By Bob Tomlinson, president of the Rotary Club of Kirkintilloch, Scotland
The COVID-19 pandemic is horrifying. The lives lost are not just statistics. Each death is a life cut short and a family and friends left grieving. This reality is something we must never forget. Our way of life has been profoundly challenged.
For organizations, such as Rotary, a common question asked is: “what will Rotary be like if we survive this?” The questioner invariably makes the addendum, “We’ve never been through anything like this before.” As individuals, very few of us have been through anything like this. But Rotary International has, several times, and came through to the other side — 1918 Spanish Flu, the Great Depression of the 1930’s, World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars, etc.
This is the account of how one club is working to survive.
My club, the Rotary Club of Kirkintilloch in Scotland, meets every Tuesday night at the town’s golf club. Rotarians started meeting in Kirkintilloch in 1953, a few hundred meters from the site of a Roman fort built in 142 A.D. which marks the northernmost point of the Roman Empire. After only 20 years, the Romans pulled out. Now tourists come to Kirkintilloch to see the remains of the Antonine Wall.
On the last Tuesday club meeting of February, the world was talking about a virus coming our way, but we knew the health service would deal with it. We arranged for our usual Saturday food collection to donate to households on the breadline, something we did three of four times a year. We had no idea what was ahead of us.
We had six new members in the club and their membership reduced the average age by a good margin. They helped at the food collection. Everyone in the club has a title. Our “transport manager” owns a road building company. He provides a truck for us to carry the donated food for distribution. He said two things that day that brought silence. “Don’t shake my hand” and “I’m just back from Italy and going into isolation!”
He was not a carrier, but the pandemic had become real. We had one more “normal” meeting before Scottish lawmakers in Edinburgh started talking lockdown. Club members decided to have a “Last Supper” meeting at the golf club, where we socially distanced and agreed things had to change. That was 10 March.
Within two days we set up a WhatsApp Group – advice given by our new younger members and grandchildren. But ultimately Zoom worked better for us and we held our first meeting a week later.
However, some members couldn’t handle Zoom or didn’t trust it so we set up a system to ensure every one of us was kept in the loop. There is a secure WhatsApp Group where all members can express opinions or give suggestions. Every Sunday each member, those taking part in Zoom or not, receives the agenda for the upcoming meeting. Any member who cannot take part in the virtual meeting is phoned by a club officer.
Thanks to virtual meetings our attendance has sky-rocketed. Four new young members have joined. One of our youngest member is co-coordinator of our local council’s COVID-19 response team – we are very proud of her. We have four applications from young people who will join us at the start of July, so their subscriptions begin with the new Rotary Year.
In-person fundraisers had to stop, but as we don’t pay for meals, club members have donated thousands of pounds for Childrens Hospices Across Scotland, Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, Heart Stroke Charities and especially for COVID-19 response.
Our message to the new members is simple –“Tell us where you want Rotary in Kirkintilloch to go and we’ll help you go there.”
Rotary in Kirkintilloch is alive and well – but young and old can’t wait to meet together again in a new and exciting world.
About the author: Bob Tomlinson, an award-winning print and broadcast journalist, is president of the Rotary Club of Kirkintilloch, Scotland, and an assistant governor of District 1230. A Paul Harris Fellow, he has served as a Public Image Area Coordinator for Europe, and Assistant General Coordinator of Rotary International’s Public Image Group.