Alton Lions Club celebrated its 50th anniversary in style on Sunday, May 21, with a special Charter Lunch at the Alton House Hotel.
It was the recognition of 50 years of Lions serving the community of Alton and the surrounding villages which revealed an amazing history and an enthusiasm to create an equally amazing future.
Guests of honour were three charter members – Alton Lion David Hodder, Woolmer Forest Lion Derek Port, and the driving force, Alton’s first-ever president, Mike Edwards.
It was the first public engagement for Alton’s new town mayor, Cllr Ben Hamlin – a Lion in Panama, and consort, Maureen, who joined Lions District 105SC Governor David Ebsworth (a Reading Lion) and wife Julie, as well as Lions from Guildford, Farnham, Petersfield, Fleet and Woolmer Forest, there to honour the past and pave the way for the next half-century of Lionism in Alton.
Speaking on behalf of the founder members, Mike Edwards painted a picture of a group of young men who came together in 1972 (chartered 1973) to support the community in which they lived and worked by raising money and providing entertainment, in an attempt to help those in need, and to have fun while doing so.
So it was that those early Lions threw themselves into the purchase of a static caravan at Selsey, which they made available during the spring and summer to families who were unable to afford a holiday.
And they undertook a sponsored caravan pull to supplement the cost.
For years Alton Lions ran the Alton Carnival and a school’s It’s a Knockout competition and collected food at Christmas to make into parcels to deliver to families struggling to make ends meet.
They ran barn dances and balls, they adopted a child for the day and took them to the seaside, and even challenged one another to daredevil antics in an effort to bolster funds.
As time went on, Lions ran a regular car boot sale at Anstey Park and the wives formed a She Lions group to support their activities and run their own service agenda.
But life moves on and the past half-century has seen massive social change
As current Alton Lions president Moira Baker said in her address: “It was a very different world 50 years ago when expectations were less sophisticated and red tape was something you might use at Christmas!
“But, ever resilient and resourceful, Lions have adapted to change – something that is never easy and of which everyone involved should be justifiably proud.”
While legislative regulation may have seen the demise of some of these earlier activities, Alton Lions still post cards through every letterbox in the town and beyond and distribute gifts and vouchers to those in need at Christmas.
They continue to work with the Alton Runners to organise the road race and cross-country challenge; Lions run a highly-successful monthly craft market; take families on outings – the next one will be to Marwell Zoo in June – and they support Re-Engage for the elderly. They run an Easter Eggstravaganza for Bushy Leaze Children and Families Centre; a successful golf day for Rehab; a sponsored walk for HomeStart; have recently donated two Lions benches to the town; and help save lives with the annual prostate testing event and by installing a growing number of publicly available defibrillators.
For 15 years Alton Lions have run a Party in the Park with and for Treloars, and have recently taken over the running of the Alton Classic Car Show.
“Like all clubs we have had our challenges along the way – we introduced women into the club, led the way for Lions in the UK by becoming one of the first to register as a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation ) – a charity in its own right, as now required by law. Wes survived the Covid lockdown by learning to embrace modern technology and, alongside Alton Town Council, played a leading role in the town’s ADCRF Resilience Fund.”
Now that has closed, Alton Lions are working, with others, to launch a replacement fund to support those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
Said Lion Moira: “We continue to strengthen our links with other support organisations in the town, to better serve the needs of our community which, like inflation, continue to grow, both in complexity and cost.”
As part of the 50-year celebration, Alton Lions took the opportunity at the charter lunch to launch two new projects: a Lions Den initiative, offering a share of £5,000 to support projects put forward by smaller charitable organisations in Alton and the villages; and an Alton Lions ‘50 for 50’ challenge, inviting people of all ages to get themselves sponsored to undertake 50 challenges in aid of Jacksplace, the part of Naomi House Children’s Hospice supporting teenagers and young adults.