Fifty years on, let’s hear it for the Lions

A special event has been held to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the Lowestoft area's most active fundraising groups and to toast its members' sterling work.

Lowestoft Lions Club has benefited tens of thousands of people and helped countless charities and good causes in the town, across the region and abroad.

Last week, The Journal reported on the anniversary get-together at Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton, when president Keith Moore and his wife Sue welcomed fellow Lions and guests to the charter night. Lowestoft mayor and mayoress Nigel and Lyn Dack were joined by Lions Clubs International district governor Derek Greenwood and Lion Maureen as top-table guests.

During the evening, discussions turned inevitably to Lowestoft Lions' early years. The club had started life as part of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Lions Club back in 1953. Then, in due course, Lowestoft's Lions branched off to create their own club – one that was to grow into one of the biggest in the district.

Turning Back the Clock has been delving into The Journal's archives to look back at some key moments and events, starting on March 9, 1961, when the club received its charter at a dinner at Gunton Hall.

It was presented by the district governor, Holly Renny, to the club's first president, Arthur Normanton, who declared that Lowestoft was 'now the 50th chartered club in Britain'.

A lot of water has passed under the bascule bridge since then. From late-night shopping at Christmas, when Lions have provided free hot chestnuts and coffee, to being regulars in the carnival parade, the Lions have become tireless community servants, organising all sorts of fundraisers and schemes; others have included Easter egg hunts for the children, providing a meals-on-wheels service for the elderly, and holding raffles, donkey derbies, fetes, charter nights and parties for children and pensioners. Santa and his sleigh can be seen each year at stores and shops across town, and Christmas and New Year dances take place for revellers – all thanks to the Lions.

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In 1969, the Lions established a long-running fundraising project – Petticoat Lane – which was described at the time as being 'like a gigantic jumble sale'. Crowds flocked to it in search of bargains.

'Petticoat Lane was always a big fixture for us as it used to go along the length of Commercial Road,' said Lion Dave Woodruff. 'Over a span of about 20 years we made a lot of money and helped a lot of people fit out their homes with quality goods at sensible prices.'

In 1993, the club was approached about running the August bank holiday fete at Nicholas Everitt Park, Oulton Broad, 'for the benefit of our charities': it is now a popular fixture in the calendar.

The Journal entered a team in the Maiden in Distress event at the very first Oulton Broad Gala Day to be organised by the Lions, in 1993. Its craft was 'designed' – to use that word loosely – by the then chief reporter, John Angier, and had a crew comprising prsent-day editor Max Bennett, Simon Stevens and Steve Downes. They had to rescue their 'maiden', reporter Siobhan Hand, and were among the seven teams that made it to the shore.

Lions have organised a mini Le Mans, which took place in the early 1980s, and the annual boxing dinner held Lowestoft ABC. Their service activities include the Message in a Bottle scheme, in which people have been encouraged to keep their personal and medical details on a standard form and in a common location – the fridge: also 'MoT' testing for diabetes with a local GP for men and women.

And they have extended their humanitarian work further afield: Operation Lionheart saw a collection of 96,000 shoeboxes containing 'the basics' head off on a 4,500-mile journey to survivors in war-torn Croatia; more than 100,000 cast-off spectacles have gone to eye camps in Africa; and the Lions helped to raise funds for the building of the Phuket Sunshine Village in Thailand after the 2004 Asian tsunami. 'We still have five children whom we fund in the village,' Mr Woodruff said. 'We have also helped a young man from Malawi, whom we have supported from the age of 10, when he lived in a mud hut, right through to him gaining a masters degree in agriculture.'

Mr Moore thanked all the visiting clubs at the celebration evening, attended by 229 diners.

Highlight of the occasion was a complete surprise to a Lion who has selflessly given, and continues after 42 years to give, service to the community: the president presented the Melvin Jones Fellowship in recognition of his continuing work to Peter Stott. Melvin Jones was the founder of the Association of Lions Clubs in 1917, and the fellowship in his name is recognised as the highest accolade that can be given for service to Lions.

Want to know more about the club? Then call Mr Moore on 01502 711331 or secretary Michael Cook on 01502 567942. And if you've any special Lions memories to share, do tell Turning Back the Clock!