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History of our club

This article was published in ‘Past Forward’ (‘the peoples’ history magazine for Leigh & Wigan) written by Leigh Club member Margaret Molyneux.

The organisation was founded in 1921 by a Rotarian, Stuart Morrow, in Oakland California. The name Soroptimist loosely translated from Latin, means the Best of Sisters, which has caused much debate, confusion and misspelling over the years. Clubs in London, Manchester and Liverpool in the early 1920 ’s were established in a climate of increasing women’s emancipation and striving to achieve gender equality. Official links with Rotary ceased in the 1920’s, but Partnership working on local projects has continued over the years.

Leigh Club was formed with the support of neighbouring Bolton and Wigan Clubs. Its inaugural meeting was held at the now demolished town centre Rope and Anchor pub on the 16th November 1946. Twenty one women from various local businesses and professions made the decision to form a Club known as Leigh & District, which acknowledged the neighbouring Urban Districts of Atherton, Tyldesley, Lowton and Golborne with the Borough of Leigh.

Miss Phyllis Nanny was elected Founder President; together with a small executive team which led to the Chartering of the Club on the 17th February 1947.

The Divisional Union President of the day presented the original Charter; the Divisional Union has in recent years become the South Lancashire Region. Currently there are 17 Regions in the Uk. Worldwide there are 4 Federations with Clubs in 133 countries and a membership of 75,000.

The Leigh Club’s initial Chain of Insignia and Badge incorporated the Leigh Coat of Arms; but in the mid 1960’s an attempt to repair the enamelling was unsuccessful. A new badge was commissioned when a donation of £100 was offered, after a design approval the badge was first used at the Charter Dinner in February 1969.

The Leigh Club also has a very unusual badge, which is worn by the President Elect. Hazel Kraus gave the gold badge with diamond inserts to the Club from friendship club Quakertown in California. Hazel was a long-standing friend of Leigh Soroptimist Kathleen McDonnell a well-known local Headmistress who died in 1973 and the gift was in memory of Kathleen.

International Conventions have always had strong membership representation from Leigh members and pioneering women attended Conferences in Copenhagen, Toronto, New York, Hawaii and Istanbul when air travel was in its commercial infancy. From these intrepid Soroptimists developed links with Clubs worldwide and existing friendship clubs have continued with Quincy in California and Mons Borinage in Belgium, as well as Haverfordwest in South Wales.

A feature of being part of an International Organisation has been a 4-year quadrennial project when all four Federations combined to raise funds for a specific country/district where a great need has been identified. Examples of their projects have been Medical Boats in the Maldives, safe water in Senegal, Sight Savers in Bangladesh and Hope for Homes in war torn Sierra Leone.

Local projects have been developed from members identifying specific target areas where Making a Difference would enhance the lives of Women and girls. In 1948 an over 70’s Club was founded. Activities, refreshments and friendships aimed to prevent social isolation. This club continued for 35 years until Centres’ were established which offered elderly people comprehensive care on a more regular basis.

Club representation on a wide variety of committees such as Girl Guides Association, Marriage Guidance Council, Citizens Advice Bureau ,Civic Trust, and Old peoples Welfare ensured the profile of Soroptimists was highlighted. Representation on the Executive Board of the Soroptimist Residential Club at 63 Bayswater Road in London encouraged club members to visit London whether alone or in a group staying in a beautiful Victorian Building strategically based opposite Hyde Park and Lancaster Gate Tube Station nearby. For twenty-five years practical help in providing transport for local residents to be taken to the Parkinson Society meetings in Bolton and also undertaking delivery of Meals on Wheels have been service roles undertaken in the past.

Raising funds for various projects have included Car Boot Sales, Race Nights, Barn Dances, Jazz Evenings, Fashion Shows, Balloon Races and sponsored events. Key projects have encompassed Health, Environment, Education as the major focus. Lots of bulb and tree planning around the Leigh and District area have taken place over the years and the fruits of these initiatives are still a feature today

Environmentally, the Club was awarded a certificate in 1990 in the Queen Mother’s Birthday Awards in recognition of the Town Centre clearing of ‘Grot Spots’ and provision of litterbins.

Educationally, monetary awards have been given to Students who have achieved academic success despite physical, mental or emotional disabilities. Competitions have also been held amongst Primary school children for entries of prose, art or poetry, with outings etc. provided for the winning School

In 1998 Leigh Soroptimists considered a service project in the Town, which would not only commemorate the Centenary of the Borough of Leigh but also be a millennium project of lasting value. Members were aware that the Spinning Jenny plaque, which had hung at the side of the Regal Cinema building had been removed when the building was demolished in the???1980’s to make way for a new Bus Station

Further investigations discovered the broken tile plaque in the basement of Tyldesley Baths. Monies were raised via local Businesses and fundraising events for the £4000 restoration project.

Jackson Tile Company in Ironbridge built a new tile surround around the repaired plaque and Wigan Council agreed to fund a mahogany frame to be placed in the foyer of Leigh town Hall which was in keeping with the existing décor.

In 1999 Council officials and Soroptimist members unveiled the plaque.

Subsequently over the years since Leigh Soroptimists have undertaken Town Hall Tours during the Leigh for All ’s September Heritage Weekend events.

In recent years in order to provide funds for Breast Cancer Now, club members have collected unwanted or used Bras to be sent to third world countries or recycled. To date a total of 38,000 Bras have been collected and over £2,000 raised

A Federation Soroptimist Award was given to Leigh Club in November 2016 in recognition of it’s Just the Job initiative based in premises at Church Street Leigh and organised by several Club Members, its aim is to assist local women to gain employment whether following a career break or long-term unemployment. Confidence building, provision of interview attire, preparation of CV’s and interview practice has led to success stories in women gaining employment.

Currently the club has a membership of 30 and fortnightly meeting taken place on Mondays 7pm at the Holiday Inn Express at Leigh Sports Village . We would welcome women of all backgrounds to join our club, which would enable us to expand our range of projects and networks. Also, if any readers have memories or photos linked to Leigh Soroptimists over the years we would be delighted for you to share these with us.