HOW LIONISM CAME TO BRITAIN

The Beginings...


During World War II thousands of Canadian servicemen, many of them Lions, were stationed in this country. They were appalled by the suffering of the children during the Blitz, some evacuated to safer areas, homes destroyed in the bombing, families split up, with father overseas and mother doing war work, rationing and shortages. Messages were sent home and funds were raised and sent over.

The obvious people to make use of these funds would be British Lions, but there none! The Queen (now the late Queen Mother) took a hand and, as Patron of the Church of England Children’s Society, arranged for them to take on the job.

Shortly after the war the Queen asked Lord Leconfield to go to Canada and thank the Lions for their Humanitarian aid. Whilst there he asked the Canadian Lions what could be done as a positive gesture of thanks and they asked him to visit Lions Clubs International’s Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

He was so impressed by what he saw in Canada and the USA that, soon after his return to this country a group of professional and business men formed the first British Lions Club, London (Host).

There are now over 800 Clubs in the UK and Ireland (Multiple District 105) and in 2004 Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex became the Patron of Lions Clubs in the British Isles.

Life has changed considerably since those days just after the war but today thousands of Lions all over the country are striving to live up to our motto:

“We Serve”

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THE FIRST 40 YEARS OF CROYDON LIONS


On 7th January 1964 a meeting of “A group of men interested in the formation of a Lions Club in Croydon” was held at The Ship Hotel in Croydon. Six Lions from other clubs attended together with 9 local men, and it was unanimously agreed to proceed.

Arrangements were made to start visiting other clubs, starting with Brighton and Horley, and in March it was agreed to start collection old spectacles for recycling, an activity which continues to this day.

By early May 15 founder members had been recruited, formation was set for 19th May, and application was made to Lions International Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois for a Charter. Charles Attwood was elected Charter President and presentation of the Charter was arranged for 25th September at a dinner in the Arnhem Gallery (cost of tickets 2 guineas!). Subscriptions were set at £4 per half year.

The first recorded fund-raising effort was at Brighton Carnival when two small side-shows raised £32.1.6.

During the next few years the club started running charity concerts, Christmas collections for food parcels, Lions Day outings, old people’s and children’s parties, donkey derbies etc. They also acquired a former ambulance for transport, and provided a swimming pool for Barnardos.

In 1968 Rene Parker, the widow of a former member, presented the club with a silver cup , known as “The Ernie Parker Trophy”, to be presented annually to “a person considered by the club to have given outstanding service to the community of Croydon”. Recipients have included two former community police officers, P.C. Alec Cashin and P.C. Dick Norton, Pearl Netley (Rutherfords), Frankie Crosskey (Hearing Resource Centre), Ray Greenway (Croydon Carers Centre), and Councillor Toni Letts.

In 1970 Croydon Lions agreed to sponsor the formation of Beckenham & West Wickham Lions who later were to sponsor London (Crystal Palace) Lions.

At some point in the early 1970’s the club first came into contact with fairground operator John Coneley and for more than 30 years John and his family have put on three fun fairs each year in the name of Croydon Lions, always making a very generous contribution to club funds. In 1980 John was made an Honorary Lion.

Early in 1972 it was suggested that the club might provide a hospital record program and Radio Mayday opened on 1st July. One member, the late Dick Cameron, who began the first of three terms as President on opening day, started broadcasting a week later and presented a two hour Saturday program for 25 years until ill health forced him to retire. Also deeply involved with the formation of Radio Mayday was Roger Bing, former Advertiser columnist.

By 1975 the service had been extended to Croydon General, Waddon, Queens and Norwood Hospitals, and it was during 1975 that Radio Mayday clocked up its 10,000th request. The Mayor of Croydon and our District Governor were present when this request was announced. Croydon Lions continued to run Radio Mayday for ten years before obtaining alternative funding from Allders and handing all the equipment over to the hospital. Radio Mayday ceased operating in 2014, partly due to the cost of converting to digital technology. There was talk of resuming broadcasts but to date nothing has happened.

