A historic private members’ club, long regarded as a home from home for the Edinburgh establishment, has broken with centuries of tradition by appointing its first female chairman.
This month Vicky Peterkin takes over as head of the New Club in Princes Street, whose membership includes eminent judges, financiers and academics.
The two-year post will see Peterkin become the first female member to oversee the club’s management and finance committees as well as act as a figurehead for the club.
Founded in 1787, the New Club was originally an all-male institution. Over the years, however, the profile of the membership has changed with women now making up more than a quarter of the 2,100 membership.
Peterkin, from Angus, has worked in social housing. She was formerly the Scottish trustee and vice-chairman of the British Red Cross and is currently vice-chair of the Scottish board of Home Group.
Yesterday she said: “I love being a member of the New Club with its sociable atmosphere and the exhilarating views that we enjoy as a result of its wonderful location. I am very honoured to be asked to take over the chairmanship. I know it is a big responsibility and I intend to do my very best.”
She becomes chairman after spending two years as one of the New Club’s 16 managers who are elected from the membership by the members. Every two years the managers elect an individual who becomes chairman for two years.
New Club secretary Andrew Campbell said: “It wasn’t the fact that Vicky Peterkin happens to be a female that caused her to be elected, it was simply because she was the best person for the job in the view of the managers. But the fact that she is a female is, from our point of view, excellent. The club may move slowly, but since equality we have seen an uptake in membership.”
Women were first admitted in 1969, when wives of members were able to become associate members, an arrangement that gave them access to the club at a reduced subscription. In those days gentlemen and ladies ate in separate dining rooms. The first full female members arrived in 2000 and over the years various restrictions over where men and women members could go within the club have been relaxed.
In 2010 the club became fully equal with men and women allowed access to all areas of club. The last bastion of masculinity was the dining room, which until 2010 had been an all-male preserve at lunchtime. Previously, women’s use of the room with Lorimer-designed wood panelling was restricted to dinner.
The New Club’s decision to put women and men on an equal footing coincided with Harriet Harman’s Equality Act. But Campbell said the club was ripe for change and had been moving in that direction for several years. “The equality legislation was pushing against an open door,” he said.