen in Holland, was suggested to the Club by a Dutch member, Rotarian Richard Van der Hart, and has raised many thousands of pounds for local charities.

The Club has sponsored many concerts by local Youth Orchestras, sometimes contributing to the purchase of instruments and musical scores, and has been well rewarded by the public approval of the artistes’ efforts. International Evenings and Charity Auctions, silent and vocal, Golf Tournaments and Bowls Competitions, Musical Soirees and Dances, have all added grist to the mill and the Club’s thanks go out to all those good friends for their warm participation and patronage. The Paul Harris Award, created in memory of the Founder of Rotary, offers a Rotary Club an opportunity to record signal service to the club and to the movement as well as for service to the community. In 1992 the Club was pleased to present the Award to Rotarian David Huckle, acknowledging his thirty-seven years membership in Rotary, combined with an even longer record of public service in the field of local government in both town and county. One year later Rotarian Geoffrey Hughes, another with an equally long record of membership, further distinguished by his attainment of high office as a District Governor, was also honoured by the Club with presentation of the Award.

Such members epitomise the spirit that has dominated the Rotary Club of St. Neots over these past fifty years, and the achievements recorded in these pages. Rotary International is the sum total of the combined efforts of its thousands of constituent clubs, each taking pride in the growing strength of the Movement on the world scene. This International Fellowship, where discrimination against fellow men on

the grounds of colour, race or creed, has no place, with its power to transcend national boundaries, will continue to inspire people of good will in fulfilling its simple motto “Service before Self’ on into the twenty-first century.

C. R. Hewitt, in his book on Rotary, “Towards my Neighbour”, concludes with these words, “The future is more worth working for than the present; there is so much more of it.”

We are hoping someone will continue this history from 1995 to today !!!!

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