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Club News & Activities

Club Meeting – 23rd April 2019

President Dorothy Thomson and her sister Meg gave a presentation about their trip to Pakistan in January. Dorothy described the poor conditions in and around St Gabriel School, and made clear how useful our donation of money has been – and how gratefully it had been received.  The children are so keen to learn, and for every child in the school there are six outside who would like a place. Our money also helped provide sewing machines for the Ghotki Sewing Centre, which enables women to become independent through their sewing skills. Dorothy had the opportunity to test the hearing of 97 children, of whom three had significant problems: two had one-sided hearing loss, and one suffered from glue ear.

General Meeting – 8th April 2019

We enjoyed a good meal at the Holiday Inn and then the meeting followed the usual agenda. Each member received a copy of the Programme Action report for the past year. Following Membership and Social reports, we heard news from our Friendship Links. President Dorothy said that we had definitely made a difference for large numbers of women and girls during 2018 – 2019, and we all felt inspired to do more in the coming year!

Club Meeting – 26 March 2019

Kath MacColl, Manager of Abbeyfield, Darlington, gave a lively talk about the history, present and future of Abbeyfield homes in Darlington.

Alma Bailey reported on the recent Regional Council Meeting.

The club heard about Facebook greetings from clubs and Soroptimists all over the world on the occasion of our 71st birthday two days ago.

We also heard news of where Buddy Bookmarks have been going and feedback about how they are being received. “Oh wow, Grandma! This is great!” said the eleven year old granddaughter of a member in our region.

Regional Council Meeting – 16 March 2019

Five of us braved the heavy rain and strong winds to cross the Pennines to Carlisle. We didn’t regret it! Sue Biggs, Immediate Past President of our Federation, gave a frank and informative presentation. We heard from the amazing Mandy Coppin, CEO of Streetwise Newcastl, and were updated on all the work done by Cockermouth club. We even had the opportunity to tell everyone about Buddy Bookmarks and gave a number of them away.

Club meeting – 11 March 2019

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8th we decided to “celebrate ourselves”. Each member, (and one very welcome visitor), brought an object which meant something to her and then spoke about it for a couple of minutes. The results were illuminating, moving, amusing …… it was a lovely bonding exercise. We learned a lot about each other’s interests, activities and priorities. We also had a display of our recent work and the photo shows the box of used postage stamps which we have now sent to Rethink Mental Health.

26 February 2019 – Club Meeting

We welcomed two speakers to this meeting: Louise Graham from Food for Thought Darlington and Carol Marchant of the Red Box Project in Darlington. Louise explained FFTD’s vision and described the work undertaken by the project. Carol gave an account of the progress made since December 2018. There are now red boxes in nearly all the primary schools and the aim is to supply all the secondary schools by the end of the summer. Members had brought more donations for both projects, so our speakers did not go away empty-handed!

See the Programme Action page for more pictures!

18 February 2019 – Buddy Bookmarks Launch

 Please see the Programme Action page for more details!

11 February 2019 – Club Meeting

Kathy Warrick gave a presentation about the opportunities offered by Meetup and  answered a lot of questions from the floor. Wendy Richardson received her long-service certificate, having been a Soroptimist for 50 years. Plans were discussed for our Big Event on February 18th. Members brought donations for Food for Thought and used stamps for a mental health charity.

22 January 2019 – Club Meeting

Carole Sobkowiak introduced the speaker: Michelle Thompson, CEO of Healthwatch Darlington. Michelle spoke about the aims of Healthwatch, its financial constraints, and its achievements. It is because Carole is our representative at Healthwatch that the club made contact with the YMCA – and this has resulted in our newest project, which will be officially launched on 18 February.

14 January 2019

Chrisy Dennis  organised a guided tour of the Darlington Hippodrome followed by a buffet meal. This was our New Year celebration and club members and their guests all enjoyed it. Our guide was Lynda Winstanley, the director of the theatre, and she is shown pointing out the seat where she sat when she began her career as an usherette!