The 1980’s were a lean time for Croydon Lions. Membership waned and at one time was almost down to single figures. In fact an article appeared in the local press entitled “Lions almost extinct in Croydon”. With the support of District Officers and fellow Lions from local clubs we soldiered on, raising funds and serving the community to the best of our capabilities. Ron Lapthorne, then with Biggin Hill Lions was appointed Guiding Lion, Zone Chairman Mike Beecroft became involved, and a major membership drive was instigated. Things progressed slowly and then in October 1989 the club members voted (with only one abstaining) to accept lady members – although it took 18 months before we found the first one!

During 1989, a member having introduced a colleague to Harrow Lions, he was given a video of a “Knockout” games day for the disabled which they had been running for some 8 years. After discussion with Crystal Palace Lions it was decided to stage this as a joint venture. Thanks to P.R. Manager Tony Parris sponsorship was procured from Royal Mail and on 19 October 1990 the first “Knockout” in our District (105SE) was held at The Westcroft Sports Centre in Carshalton with teams from six Day Centres.

In 1991 we received a rather unusual request for help from Social Services. Could we find, and help purchase, a triple baby buggy for a young single mum with triplets who was totally dependent on her social worker for shopping etc. One was located in Reading and, thanks again to Tony Parris, it was transported to Croydon free of charge by Royal Mail.

Also in 1991 John Conoleys suggested that, as his fair was in Ashburton Park but was unable to open before 6 p.m., it might be an idea to stage a special free afternoon session for disabled children and their immediate families and that summer, as a Zone Project, the first Lions Fun Day was held.
After the first couple of years it was decided to remove the age limit to enable disabled of all ages to benefit. With the exception of one year this event has continued ever since.

Later that year we received an appeal on behalf of a young woman who had had a stroke and needed an electric wheelchair (NHS had given her a manual chair which meant she was entirely dependent on friends to go out anywhere). We managed to procure a refurbished chair which we loaned to her until she and friends could raise sufficient funds to purchase her own chair. Eventually the chair was donated to the disabled section at Waylands Day Centre.

1992 saw the start of what has become almost an annual project – a major sponsored event in aid of the President’s Project for the year. The first was a sponsored cycle ride (on single geared postmen’s bikes!) to our twin town of Arnhem in Holland, leaving Croydon on Friday and arriving in Arnhem at midday on Sunday, being hosted by Dutch Lions on the way. The Well Woman appeal from Mayday benefited from this event.

July 1994 – Croydon Carnival – and we decided to enter a float for the first time. A 40ft trailer was obtained thanks to Dees of Croydon and we spent at least 45 minutes decorating it with mock grass, branches and balloons before Roary, our Zone mascot, accompanied by a few members and some young girls, all with faces painted as lions, clambered aboard and off we went. Imagine our surprise, and delight, to find that we had won Best Amateur Float! For the next two years we spent hours and hours decorating our floats (themes “Circus Time” and “VE Day”) and won the same trophy each time – but we didn’t get to keep it!

This year also saw the launch of an annual District Project, the “Shoebox Appeal”, when people are asked to fill a shoebox with essential items such as toiletries etc to be sent to deprived areas. This first one was for Croatia in former Yugoslavia. A letter was sent to local papers and we found ourselves collecting not only shoeboxes but larger boxes, black sacks etc, some from roads in Croydon we had never known before! We repacked the items in apple boxes and, thanks to the generosity of the people of Croydon, sent 185 boxes to the collection point in Southborough.
Another visit to Arnhem in 1994, this time a walk, funded the purchase of two special Pegasus Airwave beds for Purley Memorial Hospital. Whilst in Arnhem the team laid a wreath from the Lions of the U.K. at the British Military Cemetery at Oosterbeek.

The walk in 1995 was from Rosslare to Galway, a guest walker being John Blackwood from the Advertiser. Great support from Irish Lions all the way, and the walkers arrived in Galway on St. Patrick’s Day, when Roary joined in the parade. Funds from this event purchased two pulse oxymeters for Croydon ambulances.

Two major projects in 1996. Firstly we staged a huge raffle and a 60’s night to raise funds to send a severely autistic young boy to the Peto clinic in Budapest. Secondly, together with a local ladies darts league we helped to send a young girl, recovering from a cancer operation and her family to Orlando where local Lions arranged free entry to Disneyworld. Both projects were greatly assisted by the acquisition of Air Miles.

