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From Charity Fund to Programme Action


 The sources for the history of our club reveal that many of the issues and causes supported by our predecessors are similar to those supported by us today and by Soroptimist International across the world.  This is perhaps not surprising: gender equality, social justice, peace, prosperity and the environment have been constant threads throughout the first century of Soroptimism and issues relating to these themes change as society changes.  As some campaigns are fought and won, new challenges emerge which Soroptimists take up with commitment and vigour, responding to the times in which they live. The fact that we are still campaigning on the same issues shows the persistence and commitment of Soroptimists and their unwillingness to accept that no more can be done.


Early days

One of the earliest donations of the Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District club was a gift of 60 books for the library at Askham Grange Women’s Prison in North Yorkshire which opened in 1947. This was an open prison for women, the first of its kind in the country. However, the members would probably not have called this “Programme Action”; this term was not seen in the club records until about the late 1980s. Clubs did not adopt themes as a focus for fundraising, and donations appear to have depended on the interests of individual members or were requested by external groups.  A reference to a club adopting a theme for fundraising and activity appears in 1970 when it was suggested that the Marie Curie Foundation should be adopted as a project focus by Whitley Bay club but this was an isolated example.

Some examples of donations from the 1950s and 1960s are listed below.


From the minutes

Whitley Bay club meeting on 07 March 1957:

Lengthy discussion took place as to which charities were to be given donations and it was agreed that £3 to be given to Elizabeth House, £3-0-0 to PDSA, £9 to Camp Spittal

A vote was taken on the British Empire Cancer Campaign and it was carried by a majority of 2, being 9 for and 7 against…a donation of £15 was to be given made up of £10 from club funds, Mrs Rose and Mrs Unsworth 10/- each and Miss Edes £4.


Distribution of funds in 1967

Elizabeth House: £20

Yana House: £20

Physically handicapped: £10

Cheshire Homes at Matfen: £20

LEPRA: £20

RUKBA £5 [Royal United Kingdom Beneficent Association, now Independent Age]

Salvation Army: £20

Dr Barnardo’s Monkseaton: £10

Red Cross Physiotherapy: £20

BLESMA: £10 [British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association]

Boy Scout group Wallsend: £5 for repairs to their building

Action for the Crippled Child: £5

Elizabeth House memorial: £10

Leukemia Fund: £10

Muscular Dystrophe: £10

Sailors’ Children Society: £10

Soroptimist National Disaster Fund: £10

Kidney Research: £5

Reserved for physically handicapped: £5


The club raised money for a Social Service Fund and a General Fund and these were used for making donations. Fundraising tended to take the form of social events such as coffee mornings and sales of different kinds, such as jumble sales, bring and buy sales or seasonal fairs.

There are few references up until the 1990s of larger events and perhaps one of the most ambitious was the charity concert organised by Whitley Bay club on 06 March 1994. The concert programme included an impressive array of excerpts from popular operas, sung by soloists and the chorus from Opera North. The performance took place at Whitley Bay Playhouse and tickets were £5 (£4 for concessions). Proceeds from the concert were shared between Opera North, itself a registered charity and the Soroptimist International Sight Savers project for children in Bangladesh.


Concert 1
Concert 2

A more focused approach to Programme Action

 In 1983, Whitley Bay Club was looking at ways to revitalise the service element in club activities and it was suggested at an cxecutive committee meeting on 25 April that a catalogue of club projects and individual members’ service would “be encouraging”. Members were to be asked for other suggestions on how to improve the club and the need for more practical service was one of the ideas shared at a meeting on 23 May 1983.

On 25 October 1983, the executive committee considered a suggestion that the club could be a “clearing house” for opportunities for service which could be advertised on a board at meetings. Another idea was to have the club listed by social services (as were the Lions and Rotary) as being interested in helping where appropriate.

The term Programme Action was being used by the later 1980s and in discussion on 09 May 1988, it was agreed that more time should be given to discussing and planning responses to Programme Action and service opportunities “which are very important in a service organisation”. In club meetings, Programme Action issues tended to be based on Divisional Union reports and they were not necessarily discussed at every meeting.

The new position of Programme Action Officer was noted in a Tynemouth club executive committee meeting on 01 April 1993.  The executive committee wanted to raise awareness of Programme Action, so it was agreed at a meeting on 24 July 1993 that volunteers would be asked to speak about aspects of Programme Action to small groups of members, and then in a plenary, the club would decide where to prioritise the focus.