December 2018

President Dorothy proposed that we cancel the club meeting in December as it was due to take place in the same week as the annual Service Clubs’ carol service.  Instead, we had the chance to catch up with each other over mulled wine and mince pies following the service.

Club Meeting – 27 November 2018

Club members were joined by members from the NCW, from SI Stockton and SI Middlesbrough and other friends to hear Bryony Rest speak on Brexit: how will it affect human rights? Bryony, Immigration Solicitor and partner at David Gray LLP, described her subject as an enormous topic and a moving target! She described where we are now and talked about the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Bryony mentioned some of the rights which we would lose after Brexit. There are a lot of unanswered questions. There were questions from the floor, which Bryony described as “testing” when she tweeted that she had enjoyed the evening!

The dress code for this meeting was Orange to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the subsequent 16 days of activism. Darlington members provided orange and white food.

The meeting was also an opportunity to have a collection point for items requested by Food for Thought Darlington. Toothbrushes and toothpaste, loo rolls, shampoo and packets of shortbread were brought in by club members ready to be delivered to FFTD later in the week.

We were especially glad to welcome our Elspeth, only just back from her latest trip to Kumi in Uganda,

………… and Soroptimists from along the A66.

Darlington Walk for Peace – 25 Nov 18

The annual Walk for Peace coincided with the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, so Barbara and Chrisy made sure everybody else knew about it by wearing orange. The walk stops at various place of worship in town, including the Sikh Gurdwara where we are always given a very warm welcome and … food!

Club Meeting- 12 November 2018

Members worked in small groups to study descriptions of the finalists in the Programme Action Awards. Each group judged their own winner and then compared their opinion with that of the judgement announced at Conference. It led to some lively discussions.

Literary Lunch 6 November 2018

Our annual Literary Lunch took place, as usual, at Headlam Hall Hotel and was very well supported. The speaker was Harrogate author Malcolm Hollingdrake, who told us about his teaching career and move into authorship. He also set us some puzzles, as befits a thriller writer! The event raised £900, which will go to Hope Through Education, Dorothy’s chosen charity.

 SIGBI Federation Conference 25-27 October

Four club members were able to attend the SIGBI Conference in Liverpool and enjoyed getting to know the city as well as hearing inspirational speakers and meeting old friends.

Club Meeting – 23 October 2018

Janet Thornton gave a Job Talk in which she described her career, which, like so many, was not what she had originally planned. Janet took every opportunity to improve her skills, and she told us about the progression from shorthand & typing, through Word Processing to computing. By the end of her working life Janet was a Company Secretary and still keen to take on new responsibilities.  As this was our annual Pink Meeting in aid of Breast Cancer Care, we enjoyed pink cakes, courtesy of June, and a pink raffle. We raised £50.

Club Meeting – 8 October 2018

Carole Sobkowiak, Programme Action Co-ordinator, introduced David Youldon, who gave a fascinating illustrated talk about the history and plans for the future of Blackwell Hill. David paid tribute to the expert involvement of the Field Club – with special mention of our Carole!

70th Charter Dinner – 29 September 2018

Over seventy guests and members celebrated the 70th anniversary of SI Darlington & District’s Charter. The event took place at Blackwell Grange Hotel and a wonderful time was had by all. Tony Clark proposed the toast to Soroptimist International and the response was given by Regional President Linda Johnson. Barbara Brown gave the toast to Our Guests, and David Thomson responded. Alma Bailey (who was celebrating her own birthday that day) was the Toastmistress. The birthday cake was cut by President Dorothy and Honorary Member & long-serving Soroptimist Gypsy Nichol. The in-house choir: The Soroptimist Songbirds brought the house down with a fantastic selection of specially written songs set to well-known tunes. The singers were accompanied by their Musical Director, Alison Mannion.

