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In conversation with Tom Harper, President of the Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club

27th October 2022

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This year, Beaulieu is sponsoring the Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club, which works closely with and raises money for causes in and around Chelmsford. Countryside and L&Q understand the importance of supporting local communities and we are proud to be helping an organisation which has such a positive impact on residents in the area.

Currently in his second year as President of the club, we caught up with Tom Harper, to find out more about the Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club.

How long have you lived in Chelmsford for?

I moved to Chelmsford with my wife and three children in 1989 - we are originally from the West Country in Bristol. I was in a very narrow field within the police force, specialising in forensics, so there weren’t many opportunities for promotion. Then a role came up in Chelmsford which I couldn’t turn down, and we’ve been here ever since.

What do you like about the area?

For us, it’s where our family is. All three of our children grew up here and now our grandchildren all live in Essex and Suffolk too. The area holds a lot of memories for us, and we’ve really grown to love Chelmsford.

How long have you been part of Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club and how did you first get involved?

I first got involved in 2017. I had just retired from the police force and one of my neighbours was a member of the club. He invited me to go along to a couple of meetings and I found that everyone was very friendly and I liked the club’s role in the community – raising money for local charities and getting involved with community projects. It fitted in with what I wanted to do after coming out of the police force and I’ve been involved ever since.

What role do you think Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club plays in the local community?

The Rotary club is all about friendship, doing good in the community and raising money for local charities – our ethos is “Service above Self” and we are very hands on with the causes we get involved with. A great example of this is when we re-decorated the offices of one of our long-term charities - ‘Hidden Harm’ which is part of the children’s society, and they look after children who have parents that struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. Their offices are in Chelmsford, and they were quoted £10,000 for building/decorating work. We decided that the Rotary Club had the skills and could do the work instead, so we essentially did £10,000 worth of work, for no charge, for a very important cause.

What causes are you currently supporting?

As a club we have two ‘preferred’ charities – these can change each year, but Hidden Harm has been one of our long-term partners. The other for this year is the Wilderness Foundation, which gives children outdoor experiences in the wild. As a group, all rotary clubs are involved in worldwide causes, such as ending polio worldwide, which is in partnership with the Gates foundation, and that has been very successful raising millions of pounds. We also get involved with international projects and have recently refurbished a former shipping container, furnishing it with office equipment, computers and printers, and turned it into an internet classroom for a town just outside of Johannesburg. This allows the children of the township access to learning outside of their limited schooling. However, the vast majority of the money collected from our fundraising events in Chelmsford largely goes towards local charities and any nearby projects that need assistance.

What type of events do you get involved with?

Alongside smaller scale events, such as those at the Beaulieu Community Centre, our main fundraising event we run and organise is the annual running race around Great Baddow in Chelmsford. There’s a 10-mile route for serious runners and a 2-mile fun run for families. It’s been going for 40 years and we normally get 1,000 runners in the main race and 500 in the fun run. However, our aim is for the activities associated with Santa’s Sleigh, which Beaulieu is sponsoring this year, to equal the success of the race and hopefully go on for as long.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club?

For us, membership is the biggest challenge. People don’t know what we do and a lot of people can’t join our Tuesday lunchtime meetings due to work commitments. We do also have a ‘Friends of the Rotary’ option, but we need members to raise money through annual fees. We are also trying to get younger members involved, which is why it’s so great that Beaulieu is sponsoring us as we can look to recruit members through residents living there.

What’s been your favourite moment during your role at Chelmsford Mildmay Rotary Club?

The introduction of the sleigh was a very special moment, especially when I didn’t think that we’d find the skills to put it together, but we have a couple of farmers who are good at building and it was such a big achievement - seeing the awe on children’s faces and raising money at the same time is a feeling I will never forget.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt during your time at the club?

There are hidden pockets in the community that no one knows about that need help, which we are now able to address through the work we do. I didn’t realise before that in such a wealthy area there can be poverty struggles and I am so pleased to be able to help alleviate this.