The ‘Optimistic Sisters’ of Medway: A Q & A with the Medway Soroptimists by Sam Hall


Writer and founder of the 17Percent campaign and Wordsmithery, SAM HALL introduces the Medway Soroptimists on the eve of their 70th birthday.

In 2015 this very active local branch of the international voluntary service organisation supported a successful series of writing workshops linked to her play MY MIND IS FREE

Tell us about the history of Medway Soroptimists and Soroptimists in general…

We are a women’s voluntary service organisation working to improve the lives of women and girls at a local, national and international level. 

Our projects are called Programme Actions, and this is at the heart of our work, aiming to educate, empower and enable women and girls to reach their own individual and collective potential, realise aspirations and have an equal voice in creating strong, peaceful communities worldwide. 

The name ‘Soroptimist’ was coined from the Latin soror meaning sister, and optima meaning best.  Optimistic sisters is another way we describe ourselves. 

From the founding of the first Soroptimist club in Oakland, California, in 1921, through to the present day where over 3,000 clubs are flourishing throughout the world, Soroptimists have continued to strive to achieve ‘the best for women’ in every sphere of their lives. 

The Medway Towns Soroptimist Club was Chartered on Monday 3rd June 1946. 

Our first Club President was Miss Elsie Worth, Matron at the County Hospital.

What are some of the key achievements for Medway Soroptimists?

Soroptimist House: in 1962 the Club announced its intention to buy a premises to convert into a home for elderly ladies. By 1967 the Club had taken out a mortgage on the house at 257 Napier Road, Gillingham.  This was a very enterprising project to undertake at a time when it was not was not easy for women, let alone Clubs, to obtain a mortgage.

Zisize: Since 2001 the Club has been involved with a project in a remote area of South Africa, the project covers a nursery, orphanage and food programme.

Human Trafficking conference:  In 2015 we ran a conference called ‘Open Your Eyes’ in conjunction with Kent and Medway Police, to raise awareness of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking in Kent and Medway.

We also set up the Crossroads Caring For Carers in Rainham and have been involved with the Medway Domestic Abuse Forum.

Who is the club for and what is the benefit of being in it?

Membership of the Club is open to any woman. The Club exists for the aim of empowering, educating and enabling woman and girls, locally in Medway, nationally in the UK and Internationally. We fundraise, raise awareness and offer practical service if needed.  With such a broad aim we find we get involved in a huge variety of projects, which we call Programme Actions, often being the front runner as with our organisation of a Human Trafficking Conference in 2015, to raise awareness of the issues of modern slavery happening in Medway.

Being a Soroptimist means you can join other likeminded women in taking action and making a difference, and there is also the chance for self development, with fun and friendship along the way, as we also have social events.  

Who is the Soroptimist of 2016?  What is she like? And does it offer an alternative to the WI for the more politically active person?

Today’s Soroptimist is active, passionate, interested in people, compassionate, feisty, articulate, willing to get stuck in, and with a ready laugh.

Although there are areas where we support some of the same causes as the WI we differ from them in our Mission Statement, namely to inspire action and create opportunities to transform the lives of women and girls through a global network of members and international partnerships.  We are focused on projects and our strong UN links means we work towards UN global goals.

What are your plans with the Medway branch, and any current campaign focus?

2016 – 2017 sees Medway Soroptomists focus on three of the UN developmental goals: Good Health; Clean Water and Sanitation; Justice and Strong Institutions.

We will be building on the 2015 Trafficking conference with an awareness raising event in Gillingham on 3rd September 2016.   

We have a beach clean organised and will be working on fundraising for the 3 year federation project to provide gardens at schools in Meru, Kenya to feed the children.

We support Love in a Box, Medway Food Bank, Talking Newspapers and supporting Medway Carers.

If you are someone who feels this is an organisation of which you would like to be a part, the Medway branch are actively recruiting and invite you to a Membership event.

Please contact the Medway Soroptimists in one of the following ways: