Y’s Options is a programme available to the women who stay with us. This programme involves mentoring, up skilling, sharing skills, tutoring and peer teaching.
With lots of new friendships and supports, those who have experienced stressful and difficult times have found this to be an encouraging and comforting experience.
In our programme we have a breakfast and school lunch club, which is overseen by the mothers in our residence. Once the children are off to school or preschool, the day follows with sessions for our residents who can opt into the workshops offered. For example, we offer budgeting, menu planning, food preparation, sewing, mending and craft projects.
We even have a walking group which is a big hit in the summer! Alongside this, we aim to tailor our workshops to suit the needs of the women in our residence.
After school the children’s homework group meets for afternoon tea and it is here that children and mums catch up and complete set homework. We have a tutor onsite to supervise and she encourages mums to take part in the supervision and completion of homework, as well as the games, craft projects and computer time on offer.
Early History of YWCA
Spiritual concern for young women throughout the world was one of the founding principles. In London, 1855, a prayer group, named the Young Women’s Christian Association, was successfully organised by Emma Roberts. At the same time, Hon Mary Jane Kinnaird and some friends set up a home for nurses in the Westend.
These organisations were interactive- one providing for the spiritual needs of young women, the other for their health and safety with cheap, reliable and safe accommodation for young women. The YMCA, which was founded earlier in 1844, ran along similar lines for young men. Having places to gather and socialise in safety was also important. It is fair to say that the YWCA and YMCA were brother and sister organisations, which were run on parallel lines. Husbands and wives worked for each organisation in its founding phase.
Providing training was integral. YWCA housed and trained nurses, to support Florence Nightingale, tending the wounds of soldiers in the Crimean War. After Emma Robert’s death, the two organisations merged into one, and officially founded as the YWCA, with Lord Shaftsbury as President, and Lord Kinnaird as Treasurer. Branches were founded throughout the UK.
The organisations tended to rely on the financial support of wealthy and influential upper-class families. The activities were expanded to provide other educational classes, accommodation for all young women, including nurses. Social issues were explored, especially under the guidance of the London secretary, Emily Kinnaird, who in her 25 years of service, raised awareness about sweated labour, education, local government, alcohol, and prostitution.
“YWCA housed and trained nurses to support Florence Nightingale, tending the wounds of soldiers in the Crimean War.”
YWCA in New Zealand
Dunedin was the first place in New Zealand to set up YWCA. The response was to the needs of young immigrant women, who may have no family or contacts or knowledge of how best settle in their new country. From a social centre, to club rooms and a hostel, the Dunedin YWCA flourished as a place where young women were safe, supported and encouraged to better themselves.
Christchurch followed, and set up YWCA in 1883. Initially, the organisation focused on visiting the sick in hospital and conducting Christian services there. Immigration, and the same issues being experienced in Dunedin, as a new colony, then became the main focus. Rural young women were also catered for, as they had similar needs.
Early years of the YWCA in Christchurch were difficult. In 1884, 1886, and 1894, the organisation closed its rooms. Lack of suitable rooms for rent, need for leadership and financial constraints from the depression seem to account for this. In between times, a coffee and reading room was run at 128 High Street. Later, a tea, luncheon and reading room was re-established in 1901.
At first YWCA acted as a referral for safe and cheap accommodation for these young women. By 1905, the need to provide hostel accommodation became a priority. An employment agency was set up, and training so that young women were able to have the skills needed to gain work. Domestic help was required, so training was given. Bookkeeping, language comprehension, shorthand and housekeeping skills were taught. Assisting the Government with its Assisted Immigrant Programme
was part of the response of the YWCA.
It is significant that the early YWCA had support from the business community. Employers needed young women to work within their enterprises, and accommodation for them was necessary to be good employees with a good work record. The YWCA advisory committee was made up of men with experience in dealing with banks, managing financial matters, and successfully running businesses. This enabled the YWCA to benefit from their skills and abilities so that the needs of young women were better served.
Kate Sheppard served for many years as chairperson of the board of management. She was typical of the women involved, kind, courageous, empathetic, well connected, and possessing a strong social conscience.
Simpson, C. S. (1984). The social history of the Christchurch Young Women’s Christian Association 1883-1930. Master of Arts Thesis, University of Canterbury. Retrieved on 30 February 2019 from
“Early years of the YWCA in Christchurch were difficult”.
“Kate Sheppard served for many years as chairperson of the board of management.”
“YWCA had support from the business community”
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