Making a difference at home and abroad

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Over the years, local Rotary groups have raised thousands of pounds to help people across the United Kingdom as well as throughout the world.

They are part of a global organisation which has been sharing its wealth and support for more than a hundred years.

Rotary International is a volunteer organisation of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world.

The clubs address critical issues at home and abroad by providing health care and medical supplies, clean water, food, job training, youth development and education to millions of people in need.

There are currently around 1.2m Rotary club members belonging to 34,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Founded in Chicago in 1905, the Rotary Foundation has since awarded more than US$2.1 billion in grants.

Gordon Downing-Stewart joined the Rotary nine years ago, and is now almost half way through a two-year stint as president of the district’s Lunesdale club.

The Lunesdale club covers a wide rural area, including Kirkby Lonsdale, Ingleton and Bentham.

There are currently five Rotary clubs in the district – Lunesdale, Lancaster, Lancaster Loyne, Carnforth and Morecambe & Heysham – although the Morecambe club is due to close at the end of June due to a dwindling membership.

“When I took over as president of the Lunesdale club my main aim was to keep supporting the charities that we supported and to keep up the membership,” Gordon, 65, said.

“It’s a small club – we have 24 members – and I’m trying to encourage new members.”

Rotary’s wider focus includes the eradication of polio worldwide, international education, stroke awareness, literacy and water management.

Campaigns such as Mary’s Meals, which raises money to feed children for a year, and Mercy Ships, which offers free medical treatment abroad, are among their success stories.

To mark Rotary Day on Saturday, February 23, the Lunesdale club is holding a supper at the Lunesdale Arms in Tunstall with an auction and raffle, which will be raising money for international projects.

The Lunesdale club raises around £6,000, splitting its funding 60:40 between local and international charities.

One of the local charities most recently taken on by the club is Unique Kidz, an after school and holiday care scheme set up by two mums with disabled children.

“We initially got involved with Unique Kidz after they came to give us a talk,” Gordon said.

“We then donated two computer tablets to them, and we have now agreed to take them on as a three year project to do something more for them.”

Other charities supported by the club include CancerCare and the Calvert Trust.

The Rotary recently set up a new scheme aimed at getting young children involved in their work.

Rotakids is aimed at youngsters aged from seven to 12 and gives them the chance to get involved in fun projects.

In addition, the RYPEN (Rotary Youth Programme for Enrichment) supports teenagers from challenged backgrounds and with behavioural problems.

Pupils at schools such as Wennington Hall School have benefited from the Lunesdale club’s involvement with RYPEN, sending them on week-long residential courses that given them life skills and self-confidence.

“The children come back to talk to us about it afterwards and it’s amazing to see how they change after a week away.

“A lot of work goes into things like RYPEN and Rotakids, and it’s great to see the benefits.”

The Lunesdale group also raised more than £1,100 for Children in Need in conjunction with Booths in Kirkby Lonsdale last year, and also helps out through rasing awareness on the Rotary’s annual Stroke Awareness Day.

“We will help anybody in the community that needs help, such as local groups and schools,” Gordon said.

“We are trying to work with the community as closely as possible.”

The club also works closely on projects with other Rotary groups in the area.

“The main thing is that projects are getting done and people are benefiting from them,” said Gordon, who lives in Bentham and works at Hecas heating supplies in Morecambe,

Today, an increasing number of charities in the UK are in need of support from the Rotary.

“There’s becoming more and more need in this country as well as abroad,” Gordon said.

“In some of the countries we have helped with Rotary projects, such as India, they now have Rotary clubs themselves and will now help fund projects over here.

“It’s nice to see things happening and things changing for the better.”