MENTION the Lions to most people in Sunderland and the first thing they will think of will be the Boxing Day Dip.
Chances are, unfortunately, that’s also the last thing they will think of.
But there’s more – much more – to the Lions, as Anne and Peter Fielding explain.
The 19 members of the Sunderland club are among 1.3million, serving in 44,000 clubs in 202 countries around the world.
“The Sunderland club is part of Lions Clubs International,” said Peter.
“It is the biggest service organisation worldwide. There are more Lions Club members than any other service organisation.”
Lions have been working to help others for almost a century, ever since Melvin Jones rallied together a group of his fellow businessmen in Illinois.
“The first club was set up in 1917, by a group of businessman, initially to help the local community in and around Chicago,” said Peter.
It was one of the world’s best-known disabled campaigners who gave the fledgling club its identity.
“Helen Keller challenged this particular group to do more to alleviate the problems faced by blind people around the world,” explained Peter.
The Lions became “the Knights of the blind,” a role it still proudly plays today, and the organisation was instrumental in establishing the white stick as a globally-recognised symbol of visual impairment.
“From there it spread through Asia and Europe, and eventually came to the UK in the 1950s, so it was quite late really,” explained Peter.
Britain may have gained its first Lions club comparatively late but the organisation had been doing good work in the country for some years.
“Straight after the war, there was a group of Canadian soldiers who have served over here and had seen the devastation in the bombing in London and the South East,” said Peter.
“They started collecting and fund-raising in Canada to help the deprived children in the London area and expected the Lions clubs in the UK to distribute these funds – but there weren’t any, so it was decided these funds would be handed out by the Church of England Children’s Society.”
Then in the early 1950s, the very first club was set up, meeting at the Lillywhite’s building in London. The Sunderland club, established in 1964, is the 100th in the UK and Ireland.
Clubs worldwide are divided into “multiple districts”.
Sunderland is one of 42 clubs in multiple district 105, which covers the North East and Scotland.