A Gateway Opens: After Lockdown, St John Gateway Launches in Style
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
Younger members are drawn to make St John their charity of choice by engaging with “the St John family", co-founder and Vice-Chairman Philippa Hemsley tells journalist Pádraig Belton.
One January morning in 2016, Philippa Hemsley and her eventual St John Gateway co-founder Christopher McCorkell, another member of the Priory Ceremonial Staff, over a cup of coffee discussed how to explain St John to their friends. “We were very aware that at that time, we were really the only young people involved in the Priory.”
Her father had been involved in the Order for many years. But there had to be a way for other young people to be drawn into the Order in England, who’s own children would then follow in time, so "this lovely life cycle of continuity" could endure.
And so the two decided to start "a club, somewhat like a livery company, harnessing the power of social media connections and contacts, for people in their twenties to forties to join, to learn more about St John, to engage with fun activities, including fundraising for the Order’s work, and ultimately to adopt St John as their charity of choice".
Having written a number of proposals, it was agreed that the group would become a new style of Fellowship Branch and would introduce a younger demographic to the Fellowship organisation with the potential to expand across the Priory and beyond. A committee was created, the name decided upon, and a comprehensive and modus operandi developed. The team then set about developing the idea into an implementable plan that has finally launched!
“The purpose of the Gateway is to raise awareness of all that St John does through a programme of engaging events” says their website. Thus each year, the Gateway will choose two or three St John ‘focus’ projects for members to learn about and support by raising awareness and funds.
St John Gateway, as the idea ultimately took flesh, was originally scheduled to launch almost two years ago: "I think everybody has had frustration with Covid-19, with so many projects being delayed and postponed as a result of the shifting goalposts” says Philippa.
When the launch evening reception finally took place though, on 21st September, it was an enormous success with 140 people in attendance, many of whom signed up as members. Group membership has been steadily increasing ever since.
The Prior, Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, CBE, KStJ, DL, gave a terrific potted history of the Order, and the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE, CStJ, spoke beautifully about the importance of volunteering and the role of St John today.
All this took place in "the historic 16th century Chapter Hall at St John’s Gate, originally the main gateway to the inner precinct of the Priory of St John in London, where amid wood panelling the previous Priors of England look down on you," she says.
Coronavirus may have delayed the group's launch but added to the Order's public goodwill, with members of St John Ambulance volunteering one million hours of their time since the start of the pandemic.
The group is now solidly marching forward, with active presences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. David Verity, ophthalmic surgeon and Hospitaller for the Order, will speak about the St John Eye Hospital over "drinks and nibbles" at St John's Gate on 4th November.
"I've been attending St John events since I was a little girl, but I'm still discovering new elements to the organisation, such as the international side with its different global projects.” In fact one of St John Gateway’s focus projects this year is the Mother and Baby Programme in Zambia, focussing on getting mothers and infants the right healthcare at the right time for themselves and their newborn babies.
With more members joining, and discovering about the multifaceted work of the Order, the hope is that more people will in turn adopt St John as their charities of choice. "If you run a marathon you do it for St John. If you do a bake sale, you do it for St John," says Hemsley.
And perhaps even, when you're less young, then your children will too.
For further information on St John Gateway, please visit www.stjohngateway.org.uk
Pádraig Belton is a journalist at the BBC and a St John Ambulance volunteer. He ran the London Marathon for St John on 3rd October, but has not dared do a bake sale.