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Lobbying and campaigning

From the very earliest days, Soroptimists in SI Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District worked hard to raise awareness about issues affecting women in the local area and nationally. We have a proud tradition of lobbying and campaigning which continues to the present day. Some of the work carried out by members of the club is described in more detail below.


Local issues

Club members became involved with many matters close to home. A Divisional Union meeting had raised the issue of safety of fairground equipment, so it was decided in July 1966 that enquiries would be made to the Council in relation to safety checks at the Spanish City. The response, shared with the club, was that the Council checked all fairground equipment at the start of the season except that at the Spanish City which was a private concern.  In this case, safety would be checked by the Spanish City’s insurance company.

At Tynemouth club’s executive meeting on 07 June 1993, it was reported that a letter had been received from Sainsbury’s replying to the club’s enquiry about shopping facilities for the disabled. Tynemouth club was also supporting the women’s refuge in 2000, when ways of getting funds and supplies were discussed in the executive committee meeting on 01 October and 04 March 2001, it was agreed that there would be a collection of items for the refuge at the next club meeting.

In 1979, Whitley Bay club became involved in a campaign to improve facilities on Meadow Well Estate. Following receipt of a report from North Tyneside Community Health Council, it was decided on 19 March 1979 to write to the Area Administrator for information about the possibility of a clinic on the estate.  A reply had been received by 02 April 1979 but the contents were not recorded. On 04 June 1979, the minutes note that Tynemouth club had also written about the building of a clinic.

A clinic was built and was  and open by September 1982 when the Whitley Bay club president and three members visited to see the slide which the club had provided for the toddlers’ play area. The four Soroptimists enjoyed a tour round the “delightful purpose build clinic with modern facilities for medical and dental treatment” followed by a cup of tea and chat. It was described as a happy afternoon.


Pensions, pay and benefits

References to these issues occur regularly in club minutes. For example, on 15 June 1959, a great deal of discussion took place in a Whitley Bay club meeting regarding the Earnings Ruling in respect of Widowed Mothers with dependent children, an issue that had been raised at a Divisional Union meeting. The issue underlying this concern was that widows under 50 were excluded from financial support.

On 18 March 1969, the Club discussed a range of questions relating to the impact of the government’s new Pension Scheme on women.


Club members’ views on the government’s new Pension Scheme 1969.

A list of questions was discussed and replies agreed (in bold):

  1. Women cannot contact out of the new scheme – do you agree? Yes, provided full benefit is drawn from contributions.
  2. New deal for widows, divorced and separated wives. Approved.
  3. Women will still be able to retire at sixty but men not until sixty five. Members agreed that retirement at sixty should be optional for both sexes.
  4. Payment of an allowance for married women who do not go out to work, whether by choice or because they are incapacitated. It was agreed that the allowance should be made if a housewife was incapacitated but not if she did not choose to go out to work.
  5. General reaction to the scheme as a whole.  Favourable.


On 1 February 1971, the Whitley Bay club secretary was asked to write to the local MP,  [Dame Irene Ward] asking for her support for the Law Reform Bill on Widows’ Compensation. This bill sought to repeal a clause in the Fatal Accidents Act of 1965 which required that damages paid to widows should be retained under the control of a court when a widow had dependent children; in the case of unmarried women, damages were handed over to her direct control. Dame Irene Ward’s response was read at the club meeting on 23 February 1971 but details of her letter were not recorded.

Equal Pay was a topic picked up by Whitley Bay club in the 1980s. At the club meeting on 05 July 1983,  members were asked to write to their MPs expressing their opposition to an amendment to the Equal Pay Act which it was felt would make it very difficult for women to obtain equal pay. It was agreed that the secretary would write to Neville Trotter MP and members were also urged to write as private individuals. It was also agreed that information about the proposed amendment would be circulated so that writers could show that they were well informed.


