Fun and Fellowship

Paul Harris Award to Surinder Dhesi – 23 Oct 2020


The President of the Rotary Club of Banbury Rotarian David Richardson presented Rotarian Cllr Surinder Dhesi on 23rd October 2020 with a Paul Harris Award. The award is named after Paul Harris, a Chicago lawyer who started Rotary International with three business associates in 1905.The designation as a Paul Harris Fellow is a tribute to a person whose life demonstrates a shared purpose with the objectives of the Rotary Foundation. President Rotarian David Richardson accompanied by fellow Rotarian Nigel Randall made the presentation.

The President expressed his pride and pleasure that the Club had decided to make this award recognising Surinder as she becomes a Paul Harris Fellow. It is always given in true recognition of a valued and sincere contribution to Rotary and the Local Community and a true recognition of “ Service above Self” the motto of all Rotarians. Surinder has served the local community for some forty years. She has been involved in many Community Projects, fundraising for a mini bus,

Scanner Appeal, Sunshine Centre, Katherine Hospice, Dogs for Good, Dogs for the Blind, Maggie’s Centre and Maternity Unit at the Horton Hospital and other fundraising events. Not forgetting serving on Banbury Town and Cherwell District Council.

In normal circumstances the award would have been presented in the presence of all Rotary Members at the weekly lunchtime meeting. Due to the current covid 19 restrictions the award was presented to Rotarian Cllr Surinder Dhesi by President Rotarian David Richardson in his back garden.

Cllr Rotarian Surinder Dhesi ‘s response was excitement and pride at receiving the honour of a Paul Harris Fellowship.”I am very humbled and honoured to receive this award. It is a honour and a privilege to serve the community of Banbury. I would like to express my warmest thanks to all members of the Rotary Club of Banbury and working with Banbury Rotary Club has been a pleasure serving the community and over the years, working with great people.”

Talk: Age Friendly Banbury – 16th Oct 2020

On 16th  October 2020 Bee Myson from Age Friendly Banbury gave interesting talk.

Age Friendly Banbury is a joint initiative to make Banbury a great place to grow older.

There are already some great groups and opportunities for older people in Banbury, but for some older people poor transport, unsuitable housing, fear of crime, lack of community cohesion, limited care and support and difficulty finding or getting to social activities can get in the way of enjoying their later years.

The initial  focus is on older people, but the vision is of a “ Banbury for all ages” a friendly and more accessible town for everyone.

Following the launch event in 2018, Age Friendly Banbury is strengthening its commitment to making the town become one of Britain’s first age friendly towns.

This encompasses both the built environment, such as housing, transport and outdoor spaces and the social environment, such as health and information services, civic participation and social activities.

In practice, age friendly social action could include anything from befriending and activity clubs, to  ‘men In sheds’ or community owned pubs.

By offering a joined up approach to social action specific to Banbury, it is hoped that older people will have more opportunities to flourish.

Covid Detection Dogs – Oct 2020

Members may have heard a report on Radio 4 about dogs being used to detect covid – even in asymptomatic carriers.

The report was from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine but the dogs were – of course – associated with the charity medical detection dogs who have twice in recent years provided talks about their work to Banbury Rotary Club.

You can read more about this work on either the medical detection dogs website here or the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine here.

Basically the aim is that COVID-19 detection dogs are able to passive screen, i.e. without physical contact, any individual, including those who are asymptomatic, and indicate to dog handlers whether they have detected the COVID-19 virus. This will then be confirmed by a medical test.  The results are extremely promising and the dogs can be trained within a couple of months.

The researchers are looking for volunteers who are unfortunate enough to contract covid to provide samples that can be used to train the dogs.  Details of this are provided here.

Together Talks: 20th Oct 2020

“Lessons Learned From Polio in Tackling COVID-19?” with Dr Michel Zaffran

Dr Zaffran is director of Polio Erdaication at the Worlsd Health Organisation. A project that has reduced World Polio by 99.99% and is on the verge of extinguishing it permanently.

TogetherTalks is a series of conversation events, connecting people from across the globe to a range of leading speakers from the worlds of business, volunteering, the charity sector and more. Brought to you by Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland.

