A Celebration of 60 Years


A Celebration of 60 Years of Maidstone Soroptimists:

A petition to found the Maidstone Club was received by the Soroptimist International Board of Governors on Saturday 4 April 1959.  As the petition was signed by the ladies who wished to join the club, a peal of bells rang out from All Saints parish church. It is believed that theMaidstoneclub is the only club to have been therefore launched to the sound of bells!

The first meeting of the Maidstone branch took place on 12 May 1959, Royal Star Hotel,Maidstone.

The first meeting was attended by the South East Divisional Union Extension Officer, Mrs Joyce Umpelby who was in the Chair. Officers from the Divisional Union attended and were President: Miss E L D Macdonald, the Hon Secretary Miss D Wilding, Immediate Past President Miss M G Lloyd. The meeting was also attended by the Medway Towns Club President Mrs A M Fox and the Medway Towns Immediate Past President Mrs Bennett

Business at the first club meeting was brief: the President, Club Officers and Executive were all elected and the details of the Charter Dinner announced.

The Charter Dinner took place on 19 September 1959 at the Royal Star Hotel. The menu included Consommé, Poached Sole, Roast Chicken and Gateaux.

The Charter Dinner was attended by the Mayor of Maidstone Mrs W A Goodchild JP.

At the second meeting, held 28 May 1959, club members were invited to submit designs for the Club Badge and Presidential chain. During 2002, several new links were added to the Presidential chain.

SI Maidstone’s gavel and block were donated to the club in 1959 by the South East Divisional Union Extension Officer, Mrs Joyce Umpelby.

A wooden frame for the Club Charter document was donated by the Medway Towns Club.

In 1959, the annual subscription was 3 guineas. Entrance Fee to the club was 1 guinea and a membership badge cost 18s 6d.

In 1959 there were six Standing Committees for Club business: Membership, Programme, Civic and Public Welfare, Social, Hospitality, Finance.

In 1959, Club Meetings were held on the second Tuesday and fourth Thursday of each month.

The first club president was Miss Millicent Thomas. To date there have been 47 Presidents of the Maidstone Club.  Some of the 47 Presidents have served as Presidents more than once:  Christine Fulton; Ann Kesteven; Pamela Pepper; Dorothy Playford and Lesley Rich. Four Presidents have gone on to become South East Regional Presidents:  Dr Mary Buchanan; Brenda Trench; Christine Fulton and Catherine Broughton.

Two club members have also served as Mayoresses of Maidstone:  Rosemary Bonner and Dorothy Playford.

Early interviews for club membership were sometimes held by three Club Officers: Miss Thomas, Miss Barnes and Miss Grant frequently undertook this duty at Miss Grant’s school inCollege Road. Mary Buchanan recalled that the chairs were tiny!  Miss Thomas was a stickler for formality and investigated the suitability of prospective members in great detail. Joan Perrin recalls she was put off recommending friends for membership as the degree of scrutiny was intimidating.

Venues for meetings have included (all in Maidstone): The Old Palace; The Town Hall; Oakwood Hospital; St Margaret’s School; The Friends Meeting House; The Royal Star Hotel; The Medway Hotel; The Queen’s Head Hotel; The Stone Court Hotel. Other venues have included The Tudor House in Bearsted, The Great Danes Hotel in Hollingbourne; The Village Hall at Penenden Heath; The Veglios Motel in Sandling, the Police Training centre offSutton Roadand The Masonic Centre in Tovil. All of the hotels or their locations have been taken over or subsequently re-developed in some way.

The club used to hold its meetings, at the Stone Court Hotel in Maidstone, a grade II listed building: the date 1716 is above the main door but parts of it are older than this date. It is thought that the property was used in the 18th century as accommodation for the court judges sitting at the Maidstone Assizes.

Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Irelandowns a property in Londonknown to all members as‘63   Bayswater Road’. In 1962, shares were offered in the property and theMaidstoneclub purchased one £5 share.

