UCT builds new home for the elderly

26 October 2004

Residents of the historic Princess Christian Home, within the precincts of UCT, are to move into a spanking new building in Tokai in time for Christmas.

And while there will be some sadness at leaving behind the historic Herbert Baker building on the slopes of Devil's Peak, the new facility, opposite the Blue Route Centre, is well-equipped with en suite bathrooms, communal areas, new kitchens and a library. Residents will also benefit from the presence of a hairdresser, doctors and a physiotherapist.

UCT has spent R22-million on developing the new home, in exchange for the existing building on Avenue Road. This will consolidate UCT's landholding in the area, making it available for student accommodation.

Grace Lawton, who has been at the helm of the Princess Christian Home for 30 years, has been closely involved in planning the new accommodation and also the move for the remaining approximately 30 residents. The new home will accommodate 41 single residents, 20% of whom are indigent.

An additional 24 flats have also been built and sold off with life-rights in order to raise funds to sustain the Princess Christian Home.

Lawton and her team have been overwhelmed with requests to build more accommodation for the elderly, and are now hoping to put up additional "life-right" apartments on an adjoining piece of land, which will further secure their long-term future.

The Princess Christian Home, which is celebrating its centenary this year, was originally set up to accommodate mainly women who travelled to the colonies to work as staff in wealthy homes. When these women reached retirement age, there was nowhere for them to go and they often found themselves in dire circumstances.

In the late 1800s, it was reported that a group were living under a wagon on the slopes of Table Mountain. Others sought refuge in Somerset Hospital where they were known as the "incurables". Doctors objected to their presence and this lead a group of people known to Cecil John Rhodes to form a committee with a view to eventually establishing a home for the indigent elderly. Before Rhodes died in 1901, he bequested a gift of land on his estate to set up a home expressly to cater for them.

The home was named after Her Royal Highness Princess Christian, wife of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, who visited Cape Town with her daughter Princess Helena Victoria. She laid the foundation stone for the Princess Christian Home for the elderly, under the auspices of the Pretoria Benevolent Society, in October 1904.

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