Historic Hong Kong women’s club rings in a new era on 100th anniversary
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on September 17, 2016.
Iconic Hong Kong women’s club The Helena May is looking to usher in a new era as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, and adapts to the demands of a rapidly changing city.
On Monday, members and guests gathered at a tea party commemorating the club’s founding on September 12, 1916. Perched on 35 Garden Road, Central, the institute opened with a mission to promote the welfare of women in Hong Kong.
With accommodation and other facilities, the club aimed to support women living and working away from home, as well as conducting community programmes geared towards women.
Sir Michael Kadoorie, descendant of Sir Ellis Kadoorie who helped fund the club’s establishment, reflected on its 100 year history on Monday.
“A commentator at the turn of the 20th century observed that Hong Kong was packed with ruffians and robbers who had come down from Canton,” he said.
“The Helena May provided a safe haven for single women arriving in Hong Kong from Europe to seek employment.
“Today, the Helena May has an extensive programme of activities for both members and the general public, including many education programmes, reaching into the arts and cultural activities.”
The club’s exterior was declared a heritage building in 1993. Now, the institution has about 1,038 members, 20 per cent of whom are male, and is inclusive towards all social and ethnic groups.
Tina Seib, chair of the club’s council, said that the institute would be going through a period of consolidation over the next 12 months as it explores ways to adapt to its changing membership.
“Our big question is how do we remain relevant to Hong Kong and to our members? Our community is always changing as well,” Seib said, adding that the club is not as exclusive or unaffordable as others in the city.
“We’ve already started doing some analysis of our demographics, and one of things we are really focusing on is being relevant to the younger members.”
Primarily a recreational club, The Helena May also supports women’s charities and each year raises funds for a different cause – currently the institution is fundraising for the Marycove Centre in Aberdeen.
In addition to conducting heritage tours and wellness talks, the club also offers student scholarships for women at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Carol Bateman School of Dancing.
One beneficiary is Chan Pik-sum, a 31-year-old erhu artist who received a scholarship from The Helena May in 2007, when she was studying at HKAPA. The money went towards her studies and a new erhu, which she still uses to this day.
“Back then we didn’t have money to buy a new instrument,” Chan said. “I’m thankful. There aren’t that many programmes supporting women specifically in the performing arts in Hong Kong.”