At the service of travelling women: 100-year-old club in Hong Kong still going strong

First club house set up for women who do not want to live in a hotel

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 December, 2015, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 December, 2015, 8:50pm

Named after a former British governor’s wife with a mission to serve the needs of women who need who travel away from home to work, the century old women’s club Helena May is still keen on serving the needs of women.

Tina Seib, chair of the council of Helena May, said while the women have become more sophisticated and outgoing, Helena May also has changed with time to meet the needs of women.

“Of course, the women’s role has changed a lot in the past 100 years. Compared with 100 years ago, women nowadays have a chance to receive higher levels of education while many of them are more sophisticated. Many of them are professionals,” Seib told the South China Morning Post in an interview at the club house heritage building in Central where it is in the process of a renovation for its 100th anniversary next year.

She said the club will continue to remain relevant to women who are visiting or living in Hong Kong, be they professional working women or full time mothers.

“We are a club for women run by women, while we are constantly reviewing and evolving to the current needs of our members. We will move into the next century of our history with momentum and with confidence. Providing high standards of food and accommodations which are value for money,” she said.

Helena May is a non-profit club founded in September 1916 and named after the wife of the then governor Henry May who founded the club with funding from local tycoons Ellis Kadoorie and Ho Kom-tong.

The historical building established in 1916 remained in the same location on Garden Road next to the peak tram, where the British colonial style building has already become a heritage structure.

The club was set up to provide accommodations for women, such as teachers, nurses, businesswomen who need to travel to Hong Kong and refuse to stay in a hotel.

It also provides dinning and meeting facilities for these visitors as well as local ladies who can use the facilities to play bridge, to dance or exchange gossip between sandwiches and cakes.

A famous celebrity in Soong Ching-ling, the wife of Sun Yat Sen who led the revolution which overthrew the Ching Dynasty in 1911, was a guest in Helena May.

Although women no longer feel embarrass to live in a hotel, many women still like to live in Helena May, Seib said.

“Many of them just enjoy the atmosphere of the heritage building. Many members use the club as a meeting point for their profession and leisure use while some like to host their weddings at the club,” she said.

Seib, a mother of four children, joined the club for decades, while her 25 years old daughter is also a member.

“I and my children enjoy the Helena May as it provide a safe haven for women to meet and get together,” she said.

Nowadays, the club still provides rooms as accommodation for women only but it has established a separate building on the club house’s little use tennis court in 1958 where a couple could retire, which Seib said is an evolution given the changes in society.

Air conditioners have replaced fans and computers and meeting rooms are now available.

“We also provide wifi, computer facilities as well as a meeting place for professional women who need a place to meet and to discuss their business. There are also a lot of cultural activities suitable for their needs,” she said.

Unlike many womens’ organisations which are aimed at helping underprivileged women, the Helena May members have a different profile in that its over 1,000 members include many professionals such as accountants, lawyers or businesswomen, as well as some full time mothers.

The club has a range of activities for women with different needs and backgrounds, ranging from sewing, a book club, historical walks and musical evenings.

Externally, the club offers help to women living in Hong Kong by offering a mentorship programme at Hong Kong University as well as offering sponsorships for ballet dancers and other performing arts through the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.

“Heritage, community and hospitality” are the enduring mission of Helena May for the next century,” she said.