Club Meeting – 25 September 2018

President Dorothy welcomed our new member, Fran Bradley, into the club. Alison Mannion and Fran then each gave a most interesting and impressive Job Talk.

Club Meeting – 10 September 2018

Visitors from SI Richmond & The Dales, SI Northallerton and the NCW swelled the ranks at our InterClub meeting, when the speakers were three North East women thriller writers: Femmes Fatales.

Kerry, (who writes as K.A. Richardson and was the speaker at our last Literary Lunch), Eileen Wharton and Sheila Quigley are from Darlington, Bishop Auckland and Houghton le Spring respectively. They talked about how they started writing, the pain of rejection, the best thing about their choice of career, the writing process, and reading online reviews. They made us laugh with their anecdotes and impressed us with their perseverance and ultimate success. They took questions from the audience. One member asked if there are any crimes they wouldn’t write about, and they agreed that child sexual abuse would not be a topic they would choose. Another key rule is “Never Kill The Dog!” In the week when it had been announced that Darlington Borough Council are reversing their decision to move the Crown Street Library into the town’s leisure centre, it was especially interesting to learn that all three are passionate about libraries and had relied on them as children.

President Dorothy gave the vote of thanks. The three authors then signed copies of their books for the many who wanted to buy, and there were refreshments and the chance to catch up after the summer break.


Summer Coffee Morning

It was lovely to see friends from SI Richmond & the Dales and Middlesbrough at one of our August coffee mornings. Thanks to Elspeth for her hospitality in her beautiful garden.

Meeting with Friendship Link – 16 June 2018

Six Darlington members travelled by train to Edinburgh for a reunion with some members of S.I. Soest, Germany, who had come over for a long weekend. Elspeth Robinson said “The day was great in spite of the inclement weather, as the Soroptimist spirit didn’t allow it to dampen our friendships.”

Club Meeting – 11 June 2018

Alison Maddison, Head of Hurworth Primary School near Darlington, began by telling us about her career path. She started in retail management, but soon realised it was a thankless job and she wanted something “different and varied”. From her first moment in a classroom, she knew it was where she needed to be. She has been Head at Hurworth for four years, and described the work as “rewarding and relentless”. Alison spoke passionately about her school (#hurworthfamily), where children and staff, for her, go hand in hand as priorities. She talked about the Government’s demands, SATs, and their recent OFSTED inspection. Alison makes a lot of use of social media and made frequent references to the school’s website and appearances on Facebook and Twitter. The members were impressed by her obvious pride in and commitment to her school. The vote of thanks was given by Carole Sobkowiak.

Club Meeting – 22 May 2018

There were two Job Talks at this meeting. Carol Hodgson entertained and enthralled us with the story of her very varied career. She had always wanted to be a physiotherapist, and this is indeed what she became. However, a career gap to have children was followed by a spell working in the family business, doing office work, and then some years turning a “large wreck of a building” into a three star hotel. After the 14 year gap Carol returned to physiotherapy, working in Sheffield, the Freeman, and Butterwick Hospice. Among other things, she worked in respiratory care and with lymphoedema patients. Chrisy began by telling us she has had a total of 15 jobs during her working life, not having followed a straight career path, but more of a tangled line! She always had an enquiring mind, but failed her A levels and worked in retail before beginning to move around. She lived in Australia and Cornwall – and it was in Cornwall that she went to university at the age of 40. Her degree was in English with Media Studies. She didn’t think she wanted to teach, but ended up training as a Sixth Form teacher. Later in her career she came across the WEA, and this is where she is now her happiest: teaching Literature and Film in Newcastle, Darlington, South Tyneside and also at Teesside Women’s Centre. President Dorothy thanked our two members for their most interesting and revealing talks.


