70 Years of Service
Soroptimist International of Paisley 1946 – 2016
2016 sees the 70th anniversary of the founding of Soroptimist International (S.I.) of Paisley. The inaugural meeting of the club took place on 14 November 1945 and it was formally chartered at the first annual dinner held on 18 February 1946.
Established by Mrs Annette Muir, a Paisley buddy and wife of a Paisley weaving mill owner, who was a member of S.I.Glasgow Central (now S.I.Glasgow City) there were 28 founding members. She was helped in establishing the club by Miss Catherine Lobnitz, from a local shipbuilding family, who later became the first honorary member. Founding members included a pharmacist, police officer, bookseller, various teachers and a solo pianist.
The President’s chain of office which is still in use today, was presented to the club by Mrs Muir and her husband. It contains a central medallion which was designed by well-known local architect James Steel Maitland, who designed the Russell Institute and many other Paisley buildings.
This active band of ladies then set about establishing themselves as part of the community in Paisley and the surrounding area.
Over the 70 years of its existence, many ladies have been members – some for long periods of service, others only briefly, but all getting involved and using their individual skills and experience in a wide range of fundraising activities, providing practical help and support, and working to raise awareness of issues of particular concern to women.
Along the way, members helped establish three ‘daughter’ clubs in Greenock, Hamilton and Kirkintilloch. Sadly Greenock has closed in the last year. One member was also involved in the establishment of a club in Alicante when she retired there in 1974.
A number of Friendship links were made over the years with other clubs in Harrogate, Laguna Beach and Alameda in California and Sion in Switzerland. Although the others are no longer in place, the link with Harrogate is still going strong after 40 years. A new friendship link has been established in the last year with S.I.Kathmandu.
1948 saw members getting involved with Paisley and District Hospital Voluntary Services Association and the adoption by the club of the Peesweep sanatorium on the Gleniffer Braes (now owned by the Scout Association and renamed Lapwing Lodge Outdoor Centre). Patients in the sanatorium were visited and provided with books, records, Christmas parcels, a piano and day trips. The club also provided a radio / intercom system for patients / staff – the first of its kind. This support continued until 1959.
Also in 1948, recognising there were many elderly ladies in need of companionship, a club was established for ladies over 70 who were living alone in the community. The ‘Over 70 Club’ met one afternoon a week until 1970, supported and ‘staffed’ by Soroptimists who provided warmth, company and a range of activities. This included slide shows and entertainment as well as talks on a range of topics. Summer outings, garden parties and Christmas lunches were arranged and all were paid for through funds raised by the club.
70 years of activity
Fundraising – in excess of £90,000 has been raised and been used to help the work of many groups and organisations including:
- 1956 Provost’s Appeal – fund for Hungarian relief
- 1950’s help for refugee children in Greece
- Sponsorship of two girls in South Africa in the 1970’s
- 1974/75 funding to the Council to provide a bus to transport people with disabilities
- 1978 support for a refuge for women affected by domestic violence
- 1981Save the Children – polio vaccinations for children in Malawi
- 1984 – 2013 sponsorship of the education of several girls through the Goodwill Village , India
- 1984 donation to ACCORD towards the establishment of a hospice
In recent years, funds have gone to Renfrewshire Women’s Aid, Renfrewshire Young Carers, Mary’s Meals, Barnardo’s Paisley Threads project, Wateraid, Renfrewshire Girl Guides and Olivia Giles’ charity ‘500 miles’ to name only a few.
Practical help has been provided in many ways including through
- Provision of ‘dignity packs’ containing socks, soap etc. to rough sleepers and homeless people via the Salvation Army
- Help in preparing and serving meals to homeless people using the Christian Social Action Centre
- Knitted jumpers, blankets and other items for orphans being looked after by the Simona Trust in Romania
- Christmas shoeboxes for Blythswood Care
- Collecting for Marie Curie Cancer Care / Save the Children
- Mentoring of committee members of Renfrewshire Women’s Association (now Renfrewshire Rising)
- Toiletries, bedding, household items etc. for Renfrewshire Women’s Aid
- Involvement in the establishment and ongoing running of the Paisley Child Contact Centre
- To mark the 60th anniversary a garden seat was presented to Montrose House Care home
- Food donations to the local foodbank
- Business clothes for women trying to get back into the workplace
Advocacy and raising awareness – members have been involved in a range of issues. This has included
- campaigning for improvements to services and access to them for people with disabilities;
- involvement in the Local Health Council;
- membership of the DEAR group (diversity, equality and advocacy Renfrewshire), Renfrewshire Council
- raising awareness of the issues round women in the prison system
- violence against women – including involvement in ‘Reclaim the Night’ march to mark the UN campaign
- trafficking and the Purple Teardrop Campaign – including delivering presentations raising awareness of this to schools, women’s groups and many others
The club has also supported a number of international projects where Soroptimists across the globe work together on a specific project. These included
- Sight Savers – to establish eye clinics in Bangladesh for children under 5 to save their sight
- Limbs for Life – providing artificial limbs and trained staff for people losing limbs through the action of anti-personnel mines in Afghanistan, Georgia and Angola
- Project Sierra: a family and a future – working with families and children in Sierra Leone
- The BIG Project – improving services for pregnant women in the Gambia
The type and nature of the work carried out has changed but the ethos behind it remains the same today as when the club first started – a desire to make a difference to the lives of women and
Throughout the life of the club there has also been a lot of fun and friendship as well as hard work. Many members have made life-long friends, held office at higher levels within the organisation and travelled widely to Soroptimist events across the globe.
As we move into our 71st year, the members are as active and committed as ever to making a difference for women and girls locally, nationally and internationally. In the coming year amongst many other things, our work on trafficking will continue as will support for Renfrewshire Women’s Aid. A new Federation project – the Meru Garden project – to support women and girls in Kenya is about to start and we look forward to the joint north / south Scottish conference in April and the annual Federation conference in Malta in November.