Downham Market Lions Club to close due to low membership after 42 years of service
A community group which has supported a West Norfolk town for more than four decades, has announced it will be closing at the end of December.
The idea to close Downham Market Lions Club was first mooted in September due to a low and ageing membership, and a decision has now been confirmed to disband the service.
Formed in 1977 and chartered in March 1978 to help the local community, both financially and practically, the club has been integral to Downham over many years.
After 42 years, the membership has been reduced to six members who were struggling to continue to raise funds to fulfil their objective of helping those less fortunate in the town.
Current Downham Lions president John Fox said: "There is an average age of over 70 and it was getting difficult for us to go out fundraising. As you get older, you can use your legs less well and your back supports you less well.
"The pandemic has not helped as we have not been able to go out, but it is not the prime reason. It was not a decision that was made in a snap. It had been talked about and we were thinking along those lines for some months."
Mr Fox was first introduced to the group by a friend 36-years-ago, and he said the club has been a big part of his life having served as president more than once as well as treasurer and PR.
Reflecting on why he has enjoyed the club so much, Mr Fox said: "There is great delight in providing a piece of equipment for a disabled child, that type of thing. When you help someone by giving them something they can't afford, it's the delight of the recipient and families' faces which makes it worthwhile.
"It's not only kids, it's adults as well. The Lions organised holiday camps to the east coast and places like Great Yarmouth for less wealthy, elderly people to have a wonderful time. It is the delight of giving."
Over the years many activities have taken place to serve and support the community. The first project was to form the Downham branch of the Talking Newspaper for the benefit of those with sight problems.
After a number of years the Lions passed this group over to self-management which became known as Chinwag. This group has subsequently closed down.
In 1990 a “Young Lions” group was formed, known as the Leos and later, in 1996 the Lionesses were formed for female members.
For several years the Lions organised and coordinated the Christmas Lights Switch-On as well as providing Santa in his Grotto for the youngsters.
Mr Fox said: "It is very difficult to say how much has been raised for good causes over the years by Downham Market Lions because of the changes in accounting and the way in which the figures have been kept but it is possible to say that around £65,000 has been used to help those in need over the past 12 years.
"A large percentage of this has been for local individuals and organisations but there has also been some passed to international appeals."
There have also been times, such as providing the fire service with a thermal imaging camera or supplying the first publicly available defibrillator to the people of Downham, when the club knew that lives would be saved as a result of the fundraising and donations.
Other events in and around the town included a fundraising tandem ride to Downham’s twin town of Civray, and another cycle ride on a vintage 'boneshaker' to Lynn.
Water and Country Spectaculars were also large fundraising events bringing celebrities to the area and even the autogyro aircraft 'Little Nellie' with its pilot and inventor Ken Wallis.
A statement from Downham Lions said: "All these and many more ways of helping have been made possible by the ongoing support of the local businesses and members of the public with their support of events and donations through the likes of bucket collections.
"The Lions Club members thank everyone for their support and generosity over the years. Also a special thanks goes to those who have been supporters of the Lions Draw Club, formerly known as the 200 Club, taking part in the monthly draws. The final draws took place in November covering the Draw Club year to February 2021."
There are also Lions branches in Swaffham, Hunstanton, Fakenham and Lynn.