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Happy birthday - Norwich Rotary

PUBLISHED: 13:52 02 February 2012

Nelson the Cat welcomes the new president of Norwich Rotary Club. Pictured: Andy De’Ath with Nicki Gibson of Nelson’s Journey and Nelson the Cat.

Nelson the Cat welcomes the new president of Norwich Rotary Club. Pictured: Andy De'Ath with Nicki Gibson of Nelson's Journey and Nelson the Cat.

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The Evening News pays tribute to the work of Norwich Rotary - celebrating its 90th birthday.

It is a wheel which keeps on turning... taking on the challenges thrown up by the world and the city we live in and always offering the hand of friendship to those in need.

The cogwheel symbol of Rotary represents an organisation which has changed lives and saved lives.

One based on fun and friends which devotes so much time and energy to helping those who deserve our support.

From child slaves in India to members of the deaf community in Norwich, Rotary turns lives around and has been doing just that in the city for 90 glorious years. Many of us have a lot to thank Rotary for. In Norwich of 2011 they are thoughtful and compassionate men and women who do so much to help others in so many different ways.

And it has always been so.

It all started in Norwich at 8pm on Wednesday, January 18 1922 when 15 businessmen gathered at the Royal Hotel to hear Canon Thompson Elliott talk about the objects and purposes of Rotary – this revolutionary organisation from the USA. They voted in favour of setting up a club in the city and the first president was Thomas Glover, manager of then privately owned gas works. He said: “Just as the soil needed to be agitated and cultivated, so did the brains of business and professional people.”

It wasn’t long before the club was playing an active role in city life. The first charitable donations were £5 each to the Norwich Children’s Aid Association and the Norwich Lads Club. In October 1924 £10 was sent to the Japanese Earthquake Fund. The first record of a woman being present at a Rotary luncheon was in July of 1922 when Miss Beryl Colman spoke on the Girl Guide movement and Mrs Burton Fleming on the Women’s Institute in Norfolk. At the Christmas dinner of 1922 at the Maids Head it was reported that speaker Judge Herbert-Smith gave a “racy” talk while the entertainment was provided by the Benson Glee Party.

Two years later, Christmas 1924, Norwich Rotarians put on a party for more than 700 children who had lost their fathers in the First World War. Aged between 8 and 14 many came from an orphanage at Chapelfield. They left after a meal and three hours of entertainment with oranges, bananas and apples – a rare treat in those days. This would become an annual event the children looked forward to.

Speakers at the luncheons in the early years included the author Sir H Rider Haggard on humility – racial, national and personal – and A H Patterson (John Knowlittle of Yarmouth) who spoke on: Some wild men I have known – Breydonners and other queer folk.”

But there was more to Rotary than just helping others – they had a real voice in the city – in the 1920s they were campaigning for the corporation to make sure the castle and castle mound was fully exposed from the Shirehall to the Bell Hotel.

And in October of 1925 they organised a special Norwich At Home week designed at making citizens better acquainted with the city – opening up many places of interest for locals for the first time.

During the 1930s members were angry at the number of appalling slums in the city and formed a committee which came up with a plan to pull down 1,250 houses and move 4,250 people to better houses.

Today Rotary still plays a leading role in Norwich.

Don’t miss tomorrow’s Evening News when we publish a special 12-page supplement honouring Rotary, looking at what it does today, and wishing the organisation a happy 90th birthday.

To find out more about Rotary and the work of one of the charities it supports, Shelterbox, which provides emergency aid and relief across the world, look out for a special exhibition outside The Forum on Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5.

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