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The Rotary Club of Coventry Celebrates Centenary

100 Years of Service and Fellowship

The Rotary Club of Coventry is marking its centenary year by announcing its support for The Coventry Historic Trust’s Charterhouse and public park re-development, which includes opening the Charterhouse to the public as a heritage and educational venue. 

The Club, which today has 38 members of a total 75 across Coventry, is also backing an overseas educational project in conjunction with the city’s President Kennedy School. 

While celebrations in person have had to be put on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions, a Zoom meeting to mark the milestone is being held this week (June 3rd), attended by honorary members, including Lord Robert Iliffe, grandson of the founder, Sir Edward Iliffe. 

In this special feature, we look back at highlights from the last 100 years of the club, as well as talk to current and incoming presidents Dr Serena Calder and Martin Cooper. . .

In 1921 Sir Edward Iliffe’s initial invitations to join the Rotary Club were met with an immediate response and 14 founder members nominated their President and launched an active club.

Four ‘daughter’ clubs were subsequently set up in Coventry to suit members’ availability to attend weekly meetings on different days and times.

As women were originally not permitted, wives of Rotarians set up their own Rotary Inner Wheel to run fundraising events, which have also achieved much success in their own right.

But how times have changed. The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.

The vote followed the decades-long efforts of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several closed votes at previous Council meetings.

Since then, they’ve also had their fair share of presidencies, including the current and previous incumbents at Coventry.

Current president Dr Serena Calder said: “Women contribute a lot in their work alongside the men. It was great to see when the clubs started moving with the times.”

Dr Calder is delighted to have raised more than £1,000 for her nominated charity for the year, The Coventry Mission, but as she prepares to hand over her chain to president elect Martin Cooper, on July 5th, she can’t help but look back on a year with a difference.

She said: “I’ve really enjoyed it although it’s been a peculiar year because everything’s had to be done via Zoom. But I think it’s been successful as we’ve managed to keep the meetings and the fundraising and planning going. My main job has been to hold things together during the pandemic.

“Tea and coffee mornings and most types of fundraising events have not been able to go ahead but, fortunately, we did have some reserves so have still been able to support various good causes – and it’s ongoing.”

In its 100-year history, the Rotary Club of Coventry has welcomed a wide variety of speakers to their events. Locally the Club has encouraged educational exchanges; set up youth speaks competitions; supported outward-bound residential courses and respite for carers.

A children’s automata (moving carousel) still stands in the City Retail Market and funds raised from this are shared between the Lord Mayor’s charities and the Rotary Club charities.

Each Christmas Santa’s Sleigh can be seen by families around the city, which is a major fundraiser for all of the Coventry Clubs who work together on this annual event.

Support following both World Wars included Rotarians supporting children whose fathers had not returned from the front. The children were guided through school and into employment. The Club instituted a Get You Home service for soldiers arriving at Coventry Station during and after the Second World War. This involved 30 club members and friends transporting 4,500 servicemen 22,000 miles. Members also helped to distribute parcels to families distressed by bombing of the city.

Other events arranged and supported over the years have included parties for disadvantaged and disabled children, shoes provided for children in need, garden parties, theatre trips, picnics, shopping trips, day trips and concerts for the elderly, trips and breaks at the seaside for underprivileged children, food parcels and donated goods throughout the year including, Christmas and Easter.

In the local community, Rotary has planted trees and bulbs, refurbished plaques, and raised funds to restore the stonework and metal doors to the cenotaph in the Memorial Park. The club also supported the furnishing and equipment for a Therapy Room in Coventry’s new hospice in 2002.

Chairman of the Centenary Committee for the Rotary Club of Coventry, Robert Villette, said: “The centenary is a remarkable achievement for the Club, Rotarians past and present, Coventry and the wider Rotary Community. I feel extremely proud to be part of something which has helped so many people across the world over the past 100 years and continues to do so today.”

