Soroptomist International celebrate 70 years of helping the community in Falkirk next year.
The women’s voluntary organisation has thousands of branches in 125 countries around the world and Soroptimist International Falkirk is the biggest in Scotland, boasting 54 members.
While fundraising is high on the list of priorities for members, the main aim of the group is to advance women’s potential, secure human rights for all and be of service to the local community.
Maria Cassidy is the former head teacher of St Andrew’s Primary School in Falkirk and joined the Soroptimists 18 years ago. Her mother Anna was also a member and Maria remembers the benefits she got from giving back to the community.
Maria, from Falkirk, said: “My mum got a lot from being a member, she liked the friendship and got a lot from helping in the community, so when I was invited to join I accepted.
“Being a member of the Soroptimist International allows you to make a real difference in the community, more of a difference than you could possibly make as an individual.”
Each year the Soroptimists choose a charity to help nationally and local branches can also choose a organisation to help. This year, the Falkirk club is supporting Strathcarron Hospice and has various events to generate funds including collecting for them in Falkirk High Street last week.
In addition, the branch continually supports good causes such as Falkirk Foodbank by supplying volunteers to help store and distribute food. They also help with the Falkirk-based charity for deaf people, Newsline, and support Falkirk Women’s Aid by supplying toiletries and clothing for victims of domestic abuse.
The group meets fortnightly on a Thursday and all members take on roles within the organisation to ensure no one has to do too much of the running of the club.
The organisation has changed in many ways from its beginnings in Falkirk almost 70 years ago, but the main ethos of helping women and girls and giving back to the community remains the same.
When Soroptimists International Falkirk formed, the group was exclusively for businesswomen and professionals and members had to be invited to join.
The early post war years were hard with the Falkirk branch very grateful to receive food parcels from Soroptimists in Pennsylvania
But despite the hardship locally they still managed to help those worse off and sent out clothing parcels to the European Winter Relief Fund.
About the same time a donation of almost £550 was sent to the UN Fund for the Relief of Children.
From the early days members gave much personal service locally to children, infirm and older people. Falkirk Soroptimists initiated the founding of the Old People’s Welfare Committee that became Age Concern and were instrumental in the establishment of the Arnotdale Day Centre in Dollar Park that had a membership of 800 at its peak.
Gillian Niven was the president of the Falkirk branch last year and says she is proud to be connected to an organisation with such proud history. She got involved though a friend of her mother and gets a lot from the group.
Gillian, a manager with Drummond Lawrie Chartered Accountants from Falkirk, said: “I love being a member of the Soroptimists, it’s like the Girl Guides, but for grown-ups!
“Service is at the heart of the Soroptimists and members give a lot back to their communities, not just financially with fundraising but by helping whenever we can.”
To celebrate Gillian’s 50th birthday last year, she decided to climb Mount Killamanjaro with a friend. The Soroptimists international framework allowed her to get in touch with the newly- formed branch in Tanzania and find out if they needed any help.
The African group were fundraising for a project to create a maternity room in the local health centre and needed to raise £2500 to turn the drab interior into a inviting space for mums and their babies with the latest technology to help every mother and baby have the best chance at life.
Gillian said: “We ended up giving them £3500 which meant the maternity room, which was really awful and not somewhere you would want to spend any time in, was transformed into a lovely space.
“The health centre had an area that couldn’t be used because there were huge bees’ nests in it and swarms of bees.
“They had no money to get a professional in to remove them, so they just lay unused. The extra money meant a bee man came in and removed the nests so they could use the whole centre again.”
As a result of Gillian’s trip, the Falkirk branch has formed a friendship link with the Tanzania branch and will continue to support their projects and help them to meet their goals. Women from the Falkirk branch are taking crafts made by the African group to a national conference in England next month to sell and they hope to finance future projects.
Gillian added: “The international element of the group allows link up and enables ideas to be shared and friendship to cross boundaries. Members have visited other branches on trips away and we have links with branches in America.
“To me, Soroptimist International means friendship.
“Being able to give back to the community is great, but members also help each other and the group is a fantastic support network for women.”
To find out more about Falkirk Soroptimists, visit the website at sigbi.org/falkirk.