Fun and fellowship for Round Tablers

Members of Fareham Round Table take on rock climbing at St Vincent College as part of a socialisation programme

Members of Fareham Round Table take on rock climbing at St Vincent College as part of a socialisation programme

Michelle Bates, WO2 Lloyd Gillingham, Noah, six, and Gunner Ryan Hancock
Pictures: Habibur Rahman

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Young men face a variety of stereotypes these days, which tend to focus on the disdained ‘lad culture’, painting a picture of men as being glued to social media or nursing pints.

However, looking to break the mould and give something back to their communities are Round Tables.

Made up of men aged 18-45, the groups look to give something back, running fundraisers and events for the community as they aim to help people out in any way they can.

They are not seeking admiration, they are just seeking to ‘do something completely different’, breaking the mould of the image of young men that some in society have.

These activities range from holding bonfire nights and putting on beer festivals to setting up collections and working with other charities.

And when they are not offering their time to help others, they are ditching the pubs and bars for rock climbing, facing off against each other on a paintball range, climbing mountains and going on camping trips.

It’s a blend of ‘fellowship’ activities and fundraising events that forms the foundation of a Round Table.

The Round Table is an institution that was first founded in England in 1927, with the Portsmouth and Southsea group the second one ever created, and now there are thousands worldwide.

It’s a group that is still thriving, with Fareham Round Table the nearest table in its ‘zone’.

The institution has had its drawbacks over the years, as the rules regarding the groups’ ages means that it must always have young members to keep it fresh and alive.

This has led to the demise of the Gosport and Chichester tables in recent years, with the Fareham group disbanding for 11 years back in 2004 before Rob Spriggs, its current president, and friends Gerry Numa, Daren Emmons, Ian Sutton and Matt Gregson revitalised the group.

A year on and the group is going strong, looking to bring in more members, as it bids to raise £3,000 for charity by April.

‘What I always say to people when they ask me about the table is that it’s a chance to do something completely different’, Rob says.

‘We are not your usual group of lads. We are all men that just decided to get out and about and do something more creative with our spare time.

‘When I first joined the Portsmouth table, I was so quiet and I was nervous to start meeting up with people I’d never met before. But I soon settled right in, because I knew that we all just wanted to find a way to give something back and bond at the same time.

‘It’s completely boosted my self-esteem, given me more confidence and allowed me to meet and help so many people. There’s not really anything else out there for men that offers these kind of opportunities.’

Besides the Fareham and Portsmouth & Southsea tables, there are also more tables further afield in Eastleigh, Winchester and Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

The Fareham group, which averages a membership of around 11 people when it comes to events and fellowship activities, is growing month on month.

Each year, the group picks a president who selects his charity for the year, with Rob this year decided to support pre-natal charity Ickle Pickles, Olivers Army, Children in Need and the RNLI.

Their activities include taking on the Three Peaks Challenge in the summer, smashing their target in order to raise funds for charity.

The group were up and down Scafell Pike in Cumbria, Snowden in Wales and Ben Nevis in Scotland in the space of 22 hours, beating their target by two hours.

Rob recalls the challenge: ‘It was absolutely mad, we all packed into the car, took on this massive task and somehow managed to do it without going crazy and we beat our target by two hours, raising £1,000 in the process.

‘I wouldn’t say that would be an average lads’ weekend.’

He added that the challenge is proof that the group is not just about meeting other like-minded people, but about dedicating your time and effort to a good cause.

As the groups were formed in the high society era of the 1920s, the label of a gentleman’s club is often thrown around when describing Round Tables.

For Rob, this is something the group is keen to bury as fast as it can, labelling it an ‘archaic’ part of the story that is no long relevant to the make-up of the modern-day Round Table.

‘I think people who wouldn’t know much information about us would maybe throw that stereotype on us.

‘For us, it’s part of our past but it’s not something we preach here. Yes, in the past, there was a tendency of making a Round Table all about businesses. Say you would have one lawyer, one banker and a group of men of all trades.

‘However, while this was more as a sort of networking, it was archaic and it’s something that does not come into the composition of ours and most other Round Tables.’

To help them get to their various trips, fundraisers and charity events, the Round Table now has its own trusty vehicle in the form of an old London taxi named Betsy.

The cab is branded for the group and painted in its colours of gold and white.

Rob adds: ‘We try and use Betsy to get along to most places when we are doing something for the Round Table, but mostly she’s just a great way of showing people who we are and to watch out for us!’

He’s not one to make a pitch for possible new Round Tablers, but the president gives it his best shot.

‘You just won’t find anything quite like us out there’, he says.

‘Round Tables have been around for nearly a century and the reason we were so invested in bringing back Fareham’s table was the history and the chance to create this kind of community where we live.

‘We just want people to come along and give it a try. We know that people might be a bit anxious about getting involved with and meeting new people, but this is something we’re looking to really build and we will always need new members.

‘For us, we are all good friends now and we want to just be able to give more and help others out more.

‘Who knows, you might be just the kind of person we are looking for.’

For more information and to find out about joining, go to fareham.roundtable.co.uk/

PORTSMOUTH & SOUTHSEA ROUND TABLE

It didn’t take much for Graham Wilkinson, Portsmouth & Southsea Round Table’s vice-president, to decide to get involved with Round Tables.

In his four years with the group he’s travelled to Nepal, taken on white water rafting and been on a trip to Estonia in what’s been an eventful period for the group.

The table was the second-ever table created and has a long and rich history, which Graham, 39, is keen to honour in his role.

He says: ‘Once I saw the kind of things that they got up to, I thought I’ve got to give it a go and see what it’s all about.

‘It’s been so interesting just being a part of this group as you just throw yourself into it and, from the community activities to the fellowship activities, you really get so much out of it.

He alludes to the ‘gentleman’s club’ past, saying that the history was ‘the stuffy side of the table’ and that this is dying out.

His Round Table group has successfully managed to raise £12,000 for charities in the past year, which he is immensely proud of.

Graham, who is set to become the table’s president next year, is set to retire from the group at the age of 45 to join the next age group of the institution called The 41 Club, which is for roundtablers aged older than 45.

Graham explains: ‘I think some see this as an ageist thing but it’s really not.

‘People like doing things and working as a group with people their own age.

‘I’m under no illusion that this is a young man’s game.’

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