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Greetings from England: Winchester, UK, Rotary president speaks to local club

One advantage of hosting civic club meetings virtually in a time of pandemic is that the speakers can be from anywhere in the world.

Last Friday, the Winchester Rotary Club’s guests were from Winchester, England.

The British club’s new president, Richard Spalding, and Mike Billington, whom he succeeded, met online with the Winchester, Kentucky, club by way of Zoom.

Like the Kentucky club, the one in England has been holding virtual meetings since the deadly coronavirus swept  the world last spring. Also like our club, it has been working to support its community during the crisis.

Spalding, a retired Royal Navy captain, appeared on screen in front of an image of Winchester Cathedral, which has towered over his city for nearly 1,000 years.

“I managed to have a picture of the cathedral in my virtual background there,” Spalding said. “It’s an impressive building. The whole city is impressive.”

That’s a bit of an English understatement.

Winchester, settled by the Belgae in the first century, was Venta Belgarum under the Romans and the medieval capital of England under King Alfred the Great, who united the Anglo-Saxons against the Vikings in the ninth century.

Winchester has a castle, and its Great Hall holds a replica of King Arthur’s Roundtable. It has a university, a renowned art school and the oldest public school England.

It also claims to have the oldest bar in England and the oldest high street in the world, Spalding said.

The county seat of Hampshire, greater Winchester today has a population of more than 120,000.

Its Rotary Club, the only one in the city, was established in 1927.

Spalding took over from Billington as president during a garden ceremony in June.

The president, who travels widely and has a holiday home on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean with his wife Yvonne, shared with the Kentuckians that he had visited our city in 1999 when he was traveling from Louisville to Washington, D.C.

“I knew that Winchester, Kentucky, was on the route, so I took a slight detour,” he said. “It was over 20 years ago, so I don’t remember it particularly well. I was in a little bit of a hurry.”

Spalding talked about his club and his plans for his term as president.

Currently, the club has about 58 members, he said, and has actually gone up by three members during the pandemic.

“We get more people on the Zoom calls than we do in our face-to-face dinner meetings,” he said.

Its Zoom meetings sometimes involve members of its sister clubs in Le Havre, France, and Oberhausen, Germany.

The club’s main charities last Rotary year were Winchester Youth Counseling and Winchester Young Carers, when Billington was president.

For this year, under Spalding his club will be fundraising for two homeless charities, Trinity Winchester and Winchester Churches Nightshelter. The city will also be helping the city to focus on environmental issues, including waste and recycling.

As a club, Spalding said, Winchester Rotary has worked tirelessly these past three months of the pandemic to help the community, including buying and delivering necessities for vulnerable people, initiating the manufacture by local schools of personal protective equipment and delivering them to nursing homes, special needs schools, churches and funeral homes, collecting and donating recreational items for prisoners, collecting food and funding for emergency food banks and donating more than £12,000 to various charities.

“You’ve probably gathered, Richard is a highly enthusiastic Rotarian and full of energy,” Billington said, speaking from what appeared to be his home. “The thing I am most proud of is, when we had the lockdown in March in the UK, I asked Richard to form a task force of Rotarians to coordinate our response and how we could help the local community, and he did an amazing job of that. He really raised the profile of our outreach,” Billington said.

Spalding, who is a runner, said the club’s biggest fundraiser is the Clarendon Marathon, between the cathedral cities of Salisbury and Winchester, which they are hoping to run in October, although the London Marathon, which had been postponed to the same day, has been canceled this year due to COVID-19. Also in cooperation with Winchester Cathedral, it has started a Shrove Tuesday pancake race.

“This year I want to grow the presence of our Rotary Club in the city,” Spalding said, and make “stronger connections with key people.”

One of its key people is Mayor Patrick Cunningham, who is an honorary member of the club.

“We’ve had nearly 900 mayors in a row,” Spalding said.

And they are not “lord mayors,” as in other cities, because Winchester’s is the second-oldest mayoralty in England, Billington explained.

“If they were to become lord mayors, they would drop right down in the ranking,” he said.

After Spalding’s presentation and Billington’s comments, some of the Kentucky club members asked questions.

Hagan Codell asked Spalding if there had been any Black Lives Matters riots there.

“Not in our part of the country,” Spalding said, but there had been in London and other places, although they have been relatively peaceful compared to some in the U.S.

Codell also asked whether this is an election year in the U.K. (it isn’t) and how people are reacting to COVID-19 restrictions.

“People are recognizing it’s just the way it’s going to be” for a while, Spalding said. They are unhappy, but they accept it, he said.

Spalding was concerned that people visiting the beaches would bring the virus back, however, noting that Friday was “one of our hottest days on record,” with a temperature around 90 degrees F. Normally, a summer day in southern England is in the 60s, 70s or 80s.

Spalding and Billington signed off with a gesture of hospitality.

“We would invite you to join one of our meetings and tell us about your Winchester,” he told the Kentucky club members.

He suggested also involving members of clubs from other Winchesters.

Winchester, Kentucky, established in 1793, was named for Winchester, Virginia, which in term was named for the ancient English city.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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