The New Zealand Women’s Association (NZWA) was founded in London in 1930 at the suggestion of Sir Thomas Wilford, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the UK at the time. Seeing the value to New Zealanders far from home provided by the New Zealand Society (founded in 1927), Sir Thomas was sure that a similar organisation – for women only – would be successful.
The inaugural meeting of the NZWA took place in June 1930 in New Zealand House, then located in the Strand, under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas’s wife Georgia, Lady Wilford who became the first President. At the AGM in 1958 it was decided that in future the wife of the High Commissioner (or if not feasible, another eminent New Zealand woman) should be the NZWA Patron, with its President elected from the committee. Our current Patron is the Deputy High Commissioner, Shannon Austin.
The New Zealand High Commission moved to its new home in the Haymarket in 1963. In June that year, the NZWA committee met in the Conference Room, held a tea party for members in the Penthouse in July, followed by a coffee morning also held in the Penthouse in September. The coffee mornings continued regularly until in 1980 the committee decided to move gatherings to lunch time and that they would cook the lunch themselves. The President and committee continued to cook and serve lunches six times a year, in the Penthouse, up until the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The closure of New Zealand House for complete refurbishment in 2022 more or less coincided with the end of the pandemic. The High Commission has moved to temporary premises nearby at Pall Mall East and the NZWA has put all of its catering equipment into storage pending the reopening of New Zealand House (unlikely to be before 2027-8). During this time we are sampling alternative venues and are enjoying discovering new places to meet - some not normally open to the general public.
We retain our links with New Zealand through our connection with both the High Commission and the extensive kiwi community in London and also our choice of speakers at our lunches. These have included NZ authors, entrepreneurs, film makers, actors, butchers, explorers, doctors and many more. One of our earliest guest speakers was the famous aviatrix, Jean Batten. We entertained HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1966 and in 2014 Camilla, Queen Consort (then Duchess of Cornwall), at a lunch to celebrate NZ women living and working in the UK.
In recent years, the NZWA has raised money to support disasters in New Zealand, particularly the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 and from 2013, we worked closely with the High Commission on the WW100 committee and along with the NZ Society, raised substantial sums to fund a commemorative stained glass window and railings at St Nicholas, Brockenhurst, site of a field hospital for NZ soldiers during WW1. We take up an annual collection at our Christmas lunch for a charity in NZ and in recent years have supported Dress for Success Christchurch, the Women’s Health Collective in Palmerston North and the Matt Ratana Foundation.
Since its inception, the NZWA has surely lived up to Sir Thomas’s hopes for it, continuing to be a friendly and welcoming organisation in the UK for New Zealand women and women with strong NZ connections, evolving to meet the needs and interests of its current membership and rising to the many challenges that social change has wrought since 1930.
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