I’ve wanted to join the Women’s Institute for years. I’ve always felt there’s something remarkable about what women can achieve when they get together, and the WI’s campaign record is impressive to say the least. Besides, I make a mean Victoria sponge and have always wanted to try my hand at quilting.
When I moved to the Cotswolds I made enquiries about joining my local WI. It was a charming group with twenty or so elderly ladies who made superb cakes and had no end of advice and stories to tell. But – oh how can I put this? – it just wasn’t terribly me. The talks were dusty, the average age was somewhat senior, and meetings were held at 2pm in winter months, effectively ruling out anyone with a job or with young children. I regretfully shelved my plans to join the WI.
Earlier this year I was commissioned to write an article on social media for the Women’s Institute magazine, WI Life. I interviewed dozens of bloggers from WIs all over the country and came across some amazing groups, such as Leeds’ Buns and Roses WI,whose President, Gemma Rathbone, is still the bouncy side of 30. I was inspired by their verve and creativity and as soon as my feature was filed I rang WI Headquarters to gush about how exciting these new WIs sounded.
“Is there a WI like that near me?” I asked.
There was a pause, and I knew the answer before I was given it. No, there wasn’t.
So what do you do when you want to join a new-wave WI and there isn’t one near you? Well, you start one, of course, with help from the Women’s Institute Federation, who are hugely supportive of new WIs. And so last week I opened up the church hall with some degree of trepidation, cake tins clanking in their carrier, hoping for a respectable turn-out. Armed with glasses of wine, my friend Anna and I greeted the early arrivals and wondered if that was the lot. But they kept coming, and we kept getting out more chairs, and before long the hall was buzzing with chatter. The evening was a great success and I’m excited about seeing this new WI evolve over the next few months.
Needless to say, the launch of a brand new WI alongside an existing one has not been without its issues. A delegation from an elderly neighbour nearly had me in tears, and I took to avoiding the Farmers’ Market for fear of being pelted with fruit cake. The turf war had begun, and it wasn’t pretty.
Yesterday as I was out walking with the children, a lady in her seventies approached me. “Are you the girl who’s set up a new WI?” she said.
I nodded nervously, bracing myself for what was to come.
She glanced around and whispered furtively to me. “Is there room for any more? It sounds awfully fun.”