Centenary Celebration of Votes for Women – 21 May 2018

We were very pleased to be given the opportunity to showcase our work in Darlington’s new Hullaballoo children’s theatre. The occasion was a day of events organised by the National Council for Women to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. As well as enjoying the speakers and the question & answer session with young Darlington people, we were able to network and raise our own profile. Nine Darlington Soroptimists were given tickets, and two other members of our club were there in other capacities (as members of the NCW and Darlington for Culture respectively). Delegates had been encouraged to attend in period costume and/or Suffragist/Suffragette colours.

Club Meeting – 14 May 2018

Stefa McManners MBE gave an illustrated talk about Kynren: “Bishop Auckland’s new fairy tale”. She described how it all began, how it developed, and how it is still developing. Stefa gave us an insight into what goes on behind the scenes, and impressed us with the fact that there are now 1500 volunteers involved, all of whom are discovering the difference Kynren has made to their lives. “Ordinary people being extraordinary” sums it all up.

President Dorothy presented a bouquet to our retiring Treasurer, Hilary Blease, together with our thanks for her hard work over the past few years. Sadly for our club, Hilary and her family are moving to the North West.

Maureen’s Pompom hats

Maureen Gorman has produced a large number of knitted hats in three sizes which are being sold to raise money for club funds. They first went on sale at our April meeting. We really hope we won’t need to wear them until much later this year, pretty as they are!!

Club Meeting – 24 April 2018

President Dorothy introduced the speaker: her “big sister” Meg Thomson, who addressed us on the subject of this year’s chosen charity: Hope Through Education. Meg gave an illustrated and illuminating talk on education in Pakistan, where she herself goes several times a year to train teachers. She showed us different schools, ranging from one which is held under a bridge and was founded to help street children, to the Pathways British School, which is open to every ability and every ethnicity – and follows the National Curriculum for England. Meg explained the variety of education available to children in Pakistan, and how it all depends on where you live and what you can afford. St Gabriel’s School in Korangi, Karachi was set up initially by a peripatetic music teacher, Pervais, to help children escape from the bonds of poverty and to join the mainstream of society. Meg ended her presentation with the story of the child who made a difference to individual starfish stranded on land by throwing them back in the sea one at a time. In the same way, Hope Through Education helps children one at a time and makes a difference for each one. After a number of questions from the floor had been answered, Dorothy gave the vote of thanks.

Charity Fashion Show – 18 April 2018

Staff from House of Fraser (Binns, Darlington) entertained members and their friends with a make-up demo and a fashion show in Darlington’s United Reformed Church. £640 was raised, which has been shared between our President’s charity, Hope Through Education, and the store’s charity, Action for Children.

AGM – 9 April 2018

This year’s extremely well-attended AGM was held at The Mowden, Darlington. Following a buffet supper, the meeting followed its usual course, with the highlight being the installation of our new President: very welcome after a year without a president. Chrisy Dennis, who joined the club at last year’s AGM, is our new Secretary, and Carol Hodgson, another new member, has taken over the role of Treasurer.

Club Meeting 27 March 2018

We had a “Wine into Water” party. Dress code: Blue! There was a raffle, a quiz, and a presentation about the English Waterways – all with the aim of raising a bit of money for WaterAid at this, the nearest meeting to World Water Day. The total raised was £55.

 Club Meeting – 12 March 2018Maureen Gorman chaired the meeting, which began with a Balloon Debate to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th. Three speakers represented women they most admired, and the rest of the club voted for the one they felt to be the most deserving of surviving the balloon flight. It was a difficult choice, as all three were remarkable women. Christine Hardy spoke about Malala Yousafzai: her early years, the shocking attempt on her life, and her amazing achievements since then. Chrisy Dennis chose Aphra Behn and inspired us all to look further into the life of this fascinating woman: “the first to give women a voice”. Finally Alma Bailey talked about Maya Angelou and read two of her poems. A phenomenal woman! Written votes were counted, and after the coffee break the winner was announced: Malala! Congratulations to Christine.