  • 40 minute sessions
  • In-depth and sharp conversation around important topics
  • Q & As
  • Zoom Room Access
  • Live Stream Broadcast on the You Tube Channel

Whether you want to watch on the live-stream or participate via zoom you can register here.

Talk – Great great Uncle Tom!

The speaker on Friday 2nd October was our own Rotarian John Bennett, who regaled us with the adventures of Thomas Butler Gunn. Born at The Ark, Warwick Road in 1826, he moved with his family to Oxford and then London when still a youngster and on leaving school, was articled to an architect in Soho Square. However, his talent for illustrating meant that he soon left the practice and found employment as a freelance illustrator for Punch and several other publications.

Hearing stories about the New World, he sailed for America in 1849, producing illustrations for numerous journals and wrote a book about his experiences in New York boarding houses and eventually drifted into journalism. He travelled extensively around America by train, boat and horseback and with the advent of the civil war, covered the progress of the battles from the front line for The New York Tribune. During his time in America he kept a journal recording all his travels and adventures and by the time he returned to England in 1863, he had completed 23 volumes. These are now owned by the Missouri Historical Society and have been referenced by numerous historians studying that period of American history.

Back in England at last, he married Hanna Bennett of Poplars Farm, Chacombe, who he had been secretly engaged to and who had waited for him, for over 8 years. She was the sister of John’s Great Grandfather. They set up home at Bennett’s Farm in Wardington and where they lived for the rest of their life. His travelling days being over, he lived quietly, still writing for The Tribune as well as for several British publications, contributed articles for the Banbury Guardian and occasionally lectured about his travels.

Thomas Butler Gunn died in 1904, but as John said, if he was alive today, he’d have been proud to call him Great Great Uncle Thomas.

Talk – An Industrial Accident – 9th Oct 2020

Justin Manley was a skilled pipe technician with 15 years experience in the water industry when he was called upon to  sort out a burst water main that in just seconds changed his whole life.

Whilst working on a 12″ water main a miscommunication resulted in the mains water being switched on whilst he was still working on it and the explosive pressure change  forced a torque wrench into his face at tremedous speed. Justin was knocked unconscious and was left floating face-down at the bottom of a hole rapidly filling with water. In his high-vis-vest he was fortunately quickly spotted by his coworker and pulled out but with major injuries to his eye and head. A retired nurse appeared and essentially brought him  back to life stabilizing him until the paramedics arrived.

At hospital Justin’s relief at seeming to be hurt but mostly functioning OK was soon to be rudely corrected by the news the doctors had for him.

The rest of the story sets out the heart-rending decisions he had to make and the way the whole event sent waves of consequences not only for his wife and children, but far, far beyond that.

It’s a story of eventual triumph over tragedy as Justin adapts to his new and rather different life (see titanium talks ) but also a sobering warning about the dangers of assuming that experience of and familiarity with a task equates to that task being necessarily under control.

A talk that very few of the members present are likely to forget in a hurry!  

Happy 85th Birthday to us – 24th Sept 2020

OK – it’s not a centenary but keeping a club thriving for 85 years is worth a mention – and in these strange times we do need something to celebrate!

The first meeting of the provisional club was held at the Wincott’s Café in South Bar on Friday 10th May 1935, and the Inaugural lunch was arranged for Friday 24th May at the same venue.

The Club’s Charter was signed making us an official Rotary Club on 24th September 1935.

 Five months had elapsed from the first meeting before the presentation of the charter at a formal dinner that was held at the Banbury Town Hall on 25th October 1935 – sadly the sort of function which at the moment we can only ream about!


Managing a Whitehall Crisis

You can see a fuller text of the talk here.


On 18 September, Lord (Tim) Boswell of Aynho talked to the Club about managing a crisis in Whitehall and he said : “You have to start somewhere, and there can be no better introduction than ‘Yes Minister’. Most of us would describe it as inspired light fiction, but for insiders it was a documentary, and even sometimes a training video. I’ll offer two lessons from it. First every crisis is different in its own way – I think it was Tolstoy who said all happy families are happy in the same way but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Second, the programme captures perfectly the small world of ministerial offices and their counterparts. As an aside when I was very much on the bottom rung as a Junior Whip – all right we did inhabit No 12 Downing Street – I was taken by the Chief Whip to a meeting. ‘Where are we going to? Cabinet. Gosh!’ But that was only a one-weekend crisis, so no more of it.

