Lions Roaring 100 Years On

Lions Clubs International celebrates its 100th anniversary this year embracing a network of men and women who work together to try to address the needs and that challenge communities around the world. Among them are the Lions clubs of East Hampshire of Alton, Meon Valley, Petersfield and Woolmer Forest.

Lions Clubs International was formed in 1917 by Melvin Jones a Chicago business leeader who wondered what would happen if people put their talents to work improving their communities. As a result of his inspiration, 1.4 million men and women today are members of the world’s largest service club organisation with some 46,000 clubs in over 200 countries.

During the WWII Canadian Lions had provided invaluable support for British children and it was in thanks for this support and that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, (the late Queen Mother and the then Queen), sent her equerry Colonel Edward Wyndham to Canada. He was so impressed with his experience of Lions Clubs that with the sponsorship of Windsor Lions Club of Ontario, he agreed to start the first club in the UK, acting as its founding Charter President. Today there are some 15,000 members in 841 Lions Clubs in the UK with Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, a member of the Wokingham Lions Club, and Royal Patron of the Lions Clubs of the British Isles.

Alton Lions Club was founded in 1972 and in the ensuing years Alton Lions have made a substantial contribution to the local community not only in staging community events to fund raise and but also providing inclusive activities for community together experiences. Through the 80’s and 90’s Alton Lions were known for the Alton Carnival whereas today the club organises a wide range of events to meet the variety of needs in the community. These events include Film Nights, Quizzes, Golf Days, Craft Markets, the10M Road Race & 10K/5K Fun Run, and collections and in the summer Alton Lions stage the ‘Party in the Park’ which this year is themed on Harry Potter and it will be celebrating the 100 years of Lions Clubs International.

The results of these events and activities enable grants to individuals in need, local charities, schools, organisations and for community events and facilities and also include such activities as ‘Message in a Bottle’, the Christmas gift project, Tea Parties for the Elderly, Band Concerts, Youth Projects and the children’s day out to Paulton’s Park. One of the most recent projects has been the installation of a ‘Defibrillator’ on the outside of the Assembly Rooms for use in an emergency.  Although it is not possible to determine how much has been distributed since the club was started, over the last five years more than £120,000 has been distributed through the participation and generosity of the people of Alton and its surrounding villages.

In addition Alton Lions also organise local participation in wider Lions programmes and in recent years have collected over 2,000 pairs of spectacles as part of the Lions Clubs ‘Spectrek’ project. This has been an International Lions activity for over 40 years and the club continues to collect spectacles no longer required by the original owners especially at the Lions Craft Market held second Saturday each month. These spectacles are graded and then shipped to third world countries. The ‘Spectrek’ project reflects a long term affinity to saving and improving sight that followed Helen Keller’s challenge in 1925 for Lions to become ‘Knights of the Blind’ and together with ex President Jimmy Carter Lions formed a partnership to defeat preventable blindness in Africa and Latin America.

The Peace Poster Competition is an opportunity to encourage young people in local communities to think about the importance of world peace and each year, Lions clubs around the world sponsor the contest in local schools and youth groups to achieve more than 350,000 participants worldwide. Local winners receive a cash prize, the national winner receives a Lions Day visit to Parliament and the international winner receives a trip to an award ceremony at the Lions Day with the United Nations. Lions International has a lasting bond with the United Nations following their assistance in drafting the ‘Non Governmental Organisation’ (NGO) section of the United Nations Charter and continues today.

This global outlook of Lions Clubs International was strengthened in 1968 with the establishment of the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) in 1968 and was designed to tackle global problems as well as assisting Lions with large-scale humanitarian projects. By January this year LCIF had surpassed $1Billion in grants made throughout the world in terms of disaster relief, on going support and specific humanitarian projects such as saving sight, all made possible through the combined efforts of individual Lions Clubs.

However, with all this activity Lions firmly believe in ‘all work and no play makes jack a dull boy’, so as well as enjoying the community events and activities clubs develop strong social programmes to ensures that there is playtime to add to the reward for contributing to the community well being.  Alton Lions are always looking for new members to join in and maintain these activities and make a difference in our local community and throughout the world. Its easy to meet Lions at events such as the Party in the Park on June 10 or at the regular Craft Markets or whenever you see them about in their familiar yellow tabards. You can also contact Alton Lions through the website altonlions.org.uk, and Facebook Lions Club of Alton, Hampshire or call on 0845 833 2701.