AUS: 1300 630 488    NZ: 0800 1477 6287

Melbourne Bearbrass Beats the Virus

Tony Thomas says "Imagine doing four months work preparing to start a new Melbourne Probus Club, launching last February and getting hit by the lockdown right after your first meeting. That was the opening story of our Melbourne Bearbrass Probus - “Bearbrass” was an original suggested name for Melbourne.

Pic above: Bearbrass President Mel Gray and his wife Pam.

There were 30 retirees who attended the launch at the Dock Library, Docklands with 18 sign-ons.

The virus forced a lockdown after the first meeting but, the Management Committee rolled up their sleeves to ensure members stayed connected.

The results only three months later included 41 members with growing membership, popular fortnightly Zoom speakers drawing audiences of 20-30 and high profile Facebook marketing. 

In addition, a grant of $1355 from Melbourne City Council to finance Clubrunner software for Club admin and communications, plus a Professional Zoom subscription were very helpful. 

Rotary Central Melbourne had also sponsored Melbourne Sunrise Probus in 2011, now with about 120 members. Bearbrass and Rotary Central Melbourne have a close relationship, sharing their Zoom meetings and online entertainment.

“Our survival and now success came from a fast transition into Zoom meetings,” says a Bearbrass executive. “We were in action on Zoom only three weeks after the lockdown and a fortnight after Australia’s biggest Rotary Club (Melbourne) switched to Zoom.

“To get a buzz going around the Club, we targeted our first three Zoom meetings not just to members but retirees all over Victoria and Australia, using high-profile Zoom speakers such as a newly-retired VicPol Commander and a leading educationist on home schooling. Then we switched to a successful focus on our own enlarged member base."

“Frankly, our first meetings were touch and go we survived every glitch and mistake on Zoom. That was despite rehearsals with each speaker to get things right both ends. A Zoom ‘fall-over’ would have been a disaster for our reputation.”

Bearbrass quickly found a second President, former prominent Rotarian Mel Gray. The only problem was that he and wife Pam were virus-trapped in Lucca, Tuscany, and when they finally escaped to Australia, they had a fortnight quarantine in a hotel. But since the Club was wholly on-line, Mel cranked up his laptop and inspired the new growth strategy.

Bearbrass is now evolving a hybrid of online and physical meetings, in accordance with Victoria's health advice. It’s had a physical wine tasting, Docklands lunches, e-trivia nights and a film group is starting.  “Not many Clubs have had such a difficult birth,” Mel says. “But we’re now a lusty little toddler.” 

Contact the Club Secretary Sue at [email protected].