I pretty much came cold into this world in the early 1980s (although I did a bit of Civil Defence Planning when still at school). I was farming in Aynho when the phone rang, and was put through to Michael Jopling who was then Minister of Agriculture, whom I had once worked with long before. ‘Tim, Europe has agreed to reduce the butter mountain by introducing milk quotas – would you like to come up to help us invent them?’ As Eric Morecambe would have said ‘There’s no answer to that’. So I took off my wellies, and went up to Whitehall officially for two days a week, to become what is now known, often rather notoriously, as a Special Adviser. I stayed on for the best part of three years, not just for milk quotas, but long enough to go also through the Chernobyl crisis (with radioactive sheep in the Lake District) and it all led to my going into politics, and eventually having some time as a Minister back in my old Department, with Sir Tony Baldry as a colleague, though he then took most of the strain on mad cow disease.

You might think it a bit tasteless to couple milk quotas, radioactive sheep and mad cows alongside the huge pandemic crisis Whitehall is now facing. Yet while the subject matter is very different, handling it is very much the same. I’ll deal first with the mechanism for getting through it, and then touch on some of the wider lessons to be learnt (or relearnt).  Incidentally, I think it makes little difference which Party is in Government, though personalities can be important.

The top tip for someone going into Whitehall is to make the best of the element of surprise. ‘Who’s that? A threat, or even a spy?’ By the time they have worked you out you are an established part of the scene, and if you can be civil and constructive, and not too bumptious, that’s a bonus. I used to think often of the academics and others recruited in 1939 for the war effort, and I hope and guess they were made as welcome as I was. And if you can bring a few extra perspectives to their problems, you have it made.

A second aspect in any crisis is that you never know where you are when you start out. An example; you may think you can dish out milk quotas to dairy farmers on the basis of past production, but you have to leave a reserve for hard cases like the young farmer who has only just started, or the farmer whose herd has been depleted by animal disease. We even set up a tribunal for the hard cases. So also with a health crisis- you start simply enough by trying to suppress the virus, and you immediately add an economic crisis and soon a social crisis, probably with a mental health element. And as a pandemic is by definition worldwide, so you cannot turn your back on what is happening in other perhaps less advantaged countries. There are many feedback loops, all seized on by litigious persons (think of insurance claims) arts lobbies (not to mention the culture war over the Last Night of the Proms) or disability interests. And now, which I never directly experienced myself you have all the apparatus of devolution and (slightly) different rules to explain.

Here is a prescription for coping:

  1. Pick a small team with one or two who know the subject(obviously doctors if it’s a health crisis)
  2. One or two people who can think imaginatively – a Whitehall crisis unlocks inner creativity.
  3. At least one lawyer who can also think outside the box
  4. Someone who likes strategy, thinking forward to the next hurdle.
  5. Someone checking implementation. So often you think or claim you have pulled the lever and nothing happens, or it gets caught up in something else.

This team needs to work frequently together and to bounce ideas off each other. I wonder whether my own claim to fame will have been to pioneer the introduction of colour in application forms – ‘Farmer Jones, just fill in the green one’

This team needs also to work closely with those who handle relationships. Part of this is traditional liaison, with No 10 and Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, including the devolved administrations, (previously) EU colleagues, and local authorities and stakeholders. Only then and in parallel the wider public, and not too much ‘spin doctoring or tweeting’! I think we forget Churchill and Attlee had served together in wartime, and Ministers need to keep a wary but real relationship with their ‘shadows’.

These teams can be fluid, but you do need a Minister in overall charge. As hinted above, I feel that the general public will respond to clear leadership. You have to navigate the tensions between evolving knowledge, explaining what you are doing about it, and deciding what the public needs to be told. The longer it continues the tougher it gets.

Let me say a few words from the other side of the coin, media in particular .This year has put great strain on them – how much of the schedule to allocate, how much to cover personal interest stories, and how to maintain some kind of balance? There is an implied steady state normally in public life where Government governs, whether or not you support it, and is only subject to a bit of grief from the media and parliament and the wider checks and balances in society like local authorities and trade associations. This breaks down in a crisis when people who would not normally worry too much about politics realise that there is a real threat, and that it is affecting them and their families.

