The Lions Club of Braintree started as a Band of Brothers, which came into being in 1979. When a few chums got together and formed a club for men. And in those days all Lions Clubs were men only, the ladies had to form their own Lioness’s clubs if they wanted to belong. Nowadays, of course, the club is open to all.

Back in the early ’80s we were young, strong and enthusiastic, it was the time when Dutch Elm disease ravaged our countryside and the lions chopped down the elms, chopped them up and delivered the logs to local old folk. We also tidied overgrown gardens (a huge demand for that service) and even decorated rooms for old ladies or residential homes.

To raise funds we started an annual auction of ‘Furniture, Antiques and Bric-a-Brac’ in the Wiseman Hall, long since pulled down. All year-long we collected stuff, keeping it in Tony’s barn until the big day. A good fund-raiser until car boot sales came along.

In those early days we started to drive the minibus for our friends in the Gateway club. We are still driving it, although

We tried many other fundraising ideas, the Town Fair, raft races on Gosfield Lake, concerts in Cressing Barns and built a train to give rides at school fetes until we realised the real money-maker is the Christmas float and that too is still going strong. The club members also collected shoe boxes, filled with small luxuries and took them direct to Bosnia. For many years we helped with the ‘Chernobyl children’ who came to England for a respite from the polluted air of their benighted homeland.

We are, of course, part of Lions International and have helped create water wells in Africa and educated children in Malawi. We have contributed to help with natural disasters, the tsunami, earthquakes etc and because Lions International can send this aid to a local Lions club we are sure our money goes straight to where it is needed. Lions Clubs have long been associated with helping the blind, since Hellen Keller challenged us to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness” and since then Lions Clubs across the world have worked on projects to prevent blindness, restore eyesight and improve eye health and eye care for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. In Braintree we still collect unwanted spectacles which are sent to Africa and put to good use.

But where and why did this enjoyable way of helping others all start?
Back in Chicago in 1917 business men would meet to talk and eat and get to know each other, we would call it networking today. A certain Melvin Jones asked this question “What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition, were to put their talents to work to improving their communities?” Soon the first Lions Club was founded and Lions soon became international with clubs in Mexico and Canada. It was Canadian soldiers in London during the war who saw how ‘Blitz children’ existed and raised money back home to help. Our own Queen arranged distribution to the needy kids and soon the first club was formed in London. Now almost every town has a Lions Club.

What are we doing now, 36 years after those young men became friends?
We still take the train to local fetes, we still drag Santa around the frozen streets, delighting the children, we collect for Children in Need. But our main fundraising event is the Braintree Real Ale Festival. We have been doing this for 11 years and what a fun-filled delightful event it is. Real Ale enthusiasts come from all over to sample and quaff over 60 beers, porters and ciders and because we persuade local companies to sponsor each barrel, we make a tidy profit.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THAT MONEY? WE GIVE IT AWAY!

The air ambulance, Farley Hospice, other hospices and local hospitals have all benefited. A computer for a blind couple, equipment for disabled children. Macmillan Nurses and Mencap and many other local charities have all been helped.

We also have a social side, with our Charter Night every year, a black tie, posh frock affair, theatre trips, safari suppers and speakers at our meetings. The world has changed a lot since 1979 but Braintree Lions are still busy, still raising money, still enjoying good fellowship. If you would like to see what we do, come along to one of our meetings.