The Club has supported several children, through sponsorship schemes run by Save the Children and UNESCO. This included children inPakistanand Agadir.

In the early 1960s, the Club supported the Maidstone Refugee House and several refugees resident at the Lenham Sanatorium.

Members of the Club were present when Mote House in MotePark,Maidstonewas opened as a Leonard Cheshire Foundation Home, 25 January 1960, and contributed to the fund for furnishing it

In 1960 Maidstone Club sponsored the foundation of the Canterbury Club.Maidstoneis also the Mother club for Ashford (1964) and Folkestone (1965).

In 1968, membership subscriptions were £4 10s for Active Members and £2 10s for Past and Associate Members

During the 1960s, the AGM reports included how many times each member had attended club meetings (out of a maximum of 18) and executive meetings (out of a maximum of 8)!

During the 1960s, the Annual Dinner was followed the next day by a Sherry Party from 11.30am to 12.30pm at various venues offered by club members

The club has enjoyed several Sister and Friendship Links with other clubs: this has included Heswall in the United Kingdom, and abroad: Dun Laoghaire in Ireland, Voorburg in the Netherlands, Irving in Texas, City of Kent near Seattle, and Accra in Ghana.

The Maidstone Club has a newsletter which is published nearly every month but with joint issues for December/January and July/August. Recently, members have been able to receive an electronic version of the newsletter. The newsletter is sent to all of our Friendship Link clubs.

Over many years, the Club was involved in the collection of rent and the welfare of the residents at 111 Tonbridge Road, Maidstone which had been sub-divided into flats for elderly people. Club member, Marjorie Gilbert, attended the residents at111   Tonbridge Road and addressed duties at the property for over 12 years without a break. Small gifts, including toiletries, cakes, sweets, packets of tea, packets of groceries and crackers were regularly presented to the residents of111   Tonbridge Roadby the club at Christmas.

The Club also worked on a long-running scheme to raise funds to purchase a house which could provide accommodation for the elderly. As part of the work to build up our Housing Fund, the club invested in a Premium Bond for the club. Mary Buchanan took safe custody of it but it has never come up! Eventually, it was decided that purchasing a house was not feasible but the funds, which were held in trust, were passed to the Abbeyfield Society who purchased and converted a house at105 Old Tovil   Road. The club still undertakes to provide a monthly tea for the residents.

Between 1-9 December 1972, the Club assisted with the opening and running of a Christmas Gift/Nearly New Shop inMaidstone.  It was called Pandora’s Box and was opened by the Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Norman Lawrence. Over £680 profit was achieved from Pandora’s Box and the proceeds were passed to the Handicapped Unit at Twyford House at Linton.

In 1973 the club sponsored a meeting of service organisations to discuss the setting up of a Voluntary Services Bureau. The meeting took place in October at the Nurses Home in Marsham Street, Maidstone.  This was the start of the Maidstone Volunteers Bureau.

In 1977 the club was involved in holding a fashion show at the Fairfax Hall, Leeds Castle in aid of the Silver Jubilee appeal and the Kent Association of Youth Clubs.

During 1979 a project arose borne out of the International Year of the Child:  it was called The Rainbow Club and established play facilities for physically handicapped children during the school summer holidays. The Rainbow Club was first held over fifteen days at the Teachers Centre in the Sittingbourne   Road and arranged for many years by Ann Jakeways, President of the Maidstone Club 1971-1972. The Rainbow Club was eventually taken over by the Kent County Council.

In 1980, the Maidstone Club held a 21st  anniversary celebration lunch at The Shant, East Sutton.  Millicent Thomas, the Founder President, received Honorary Membership.

A Soup Kitchen, originally run by Doreen Hook at Connie Ayers’ house, continues to be a regular event each December with funds passed to the International President’s Appeal.

In 1990 the club ran a refreshment stall at the Maidstone Marathon wearing some sashes made by Pam Pepper out of blue chintz fabric and yellow felt with ‘Soroptimist International’ stencilled upon them.

Club sashes were again to the fore in 2005 when they caught the eye of national newscaster and broadcaster George Alagiah who was a guest speaker at the SIGBI conference in Nottingham!  Club member Nellie Adjaye had brought them to the club’s attention. They had been made by some Kente weavers and as they had been produced in her home country of Ghana she wore one at the 2004 conference. Sue Hunt, suggested that they would be ideal for members to wear to publicise the SIGBI clubs. In 2005, Christine Fulton was Chief Steward for the Nottingham Conference and she used 50 of the Kente sashes to identify the stewards.

The Kente sashes have been a very good fund-raiser. Through Nellie, acting as an  intermediary, SI Maidstone set up a friendship project with SI Accra. The Ghanaian club has access to the Kente weavers and the UK club has access to potential customers.  By October 2007, 180 sashes had been sold.  Some of the monies have been used to refurbish an outdated school for the blind which is part of the ‘special needs’ section of the University of Ghana at Accra.

During 1991 it was decided to introduce a fine on club members not wearing their badges!

In 1992 the club supported World Environment Day by adopting a whale!

In 1995, Dr Mary Buchanan became involved in the Quadriennial Project called Soroptimist International Aids Mediation or SIAM, through her post as Soroptimist International Coordinator for Health.  SIAMwas borne out a project run by SI Berwick and addressed AIDS Education & Alternatives to Prostitution for Northern Thai Women. Women were able to obtain training in alternatives to joining the commercial sex industry: schemes such as fish farming; chicken raising; making Thai sweets; hairdressing; weaving and sewing. By the end of the first year, not one young woman had left the village to join the commercial sex industry. In 1997 an application to the UK National Lottery for £73,000.00 was successful and enabled further development of the project and establishment of an endowment fund.

The 40th anniversary of the Maidstone club was celebrated with a dinner at Leeds Castle during 1999. A birthday cake was cut and distributed by two Honorary members, Connie Ayers and Joan Perrin.

In November 2008, the club supported Blythswood Christian Care’s ‘Christmas Shoebox Campaign.’ The club contributed 39 boxes to the 2008 total of 132,000 boxes which were distributed in Europe.

Maidstone Soroptimists have recently re-established links with the Maidstone Women’s Refuge and have begun to support their work, supplying ‘Moving On’ packs containing domestic items such as saucepans and crockery also toiletries to help women establish themselves as they leave the Refuge.

SI Maidstone have sponsored a midwife. In early April 2009, after many months of negotiation a midwifery course entirely supported by IDEALS (International Disaster and Emergency Aid with Long Term Support) began. The charity provides relief to victims of man-made and natural catastrophes wherever it can, throughout the world. Fifteen young women mainly from the Khyber Agency and other border regions, began a study course in Peshawar. ‘Our’ Midwife, like the other 14 young women, will, on completion of the twenty month course, become a fully certificated midwive and return to her home area to practice.

We have taken to the water at least three times in the last 50 years. In 2000, club members sailed down the River Thames, President Carol participated in Dragon Boat racing during 2007 and in April 2009 President Janet organised a Presidential Lunch along the River Medway. The voyage was accompanied by a harpist.

In December 2006, Soroptimists rose to the occasion when there was a power cut shortly before a Soup Kitchen to raise funds for the International President’s Appeal. There was no power, several saucepans of cold soup, a heap of uncooked vegetables and less than two hours to prepare it. President Carol’s garage supplied a gas barbeque. Despite the added problem of strong winds which threatened to blow out the burners, the day was saved. Carol’s electricity was not restored until 16.10pm and nearly 2,000 local homes had been affected.

In June 2009, 10 Soroptimists and Sophie the Soroptimist dog (also wearing the team kit) took part in Cancer Research’s ‘Race For Life’. It was held in Mote Park, Maidstone. The team took just over an hour to finish and each received a medal. The team distributed 100 leaflets about Soroptimism. Sophie had the distinction of being the only dog to gain a medal and her photograph was on the Invicta FM web-site, bringing music and the image of a Soroptimist t-shirt to the masses!


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