The Club’s 50-Year Golden Jubilee was celebrated with a dinner at St Mary’s Guildhall at which a new award was announced – The Jubilee Award, in the form of a silver medallion, given to local people who worked in the community without recognition. This was to last for 33 years and received active civic support.

Coventry’s Lady Godiva Pru Porretta (now a Rotarian herself) was presented with the 27th Jubilee Award medallion.

After 32 years of service, Rotarian and Past President Ken Holmes was presented with a Good Citizen Award by then Lord Mayor Michael Hammon.

Overseas support has included fundraising, donations and parcels for major disaster relief across the world. School children have helped the Club send disaster boxes abroad.

Two water wells were funded in two villages in Ghana. Joe Homan homes for children in Africa and India were supported by the Club. Hospice Africa was a principle charity of the Club.

The main funding over several years was for the building of a hospice in Mbarara, Uganda which grew eventually to two hospices. The Club also raised funding for African doctors, nurses and health workers to train how best to care for terminally ill patients and the use of palliative drugs.

A Rotary matching grant enabled the club in partnership with the club in Pune, India to create a physiotherapy unit which would help 120,000 people in need.

Overseas students are regularly welcomed to the city and hosted by Rotarians, who enjoy fellowship with members from other countries and reciprocal visits are encouraged.

The Rotary Club of Coventry is twinned with Rotary Clubs around the world including The Rotary Club of Volgograd and The Rotary Club of Scottburgh in South Africa, where aids sufferers and orphaned children have been supported by the Coventry Club.

A group of Coventry Rotarians visited the city of Volgograd and were given a half metre-high replica of The Motherland Calls statue. The statue, which depicts a sword-wielding woman overlooking the city, is the tallest statue in Europe standing at 85 metres tall in Volgograd. It commemorates the two million people who lost their lives during the six-month siege of the city in World War II. The replica statue is passed on each year to the incoming President of the Rotary Club of Coventry

Young people have been one of the key focuses of the Club throughout its existence and was instrumental in the reformation of the Coventry Boys’ Club in 1949 and continued to provide funding.

Outward Bound

In 1978 a scheme was started to raise funds to support young people to take part in an outward-bound course in Wales. This continued for 38 years and, in 1983, the course was opened up to students with disabilities.

In 1984 A Young Design/Technologist Award Scheme was launched for all senior schools in Coventry. Coventry Rotary Clubs organised the English Disabled Sports Team Championships, which were very successful for many years. Open to disabled participants of all abilities, other Rotary Clubs supported the event with sponsorship.

Young disabled athlete Kare Adenegan was supported by the Rotary Club of Coventry when she competed in various competitions including the World Championships in Qatar, the London Mini Marathon, and the Para-Olympics, with success in the 100- 400- and 800-metre events.

Sea Cadet Meg Whitehall, from TS Coventry was one of only four cadets in the UK to travel to South Korea on a seagoing exercise with support of the Club.

A Rotaract Club was formed in 1973 for young people aged 18 to 30 to hold their own events and support others alongside Rotary. Later followed an Interact club, established in 2017 with President Kennedy School for young people aged 12 to 18.

Rotary Club Activities

Rotarians have enjoyed themselves along the way whilst fundraising for so many worthy causes. Entertainment has included musical evenings, cultural events, casino nights, trips to various  towns and cities including The Edinburgh Tattoo and Glengoyne distillery, bowls tournaments, auctions, coffee mornings, treasure hunts, skittles evenings and garden parties.

On July 5th current President, Serena Calder will be handing over to incoming President Elect, Martin Cooper, who will take up office during the 100-year anniversary of the Club.

Coventry-born Martin, 68, whose family’s city roots go back to 300 years, said: “It’s a privilege to be president in centenary year and what is also the City of Culture year for Coventry, especially as my father, Ron, was president in the club’s 50th year.

“I always encourage people to get involved with Rotary because it gives back far more than it takes from you. It’s about fellowship but also about helping the local and national community as much as we can – and is incredibly rewarding.”


To find out more about Rotary Clubs across Warwickshire, click here.


Written by Amanda Chalmers PR