In 1964 members of Soroptimist International (SI) of Bournemouth purchased 54,Charminster Avenue, Bournemouth. The property had been owned by a former President of the Club, Miss Gwendolen Saye, who had run it until her death as a home for women of limited means. In her will, she had expressed the wish that this use of her property continue. Her beneficiary felt unable to carry out this request and members of SI Bournemouth stepped in, since the development of such a project was in accordance with their aims to advance the status of women.
They saw a great need, in the days before Housing Associations existed, to provide simple accommodation for women who had retired from jobs serving others, on very limited salaries and were therefore unable to purchase their own homes or afford a commercial rent.
SI Bournemouth had received a small legacy of £300 worth of Premium Bonds and used this to make a deposit against the cost of the property which was £3,000. Members raised a mortgage to cover the outstanding amount. A new Housing Committtee was formed, chaired by Dr Alex Macpherson, who was headmistress of Talbot Heath Girl’s School. This committee selected tenants, collected the rents and generally ran the property.
A single room had an average rent of 10s (50p) per week and the residents, all elderly, had to share bathroom facilities. In the early days, much do it yourself work was carried out by members of SI Bournemouth but eventually additional rooms were built on, rewiring carried out and central heating, double glazing and a washing machine installed.
By the 1990s, purpose built, better quality rented accommodation was becoming available to single women and as a result, Number 54 became less attractive. It had served its purpose and it was time to look for a better way of using the property.
In 1998, No 54 was handed over to the Bournemouth Churches Housing Association who are still able to use it to assist women in need of temporary accommodation.
The house retains its name “Soroptimist House” in recognition of the work of the organization.
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