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About Dudley
Winner 1986
District Significant Achievement Award

Dudley Rotary Club is the only Club in District 1210 to have been presented with four District Significant Achievement Awards.

September 1985 brought together a set of circumstances which, between them, contributed to what was to be a very fruitful venture into international relations. The new President of Rotary International was calling for efforts to be made to establish contacts in Eastern Europe; our own International Service Committee was searching for a new project which should, if at all possible, link with our twin Club in Brest; and perhaps the most important factor, though we did not realise it at the outset, attitudes in some of the countries behind the "Iron Curtain" were becoming more receptive to the West.

Past President Fred Austin, who had recently retired and could spare some time, wrote to the embassies of the Czech Republic, East Germany, Hungary and Poland, inviting them to select a team of young, up-and-coming men and women, whom we would host in Dudley for two weeks at our expense and introduce to business, industry and places of interest in the area. The replies were interesting and indicative of the regime: no reply at all from East Germany, a stiff referral to Prague from the Czechs, an invitation for our President to have lunch in London with the Hungarians, but then no more, and a late but very friendly letter from the Poles which led on to a visit by their Cultural Attache. He came to the Zoo Club, enjoyed his meal with us, asked a lot of questions about the way that Rotary operates, insisted on giving a hip-flask of vodka to Sid Rowley, our oldest member, and went away promising to do his best to complete the arrangement when recalled to Warsaw a few weeks later.

So it was that, in May 1986, we heard that, provided we were willing to shoulder all expenses while the group was in England, a team would be selected and would arrive in November. Once we knew that the group consisted of two export-import sales executives, an administrator, an economist and a reporter/broadcaster, it was not difficult to arrange a fortnight's programme of visits, transport by retired members or by minibus and hosting for a week at a stretch.

When the team arrived at Dudley & Sandwell station on a damp November morning, they were quickly seen to be young, friendly and extremely sociable, both, as a group, with each other, for they had had no previous contact with other members before setting off for England, and also with their hosts in the Club. They spoke and understood English very well and benefited from the arranged visits, which ranged from factories like Simon Engineering to Russell's Hall Hospital and a school for our less able children. As with many other GSE teams, they met the Mayor over a civic lunch, were shown over the Castle and Zoo, went to a concert at the new Symphony Hall in Birmingham and laughed at "Daisy pulls it off", a hilarious production at the Alexandra Theatre. Perhaps the most memorable evening of the visit was the Presentation at the Lodge, which had been thrown open to all Rotarians and wives from the length and breadth of District 121(0): memorable, not so much for the presence in Dudley of the District Governor and other District officers, but for the broad sweep of the questions asked and for the frankness with which our young Polish friends answered them. 'George' and 'Andrew', the two Mirkas and Ewa made upon made a deep and lasting impression on the audience of over 130. Their hosts in Dudley also discovered their ability to put away free drink and to organise impromptu late-night parties at the slightest opportunity.

1986/87 Visit of GSE Team from Poland -
(rear L-R) 'Andrew', Noel Friar (District Governor), Geoff Groves (Club President),
-- Croxford (PP RIBI), 'George', -- (RIBI Foundation Chairman)
(front) Miroslawa Karscewska ('Little Mirka'), 'Mirka', 'Ewa', PP Fred Austin

There had of course, been some mention of a return visit to Poland when the suggestion was originally put to Cultural Attache, but it was not a condition of the arrangement. Consequently, the International Service Committee and District officers, who had taken a sufficient interest to ensure that some funds from their pot helped Dudley to finance the first half, hoped rather than expected that the invitation would come from Warsaw. It took time, but, eventually, in the Spring of 1988, there it was: "please come; September would be a good time; we will arrange a programme, the team that came to you will look after you, but you must take financial responsibility not only for the travel, but also for the hotel costs during your stay". To put it plainly, this meant that the Club had to find £2500 for the travel and accommodation costs of the leader and 4 English members of the group, while, as had been previously agreed, the Brest Club would add the £500 needed for whomever they themselves sponsored.

When the help that we had hoped for from Rotary Foundation was refused, we decided on a simple solution: we determined to withhold our "voluntary" contributions to Foundation for two years, which would recoup roughly 50% of the cost - the rest would be found from Club funds.

We advertised for team members through the local press and the Chamber of Commerce. Past President Fred Austin was happy to accept the role of leader of the group. Mike Summerfield and Fred interviewed the applicants and selected Howard and Brian from local industry, John, who ran the Chamber of Commerce in Wolverhampton and Sandra who, at the time, was a Senior Child Care Officer in Warwickshire. Roland, an executive in a builders' merchants in Brest completed the team and Fred Austin's wife Margaret paid for herself to come along as a chaperone. Roland, incidentally, spoke excellent English and was the life and soul of the party.

Warsaw in the 1980s was a delightful city if you ignored the drab workers' flats, the Russian built Palace of Culture and concentrated on the old city; Krakow even more so and, of course, the Tatra mountains are a different world. The Polish team, four of whom looked after the British team for the entire visit, made up for not being able to accommodate us by taking us to all the best restaurants and underground wine-cellars, as well as rafting on a fast-flowing mountain river. We saw round a state-run television factory, "new" private enterprises and joint-ventures, we met officials responsible for export and were made welcome everywhere.

The Warsaw Children's Hospital and No. 41 Orphanage gave rise to return visits by Fred and Margaret Austin in 1989 and 90, when they took equipment for the hospital and food and clothing for the children. Polish team member Andrew eventually joined a Rotary Club in Warsaw.