Join the glitziest date on the calendar this month as Hong Kong’s Ladies Circle celebrates its half-century. President Fiona Bulmer explains how they’ve stood the test of time
When Fiona Bulmer arrived in Hong Kong twelve years ago, she was looking to make a few friends.
“I worked to start with and then broke off from my career for the children. So from working full-time in Central, I was now living in the ‘‘burbs’ of Pok Fu Lam with two babies and I really needed to reach out to create a social network. And then I discovered Ladies Circle, which was kind of a turning point for me.”
Ladies Circle arrived in Hong Kong from the UK in 1968, which makes this year its golden anniversary. Bulmer now presides over the group as president, a role she took up with trepidation a couple of years ago.
“I went from popping in to a meeting just to see what it was all about, and then suddenly I was treasurer – my fault for admitting I was an ex-accountant! – and the next thing I knew I was being voted in as president,” says Bulmer. “This was a huge step for me but I really feel I’ve grown with the role and am very proud about what we’re achieving as an organisation.”
Originally set up in the UK in the 1930s as a charitable organisation for the wives of Round Table members, Ladies Circle now has a global network of over 10,000 members in 37 countries. The Round Table was also founded in the UK, in 1927, and still has a Hong Kong branch.
The initial Circle met on England’s south coast in the seaside town of Bournemouth in 1932. It was predominantly a social group, but word spread and by the late 1930s eight more Circles had been formed up and down the UK. The group struggled during World War 2, but held together despite the odds and in 1947 went international with new groups in Denmark and Northern Ireland.
In the 1960s, it arrived in Hong Kong courtesy of Jeanne Allingham, who became the Circle’s first Hong Kong president. “The idea came from a Round Tabler and his wife who were new to Hong Kong and had been members in the UK,” she tells me from her current home in the UK. “Initially we met in each others homes before moving to the Hong Kong Club. Each month we had to haggle over the price of the meal. We had some interesting speakers, but our main aim was to support the Round Table whenever called upon.”
She recalls that the main event of the year was the Easter Fair, held on the cricket ground at Hong Kong Cricket Club. “We worked towards that event all year round, begging for ingredients from local suppliers to bake cakes and so on. We supported various charities, including Ebenezer Home for the Blind, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sandy Bay Children’s Convalescent Home and the Round Table Village Scheme on Cheung Chau Island.”
Membership grew to the point that a second Circle was set up in Kowloon, although that soon folded. The meeting format today remains similar to that of the early days, with a monthly dinner (these days held at the Aberdeen Boat Club) to which after-dinner speakers are often invited, as well as charity work throughout the year and other social events, including historical walks, craft workshops and food tours.
The Circle’s motto is ‘Friendship and Service’ and the group’s focus charity is the Hong Kong Children and Youth Services Small Groups Homes, which provides foster care for children in Hong Kong. “And we’re very inclusive,” adds Bulmer. “We welcome everyone with open arms, this is not a ‘Brit expat’ association by any means. We’re a friendly bunch.”
Last Christmas, the Circle wrapped and filled an impressive 439 boxes for local charity Box of Hope. “Each year we try and better the previous year,” says Bulmer. “It’s become a major operation, my apartment was rammed with boxes.” The boxes are all baby-related and the craftier members of the Circle spend the year knitting baby hats for them. And for the last 30 years, the Circle has also supported the Hong Kong Charity Pedal Car Grand Prix organised by the Hong Kong Round Table and held in Victoria Park every autumn.
But the highlight of this year is of course the celebratory black tie Gala Dinner which is being held in the glorious confines of the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, overlooking Victoria Harbour. Members past and present will be attending, including first president Jeanne Allingham, who will be making the journey from the UK. This will be the first time she has returned to Hong Kong since 1977. “My three sons were born at the Matilda hospital,” she says. “My eldest, Christopher, has been back twice since and has tried to prepare me for the many changes.”
After a three-course free-flow dinner, guest speaker and local historian Jason Wordie will be giving an insight into the Hong Kong of 50 years ago, after which guests will be able to let their hair down at the disco.
“It’s going to be such a special night for us,” says Bulmer. “Ladies Circle has meant so much to me over the years. It’s a very special organisation.”
The Gala Dinner takes place 7pm, March 8, Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, Wan Chai. To book individual tickets at $1,400/person, or a table of ten, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to ladiescirclehk.com. For membership enquiries, email email@example.com.
Hong Kong in the swinging ’60s
The 1960s were a major turning point in Hong Kong’s history thanks to its booming economy. This was a decade of change but also of disturbances.
Riots were triggered in 1966 over a steep rise in the price of a Star Ferry ticket and the violence continued into 1967 when internal conflict within the Chinese Communist Party resulted in the Cultural Revolution. Rumours spread that China was planning to take over the colony and political tensions soared. The riots ended in December 1967 when the Chinese premier ordered leftist groups in Hong Kong to stop the violence.
There were serious droughts during the decade too, as water supply struggled to support the exploding population. A number of reservoirs were completed at this time, including Shek Pik, Lantau (1963) and Plover Cover, New Territories (1968).
In 1967 the Colony Outline Plan was issued detailing strategies to house a million people in low-cost, high-rise public housing. Slowly but surely, Hong Kong was becoming the booming city we know today.