I have been lucky throughout my career and personal life to have been involved with the Rotary family for nearly 35 years. In the early 80s my wife Pauline and I were founder members of the Rotaract Club of Guisborough and Great Ayton in the North East of England and due to a change in job a year later, during my year as Senior Vice President, we transferred to Osset Rotaract Club in West Yorkshire. With more house moves around the country we eventually settled in Towcester in Northamptonshire in 1996. I was soon invited to join the local Rotary Club and have been a member there for 17 years. Like all Rotarians, I participated in club events, worked on and chaired committees and have been proud to be President. I have been honoured to accept a Paul Harris Fellowship for my continued support to the Grand Prix fundraising and for my work with Parent / Teacher groups in the local schools. I have also completed District service with the Foundation Committee, serving as a Group Study Exchange Team Leader and subsequently GSE coordinator, and I am now supporting the District Training Team.
I have always managed my Rotary commitment around a young family, growing up through school and more recently university, but over the past few years my work patterns have changed resulting in my being away from home for extended periods of time. I was based on assignment in the North East for nearly 12 months and, over the last year, in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Whilst in the North East I did manage to make up some attendances at local clubs but as there is no Rotary presence in KSA I have been unable to attend any meetings over the last year. I have been on extended Leave of Absence for the past 2 years and when you are not actively involved in the club you lose your contacts, relationships and the sense of belonging.
Traditional face to face meetings rely on members being present for communication of club business and unless there is very regular personal communication with the members who are on long term absences due to work, illness or other commitments they may start to feel isolated from what is happening in their club. Websites and Facebook are all very well but they are often written after the event. I was receiving the Council Minutes and committee reports each month but unless I instigated any communications nothing else was forthcoming and I did start to feel that my time in Rotary was over as I was finding other things to do to fill my time.
With the formation of the Rotary e-club I have had my Rotary enthusiasm restored and I have been able to meet new people by joining the meetings from 3000 miles away. The time difference means that it is 2 -3 hours later in the evening and the poor connections available occasionally mean that I have intermittent access or video streaming capability, but it is really good to be at the start of a vibrant new dawn in Rotary. The online club meetings are fun and informal but the business still gets done and we are building up to our inaugural meeting and subsequent charter where I am looking forward to meeting all of the members in person for the first time.
Being able to attend regular meetings, where the views of all members can be voiced, is crucial to maintaining a sense of belonging in the Rotary family. The e-club is a great way to bring together those who are unable to meet in the traditional way, either through personal and work commitments, cost or illness. My current deployment in Riyadh is coming to an end and I will continue to attend the online meetings and hope to make the monthly face to face meetings, depending on where work sends me next.