Club Meeting – 27 February 2018

Snow and horrible driving conditions meant that only 9 members were able to get to Dalkeith House. The speaker, Meg Thomson, kindly agreed to return on 24th April. We discussed a number of matters, including the club’s finances. It was quite a cosy evening!

Club Meeting – 12 February 2018

We were pleased to welcome Chris Ashford from the Darlington Safeguarding Boards. This was Chris’s third visit to the club over a number of years. It was sad to learn that many of the statistics relating to domestic violence remain unchanged. For example, the average number of assaults before a victim calls the police is still 35. Chris addressed the history of attitudes towards violence towards (in particular) women. As recently as the 1960s judges and the police were telling men to calm down, and women to stop annoying them. Victim-blaming continued into the Seventies. Nowadays Durham Police receive 30-50 calls a day and respond to over 15,000 per year. Shockingly, a quarter of 13-16 year olds report bing physically abused in their relationships. Operation Encompass, which ensures that schools are informed about pupils who have witnessed domestic abuse, has been active in Darlington since April 2017. The number to report all safeguarding concerns in Darlington is 01325 406111.

 Darlington Volunteers’ Fair – 1st February 2018

We had a very successful afternoon at the Fair – networking, meeting some very interesting people and giving information about Soroptimism. (For further details, please see our Programme Action page.)

Club Meeting – 23 January 2018

In groups, we discussed the way forward with our Loves Me, Loves Me Not project, which we are planning to re-launch. Dorothy Thomson presented Long Service Awards to four of our members who had clocked up significant anniversaries during 2017.

Jean Jackson celebrated 40 years as a Soroptimist; Barbara Brown has been a member for 35 years; Jean Earle has served the club for 30 years; Judith Watson joined SI Darlington 25 years ago. A total of 130 years!

New Year Meal – 8 January 2018Nearly all the club members were able to attend the evening meal at Darlington’s Houndgate Townhouse. It was a great opportunity to catch up after the Christmas break, and we were too busy talking and eating to take a photo!

Club Meeting – 11 December 2017

After some discussion of plans for the New Year, our two new members, Christine and Janet, were inducted. That makes five new members in 2017! Then we enjoyed the food which had been brought to the meeting and bought raffle tickets in aid of the International President’s Appeal. £55 was raised. We all had our photos taken with STOP written on our hands: Stop the Bombing. This pictures are being sent to Handicap International and we will be sending them our completed petition sheets in January.

Jean Jackson celebrated 40 years as a Soroptimist; Barbara Brown has been a member for 35 years; Jean Earle has served the club for 30 years; Judith Watson joined SI Darlington 25 years ago. A total of 130 years!

New Year Meal – 8 January 2018Nearly all the club members were able to attend the evening meal at Darlington’s Houndgate Townhouse. It was a great opportunity to catch up after the Christmas break, and we were too busy talking and eating to take a photo!

Club Meeting – 11 December 2017

After some discussion of plans for the New Year, our two new members, Christine and Janet, were inducted. That makes five new members in 2017! Then we enjoyed the food which had been brought to the meeting and bought raffle tickets in aid of the International President’s Appeal. £55 was raised. We all had our photos taken with STOP written on our hands: Stop the Bombing. This pictures are being sent to Handicap International and we will be sending them our completed petition sheets in January.

Club Meeting – 28 November 2017

Cheryl Hunter (seen here with our Carole and Margaret), Senior Practitioner with DISC Darlington Young Carers, gave an excellent presentation at this week’s meeting. We learned about the variety of roles taken on by young carers and young adult carers. Cheryl then explained how Young Carers help these young people: arranging respite activities; giving one-to-one emotional support, information, advice & guidance; and liaising with schools. Margaret Reay gave the vote of thanks and Young Carers will receive a donation from the club.


