First-ever woman president of Harrogate Rotary Club

Margaret-Ann de Courcey-Bayley.

Margaret-Ann de Courcey-Bayley.

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The appointment of the first woman to become president of the Rotary Club of Harrogate is surely a sign that progress comes to everyone.

But the woman in question herself, Margaret-Ann de Courcey-Bayley, sees this small piece of history in a very down to earth way.

She said: “It is a big step becoming president. Members’ wives have always helped the Rotary Club in the past but there is a difference between helping and being a full, official member.

“Since I was appointed everyone’s been so kind, so generous and so supportive. You couldn’t have a nicer group of people to be president of.”

Originally set up as a mainly business organisation in 1921, it was only in the 1990s that Harrogate Rotary Club started to actively encourage women to join.

The first lady president has made one small change already – the cover of this latest Rotary Club year book has a new colour – shocking pink!

But last year’s president Graham Saunders sees this milestone moment as more of a continuation of developments already taking place than anything more radical.

He said: “We thought Margaret-Ann had all the skills necessary to be president.

“We are a male/female club and we thought the appointment would also demonstrate that we genuinely do want lady members as well as men.”

Born in County Durham 75 years ago, when it comes to public service this mother of two is vastly experience in a huge variety of fields.

Having worked as a teacher for many years in Harrogate, Margaret-Ann was elected to Harrogate Borough Council in 1986 and represented the Granby ward until she retired in 2011. Not that she has taken it easy at any point. Even her list of the posts she holds currently is simply too lengthy to itemise in full.

Education, economy, health, religion and libraries this is someone whose life is dedicated to service.

Perhaps that’s why this former Harrogate mayor and deputy leader of the council has been the one to make history in this way?

One of the longest-established rotary clubs in Britain, the social side is very important to Harrogate Rotary Club and the benefits of networking at the groups’ weekly Monday night meetings at Ascot House Hotel on Kings Road in a friendly and fun atmosphere are clearly important.

But the glue which holds the Rotary together is the idea of public service, says Margaret-Ann.

She said: “It’s nice to get together and have a meal and a drink but the Rotary is really about service to the community locally, nationally and internationally.”

At an international level, Harrogate Rotary Club is particularly known for its contribution to the environmental movement in Rotary International.

Locally, it supports the Harrogate Flower Fund Homes project - 27 self-contained flats for people over-55s but is probably best known for the annual Nidderdale Charity Walk from Ripley Castle which raises more than £60,000 each year for local charities.

But its work goes well beyond donations and fundraising. It’s a hands-on group, which is the way Margaret-Ann likes it.

She said: “Fundamentally we are about voluntary service. In the Rotary you do real things for real people. We make sure if a local organisation wants to do something good and needs our support to make it happen we will give that support "

Scratch the surface of most local events and the name of Harrogate Rotary, Club, which will celebrate its centenary in just four years’ time, tends to pop up quite a lot.

It’s Rotarians who help steward Knaresborough Bed Race, Rotarians who help steward Harrogate Christmas Market, Rotarians who help steward the Harrogate International Youth Festival parade at Easter, Rotarians who help steward the Big Picnic in Harrogate’s Valley Gardens.

Still, this history and political graduate who is a Friend of Starbeck Library is anything but po-faced about the good work Harrogate Rotary Club does.

It’s a friendly and lively group and she is keen to make a difference in a quiet way as it first-ever lady president.

Margaret-Ann said: “It’s not always easy to attract volunteers but men and women can benefit equally by being members. If more ladies join that’s splendid but it’s really about attracting people who care about the Rotary’s core ideals.”