Fifty years ago the main route to regular volunteering, consistently giving something back to society, was through membership of ‘Service Clubs’, such as Rotary, Lions, Round Table, Kiwanis, Soroptomists, etc.
Today membership of these clubs is gradually declining, while the age of their club members increases. Yet these clubs often work tirelessly with their local communities, bringing benefit and change, not only to the communities involved but also by providing fellowship and social activities for their members.
So why are they no longer popular?
Perhaps one reason lies in dramatic changes in society in the last 50 years. Better health is slowly pushing up life expectancy but at a cost in time of keeping fit.
Rises in disposable incomes has led to increased consumerism, particularly in electronic technology. This has resulted in the explosion of internet usage and social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter. Together with the ubiquitous smart phone technology, this puts added demands on our free time.
The pressures of work and modern family life cause even further restrictions. Perhaps we just don’t have time to volunteer regularly any more?
Is volunteering just a minor, fragmented activity? Perhaps we perceive government as responsible for sorting out needy social issues and all overseas aid? Or is it not just easier to appease our conscience by making the odd donation or sponsorship here and there?
So where does this leave ‘volunteering’? Undoubtably the last 50 years have seen growth in the number of ‘niche’ volunteer organisations, yet today the ‘regular’ volunteer pool seems to be diminishing. Much of today’s volunteering seems to be the prerogative of the relatively young or the retired with free time to invest.
So, in particular, what is wrong with ‘service‘ clubs? The actual answer is nothing - most clubs are active centres of volunteering, mixed with a wide range of social activities.
However, today most young people, when asked about Rotary, for example, envisage rather ‘stuffy’ clubs populated by an elderly group of bank managers, accountants and solicitors, bogged down with rules and regulations.
Although the average age of Rotarians is relatively high, there are today fewer rules and regulations and the modern membership reflects a broad range of modern professions and job skills.
Nowadays there is no set format for the way each club is run, and a visit to the six clubs in the South Lakes area would find each club with its own unique way of doing things.
However, there are a number of common elements. All clubs meet weekly, either for a meal or a drink. The weekly programme includes speakers and social activities, as well as discussions of work within the local community and international projects.
One the most enjoyable things about Rotary is that it allows the ability to develop and engage in projects for the benefit of the community on a large scale.
The Windermere club develop-ed and managed the Windermere Airshow and now is running an annual Blues Festival.
The Kendal club manages the Three Counties challenge, a cycling competition of over 60 & 120 km, while the Ambleside Kirkstone Club organises the Ambleside Marafun.
All clubs take part in programmes linked to local schools, varying from the Technology Tournament, Young Chef to Youth Speaker competitions. At an international level clubs support ShelterBox, Vision Aid, Water Aid, Wheelchair Foundation projects and the eradication of Polio.
Why not visit some of the South Lakes Rotary Clubs to see how you can make a difference and have fun at the same time?
For more information go to www.windermere-rotary.org.uk
Ed Baily, Windermere Rotary Club