Club Meeting – 13 November 2017

In six small groups, members discussed the finalists in the Best Practice Awards as presented at Conference. Each group read about the three projects in their programme area and came to a decision about which one they thought worthy of an award. Each group then described the projects they had learned about to the rest of the club before announcing their choice of winner. Sometimes their choice was the same as the SIGBI one; sometimes it was different. However, it was interesting to hear different views and to find out about the wide variety of Programme Action undertaken in our Federation.

Literary Lunch – 7 November 2017

This year’s lunch was held in aid of Shine (   It was tremendously well supported – with over 100 attending. Our speaker was local author K.A. Richardson, who charmed and entertained us with the story of how she took up writing after CSI work and a number of other smaller jobs. Kerry was happy to sign copies of her books after the meal, and lots of us were keen to buy books set in Sunderland and even in Darlington! The profit from ticket sales and the result of the raffle gave us a grand total of £773.00.


SIGBI Federation Conference 26-28 OctoberFive club members are enjoying the conference in Cardiff, listening to some excellent speakers and hearing of good work being done by clubs all over the world.

Club Meeting – 24 October 2017

Programme Action Officer, Carole Sobkowiak, introduced our speaker: Kendra Ullyart from Friends of the Earth. Kendra gave a quiet but impassioned talk about the dangers of fracking, and told us about the dedication of the protesters at Kirby Misperton.


Club Meeting – 9 October 2017

Lynn Fletcher, Secretary of Interplast UK, was introduced by Elspeth Robinson. Since it was founded in 1990,  Interplast UK has organised over 40 medical missions to countries such as India, Guyana, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda: sending teams to perform free life-changing surgery on patients who would otherwise have no chance of help. The charity was founded by Mr Charles Viva with the aim of carrying out reconstructive surgery, including the repairing of cleft lips and palates, keloid scars, and scars resulting from acid attacks and burns. An international team comprising an anaesthetist, nurses and surgeons – all of whom are self-funding volunteers – spend two weeks in a hospital. They also take soft toys and games, and their mission includes supporting a patient’s whole family: they work with the community.  100% of donations is spent on the missions: nothing goes on administration. Funding comes from individuals and organisations; fund-raising efforts like the London Marathon and the Great North Run; donations of craft items; gifts for patients and staff, and medical equipment and supplies from individuals and companies. Lynn said that the missions to Kumi in Uganda are special because of their link with our member Elspeth (who will be going there again next month.) Aby Harrison talked about all she does to raise funds for Kumi. We were particularly interested to learn about the pretty cotton bags which are made to hold Afripads. Aby has made kits containing a pattern, fabric .. all that is needed to make a bag .. and sells them for £5. Chrisy Dennis gave the vote of thanks.

This meeting was also our annual Pink Meeting, when we raise money for Breast Cancer research. Members wore pink and we enjoyed pink cakes and had a pink raffle.

Club Meeting – 26 September 2017

Kay Lang introduced our speaker, Dr Andrea Jones, Chief Officer of Darlington Clinical Commissioning Group. She was accompanied by the Chair of the CCG, Dr Alison Macnaughton-Jones.

Andrea spoke about her own career path before telling us about the Vision, Aims and Priorities of the CCG. Its strapline is “Working together to improve the health and wellbeing of Darlington.” More efficient use of all resources, human and otherwise, will result in better value. For example, the 11 GP practices will be brought together into 3 or 4 called “community hubs”, which should reduce the need for patients to attend hospital, as they will be able to access specialists elsewhere. Also improved use of technology will save time and repetition, as a patient’s records (with their permission) will be shared among all health providers. Andrea answered a number of questions from the floor, and the vote of thanks was given by Hilary Blease.

Linda Stephenson reported back from the recent Regional Council Meeting, which, having been held at the Scotch Corner Hotel, had attracted a very high attendance from Darlington members!

Tickets are now available for the Literary Lunch on November 7th.

Carole Sobkowiak gave out copies of the SIGBI Modern Slavery survey, asking members to request friends/family/neighbours etc to complete them. A link to the online survey was made available from October 1st – 7th.