Small hands making a big impact

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Bingo halls to community calls – Shaftesbury’s Rotakids, a new generation of community champions, lead the charge in innovative charity work

Ronnie is the 11-year-old resident bingo caller

There’s a burst of laughter from the hall in Abbey Church of England VA Primary School. Above the sound of excited children, a lone voice clearly calls a set of numbers. ‘On its own. Number seven.’
It transpires that the caller in charge of the hall is an 11-year-old called Ronnie.
The Shaftesbury RotaKids are busy raising money for a good cause – and apparently having a lot of fun too. It’s just one of several events in and around the town in which children are actively getting involved with the wider community in an innovative citizenship project.
RotaKids is a fun and exciting way for young people aged from seven to 12 to make friends and get involved with important activities in the community, and it is a part of the wider Rotary Club movement. RotaKids clubs are based in schools, youth groups or community centres, and with the help and support from teachers, youth leaders and the local Rotary Club, young people gain valuable experience in helping others and learning interesting, new things.
Peter Sale is president of Shaftesbury Rotary Club and established RotaKids in one primary school in 2023. ‘Last year, we started with just one club in Abbey Primary School. This year we are working with Shaftesbury Primary School as well. Each child who wants to take part has to apply for a place through their teacher. That shows how committed they are,’ he says. ‘And just like an adult Rotary group, the children have a president and a treasurer. They make the decisions about how they use the money they raise – with a little help from us, because sometimes their ideas are difficult to implement!
‘The children tend to be aged between seven and ten. ‘We don’t take the reception class because they are a bit too young. They are wonderful, so motivated and so willing to learn.They have helped us with the North Dorset Cycle Ride and they are planning some gardening at the community hospital in Shaftesbury. They also raised money to get the patients some small toiletries.
‘What has surprised me is the level of motivation and commitment from them. They want to do everything! It’s also wonderful how the schools have embraced it. These children are not just championing RotaKids in Shaftesbury, but in the wider district.’

Fundraising and having fun
Back in Abbey Primary School, 11-year-old Ronnie is still calling the bingo numbers, clearly and confidently, to a large group of children. He’s obviously a natural and remains calm despite excited children shouting as they tick off the numbers, trying to win a coveted Easter egg.
‘I just grew up learning from my Mum – she does bingo calling,’ he says. ‘You need to be confident and focused, and you need to be able to see what’s going on in the room. And you need a loud voice!’
Amid the chatter in the hall, there’s something more subtle happening. Each younger child (below year six) is paired with an older pupil who keeps an eye on them – helping to make sure they mark the numbers and keep up with the bingo caller. It’s fostering leadership and support skills in a subtle but fun way.
‘We think it helps with their maths skills,’ says head Michael Salisbury. ‘A bit like darts! We have some Ukrainian children here and they have picked bingo up very quickly. They love being involved.’
Nine-year-old Edith is the current president of the Abbey RotaKids: ‘I joined last year. I wasn’t sure, but Mum encouraged me as she had done something similar when she was young. On my first day I was very nervous but I really enjoyed it. Last year I wanted to be the president but didn’t get it. This year I am the president! We donate the money we raise for a charity or give it to the PTSA. Today I think we have raised £230.10.’

Nine-year-old Edith is the current president of the Abbey RotaKids

Joint working
Pupils from both Abbey and Shaftesbury primary schools are starting to work together, which is significantly beneficial.
Ben Smiley, a teacher at Shaftesbury C of E Primary School said: ‘The RotaKids worked together recently to pick up litter along Bimport, the Park Walk and down St James Hill. They were amazed by the sheer amount of rubbish.
‘But when they reflected on the exercise they began to see that, by working together in the community, they could achieve a lot more than working on their own. It has really affected their outward thinking. We’re seeing that in the discussions we’re having with them about fundraising.
‘What’s really beneficial is it gives us an opportunity to have that wider involvement with the community. Also, when the children are voted into positions by their peers, that can be a huge boost for them. It’s really good for team work.’
It’s something echoed by Michael Salisbury: ‘It really gets children involved with the community and they learn the value of volunteering. We always say the parents are volunteers too, because they have to bring them to meets. The potential for the children for learning is very high and they love it.’

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