Another first in 1996 – we elected our first lady President! We have since had four more. This year’s walk, following the first real “cease fire” by the IRA, was from Belfast to Dublin. Imagine our surprise (and horror!) when the Advertiser had a front page item headed “Croydon Lions Defy Terrorists”. During the overnight stop in Newry two of our members were being driven home by their hosts after a meal when the car was stopped by an Army patrol. The lady said “Would you like to meet our English guests who are walking to Dublin for charity?” The young soldier shone his torch into the car and said “They must be b----y mad!”. The walk ended at the Irish Lions District Convention, where the team entered to a standing ovation, having raised sufficient funds to purchase 20 nebulizers for Mayday Chest Clinic.

For Dick Cameron 1997 was a very special year. He clocked up 30 years service as a Lion, and 25 years with Radio Mayday, for which he received a District Certificate of Appreciation. In October the club presented him with a Melvyn Jones Fellowship, the highest accolade Lions can bestow, and in December the Mayor of Croydon opened The Cameron Lounge at Mayday Hospital, named in his honour. This was a room redecorated and furnished by club members as a counselling lounge for the Macmillan Nurses as part of the President’s Project, funded mainly by a walk from Sidmouth to Looe.

The Lions International Convention came to Birmingham in 1998, when some 25,000 Lions and their partners descended upon the city. Croydon and Crystal Palace Lions provided “greeters” at the Eurostar terminal for Lions arriving from Europe. Zone mascot Roary and a minder spent a week in the NEC doing walk-abouts and photo calls in the Friendship Centre and took part in the big parade through the city centre. The same year our club hosted three young Germans visiting this country as part of the Lions Youth Exchange Program, a walk from Donegal to Westport (County Mayo) helped fund the purchase of 5 apnoea monitors for the Cot Death Society and, through our District Drugs Awareness Foundation, some 40 TACADE (The Advisory Council for Alcohol and Drugs Education) packs for PHSE were presented to Croydon schools.

Lionism in the U.K. celebrated 50 years in 1999 and one of our members received an invitation to the annual Garden Party at Buckingham Palace where he met and spoke with the Queen Mother. He wrote thanking her and enclosing a 50th Anniversary pin as she was indirectly responsible for Lionism coming to this country (see “How Lionism Came to the U.K.”).

A walk around the Isle of Wight raised over £2000 for a special Arthritis Research project and the owner of the hotel at which the team stayed was so impressed that he joined Sandown & Shanklin Lions!

During Millennium Year we staged a week-long PR display in the Central Library, from which we actually gained one new member! Earlier in the year we had sponsored Wendy Ball, an MS sufferer who attends the MS Therapy Centre in Cousldon, to go on the Snowdonia Challenge when people in wheelchairs are carried round a 10K orienteering course by teams of volunteers. Wendy and her husband Roger came into the library and chatted with us and as a result Roger joined us soon after. A year or so later Wendy decided she would also like to join.

Amongst spectacles being collected for us by a South Croydon company which provided domiciliary visits by opticians we discovered a set of WW2 medals, including the Burma Star. The company could not say from where they came and despite articles and pictures in the Advertiser and South London Press nobody came forward to claim them. We subsequently heard of a lady in Norwood whose late husband’s medals had been stolen during a burglary and as he had also had the Burma Star we donated the set to her.

The President’s Project raised £1000 for Hearing Dogs for the Deaf.

In 2001 we managed to get one Croydon school, Ashburton Community School, to participate in the Lions International Peace Poster Competition. Chris Harding of the Advertiser was a member of the judging panel. To our delight the winner went on to win not only the District but also the National prizes, but was unplaced in the International judging which selects an overall winner and 23 runners-up from the 500 or so which reach that stage. We took the girl and her family to the Mansion House for a photo-call with the Lord Mayor who had been one of the judges, and then to Westminster for the presentation of prizes.

Our lady President for 2001-2, whose name is Dot Woodward, but who had earned the nickname of Wicked Witch of the West from one of our walks, was proclaimed the original WWW Dot.

Also during 2001 we learned that our bid to host the 2003 District Convention in Croydon had been accepted – panic all round, especially when, thankfully due to an error on their part, Fairfield Halls advised us that our provisional booking could not be accepted as they were already booked.

