Twenty-three members and their partners attended this years conference and I can say that it was a weekend of fun and fellowship.
We all registered pm Friday afternoon at St David’s Hall in the city centre of Cardiff.
The most significant presentation during Friday was about an organisation called “DIVERSE ABILITIES” – a Dorset charity which provides respite care for children with severe disabilities.
Friday evening we had dinner at a local restaurant and attended a concert featuring ‘ABBA ARRIVAL’, a tribute band. I think everyone enjoyed it. Interestingly the balcony area was reserved because the organisers sold tickets locally to the public. Excellent idea.
On Saturday, the programme started with a video of the interview between David Attenborough and President Obama. That was about global threats to the environment, the need for sustainability and for everyone to work together. The point was made that nature is resilient but you have to give it half a chance.
Continuing that theme Dr Simon Cripps, Chief Executive of the Dorset Wildlife Trust was next on. He also spoke about the need to protect wildlife and habitats. Also the benefits for example if you maintain a meandering river it becomes a flood defence. He spoke about making cemeteries and gardens wildlife-friendly by planting wild flowers which are good for nature.
The Trust runs an activity programme for disabled people, it connects them with nature and they contribute to the maintenance of nature reserves.
He spoke about training for young people through their ‘Skills for the future programme’ who build bridges, restore rivers etc. 90% of their trainees gain employment at the end of their traineeships. One is now working as a Wildlife Ranger for Dorset County Council.
They also have a volunteer programme, again engaging people with the environment e.g. saving heathlands which are in sharp decline.
Back to Rotary, the next speaker was former District Governor Ken Billington from the Rotary Club of Grantham who spoke about sustainable aid or put another way Trade Aid – business in a box. The idea came from the tsunami which wrecked Sri Lanka – you may remember from the TV seeing fishing boats washed up on the beach and wrecked. You will also be familiar with the expression ‘give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, give him a fishing rod and you feed him for life’. Instead of fishing rods this charity gives away boxes of new tools to qualified tradespeople such as carpenters, tailors, and builders etc. so that they may work thus providing sustainable humanitarian aid and at the same time restore their self-respect. These boxes cost £425 and so far 1000 have been sent out all over the world. An idea very similar to water aid which this club supports.
Next was a presentation by an ex Special Forces soldier entitled “Pilgrim Bandits”. They formed this small niche charity in 2010 with the aim of providing physical and mental challenges for amputee and injured serviceman. Their mantra is no sympathy. To date they have embarked upon 6 expeditions and they now look after 31 amputees throughout the country. They also have a Youth Offenders Programme at Hengistbury Head. Some of you will remember the film “The Hero’s of Telemark” when in WW2 a group of Norwegian special forces trekked across a mountain range to destroy a German heavy water plant used as rocket fuel. They recreated that and used the same mountain lodges to make their way across a plateau in temperatures of -34. One former soldier to make the trip was not only blind but a double amputee. I cannot imagine what that must do to these soldiers in terms of their self-respect, confidence and helping them achieve a positive outlook despite their injuries. The group do deliver talks to Rotary Clubs, obviously seeing this as a way to fund their work.
We were treated to a video entitled ‘End Polio Now’ featuring Bill Gates. This work started in 1985 and the point of the film was simply for Bill Gates to recognise the contribution made by Rotary.
‘Mission Aviation Fellowship’, heard of that? Well I had not. It was formed in 1945 with the idea, in partnership with other charities of bringing relief to disadvantaged peoples throughout the world. They now work in 26 countries and make 64,000 flights a year to remote places where they run clinics, provide medical support and other development work. They respond to disasters flying in food and taking the injured to hospitals. Take all the disaster areas which are familiar to you including the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and MAF were there.
Next was a video clip from our leader John Germ, President of Rotary International. Talking about membership he said that we need to make a cultural shift and strengthen clubs by attracting people with caring hearts, willing hands and new ideas. He said that there is a potential Rotarian in anyone who cares about the community and strives to make the world a better place. So lets not be hidebound in our thinking.
The Rt Hon Ann Widdicombe. She clearly had been briefed that Rotary is a non-political organisation and stayed away from party politics. She spoke about her career since leaving Westminster in 2010 and missed her vocation – as a stand-up comedian she was brilliant. Her personal charity is leprosy and I for one did not realize how rampant this disease still is in the world.
The Sunday morning session started with the Caerphilly Male Voice Choir who were absolutely brilliant performing a medley of WW1 songs and old favourites like Men of Harleck and You will never walk alone.
Back to Rotary Luke Addison, National chair of Rotaract spoke about his work. As you know they are mainly university based. He made the point that they must continually re-invent themselves as people move on and they start all over again. He was joined on stage by some young children aged about 8 -12 who belong to an interact club. They spoke of their work raising funds for Polio Now, litter picking and anti-bullying work. Also about what Interact had given them in terms of developing their listening skills, team working etc. not to mention their presentations before conference.
That was a hard act to follow for Linda Pratley, Chair of the Inner Wheel. She spoke about familiar problems, the decline in membership but dismissed the idea of Inner Wheel amalgamating with Rotary.
Lowri Morgan, adventurer and TV broadcaster was next. She spoke about her expeditions for example a 350 mile race across the artic in temperatures of minus 40. In the year that she competed she was the only one to finish beating a number of Special Forces personnel. Only 5 other people have completed this endurance challenge. It was all very inspirationa. She talked about facing your fears and that when the body gives up, then you must let the mind take over. To aim low, she said is a crime.
An American, Dr Julia Phelps, past RI Director and representative of John Germ was next. She spoke about the new rules with clubs being given freedom and flexibility to work and expand their membership. The need to approach people, bring them in and leave certain traditions behind. They may have served us well but it is time to move forward.
Following a film clip of Professor Brian Cox talking about the story of the universe we were entertained by Lydia Slack, a farmer’s daughter who spoke about ‘That awkward age’. Another stand-up comedian – absolutely brilliant.
Rotarians far more experienced than me in attending conferences described this conference as being excellent and ‘the best that they had ever attended’.
Conference next year is at the Ageas Hilton or Rosebowl, Southampton on Friday 13th and Sat 14th October 2017.