Grey ladies are still on the go

This old photograph of Ms Douglas hangs in the new offices of the Greyladies Association. The photograph was taken in 1942.

Altruism has been at the heart of the work done by the Greyladies Association since they began their outreach work in Cape Town 79 years ago.

Committee member Mary Walsh said the association’s origins date back to the UK in 1893 when the Bishop of Southwark noticed the overcrowding, drunkenness and crime in the slums of London.

“He then founded the Greyladies Society – named after the colour of their uniforms,” she said.

The Coadjutor Bishop of Cape Town, Sidney Warren Lavis, on a visit to England, was very impressed by the work of the Greyladies, and, at his suggestion, the then Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Francis Phelps asked the order to work in his diocese.

“On March 10 1937, three Greyladies, donning their grey habits, arrived in South Africa and settled in a rented house in Rosebank Place, off Upper Orange Street, in Cape Town. The association was constituted the following year and its first committee was elected,” said Ms Walsh.

A notable achievement of the association was the establishment of the Silver Star Club for young people in Shelley Street in Salt River and later in Woodstock and Rylands.

In 1962, the women expanded their reach to the southern suburbs and Gabrielle Mileham, the former head of the Greyladies, bequeathed her home, at 16 Bowwood Road in Claremont, to them.

“Assistance is given wherever possible to the needy, no matter what their faith or denomination,” said Ms Walsh.

During the course of their rich history, the women funded soup kitchens; ran skills training schemes in Hout Bay; held sewing groups at St Saviour’s Church and ran a brick- making project at Kalkfontein informal settlement.

“The women were committed to helping the needy by hosting confirmation classes; caring for the sick; distributing food and clothing and in very special cases providing them with money,” Ms Walsh said.

The association has moved away from offering welfare assistance to the needy as government has taken over much of that role.

“Currently it is the aim of the association to promote core values by focusing on good children’s literature and Bible stories for Sunday schools and creches,” said Ms Walsh.

These days the committee is trying to breathe new life into the association as membership has dwindled.

“We would like to see younger people join our association and give back,” said Ms Walsh. The association recently moved to a “slightly larger office” off the Minor Hall at St Saviour’s Church.

“We want to tell people we are still around even though we have been a bit quiet. We recently set up a website and next year we are looking at setting up a Facebook page to attract youth and increase our visibility,” she said. Ms Walsh speaks fondly about the association’s founders. “Despite having very little, the women worked hard and were incredibly selfless. Many older people still fondly remember the Greyladies due to the great legacy they left behind,” she said.

The Greyladies Office is at St Saviour’s Church Hall, Brooke Street, Claremont. Call 021 671 0820 or for more information or a copy of their newsletter.