John Asher can definitely be described as a Super Senior, as he was named at the Grantham is Great Awards last month.
A founder member of the Rotary Club of Grantham Kesteven, he has been an integral part of their work for over three decades, and at the forefront of the Trade Aid scheme to supply those in struggling communities around the world with equipment for training and work.
John who turns 80 in November, spoke to the Journal about the club and Trade Aid’s achievements, his other work and family life, and how 2014 was a very special year for him.
How long have you been part of the Rotary Club?
I have been with the Rotary Club of Grantham Kesteven for the past 32 years. When I joined it was expanding from a lunchtime club to an evening club so that more people could get involved. Now we’re looking into starting a breakfast club too.
Tell us about Trade Aid.
It started about eight years ago when we supported some Irish nuns at a missionary in Zambia to set up a training establishment. At first we were supporting them with building and equipment for the workshop, but then when the students passed their exams and took up jobs as carpenters, seamstresses and in other trades we wanted to provide them with the tools to carry out their work. As more students pass their exams the more boxes we send. We now have three training establishments in Zambia alone and have sent over 800 boxes in eight years to 35 countries, including to elsewhere in Africa, South America, China and India.
What gave you the idea?
When the big tsunami hit ten years ago I remember watching on the 6 o’clock news some fishermen whose boats had been pushed three miles in-land. The international aid effort did a lot to provide shelter, medication, food and water, but I watched how even if these fishermen managed to get their boats back to the shores, they didn’t have the tools to repair them.
Have you visited the training centres?
Yes, for instance three years ago we had a tour of the workshop in Zambia. We went out to the ‘sticks’ and saw a girl who lived in a hut with eight others. She had a textile machine which she set up to work, and since then we’ve found out that she has now even been able to take on an employee. With Trade Aid it’s not just about taking the individual out of poverty but the whole family. The only problem is that in some cases we’ve come up against charges for goods entering a country. I’ve gone down to London to visit embassies and written letters to William Hague and David Cameron. I got a response from William Hague and a member of the PM’s team, but just really to congratulate me on the work. It is something we continue to work on.
What about your life and work at home?
I set up Asher Swimpool Centre in Fulbeck 45 years ago, after my wife Brenda and I got our own swimming pool and people commented that they would like their own. So I started the business, and also became involved in the Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers - the first of its kind in the world - and served as President. I retired from this about ten years ago, and the company is now run by my son Andrew and daughter Claire. I also have three grandchildren.
And being named Super Senior is not the only award you’ve received this year?
Yes, I received the highest award that Rotary can bestow, the ‘Service above Self’ award, at their conference in Scarborough. Only 150 have been given out of 1.2 million members, so it was a huge honour. To then win Super Senior at Grantham is Great, well it has been an exceptional year. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction doing the work that I do.