By 1994, Tynemouth club had formed a sub-committee of the executive to see how members could be more involved. The sub-committee reported to the executive on 04 July 1994, recommending that the club should focus on three aspects: health, environment and education. The executive unanimously agreed to this and also decided that Programme Action should be a standing item on the agenda for club meetings.

Tynemouth Club Executive decided on 03 June 1996 that members should be asked to become affiliated to one of four aspects of Programme Action, namely environment, education, breast cancer screening and heart disease. The club’s Programme Action Officer reported that she felt there were too many topics being raised for attention at regional level – too many for in depth consideration –  so she advised that the club should focus on 2 or 3 issues. She also noted that it would be useful to allocate a full evening to Programme Action rather than it being included in club business meetings. On 01 July 1996, it was agreed that there would be one club meeting which would focus only on Programme Action, with a ten minute slot at other meetings on particular topics.

On 03 September 2001, the Tynemouth club cxecutive discussed what a Programme Action club meeting should include. One member emphasised the need for members to engage in service, not just fundraising and another suggested identifying one local project on which to focus. The committee agreed that Programme Action should stick within SI guidelines, that Tynemouth should work with other clubs in the region and that projects should be well researched before members embarked on any action.

From the 1990s onwards, there is evidence of club Programme Action being linked with regional themes. For example, on 4 July 1994, Tynemouth club members were asked to write to MPs about banning anti- personnel mines. On 07 November 1994, it was noted that a letter from Neville Trotter MP have been received which included a reply from the Minister of Defence Procurement. This activity was part of a regional focus on this issue during the presidency of Pat Jefferson.

Pat’s term as Regional President coincided with the UN International Year of the Child and Whitley Bay club had clear plans for the first Weekend of the Family on 14 and 15 May 1994, as seen in the document below.

Causes and organisations we have supported

Our club has supported a range of national charities since 1947, including the NSPCC, Cheshire Homes, Guide Dogs for the Blind, the PDSA. the Red Cross, Barnardos, Help the Aged, Save The Children, Cancer Research, Lepra, The Stroke Association and many more. The examples described in more detail below will give you a flavour of the amazing work done by our members over the years.



Donations to the NHS were a significant feature of the work of the club. For example, the history of Tynemouth club notes that in the 1960s, four ripple beds were presented to Tynemouth and Preston hospitals and three folding wheelchairs were bought for North Shields Health Centre for loan to ‘physically handicapped’ people. These were so much in demand that the Club later bought three more. Note here the use of language, reflecting the way that people at the time viewed disability. Indeed, throughout the surviving records, we see language used that we would not use today, illustrating how attitudes have changed.

On 18 October 1976, Whitley Bay club donated £50 to Tynemouth League of Friends for the renewal of the hospital headphones.  Members were informed on 11 May 1987 that £122 had been spent on books and tapes for Rake Lane Hospital and that buying computers for Rake Lane Hospital was to be the President’s main charity.

Occasionally questions about donations to the NHS were raised by members. In a meeting of Whitley Bay club on 02 March 1982, one member reported how, when visiting a ward in Preston Hospital, she had seen the need for two pieces of medical equipment. However, it was suggested that basic equipment perhaps should already be available through the NHS and the matter was held over to the next meeting for further enquiries to be made. At the next meeting on 16 March 1982, the Club agreed that £151.50 should be given to Preston Hospital for the purchase of the equipment.


Support for the elderly

References to support for elderly members of the community occur frequently. Tynemouth Club inaugurated the town’s Bed Linen Fund for ‘the elderly sick’ and the club still maintained this in 1973. A regular feature of Club work was the creation of parcels to distribute to the elderly at Christmas.


Christmas Parcels

On 14 October 1957, Whitley Bay Club considered was should be in this year’s Christmas parcels. It was agreed that each member of the club should make up a parcel containing:

½lb butter

¼lb tea

1lb sugar

½lb Christmas pudding

½lb Black Bullets

2 eggs

These items were to be brought to the next meeting for packing and 24 parcels were delivered to elderly people by Christmas.


