Helen Lowry Hall was established when the Rev. Martin Sullivan first suggested in 1948 that accommodation in Wellington for tertiary students was inadequate in both quantity and quality. The Rev Martin Sullivan, then the Student Christian Movement Chaplain at Victoria University developed the idea of establishing a new hall of residence for tertiary students. He gathered around himself a number of interested people to form a nucleus for a founding body, centred in the NZ Student Christian Movement, especially its Wellington District Council. These people included Mr Ernie Langford, Assistant General Manager of the NZ Railways and Chairman of the NZSCM, and Mr Frank Cotterell, Chairman of the Wellington District Council of the SCM. These three men can rightly be called the founders of Helen Lowry Hall.

Mr Sullivan's wife was chairperson of St Mary's Guild, the Anglican Social Service body, which happened to own Sprott House in Messines Road and the vacant orphanage next door. The founders inspected the house and decided that, dilapidated though it was and in need of reconditioning, it had the possibility as a hall for students if money were spent on alterations and repairs. This was acceptable to both parties, and plans were made.

Mr Sullivan sought help from a friend, Mrs. Helen Lowry, well known wife of a Hawkes Bay farmer, whom he could ask for donations to finance the project. Instead she herself gave the sum of 1,500 pound. Smaller sums were given by other people, and the then Minister of Finance, the Rt Hon Walter Nash, produced 500 pound on behalf of the Government. The generosity of Mrs. Lowry is acknowledged in the name of the Hall.

The board soon found they were in need of a larger premises, with 120 students applying for just 16 spaces in the hall in 1960. Land in Karori was purchased, along with one of its oldest residences. This house is named after it's original owner, Mrs. Khouri. In 1972 the construction of Alan Lowe, Packer-Doust and Joanne-Swan buildings was completed, and 78 residents moved in. Over the following years, surrounding houses would be purchased and added to the hall, bringing the resident numbers up to 112.

Some significant events over the years:

  • The decision was made in 1974 to admit male residents into residence, whereas up until then it had been for women only

  • Adding Deputy Wardens (now called Residential Advisors) to the staff in 1977, to share some of the duties of the Wardens (now called Head of Hall)

  • A shuttle to the Kelburn university campus was introduced in 2000

  • In 2004 the hall was the first in Wellington to be accredited by the New Zealand Association of Accommodation Professionals (NZTEAP)

  • In 2005 all rooms in the hall were able to access the internet

  • In 2007 wifi was available throughout the entire hall

  • In 2019 the hall celebrated 70 years

  • In 2020 specific facilities were added to cater for tertiary students who were also elite mountain bikers

Helen Lowry Hall has always sought to be more than a place for students to find board and lodging. It is a home away from home, a community of young people, who gain the experience of living together, enjoying the opportunities and responsibilities of being in a social and academic environment. It seems to be going a long way towards meeting their many needs and the original vision of Mr Sullivan.

Present day, Helen Lowry Hall is governed by a Board of volunteers and managed by the Head of Hall. The hall runs independently of the University. The hall's mission is to provide quality accommodation at reasonable cost in a safe and supportive community, and to facilitate learning and academic success. The hall and university work closely together to provide pastoral care for the residents.