The President’s Project provided a computer for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Jubilee Year – 2002 – and, having not staged our own fair for a couple of years, we decided to stage a special Jubilee Fair with a free picnic for under 12’s which was enjoyed by over 250 children. We treated it as a community exercise rather than a fund-raiser, only asking for donations on entry and, to our surprise, we even made a small profit.

In October, for Lions World Sight Day, we managed to get a young lady reporter (Susie Rowe as she then was) from the Advertiser to undertake a “blind” walk-about in the town centre. As a result we were delighted to have a full page feature in the Advertiser.

As her daughter had been a patient, the President chose the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Middlesex Hospital as main beneficiary of her Project and they were presented with two lap-top computers, a printer and a large selection of DVD’s. A donation was also made to Diabetes U.K. Funds for this were raised by a smaller scale (only two walkers) walk from Amsterdam to Arnhem.

February 2003 and District Convention arrived in Croydon for the first time – a hectic weekend – welcoming guests from all over South East England and from the U.S.A. and Germany and the Vice-President of Arnhem Lions who was our club’s guest. It all started with a Civic Reception by the Mayor, followed by a fancy dress Host Night (theme Panto and Nursery Rhyme characters). What must people have thought, seeing Snow White & Seven Dwarves and Fluella (101 Dalmatians) walking along Wellesley Road? The plenary session on Saturday was officially opened by the Mayor and was addressed by His Excellency The Ambassador for Belarus who thanked the Lions of 105SE and from our twin District of 111MN (Frankfurt) for all their work in Gomel. The District Governor’s Banquet & Ball on Saturday, with dancing to The Rockettes, was attended by the Mayor, Councillor Stuart Collins, who joined the Rockettes for a couple of numbers. The next week’s Advertiser announced “Rockin’ Mayor Wows Convention Audience!”

Following the success of the Jubilee Fair, and as this year marked the 50th Anniversary of the Coronation, we ran a Coronation Fair with a free Teddy Bear’s Picnic, which was hosted by two 3ft 6in tall mechanical bears, plus a competition for “Best Dress Ted”. At the end of the day, seeing how exhausted the host bears were, the British Red Cross put them on to a trolley and carted them off for CPR!

Our President’s Project for 2003-4 was Croydon Mencap and he and a former member set out to scale 5 Snowdonia peaks in two days. They completed 4-3/4, being unable to complete the other quarter due to the sudden descent of a heavy mist. The event raised £1600 which purchased play equipment for “Treetops”.

During District Convention we chatted with the German District Governor and his party and it was suggested that the walk for 2004, which was in aid of the MS Therapy Centre, might take place in their District and, in March this year, a party of eight, including Wendy Ball in her wheelchair who was to be pushed and pulled along the route, flew from Stansted to Frankfurt Hahn where they were greeted by the Local Lions Club. The German Lions had planned the entire week including transport and hosting overnight of our team. The only problem was that, in Germany one is not allowed to walk along roads without footpaths, so the route was all off-road, much it not exactly wheelchair friendly, and including one section where they had to ascend 800 metres and descend the other side! The walk, covering approximately 80 kilometers, ended in Wetzlar where the Germans were holding their District Convention. The hospitality was fantastic – our members hardly had to pay anything all week, and to cap everything our fellow Lions donated 550 Euros. The event raised a total of over £3000 which purchased a computer, combi printer/scanner/fax and networking facilities and additional physio equipment for the Centre.

Plans were already in hand for a walk of approximately 20 miles in 2005 – a one day event which would involve visiting around 10 of the oldest pubs in London, starting at The Prospect of Whitby. Amazing how many volunteers there were for this one! The chosen charity of Lion President Len Honey was St. Margaret’s School at the Tadworth Children’s Trust.

Throughout these first 40 years the aims of Croydon Lions remained the same. Although being involved in District, National, and International projects the main emphasis is always on service to the less fortunate in the local community. We continue to strive to live up to our motto – “We Serve”.

Our 40th Anniversary celebrations were held at Airport House on the Purley Way on Saturday 9th October, attended by the then Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Brenda Kirby, and District Governor Paul (no relation!) Withers.