Tynemouth club was also involved in the management of Moffat House, Munby House and Edward Grey House, all of which provided “flatlet homes” for the elderly. Soroptimists were on the management committee of all three and a special donation of £200 was given to Edward Grey House when it opened in 1957. Tynemouth club also accessed money from the Skynner Bequest (a national Soroptimist fund) to support an elderly lady in the community. Although the clubs donated to the Benevolent Fund, no record has been found of any application for funds.


Special educational needs

Whitley Bay club took an interest in supporting children with special needs. This was referred to in the minutes in 1966 as mental handicap and backward babies and children – again illustrating how attitudes have changed.  The club’s interest in exploring this issue developed from the “Towards Understanding” project which encouraged Soroptimists to take an active interested in mental health. On 24 May 1966, at the executive committee meeting, it was decided that the club could put this into practice by working in close contact with Yana House in Hove as two members were already working with this project.  Members went on to become as well informed about this topic as possible, making contact with national experts and authorities on the issues in France.


Supporting Yana House

Information had been received by the Executive Committee that Penny Gobby House in Hove was making great progress in working with children from two upwards. It was therefore decided that the club would enter into correspondence with the principal of Penny Gobby House, Miss Saunders, in order to widen their knowledge and to exchange information with Yana House. Information about this initiative was shared with members at the club meeting on 06 June 1966, and it was emphasised that the main concern was to support the ladies running the creche at Yana House. As Mental Health Week was taking place from 06-11 June, Yana House was holding two open evenings, one on 08 June to visit the creche and one on 10 June to visit the youth club. It was decided that the members would visit the creche and arrangements were made.

 The Club also sought information from further afield. At the executive committee on 05 July 1966, the President read a letter she had received from French authorities to whom she had written seeking useful information for Yana House. The President also informed the committee that her letter had been passed on to other bodies in France which might be able to help. On 22 November 1966, a report compiled by the club based on research, correspondence and information from Penny Gobby House was read to members and it was recorded that the report had been sent to Yana House for the consideration of their committee. The report had also been added to the Towards Understanding register. On January 24 1967,  members were informed that a copy of the report had been requested by 4 members of the public and was being sent to Birmingham University where it would be used as part of a thesis that was being written. It had also been sent to the French authorities in Paris. Yana House committee’s response is not known but the club seems to have maintained contact until the early 1970s. Penny Gobby House is now known as the Jeanne Saunders Centre, named in honour of the principal with whom the club corresponded in 1966.


Whitley Bay club also supported Ashleigh Special School and members were invited to a wine and cheese party at the school on 02 October 1980 which was a “thank you” for people who had helped the school. Two members represented the club at the event and reported on 21 October 1980 that it was a worthwhile occasion.

In 1983, Whitley Bay club’s main charity was Woodlawn Special School’s Pool Fund. Members were informed at the club meeting on 03 May 1983 that the pool would also be of benefit to the local community, as it would be used by “old people and handicapped groups”. Donations for this charity from different sources; one member’s daughter and a friend contributed £136 as a result of sponsorship for their slimming efforts.


Elizabeth House

Both Tynemouth and Whitley Bay clubs made regular donations to Elizabeth House, a play centre in London which was jointly managed by Soroptimists in memory of Elizabeth Hawes (International Liaison Secretary from 1938-1948) and Save The Children.  In December 1954, Miss Hawes wrote personally to Whitley Bay club to thank members for their donation of £25. Whitley Bay club continued to make donations until at least the late 1970s, but by this time, Elizabeth House was in decline and it closed in 1980. However, a Trust was established to save it and it re-opened in February 2002 and is now run by the Highbury Vale Blackstock Trust.


A range of other local causes

In 1959, Tynemouth club was asked by Tynemouth Borough Council if the Soroptimists would be interested in sponsoring a Garden for the Blind. This was eventually opened on Albion Street West in North Shields by Petrina McDonald (later Petrina Lunn) a Past President of the Great Britain and Ireland Federation. She made three visits to Tynemouth and was apparently delighted on one occasion to be recognised by a ticket collector in Tynemouth Station who greeted her with “so you’re back again”. Tynemouth club executive committee discussed a review of the “blind garden” on 03 July 1995, perhaps with a view to planting daffodils as part of the club’s 50th anniversary plans.

Tynemouth club also supported the Mayor’s Cancer Committee, Tynemouth’s TB After-Care Committee and the Wooden Dolly Fund for the restoration of the ship’s figurehead in Northumberland Square, North Shields.  North Tyneside Day Hospice received a donation of almost £300 from Tynemouth club in 1993.

