Rotary Club of Belfast

President Adrian Kerr's address at the Gala Centenary Dinner

dinner 11President Adrian Kerr praised the Club's outstanding 100 years of Service and considered the role of Rotary in the future in his address to the Centenary Dinner, City Hall Belfast. He marked the legacy of the Club's founders and praised the significant milestones in our history of projects undertaken over the years touching the lives of and making a difference to so many people.

He expressed concern at the sustainability of the Rotary movement unless there is a change in the image of what Rotary is really like, the projects undertaken and the reality of Rotary as a welcoming organisation where diversity is valued. Expressing confidence that Rotary could and would change he said that Rotarians, tread on the dreams of the mother who wishes for her child to lead a healthy life free from polio, the man or woman with no legs who dreams of the day we might supply Jaipur Limbs to help them walk again, the partially sighted child who dreams of the day they can see properly with Vision Aid supplied glasses and the member of our community who dreams of a better life which can be made possible due to our service and community projects. Members have made these dreams a reality in the past and, in the present, our challenge is to continue to do so. He asked all fellow Rotarians and friends to yes celebrate our 100 years of service but to make this year a time of renewal and change to strengthen our Rotary Values in practice and to increase our endeavours at home and beyond.

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more..." This Quote from Macbeth spoken by him as he was just about to go into battle and on hearing of the death of his wife, paints a picture of the lives we lead as something over which we have no influence and casts us as walking shadows in a life where our efforts are of no real consequence and where we leave no legacy behind and in the words of Macbeth 'we are heard no more'.

The Macbeth view of life fortunately contrasts deeply with our mission as Rotarians to provide, as we have heard from the other speakers, 'service above self' and to make our mark on the communities we serve whether it be at local or international level. And this is why we are here tonight at this celebration of our centenary to mark the legacy of our founders and to jointly respect within the family of Rotary the real lives Rotarians in Belfast have led and how they reached within themselves to embrace humanity in the City of Belfast and beyond.

Our Centenary book tells of these achievements much better than I can but I want to give you a few striking milestones in our history that really stand out for me and demonstrate how our Rotarians provided service to the community over the years.

  • The early years where in 1915 the club organised the first Flag Day in Belfast when 1,700 ladies sold miniature flags in aid of the Soldiers and Sailors families association, and wounded servicemen in the city. A selfless act which had a real impact on the quality of life of others.
  • The initiation of the residential Boys Camp in 1933 which continued until 2005 and provided physical activities and much needed fun to those children who required special care. Here Rotarians gave of their time and committed to the service of others in a practical way.
  • The Club's concern for the alleviation of loneliness which led to the seeding funding for the establishment of the Abbeyfield Society whose purpose is to house the aged and lonely and show them that they are neither friendless nor forgotten demonstrates our real commitment to improved quality of life in our City and beyond.
  • During the late 60's and throughout the troubles in Belfast, the club strove to bring the two polarised communities together by initiating joint projects and more importantly offering practical help to the homeless, those in need of clothing and comfort on many many occasions.
  • My final examples are the establishment of 'Harmony Community Trust' and the continuing operation of Glebe House as a centre for increasing understanding and community relations and the operation of our Towards a Better Understanding TABU programme which we operate jointly with Highland Park/Highwood Rotary Club in Chicago.

I have only time to provide a few examples of our community activities and have left out our efforts to support national and international projects and I don't have time to illustrate our current programme of activities but one outstanding achievement in our centenary year must be recognised and that is, through the efforts of Rotarians Dick Thornton and David Brennan that our target to provide 100,000 spectacles to vision aid overseas by July 2011 has been met and is ever increasing even as I speak.

The 6 examples I did have time to outline are only a few but although they are only a few, they touched the lives of many people over many years and continue to do so, and clearly demonstrate the belief of the club members that they can make a difference and their belief that a life lived in the service of others is a life truly lived.

You see, I am proud of the record of achievement of the Belfast club and all Rotarians and our many and ever increasing programmes and initiatives in the service of others but I also have concerns that in 100 years time we may not have successors sitting here in the City Hall or some other splendid venue looking back on our legacy and continuing the good work initiated by our founders, because despite our best efforts to date we are failing to attract the surge of new committed Rotarians to our ranks.

There are all sorts of reasons given by potential members for not joining our ranks but these centre around two main themes, firstly:

The Time Commitment

In the more for less culture in which we now live, we must do something to convince potential members that we are a flexible organisation where they will not be held to attendance quotas or expected to become over involved in the wide spread of service projects. Maybe this means that they could log on to the members' area of our excellent website and have a virtual meeting with a service convenor to discuss progress or volunteer for a particular project rather than attend a formal fixed time meeting.

Business Organisations have reacted to the changing pressurised environment and have found new ways for people to work, without them having to be on the premises, but still being productive: and this is not at the expense of networking, team working, or building relationships with colleagues. Maybe we need to change our methods of operation and find new ways of still being successful, of still providing fellowship and friendship, but by more adaptable approaches that really maximises the decreasing amount of time that potential members can now commit.

This might mean looking at new membership structures, which I know we are doing but also targeting members outside the professions and enlisting the help of qualified trades' people who have a lot to offer in implementing our community based projects or even offering an unemployed membership category as a bridge to employment. Maybe the Assembly at Stormont could be sold on that suggestion and pay their membership fees for a trial period!!!

The second reason often advanced for not joining is:

The Perception of Rotary and what we do!!

Before you can have commitment you must have awareness. How aware are the vast majority of people and our potential members of what we actually represent and do? We are often perceived as an elite professional grouping, of a certain age, with a great commitment to charity, but with plenty of time to do it. And since you have to be invited to join you should sit back and wait for the invitation.

We need to change that image by strong awareness campaigns of what Rotary is really like and the projects we deliver. These awareness campaigns could then be followed by a sustained membership drive unfettered by the invitation stipulation. And here I look to District, RIBI and RI to take a strong lead and to help us at local level communicate the reality of Rotary as a welcoming organisation where diversity is valued and where on entering the family of Rotary you will be mentored, encouraged and nurtured by your new found friends.

I don't have the answers to these two main barriers but I do know that organisations that cannot attract the right number and calibre of employees and are perceived as inflexible don't last long in the market.

I want Rotary in Belfast to endure for a further one hundred years and beyond, and I have the confidence that we will and can change to survive and prosper but we are part of a wider organisation which similarly needs to design a change management strategy which is proactive in meeting the needs of our changing environment and can help and encourage us in our task.

In summary, I have spoken to you tonight on the Rotary view on life that we can leave our mark on a better world, I have outlined just a few examples of how Belfast has achieved this over the years and I have outlined the potential barriers to our success and how we might think outside the box to address them.

I began with the glum view on life by Macbeth and I want to leave you with a few words from W B Yeats from his poem where he wishes for the cloths of heaven to spread under his loved ones feet but he says

I, being poor, have only my dreams,
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

We as Rotarians tread on the dreams of the mother who wishes for her child to lead a healthy life free from polio, the man or woman who with no legs, dreams of the day that we might supply a Jaipur limb that can make their dream of walking possible, The partially sighted child who dreams of the day they can see properly due to our support for vision aid, and the member of our community who dreams of a better life which can be made possible due to our service and community projects.

We have made these dreams a reality in the past, and in the present, our challenge now is to continue to do so. And I would ask all my fellow Rotarians and friends here tonight to yes celebrate our 100 years of service but to make this year a time of renewal and change to strengthen our Rotary Values in practice and to increase our endeavours at home and beyond.

Thank you for listening and enjoy the rest of your evening.

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