A REGULAR meeting of the Christchurch Rotary Club was disrupted by the presentation of an exceptional and prestigious award.
The group met on Tuesday, July 25, with club president Peter Boardman surprising past member Mary Reader by announcing they wished to award her an exceptional Rotary honour: the Paul Harris Fellowship.
Named after the founder of the Rotary movement, in Chicago in 1905, the Fellowship is occasionally awarded to Rotarians who have provided outstanding service within the organisation.
Very exceptionally, it can also be awarded to non-Rotarians who have made a real difference to the community.
President Peter said: “Mary’s long-standing and continuing commitment to local people, charities, schools and businesses is totally consistent with Rotary objectives, and more than warrants this exceptional award.”
Mary founded the Christchurch Food Festival, which first took place in the year 2000, while she was President of the Christchurch Chamber of Trade and Commerce. It had continued as an annual event, raising the profile of the town, and bringing pleasure to both residents and visitors.
A decade ago, she was invited to organise a similar event in Highcliffe, and with the support of volunteers had founded what has now become the successful annual Highcliffe Food and Arts Festival.
In both festivals, Mary had insisted on providing activities for families and children, and had focused on educating children in healthy eating while having fun cooking.
This work had continued outside the festivals, through in-school healthy eating activities, carried out by the formation of a registered charity, the Christchurch Food Festival Education Trust.
Over the years, some 15,000 children have had the benefit of hands-on cookery experiences in local schools, and some have even gone on to make high-level careers in hospitality.
Five years ago, Mary became involved with the Dorset Gardens Trust, and as their schools visitor for Christchurch and East Bournemouth has provided advice and grants to 12 local schools to encourage the children to learn about gardening through direct involvement in each school’s own garden.
Members joined Peter in applauding and congratulating Mary, who – once she had recovered from her complete surprise – thanked the club most sincerely for this recognition.