A post about that force to be reckoned with, the Women’s Institute, which I’ve recently joined. This post was commissioned by the Tetbury Advertiser, for which I write a monthly column.
As we approach the middle of 2014, I’ve been taking stock of my New Year’s Resolutions, one of which was to join the WI (Women’s Institute). I’d been mulling it over for years. I knew a lot of ladies who belonged, but few were in my immediate social group.
Until this year, the closest I’d got to joining was to buy an old WI brooch. I collect vintage enamel badges, and this one was a beauty – green, red and gold, bearing the organisation’s original motto: “For Home and Country”. This motto dates back to the year in which the WI was founded, 1915. In wartime conditions, and before women gained the right to vote, any British woman would surely have worn this badge with pride.
Nearly 100 years on, the WI has switched focus. Its current motto “Inspiring Women” is a great line, implying that its membership includes inspiring women, as well as working to inspire women.
A Modern Organisation
Until I joined, I didn’t realise just how active and pro-active the WI has become. It’s too easy to dismiss its worth with the easy, jokey shorthand of “Jam and Jerusalem”, as my own experience demonstrates.
A few Christmases ago, I was all set to add “join WI” to my resolution list when through the letterbox came a neat little folded card, efficiently announcing the dates for the new year’s meetings. Neatly printed on the back were the words for the hymn Jerusalem. Much as I love the hymn, which we sung with gusto at every hymn practice in my primary school days, I allowed that resolution to fall off my list, unfulfilled.
Don’t Mention the Jam
But this year, I set aside my prejudice and joined. I knew that my author friend Sandy Osborne was coming from her home city of Bath to talk to our local group about her Bath-based novel Girl Cop (enjoyable by both men and women, I hasten to add). While visitors are allowed to attend any WI meeting without being obliged to join, I welcomed this prompt to make me sign on the dotted line.
I’m so glad I did. Joining the WI has been an eye-opener. I encountered a feisty, intelligent crowd with wide-ranging interests, energies and passions, and a refreshing curiosity. Not only is there a new, interesting topic for discussion each meeting, often with an engaging speaker from beyond the community, but there are also heaps of other activities throughout the month, from book groups to film clubs to walking parties. If I belonged to no other social group, I could easily fill my diary with stimulating activities purely from the WI. What a great way to make like-minded friends in your neighbourhood.
There are also opportunities to join other WIs for activities and to contribute to national campaigns. Last meeting included a lively discussion about organ donor policy.
I’m proud to be a member of the modern WI, which is definitely a force to be reckoned with – and if you don’t believe me, just ask Tony Blair.
PS We’ve only sung Jerusalem once, and nobody’s yet mentioned jam.
Do you belong to a WI? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience of belonging.
Although I’d never belonged to the WI before, years ago I did spend some time singing with local WI choir – read more about that little escapade here, a post from a collection of memoirs of village life: