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SI Poole – the story

In 1952 Grace Heskett-Smith of Danecourt Road, Parkstone, brought together the women who founded Soroptimist International of Poole, also known as SI Poole. It was the first Soroptimist club to be opened in Dorset where women in business could meet for mutual support and to organise charitable works in support of the community.


The first two meetings were held in the Mayor’s parlour in Poole Civic Centre under the chairmanship of the first lady Mayor of Poole, Miss Mary Llewellin. With 25 founding members, SI Poole set out to help various sectors of Poole’s communities and to this date SI Poole still supports some of the causes decided upon in the early years of the club. The consistency of support is a legacy of the commitment and dedication of the ladies in SI Poole.


In 1952 SI Poole joined a programme to support the work of Save the Children, a charity still supported to date with Club members making donations in lieu of buying Christmas cards. In 1959 the activities widened to provide assistance and support for war refugees.


In 1953 SI Poole commenced a Christmas parcel scheme to deliver grocery parcels to the elderly and needy in the borough and in 1955 they linked up with the Rotary Club of Poole who were providing fuel to those in need at Christmas. This link is still in place with members of both clubs working in partnership with other organisations within the Poole Christmas Parcels Fund. Every year the ladies from SI Poole still deliver parcels to individuals identified by social services as needing help.


In 1955 SI Poole started supporting the work of Cancer Research by implementing fund raising activities. Also in 1955 money was raised to support awareness raising and fund TB aftercare programmes. Both activities are supported to this date with regular donations to local charity Chesthelp and the annual participation of members in the Race for Life.


In 1953 the ladies in SI Poole identified the need for housing for single, particularly older, women, and in 1963 once enough monies had been raised and permissions achieved Soroptimist (Poole) Housing Association Limited was founded. Two years later it opened its first property, a converted house on Balmoral Road in Parkstone to provide accommodation for single older women in the borough. The housing association now provides 20 one-bed flats and bedsits for older people.


In 1961 forward thinking Soroptimists were some of the first to drive the assertion to remove the stigma of mental illness. Soroptimist and Mayor of Poole – Alderman Mrs Elsie Hickinson launched an appeal to the town in connection with World Mental Health Year. As a Magistrate she had had to certify mental patients and realised how it affected not only the sufferer but also their family. The statistics at the time were that 1 person in 10 would need treatment. She established a committee which included several other ladies from SI Poole including President Ruth Nuttall, to raise money (their target was 3d per head of population in Poole – about £1180) and also to raise awareness of the issue and reduce the stigma (good Soroptimist principles!).


In 1962 SI Poole entered the fight for environmental causes and lobbied for the preservation of Brownsea Island against the threat of neglect and disrepair and members still undertake regular beach cleans with Dorset Wildlife Trust and conservation projects with the Borough of Poole, such as native tree planting in Poole Park and poppy sowing in WWI rembrance, both of which SI Poole implemented in April and May 2014.


Also in 1962 SI Poole began campaigning for human rights causes and Freda Gwilliam, a female education advisor at the department of technical cooperation was invited to address the club.


In the early 70’s Soroptimist (Poole) Housing Association Limited opened a second purpose build unit. Also in the 70’s SI Poole began its involvement in international campaigns to help women and girls world-wide.


The 80’s were marked with projects to take water to Senegal and a project to provide education and training for girls in Thailand affected by human trafficking for the sex trade. Many girls were affected by aids and in need of medical help and access to a different way of life. Also in the 80’s and early 90’s SI Poole began its involvement in projects to raise awareness regarding the lost limbs in various conflicts globally. SI Poole campaigned for the ending of cluster bombs and landmines, culminating in its Walk Without Legs in May 2006. Walk Without Legs encouraged local individuals, schools, businesses and clubs to take unwanted shoes to a 3-mile stretch of promenade and lay them head to toe – each shoe represented a limb or a life lost through land mines, cluster bombs or other explosive munitions.


In addition to fund raising activities and awareness events, SI Poole has supported local charities in a practical way. For Poole Hospital it redecorated and refitted the parents room in the neo-natal baby care unit and for several years an SI Poole member organised the riding for the disabled at Holton Lee


In 2008 SI Poole launched the Purple Teardrop Campaign a charity that works to end human trafficking and all forms of violence against women and girls. The Purple Teardrop Campaign’s patron is the celebrated writer Louis de Bernieres who has expressed his deep concern about human trafficking and in particular the desperate suffering of trafficked victims. ‘Stop the Trafficking, Stop the Tears, Free Them from their Tormented Years’ are the poignant words written by a member of Soroptimist International Poole at the outset of its campaign against human trafficking.


In 2013 one our team, Lynn Butterworth, completed the 500 mile Camino de Santiago raising £2500 for Target Ovarian Cancer and Autism Wessex.


Annually SI Poole participates in the Lions Swimarathon, raising money for local causes. It supports Dorset WaterAid and also Out of Afrika founded by the late Julie Martin, an SI Poole member.


In April 2014 SI Poole launched its Employability and Careers focus with a roundtable attended by professionals in local government, education, welfare and business. This then progressed with research into businesses opinion regarding the most important employability skills a prospective young employee should have, the project development of a joint initiative with Poole Rotary. The Purple Teardrop Campaign continues to be incredibly active with a project to place posters in public toilets in the Borough of Poole increasing the awareness of human trafficking and offering contact numbers for trafficked victims, the toilet often being the only place trafficked victims can go on their own.


In May 2014, SI Poole launched its community appeal to raise funds to purchase a defibrillator machine for Poole Quay.


Also in May 2014, SI Poole launched its ‘Business Partner’ program to increase its links with local business, gain their support, a financial commitment and involvement in projects.