It seems to be a good year for anniversaries. Not only has the Queen just become our longest reigning monarch and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ celebrated 150 years since publication… but the Women’s Institute is 100 years old this week!
There’s been a great deal of publicity for this institution’s centenary – and yet for many years, it was seen as distinctly fuddy-duddy and very much for the ‘older’ woman. Today it is riding high, gaining new members and is regarded as pretty trendy. I can’t help but think a lot of this resurgence is due to those clever ladies of Rylstone Women’s Institute who came up with the ‘2000 Alternative WI Calendar’ of slightly risqué photos of nude ladies tastefully hidden by cakes and flowers. It was, of course, made into the film ‘Calendar Girls’ with the calendar itself going on to raise over £3 million for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. What a wonderful achievement.
And what a far cry from the beginnings of the WI! The first WI meeting in the UK was held in Llanfairpwll on Anglesey, Wales, on 16 September 1915. Since then, the organisation has grown to become the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK with over 212,000 members in 6,600 WIs.
The WI was originally established to educate rural women and to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food to help to increase the supply of food to a war-torn nation. Education and the sharing of skills have always been at the heart of the organisation, and they still are.
While the meeting venues might have changed from the local village hall to the local café, the ethos of the WI remains the same, and women join now to meet new friends, learn new skills and make a difference on matters that are important to them now, just as fellow members did back in 1915.
There has been a resurgence of interest in baking (The Great British Bake Off) and in traditional pursuits such as knitting and quilting, making the WI even more relevant today. Look at their website and you’ll be amazed at what they offer – and what their members get up to!
Here’s what they have to say about craft: “Craft has always been treasured within the WI. The making of a crafted artefact tells and records stories; protecting heritage and traditional skills. Making can have a positive impact on our lives. It can create space to socialise, and allow for the learning of new skills and sharing of ideas. Craft brings together communities, generations and cultures. It can also be the perfect medium to discuss issues that affect women. However, the most inspiring thing about craft is its democracy; everyone can make something no matter if you are a beginner of a more experienced maker. Craft can change lives!”
I thought that was rather profound! Well done the Women’s Institute and congratulations on your 100 years, may you enjoy many more!
Are you a WI member? If so, what do you enjoy about it?