Secretary looks back at 75 years of Dagenham Rotary Club

Seventy-five years ago around a dozen local business men and professionals came together to form the Rotary Club of Dagenham.

The club’s aim was to use their weight and influence in the community to help those in need, both in the local area and beyond.

Although numbers have fallen slightly in recent years, the Dagenham group is still going and continues to raise money and offer much-needed support.

Club secretary Gordon Jackson, who joined in 1974 when he worked in Rush Green, said it was the Ilford Rotary Club that pushed for the formation of a Dagenham collective.

Charter


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“They went around and got a dozen or so people who either lived or worked in Dagenham and asked them to make a club,” he explained.

“On September 15 1937 they were granted charter, which means they were officially recognised.

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“Over the following years the men would meet at a variety of places, including the Railway Hotel, in Shafter Road, The Eastbrook in Dagenham Road, and the Cross Keys pub, in Crown Street.”

One of the club’s first initiatives said Gordon, was distributing white sticks to blind people.

“In those days most blind people would just have used normal walking sticks,” the 84-year-old explained. “The white sticks were a lot better and would have made a real difference to the blind people in Dagenham.” In 1947, after many Rotarians who had fought in World War II had been demobbed, the group formed the Veterans Club.

They had been distressed at the sight of so many elderly men sitting on public seats, lonely and with little to do and wanted to offer a social hub where the pensioners could meet.

Any man was eligible for membership if he was “retired and over 65 years of age, clean in person and speech and able to pay a nominal monthly subscription”, according to a book written about the first 50 years of the Rotary Club of Dagenham. The Veterans Club ran for 14 years.

One of the club’s most well known members was Jim Peters, who was the country’s top marathon runner in the early 1950s.

“The race for which he was probably best known was at the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954,” said Gordon.

“He was leading by quite a distance when he entered the very final stage in the stadium. At this point he was very tired and disorientated and was staggering.

“He kept falling over and getting up and then actually crossed the finishing line and collapsed. But it was the wrong finishing line.”

As he hadn’t made it to the end, Jim, who was 35 at the time, was not placed in the race, but 13 years later he returned to Vancouver to complete the last lap before a crowd of thousands. He died in 1999.

“He sometimes used to talk about it after,” said former hospital administrator Gordon. “Jim liked to tell a good yarn and was a bit of a comedian. He was a lovely man.”

In 1975 the club launched the Christmas Carol Collection, which saw members decorate a milk float in festive gear, play Christmas music and take to the streets of Dagenham to raise money.

“Someone on the float would be dressed up as Santa and a few times the job fell to me,” Gordon explained.

“One of the problems of being Santa was that the children would run up to you and then the parents would want to take pictures.

“But the float would keep on moving, and often you’d see it disappearing around a corner while you were having your picture taken.

“So you’d then be listening out for the music as you ran around trying to find it.”

As well as raising money for local groups, the club has collected funds for a number of international projects, including money to help people in countries affected by major disasters.

Today members continue in their efforts to support those in need.

Asked how the group has changed over the years, Gordon, who lives in Brentwood, said: “Numbers have fallen somewhat and the average age is higher. When I joined I was in my 40s and there were many who were younger than me.

“But in those days you would meet at lunch time, when it was OK to take a two hour break. A lot of people don’t even leave their desk now so this isn’t possible.

“We moved the meetings to the evenings but it is mainly pensioners involved as we have more time than those working.

“The other difference is the club is open to women now, which is great.”

Gordon said he hopes the Rotary Club will continue for many years to come

“Although it’s got smaller in Dagenham, across the world it is still going strong. There are 32,000 groups and more than a million members. It’s a wonderful organisation, which has done a lot of fantastic work. I’m proud to be part of it and enjoy it very much.”

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