Tackling community needs locally and globally. Promoting trade and cultural exchange in place of strife. Reaching out across the barriers of faith, ethnicity, gender, orientation and culture. Transparent and democratic governance. This is an organisation fit for the challenges of the 21st century.
Yet it was in the very different world of Edwardian England, on 3 August 1911, that Harvey C Wheeler and Arthur Bigelow – the first and second presidents respectively – brought 17 founder members together at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand for the Inaugural Dinner of the Rotary Club of London, just five years after lawyer Paul Harris founded the Rotary movement in Chicago. The inaugurants were, unsurprisingly, all men. It’s a telling measure of how far we've come that the Centenary lunch – held at the same venue on 3 August 2011 – was hosted by Baroness Doreen Miller, our third woman president in eight years.
Many members play an active part in the community, both in London and in the wider world. The explorer Neville Shulman, a past president, has raised many thousands of pounds for cancer research and children’s charities through his intrepid expeditions, most recently scaling the mountains of the Caucasus. Sir Sigmund Sternberg founded the Three Faiths Forum to build understanding between the world’s major religions. Lord Raj Loomba has dedicated his life to alleviating the plight of widows throughout the world, persuading the United Nations to adopt an annual International Widows Day. Sir David Garrard created the first of the new-style secondary school academies, the Business Academy in Bexley. Pal Chawla has developed a mobile breast cancer prevention and treatment programme in India. There are many more examples.
As a club, our aim is to contribute to the community both in thought and in deed. Each week the fellowship of our members, their guests and other Rotarians hear the often challenging and thoughtful views of speakers, who in recent times have included the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission Lord Hunt (himself a member), the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, filmmaker David Puttnam, author Jeffrey Archer, politicians including Ken Livingstone, Michael Howard, Charles Kennedy and numerous others.
Actions, of course, speak louder than words. One of our longest standing commitments is to Oak Lodge School for profoundly deaf children in Balham. Every other year we organise a trip taking Oak Lodge children to Switzerland, hosted by our partners, the Rotary Club of Interlaken. This is always a worthwhile and uplifting experience for all the participants—students and Rotarians alike. You can read a report of the latest trip by Brian Somers here.
This year saw the ninth of our annual Children’s Charities Golf Days, which so far have raised more than £100,000 to make an important difference where it is most needed - see Hugh Kirk's report here.
The Rotary Club of London is a member of the Leonardo Group of leading European clubs which annually award the Leonardo da Vinci Prize to an emerging scientific or creative talent. The Prize ceremony rotates around all the member cities, which also include Florence, Madrid, Athens, Tours, Würzburg, Vienna, Amsterdam, Dublin and Brussels. The Leonardo Laureates honoured by London were the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie (1987), the animator Joanna Quinn (1996) and the silversmith Sidsel Dorph-Jensen (2005).
In addition, the club holds events and supports numerous organisations through its committees, in association with the district and other clubs in London, and with other Rotary clubs around the world.