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Celebrating the centenary of the Rotary Club of Chichester

by Pat Saunders

Rotary Club

The Rotary Club in Chichester celebrated its centenary at the beginning of 2020. The very first Rotary club meeting in Chichester was held on 2nd December 1919 at the Dolphin & Anchor Hotel where a group of Chichester business men met with Mr Graves of Brighton, a representative of the British Association of Rotary Clubs, and Mr Reeves of Portsmouth where a new group had recently been formed. A week later on December 9th another meeting was held. At this time it was decided that a Rotary Club in Chichester should be formally established, and 31 members agreed to join. The club officially received its charter on May 1st 1920, having been sponsored by the Portsmouth club. Dr Arthur Bostock (Senior Surgeon at the Royal West Sussex Hospital, Chichester and King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst) was elected as the first President of the Chichester Club.

Originally each trade or profession had just one representative and they were always required to attend meetings. In the early days, membership to any Rotary Club was only open to male participants, one of a number of strict rules the Club originally observed, which has subsequently been slowly relaxed.

One of the first projects the club was involved with in 1920 was raising funds for Chichester's War Memorial, originally located in Eastgate Square until it was relocated to Litten Gardens in the 1930s. In November 2019 a statue of Maurice Patten, a soldier who died in the First World War, sculpted by local artist Vincent Gray was unveiled near the War Memorial with the support of the Rotary Club.

From early on the Rotary Club was involved in giving assistance to local charities supporting local people who were affected by the consequences of the First World War. One project was the establishment of the Boys Club in Little London, offering opportunities for education and outdoor pursuits, which began its work in 1922.

During the Second World War the Club's attention moved to assisting the War effort through matters such as air raid precautions, defence and assisting with finding suitable accommodation for refugees and evacuees.

For over 70 years the Rotary Club has sourced Chichester's Christmas 'Tree of Goodwill' an iconic part of the city's Christmas celebrations, and a focal point for fundraising for the Club's charity account. Initially the tree was positioned on the Cathedral Green, but in more recent years it was transferred to the east side of the Cross where a hidden sleeve in the ground was positioned in 1999 to provide a secure base.

Since 1985 Rotary's global key humanitarian priority has been to rid the world of Polio. Chichester is one such Rotary who joined the fight, raising many thousands of pounds for the cause over recent years. In 2016 the Club raised awareness by inviting local school children to plan crocus bulbs in the Rotary Sensory Garden in Prior Park. The crocus flower is Rotary's symbol for their End Polio Now campaign. Unfortunately many of the bulbs proved popular with the local squirrel population.

In addition the Club supports the Youth Speaks competition, a public speaking competition for local schools and colleges. Team members can practise their public speaking skills in addition to debating and taking questions from skilled speakers. The competition has four stages, local heats, a district competition, regional finals and a national final. The teams are either intermediate (11-13 years) or senior (14-17 years) level.

The Rotary Youth Exchange offers opportunities for developing confidence and language skills through experience of other cultures. There's a leadership development programme, the Rotary Youth Leadership award, as well as an annual technology tournament to encourage young scientists and engineers. Hopefully it fosters a better life generally for future generations.

In addition stewards are provided by the club for Chichester's annual 10k race, the Chichester half-marathon and the annual Remembrance Day parade.

Although not currently holding face to face meetings due to the pandemic, Rotary Club meetings are usually held on a Tuesday lunchtime. Meetings include a two-course meal as well as a talk in addition to club business. When there's a fifth Tuesday in a month it is then an evening meeting.

Sadly with the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic in March the Rotary Club's centenary celebrations were put on hold.