Croydon Soroptimist International celebrates ninety years of friendship and fundraising

By - Friday 20th October, 2017

Ninety years of Croydonians advocating for the full and equal role of women in society

Photo author’s own.

When a group of women met for lunch in the tea lounge at the well-known Croydon family department store Grants in 1927, the lunch – with drinks – cost three shillings. Those present could have had no idea that ninety years later, Grants would no longer exist, but the club they established at that meeting would still be thriving, albeit under a different name.

When the Croydon Venture Club was set up, it was only the fifth of its kind in Great Britain. Just three years later, the Association of Venture Clubs amalgamated with Soroptomist International – founded in the USA in 1921 – making Soroptimist International Croydon and District one of the oldest clubs in an international organisation which boasts more than 75,000 club members in 133 countries and territories.

A organisation in which women associate together to render service

In later years, Croydon club member Joan Chapman summed up the inspiration for its work when she wrote: ‘The idea was born from the success of women in positions held during and after World War I and the realisation that they had an expanding and influential role to play in the progress of human society. In three separate areas of the world – the Americas, Great Britain and on the continent – almost simultaneously an idea was germinating: for executive, business and professional women to associate together to render service.

One of the founder members and SI Croydon’s first chairman was Mrs Bessie Roberts, the first woman to be elected an Alderman of Croydon Borough Council in 1935, who was a Croydon councillor from 1919 until 1943. Bessie served as the club’s president four times – 1927, 1928, 1934 and 1935 and, to this day, the link between the club and the borough of Croydon has remained strong, with the mayor, often accompanied by other councillors, attending the club’s annual functions. And during these ninety years, the Croydon club has raised tens of thousands of pounds to support causes in and around Croydon as well as initiatives worldwide to help empower, educate and enable women.

Photo author’s own.

Advocating for human rights and gender equality is at the heart of Soroptimist International’s work across six UN Centres, where the organisation’s UN representatives ensure that the voices of women and girls are heard. However, not all the club’s many activities are focused exclusively on women. During this historic year, president Grace Onions’ chosen project is Croydon Churches Floating Shelters, a charity which brings together churches in Croydon to provide a bed and hot meal for homeless people in the borough.

Left to right: Soroptimists International Federal President Ann Hodgson, SI Croydon President Grace Onions, Mayor of Croydon Toni Letts.
Photo author’s own.

Grace Onions also believes that the club’s friendship links with other clubs abroad offer a real benefit to younger members who are keen to see as much of the world as possible while young. One of the most important of these is naturally with Croydon’s twin town, Arnhem in the Netherlands.

SI Croydon and District’s landmark birthday culminated in a weekend of fun events on 22nd-24th September which included tea on the Bluebell Railway. Croydon Mayor Toni Letts took part in the celebrations and congratulated the club on all it has achieved.

The SI Croydon and District Club meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Shirley Park Golf Club at 7pm. For information on joining SI Croydon and District, please contact

Clare Walker

Clare Walker

Clare Walker is Communications Officer of Soroptimist International Croydon.

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