I don’t think Karl Marx would have been a Rotarian

I am not a badge person. I do not usually wear my Rotary badge. Most Rotarians do. Maybe I feel it looks a bit old fashioned, from a lost age. Certainly, the Rotary of Club of Sunderland is not the same as the Club I joined in 1976, joining at that time as a one-shop retail furnisher with that classification and nominated by a local furniture manufacturer of some repute, both taking time off to meet for lunch. Then the Editor of the Sunderland Echo, the clerk to the magistrates and many prominent figures in the town did likewise. Those were the days, my friends.

Today the Club is much smaller. Senior executives work their lunches. Yet it still promotes Bring-it-on an inspiring scheme introducing youngsters at school to the local companies that will offer them employment, still raises tens of thousands of pounds for local charities manning a University car park on football Saturdays.

On reflection maybe I should wear the badge with the accreditation Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of an act of Rotary service, which is what the Club is all about. There cannot be many Rotarians who would say that the membership of their Rotary Club totally coloured their years of retirement. Mine did.

Little did it occur to me when I joined that it would give me an interest in children with special educational needs to this day, write and stage a play Death of a Nightingale in London, become a social media activist and a blogger. My life has been full of the unexpected, this just one of them.

An innocent enough start. I meet Fredwyn Haynes, himself a Rotarian, the headteacher of Barbara Priestman School, then an all-age school for children with a physical disability and a learning difficulty. As an act of Rotary service, I become first a governor, then its chair of governors. I discover a world I scarcely knew existed. In truth not demanding of much of my time. The teachers, carers, physio’s, school nurses, the kids themselves and their parents a happy purposeful family.

When Fredwyn retired all changed. A battle royal with the Local Authority following national policy wanted to close the school against the wishes of everyone in it and it turned ugly. Ultimately it was a losing battle as the school is now no longer what it was.

That was when this part of my life changed, and I changed with it. I saw many things differently. Hence my play – a tragedy – to try to capture that in words; not least the relativity of human rights that human rights lawyers fail to recognise. How do you deal with a situation where the rights of children to mainstream education conflict with the rights of parents to their choice of school, and their children have good reason to agree with them? Also, a single-track education could deny them opportunity. In education diversity preempts equality.

You can join me in my zoomed meeting on Sunday at 3 pm when I can share that with you. I walk and talk in the footsteps of the late Sir Ken Robinson. That will give you some idea of where I now am.

And maybe you will also get a different take on Rotary and Rotarians. The Sunderland Rotary Club is just one of 35,000 world-wide and I am just one of over a million members! Message me and I will give you the passcode.

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