In late 1962, Whitley Bay club received a letter from the Mayor’s “Freedom from Hunger” campaign inviting the club “to man a stall at a future bazaar”. It was decided at the club meeting on 04 December to make a direct donation instead and at the same meeting, a member suggested that the club’s charity efforts should be reported in the local press.


International interests

Although the exact date is not known, Tynemouth club had members on the local United Nations Committee and the club donated to many countries through channels such as UNICEF, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (now known as Oxfam), the World Health Organisation and Aid to Refugees.  As with local and national work, some interesting stories emerge from the records.


Spittal Camp for Displaced Persons, Austria

Both Tynemouth and Whitley Bay clubs had connections with the Displaced Persons Camp in Spittal, Austria. The history of Tynemouth club published in 1973 names two specific men who were helped by the club, Fordan Trojan and Manuel Ulendhal. Manuel was Swedish but the nationality of Fordan is not given.  After difficult negotiations, the club was able to to send letters, parcels and money to the two men. Members gained first-hand knowledge of their progress from Reverend John Smith of North Shields who visited the camp in 1953 and 1956. Manuel eventually returned to Sweden and after taking a training course in office work got a job in Stockholm.

The first reference to Whitley Bay’s involvement with Spittal Camp occurred on 20 September 1954, when a circular letter from Dr V Parkes was read on the subject of refugee camps in Austria. Dr Violet Parkes JP was well known for her work in international refugee camps and was later president of the Soroptimist International Association. Members decided not to take any action until personal discussion took place with Dr Parkes at the annual dinner. The outcome of the discussion must have been positive because 01 February 1955, the President thanked members for their donations of clothing for Camp Spittal. At the meeting on 14 February 1955, members learnt that n several parcels had been dispatched (at a cost of £3 16/- ). On 01 March 1955 members were informed that a letter of thanks for parcels sent to Camp Spittal had been received. Dr Parkes was later the guest speaker at Tynemouth club’s twenty-fifth birthday dinner in the Grand Hotel on 17 September 1971.



Whitley Bay club was moved to action by events following the Hungarian uprising in 1956.  The announcement by Hungary’s new government led by Imre Nagy that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and hold free elections led to moves by the Soviet Union to crush the revolution. On 04 November 1956 a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions. Over 200,000 Hungarians became refugees and mass arrests continued for months. On 10 December 1956, the club minutes noted a donation of £350 for the relief of Hungary.

Not all requests for club support were taken up. At a meeting on 5 March 1963, a member, Miss Edes, read out a letter from the Women of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It urged women of the world to unite and protest at the atrocities committed by United Nations troops in the Congo. Congo had entered a period of instability following independence from Belgium and between 1960-1965, the country was riven by civil war. The conflict also became a proxy for the Cold War, with the USA and Soviet Union supporting opposing groups. The issue raised by Women of Rhodesia may have been events in the State of Katanga, which had seceded from Congo in 1960 and which was dissolved in 1963 following an invasion of the United Nations Operation. During the final days of the State of Katanga, there were several controversial incidents involving UN troops and the deaths of civilians.

Following the reading of the letter, there was no discussion and no suggestions made. However, Miss Edes was not prepared to let the matter drop. On 03 April 1963, under Any Other Business, she asked if there had been any discussion about the letter from Rhodesia. It was recorded that discussion had taken place, but it was felt that “there was little we could do but it was hoped that something would be done at national level”. Miss Edes’s response was not recorded.


eSwatini (formerly Swaziland)

By 1986, Whitley Bay club was sponsorsing a child in Swaziland, now Eswatini. At the club meeting on 03 March 1986, a report on the school progress of “our blind student” was read out. eSwatini was again part of club activity during President Judy Donnelly’s term of office (2016-2018) when she adopted Manzini Youth Care in eSwatini as one of her Presidential charities.


Supporting sister Soroptimists

Support was also given to sister Soroptimists in need around the world. At the Whitley Bay club meeting on 21 March 1955, a letter was read from “Headquarters” asking for financial aid for Soroptimists who had suffered losses in the flood of New South Wales  It was decided to donate £5 5/- and the Mayoress who was present as Honorary Member added £1 11/- to this fund.

You can find out more about the New South Wales floods at