Sumcay — end of an era

Sumcay — end of an era and hopefully start of a new one

By Mike Perks

The name Sumcay is known and loved by hundreds of thousands of people in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Many, now in middle age, will recall going to Sumcay as a school kid.  Many will remember with gratitude that lives have been enriched and have grown personally as they have come to Sumcay for a variety of reasons as diverse groups, including Scripture Union and YMCA camps, school outings and leadership development, corporates, youth groups, churches, trade unions, SAPS, etc. 

These groups have clocked up nearly 600 000 camper nights over the past 40 years.

The trustees of Sumcay Camping Centre, made up of representatives from Scripture Union and the YMCA  have made a decision to sell the Sumcay properties (Stillwaters and Waterways campsites).

Started in 1979 as a joint venture by these two NGOs to have a place where they could reach and disciple young people as Jesus followers, over the decades Sumcay has become a name that all ages have associated with fun, changed lives, meeting God, SU camps, school excursions, church camps and special experiences at a venue that has always tried to strive for excellence. 

With both the YMCA and Scripture Union having a track record of involvement in all communities in South Africa, Sumcay has always been open to all races, including in the turbulent 1980s when the site was used for many cross cultural camps.  Indeed, in its early years there was opposition from Redhouse residents who wanted to shut down the new development that was being built on the upper tidal reaches of the Swartkops River for “fear of nude bathing”.

Sparked by the vision and drive of Jim Milligan, Sumcay was largely built by volunteers using a method of wire frames which were packed with broken bricks and then plastered.  Much of what was used for building came from demolished ablutions at General Motors and so parts of Sumcay were already decades old as the new campsite was opened for camping! 

The original rooms were built to fit the size of scavenged metal roof beams and had triple bunks with a capacity of 11 per room, with some of the beds shorter than 5ft 10inches as they had to be squashed in to fit!  In those early days there was a foofie slide across the river, a slippery slide into the small inlet below the hall and a weirdly-constructed pool with sloping sides!

Originally there was just one hall with a tiny kitchen and the tables outdoors for eating.  Over the years, thanks to generous donations from organisations like Anglo American, Volkswagen, DG Murray Trust, Rotary, RB Hagart Trust, Ezethu Trust, Clearvu fencing, and many more, Sumcay developed into the much-loved facilities that now boast an inviting pool, a modern dining area with a hotel-type kitchen, en-suite bungalows and ample hall space. 

Added to Sumcay in the early 2000s was a second site, Waterways (12ha property next door), donated to the Sumcay Trust by the Mann family in Grahamstown.  Constant improvements and upgrades have been completed over the years.  A large part of these developments was motivated and seen to fruition by John Stadler from the YMCA, and the deck overlooking the river is a tribute to his vision and involvement.

However, more recently, dwindling camp numbers and economic pressures being faced by schools, churches and South Africans in general, as well as the devastating loss of income brought on by Covid, has led the trustees to believe that it is the end of a remarkably blessed season that has been so special for hundreds of thousands in the Nelson Mandela Metro, the country and worldwide.

As this season ends, the trustees would love to see Sumcay enter a new chapter with a new mission and ministry.  They are sure that this is not the end of God’s work in this place.

For more information, please contact Brian Moore +27 83 973 7042 

Sumcay Camping Centre Trust – Structure and Aims

The Sumcay Camping Centre Trust, a registered NGO, is an autonomous, financially independent and annually audited, legal entity. Voluntary trustees are appointed by the YMCA and Scripture Union (four from each), both of which are respected international organisations with a long history of working in SA in all communities.  

The mission of the Sumcay Camping Centre Trust is to provide a sustainable, friendly, well-managed camping, conference and education facility, run on Christian principles, that is affordable and accessible to all communities for: 

a) leadership development, 
b) education and training, 
c) team building, 
d) personal growth, 
e) environment education, 
f) HIV/AIDS prevention programmes,
g) life skills development, 
h) retreats and camps,
i) reconciliation. 

 Sustainability, demand and nearly 600 000 camper nights  

Started by volunteers in the late 1970’, the Sumcay Camping Centre has two campsites (Still Waters and Waterways) developed on 15 hectares of land with river frontage and modern facilities. Title deeds are held by the Sumcay Camping Centre Trust.

All buildings have been owner built (mostly with capital donations raised) and incorporated job creation projects where possible. The location on the upper tidal reaches of the Swartkops River in the heart of the Nelson Mandela Metro, is within easy reach of all communities.

One Comment

  1. A beautiful reality. May the next phase be even more fruitful, roots deep in all the LIFE sown there.

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