About the Russian Club

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About the Club

Meetings are conducted in English, and anyone may join in. The "Club" is an open group and all are welcome. To keep things simple, there is no membership fee, and no other formalities, other than a small entrance charge to cover costs. However, you may be included on our email distribution list if you care to provide an email address.

The original High Wycombe Russian Cultural Club was founded in May 1986 by a small group of people studying Russian at the Wellesbourne Adult Education Centre in the town of High Wycombe in south Buckinghamshire.

The Club came about through a series of coincidences. Back in 1978 the founder, Nadia Ainsworth (born and educated in the former Soviet Union), had a chance meeting at a social function with some English people who, on meeting a native Russian speaker, expressed an interest in learning Russian. Soon afterwards she was given a list of interested people and was informed that if she presented the list to the local authority they will have a legal obligation to provide a facility for holding a local adult education class. This was the beginning of Nadia’s life long involvement in adult education. At the time, Russian language was not taught in South Bucks. It was the height of the Cold War and the USSR was looked upon with suspicion to say the least, despite the fact that Russia had been Britain’s ally during the 2nd World War. People in the West knew only about Stalin’s cult of personality, millions of prisoners in Siberian labour camps and the stagnating socialist economy. What was less appreciated, among other things, was the fact that thanks to the excellent Soviet education policy Russia became one of the best-educated countries in the world. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the field of space exploration. The launch of the Soviet satellite ‘Sputnik’ in 1957 took the world by surprise.

However it all changed in 1986 with the arrival of a new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Not only was he very charismatic but also he was well educated and ready to learn. As a result of Gorbachev’s new policy of ‘glasnost’ (openness) and ‘perestroika’ (reconstruction) Russia underwent tremendous transformation. The British media were full of positive reports from Russia; it was like a breath of fresh air. Even Margaret Thatcher thought she could ‘do business’ with Mikhail Gorbachev.

These exciting reforms aroused a huge and sympathetic interest in the British public in all things Russian. Nadia’s students were eager to learn about this new Russia, but there was never enough time during the lessons to discuss the mind-blowing events happening in the USSR. So Nadia’s students organised ‘a Russian evening’ and it was such a success that as a result of it ‘A Russian Group’ was formed and was later renamed High Wycombe Russian Club. The newly formed Club set out to fill the gap in public knowledge about Russia and to develop better understanding between Britain and Russia.

The Club became very popular. By the end of the first year 40-50 people attended monthly meetings. Over the 30 year period the number of people attending has fluctuated in response to many happenings in Russia. Nevertheless the Club is still running, as indicated in the pages of this website. A bold move at the beginning of 2017 sees the Club revitalised, with meetings switching to daytime.

The Speakers

The Russian Club’s presentations cover different aspects of life in Russia past and present: its people, history, geography, literature, art, music, economy, politics and contemporary scene. Over a period of 30 years the Club has secured a dazzling array of speakers on a huge range of subjects. They are too numerous to refer to all of them, but a few certainly deserve to be mentioned.

Two who started out as Nadia’s students have gone on to greater things. Tony Williams has a Doctorate in 19th century literature and is the President of the International Dickens Fellowship. For many years he delighted us with his informative and imaginative lectures on Russian literature. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to the Wycombe Arts Festival. 

Another frequent visitor to the Club was Nick Slope who was a Chairman of the Nelson Society. He obtained a doctorate in history and had become a prominent contributor in TV history programmes.  Sadly, he passed away in December 2016.

For 15 years Club members enjoyed the hospitality of Wycombe Abbey School and its excellent music facilities, to be treated every October to wonderful programmes presented by Hugh Petter, a senior member of the School’s music department and Nadia’s colleague.