Gender-based violence

Issues relating to gender-based violence first appear in Whitley Bay club minutes when information about the “home for battered wives” was exchanged and discussed in the club meeting on 02 February 1977.  On 18 October 1983, the speakers at the club meeting were two volunteers from Rape Crisis, an organisation recently established by Tyne and Wear Council. The two speakers shared information about the service and the extent of rape in council area. They also described “some of the unhappy circumstances facing victims who report incidents and also the difficulties of adjustment and personal relationships”.  It was noted that members had found much to concern and inform them.

The club took up the issue again in April 1988 when members were asked to write to MPs about support for victims of assault and defendants after assault. They were advised to ask a question in the letter to be assured of an answer.  At the club meeting on 09 May 1988, members were asked to write again, this time to magistrates’ courts as well as MPs concerning waiting areas for victims and the accused in assault and rape cases. Members were also encouraged to join victim support schemes. The President, Jean Gunn, put this into action and in the club meeting on 06 June 198, her plan to attend Newcastle Crown Court with a rape victim was shared. It seems that the case had already been to court and her attacker was given such a short sentence that the police had appealed. The young woman had no family to go with her to court and President Jean was praised for her action in supporting her.


Environmental issues

The first explicit written reference to environmental issues occurred in 1971. At a Whitley Bay club meeting on 19 January 1971, the issue of industrial and municipal pollution of water supplies was discussed. Members were asked to gather any information they could on the subject and those who corresponded with sister clubs were asked to request information about the topic from their contacts. The information would be used to respond to a question about the topic in a questionnaire sent out by the Civic Action Committee.

In 1974-1975, there was a great deal of club activity in relation to the recycling of waste paper. A letter was sent to the Chief Cleansing and Transport Officer about the issue and his response was noted in the club meeting on 13 January 1975. The main point of the response was that recycling of waste was under review, so it was decided to keep the matter under observation. On 17 February 1975, it was decided to also contact Neville Trotter, MP, about recycling of waste paper and cardboard.

By 1988 Whitley Bay club was supporting the “anti-aerosol with ozone damaging propellants” campaign. On 27 June 1988, club members were asked for suggestions for a display relating to improvements necessary or being undertaken in the locality. This was a national Soroptimist initiative and some displays would be selected for exhibition at the Conference later in the year. Suggestions included beach cleanliness or development at St Mary’s Lighthouse. Some club members shared their intention to attend a forthcoming meeting on 7 July to form a Friends of the Lighthouse support group.


Assisted pregnancy 

The Soroptimists of Whitley Bay were also engaged, as Soroptimists often are, with some controversial issues. For example, in 1985, the members agreed to support the Warnock Report (the Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology to give it its full title) rather than the proposals of MP Enoch Powell. This took the Soroptimists into the field of embryology.

The main recommendations of the Warnock Report included the ethical acceptability of some types of fertility treatment such as IVF, egg and embryo donation and artificial insemination and the use of human embryos in research under strict controls. It also established the principle of research on human embryos only being permissible under licence for up to 14 days after fertilisation.

Enoch Powell, however, had introduced private members bill called the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill which in effect sought to ban any research using human embryos. The bill was close to success but was thwarted by Dennis Skinner who prevented it from being debated; it never passed into law. By rejecting support for Enoch Powell’s bill, the Club was in effect giving its approval to stem cell research.



The Whitley Bay club took an interest in, and supported work relating to AIDS. On 22 May 1989, Dr Connie Clarke of Stockton club gave a “graphic account” of the spread and extent of AIDS worldwide. Dr Clarke talked about the plight of mothers and children who were being infected by use of dirty needles in clinics and hospitals. She also explained that Stockton club had proposed an International Project for the next Quadrennium which would focus on providing clean, sterile disposable needles and AIDS tests in locations where mothers, babies and children were treated. Whitley Bay members showed “great interest” and there were questions and discussion. We know that in 1995, the club noted World AIDS Day and credit must be given to all Soroptimists for supporting a cause which, in the 1980s and 1990s, was surrounded by stereotypes and myths.