PROBUS. WHAT IS IT?
A BRIEF HISTORY
It is widely acknowledged that Probus had its foundation in Welwyn Garden City 50 years ago. It has now spread to many countries throughout the world and has been described by a member in Australia as the best thing England ever exported.
One of Ebenezer Howard’s aims when planning Welwyn Garden City was to achieve better opportunities for social intercourse.
By 1965 the population of Welwyn Garden City had grown to about 40,000 from fewer than 800 in 1921 and clubs and societies proliferated. Women and young people were well catered for, as were lovers of sport, music and the arts. Completely lacking were facilities for the increasing number of retired people and those who previously travelled to work were particularly disadvantaged as they knew few people in the towns where they lived.
A man called Fred Carnhill, who had moved to Welwyn Garden City eight years after its foundation, was an enthusiastic member of the local Rotary Club and addicted to cricket, bowls and soccer, but had retired and found a conspicuous lack of facilities for men in his situation.
His ‘simple idea’, as he called it, was the formation of a lunch club to serve as a focal point for the development of social activity among men of similar age and background.
Between an inspired idea and the establishment of a successful club lay a good deal of solid work. Mr Carnill sought support from Rotary through its Vocational Services Committee and was strongly supported by the Chairman of Welwyn Garden City Rotary. After a preliminary meeting in April 1965, reported in two local newspapers, the first ‘proper’ meeting took place on May 6th with 33 members of the new club present, together with six members of Rotary. There followed the first club lunch costing 7/6d (37.5p) at the Welwyn Department Store’s Parkway Restaurant.
A priority was the choice of a name. Suggestions included The West End, The Brethren, The Carnival (from the first letters of Mr Carnill’s name), and Regent (from the first syllables of ‘retired gentlemen’). From these ingenious, if rather comic, names ‘The Campus Club’ was chosen; the location of the first meeting overlooked the pleasant town centre area of the ‘Campus’ in Welwyn Garden City.
The new club had no difficulty attracting members. Telephones rang and enquiries were made even before men had retired! The news had spread via the press reports.
By the end of May membership had doubled and on June 3rd the first meeting as a body separate from Rotary was held although the Rotary chairman still took the chair.
The name was finalised and eight simple rules emerged, the most significant being the one that read: “The object of the club shall be the promotion of good fellowship”.
Despite its chosen name, The Campus Club has always claimed to be the founder of Probus. Following a letter to the Rotary International of Britain and Ireland (RIBI) journal in 1966, describing the club, a great deal of interest was generated with enquiries coming from all over the length and breadth of the UK.
Over the next six years Mr Carnhill was indefatigable in his proselytising work. He wrote giving advice on forming a club, attended initial meetings, sent information and spoke to prospective new clubs.
By 1971 about 150 Probus Clubs existed. Early clubs chose names such as Knife and Fork, Elevenses, Yesteryear and The Two XXs (ex-executives). The majority, however, adopted Probus.
The first to do so was Caterham, founded by Mr Harold Blanchard and two fellow commuters, an event also reported in the RIBI journal.
Harold Blanchard, James Raper and Edward Mockett OBE travelled by train to London daily to work, were reaching the point of retirement and realised they had a need for fellowship. Thus in the same time period, September 1965, Harold Blanchard, the chairman of Caterham Rotary Club Vocational Service Committee, by now retired from business, presented the idea to the Rotary Club.
The members of the Rotary Club Vocational Service Committee decided to organise a monthly lunch. In February 1966 a meeting was advertised for all retired professional and businessmen aged 60 and over. 42 men turned up. A monthly lunch was arranged, at which the Rotary Club president took the chair until the club had formed its own rules and committee. Thus the inaugural luncheon of the first Probus Club in the United Kingdom to use the name PROBUS was on March 2, 1966.
In May 1966 a committee was formed with Harold Blanchard as chairman. The name “Probus” had been suggested by a member who took the first three letters from ‘PROfessional and BUSiness’. It had the advantage that it was a Latin word from which ‘Probity’ was derived.
The Probus Club of Caterham was successful, and became known among other Rotary Clubs with new clubs being founded, almost exclusively by Rotary Clubs, and today there are an estimated 1700 Probus Clubs in the UK. In some towns demand is so great there are several: Cheltenham for example has ten Probus Clubs.
In 1974 Probus expanded into New Zealand and by 1976 the idea had spread to Australia. The first Probus club for seniors in North America was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Galt in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada in 1987.
Although Probus membership has its greatest concentrations in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, clubs today exist in all parts of the world, including the US, Belgium, India, Portugal, Holland, Germany, South Africa and several other countries in Africa and Asia.
Other countries have staffed headquarters to which clubs affiliate and which can impart advice and support. In the UK and Ireland it is seen as a strength of the movement that there is no central organising body so each club sets its own rules, the watchword being informality.