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History of SI Abergavenny

History of SI Abergavenny & District

When SI Abergavenny & District received their Charter on 17th June 1967, at the Angel hotel, membership was by invitation only and limited to women in the professions with only two from each profession permitted to be members at any one time.

There were strict rules regarding club functioning and also dress codes. Hats and gloves were de rigeur as were long dresses for formal events “handy when one forgot to change driving shoes for best”, remembers one founder member.

The small club based in the Welsh border town has an attractive chain of office with a mysterious story to tell.

SI Abergavenny chain of office
Soroptimists Abergavenny Chain of Office

The regalia was designed and made by Hilda Watkins, a local silversmith. Miss Watkins sent the regalia to a colleague in Birmingham for the central picture of Abergavenny castle to be enamelled in colour.

While in Birmingham the regalia was stolen and was missing for 10 days.

Luckily for the club it was recovered by the police, being the only item taken in the theft to be recovered!

Where it went and how it survived remains a mystery but it has gone on to grace the personage of presidents through the ages!

The club gavel also has an interesting history having been brought over from Oregon to be presented to Extension Officer and Cardiff member the late Vesta Edwards for the next club to be opened in the Divisional Union of Wales South – this turned out to be Abergavenny, at that time the twentieth club in the DU.

As society and the roles of women changed over the next half century so too did club activities but at all stages fundraising, supporting causes and having fun were woven into the fabric of the Abergavenny club.

Activities may have changed over the years but concerts have always been popular in this land of song.

Fundraising has also raised thousands through social events, fashion shows, concerts, and sales.

As the club has become more aware of the problems facing women donations, practical support and lobbying have been targeted to give this kind of help.

Hospital charities and medical/social needs have featured prominently, including the local Nevill Hall Hospital Thrombosis and General Research Fund which was set up by one of the Abergavenny Club founder members, the late Joyce Breillat.

The club has also donated to many national and international appeals including victims of the Turkish earthquake, Vietnamese boat people and the SW Asia tsunami.

Donations have been given to the foodbank, women’s aid, women survivors of war. Three benches and two trees have been presented to the town and an icon to the Priory church.

A multitude of teddies and twiddle muffs have been knitted for distribution to help traumatised children and dementia sufferers. Easter chicks, Father Christmas and Christmas pudding knitted toys have also been provided for sale at Velindre, the South Wales cancer centre.

During lockdown members have been further contributing to this treasure trove with one member, Valerie Meadows, producing an amazing array.

Knits for soroptimists charities
Valerie Meadows with an amazing array of knits

Campaigns have alerted the public to child safety, women’s health issues, people trafficking and gender-based violence.

In 2019 the club ‘painted the town orange’ in support of the 16 days of Orange Action spearheaded by the UN and raised funds in 2018 for Toilet Twinning with innovative ideas including an eye-catching window display in the town centre.

Say No to Violence Against Women
Say No to Violence Against Women

On the lighter side the club has held a murder mystery evening, a dragon drive and many enjoyable meals and outings. Some intrepid members went to the International conference in Hong Kong in 1994.

In 2017 the club celebrated 50 years of service with an informal garden party and were delighted to have three founder members present.

The club looked forward to the challenges of the next half century – never could we have imagined the worldwide pandemic of 2020 which has brought meetings and plans to an abrupt halt.

Modern technology has changed the way we operate with email and texts …now Zoom enables us to meet virtually.

Despite being restricted by lockdown and shielding, members have continue to donate goods and cheques and to make various items.

The Abergavenny always hopes to rise to the challenge and help those in adversity.