To stimulate your thoughts, let me offer you what I feel should have been said at the beginning of the pandemic:

  • This is a new and serious health emergency affecting us all
  • We don’t know how serious yet, but we will try to use the best knowledge available to do the right thing
  • We will try to tell it straight and not over-claim
  • We will take responsibility for what we do, including inevitably mistakes
  • We will do our best for you and ask in return that you respond in the same way

Two thoughts finally. We should always make the best of a crisis and learn lessons, but you can’t ration the number of crises-try simultaneously COVID, BREXIT, floods and a cyber-attack on New Year’s Eve. Then cheer yourselves by reflecting on the Queen’s wisdom when she reminded us ‘We’ll meet again’ !”

Tim then fielded a series of questions which provided further insight into the mechanisms of Whitehall and the present issues regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Altogether a most interesting talk and question time.

The Sikh Contributions to WWI &II

Surinder Dhesi gave a talk about the contribution of Sikh and Indian soldiers during the first and second world wars noting how the contribution and sacrifices made by Sikhs and other non-European nations and communities can often be under-played.

At the start of World War I the Sikhs, who contributed disproportionately to India’s armed forces, were promised they would be granted an independent Sikh Kingdom. They suffered heavy casualties on the Western Front amongst the 130,000 Sikhs who took part.
After the end of World War I, within six months, the British Empire, which needed Sikhs so badly in 1914-18, turned its own machine guns on them in the 1919 JillianWara Bagh Amritsar Massacre.

In WWII a Sikh contingent proved vital backup to the British Forces in France in 1940 and when they were amongst those evacuated at companies were evacuated at Dunkirk. Sikh pilots also contributed to the Battle of Britain and subsequently in bombing raids over Germany.

Sikh regiments played a major part in the operations in Italy, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, East Africa and the Far East including Burma. By the end of the war fourteen Victoria Crosses were awarded to the Sikhs, whom fought on land, sky and sea and south Asian merchant seamen living around the ports of London, Cardiff, Liverpool and South Shields played a significant role maintaining supply lines to Britain.

In addition to meeting her own requirements, India’s new factories produced much of the textiles required by the military.

In 1946 Colonel Landed Saras-Field lamented and argued in agonising terms about the ‘Betrayal of the Sikhs’ during the grotesque and undemocratic British-Indian colonial ‘Transfer of Power’ of 1947. In a direct call to the British government, he protested about how the Sikh political and economic interests had been totally forgotten, carving up the two states of India and Pakistan and not living up to the promise of giving back Sikhs their kingdom in the Northern region of the Indian subcontinent.

History books, the school curriculum and TV movies usually offer but skimpy acknowledgement of the role of non-European soldiers in WW1 and WWII. This can be painful for British Sikhs whose forefathers fought and died on the front-line for the UK. Surinder expressed a hope that this country might move to greater recognition of the contribution of Sikhs and other ethnic minorities in the World Wars especially by acknowledging this more in what is taught in schools. For future generations to grow up with a more balanced understanding of the contributions of the Sikhs and others might help towards better understanding a for all.

Transition to Sustainable Transport – 28th Aug 2020

two white and red tesla charging station

Our speaker on Friday 28th August was our own Nigel Deakin who informed us of the rapid progress which is being made in the development of electric vehicles. Tesla has emerged as the market leader in this field, receiving many awards and accolades, including being named the safest cars on the road.

One of the disadvantages of electric vehicles up until now, for both cars and lorry’s, has been the limited mileage their batteries have achieve between charges.  However, battery technology is developing at an amazing rate. Many cars can now travel over 300 miles on a single charge and its forecast that within a few years this will increase to over 500 miles. And developments are afoot to drastically reduce the time it takes to recharge during journeys.

Tesla has invested heavily in battery development and manufacturing to the point where they produce more batteries than all other car manufacturers put together. Their mission statement is:

“To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport” – and Tesla’s patents are open to all.

With new high tech factories under construction for car assembly and battery manufacture, it’s predicted that prices will fall to more than match the cost of the current fossil fuelled vehicles we drive today.  Nigel’s enthusiasm for the subject took another step forward this week when he  drove a Tesla for the first time – and he’s sold on the technology.   


two white and red tesla charging station
Photo by Chad Russell on