In May 1924, Torquay was busier than usual. Around 2,000 delegates to a conference had arrived, from the Unites States, France, South Africa, Norway, Holland, Austria and even New Zealand – not to mention 130 clubs in the British Isles.

Flashback to pre-virus days last September when Torquay Rotarians were busy renovating their sensory garden in Torwood Gardens. The club had provided the original garden in 1976Flashback to pre-virus days last September when Torquay Rotarians were busy renovating their sensory garden in Torwood Gardens. The club had provided the original garden in 1976

They were all members of Rotary, founded in America in 1905, and it was Torquay Rotary Club that had invited them.

Which was quite cheeky, as the club had only been formed in 1920 yet within a couple of years had invited British Rotary clubs to have their annual conference here in Torquay, incidentally giving the local economy a massive boost in those post 1914-18 war years.

“One of the greatest conferences in the history of Rotary” was the final verdict – and Torquay was on the Rotary map.

The club first met on Monday, September 13 1920, at the St James Restaurant on Victoria Parade, in premises later occupied by the 400 Ballroom, and it has now met on Mondays for 100 years, the present day online Zoom gatherings keeping up the washday tradition.

There were 27 founding members from the town’s business and commercial worlds, from accountant and solicitor to musical instrument retailer and tripe merchant. All men to begin with – the lady members were to arrive later.

Straight away they decided to help Torbay Hospital, in Higher Union Street in those days, by vastly increasing its ‘subscribers’ and getting more working men and women to join via their 1d and 2d weekly contributions.

It wasn’t long before the club was playing a major part in the campaign ‘for a new hospital on a new site’ as the dream of a purpose-built hospital at Shiphay became reality.

The club supports the hospital to this day and is currently in talks about an exciting centenary project.

There can be few charities and local causes that have not benefited from Torquay Rotary’s helping hand.

For instance, there have been significant contributions to Rowcroft Hospice, and via projects such as a new swimming pool at Combe Pafford School in 1969, the building of the Acorn Youth Centre in 1978 and the current literary and gardening projects at various local primary schools.

Coronavirus may have scuppered the club’s planned centenary celebrations but its work goes on – it has been supporting the Riviera Life Storehouse food bank since the start of the lockdown and is continuing restoration of its 1975 sensory garden in Torwood Gardens, and has recently resumed its greatly valued efforts in delivering Torquay Library books to the elderly and housebound every month.

And each year the club plays a major role in Torquay Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

Torquay may have been the first Rotary club in the Bay but others soon followed.

There are now four clubs in Torquay, and others in Paignton, Preston and Brixham, all equally busy in their community.

There are more than 80 clubs with some 2,100 members in Devon and Cornwall, which is one of the ‘district’ units within Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) which currently has around 40,000 members in 1,800 clubs. Worldwide there are around 1.18 million members in 166 countries. All have the same motto – Service Above Self.

So if you join Rotary you join something big. And, when you are big, you can do big things – like ridding the world of polio, which Rotary has been working on for 35 years and can now proudly claim that there are only two countries where the scourge still exists – Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We’re still working on it with our worldwide partners... watch this space.