Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Under the Spotlight: Hallam Roses WI President

The Women's Institute first formed in Britain way back in 1915, and was originally intended for women to simply get together to help the war effort with food provisions. Since then it's come a long way, with several high-profile members including the Queen (and even Kate fancies a go at jam-making, apparently).
Photo credit: www.wi.org.uk
The WI, whilst it still largely retains its old-fashioned 'jam and Jerusalem' image, is about way more than the perfect Victoria sponge (FYI no cream in the middle- jam only. Caster sugar on top, NEVER icing sugar). Charity work is high on the list, as is pushing women's rights... for example the recognition of rape within marriage, STI awareness, to name but a couple.

But enough of the history lesson. As it happens, one of my oldest friends, Emma, is President of her local WI, the Hallam Roses, in Sheffield. Here's a snapshot of one of our chats. Over cocktails. Obvs.

Isn't it just for old ladies who knit?
You joke but one of my previous WI's had people sitting in the corner knitting. I did wonder what I'd joined. But no. It's most certainly not just ladies who knit. Our group is a 'new wave' WI, and our members ages range from about 20-50ish (although don't hold me to that). Our meeting topics this year range from the crafty - we just did a macrame meeting - to wine tasting to belly dancing. We ask our members what they'd like to do and then try to plan our meetings around that. The WI is, as a whole, becoming more modern too. There is a festival that runs every year called 'Tea and Tents', and the WI had a stall at last years' Glastonbury (which we helped at!) And in Sheffield we've had about 6 groups open in the city centre in the last 3 years! It's a popular thing to do. But some of the 'older' ladies I have met through the WI with are pretty amazing. They are some of the most spirited and passionate people I've had the joy of interacting with. And I certainly wouldn't like to get on their bad side.

What happens at your meetings?
We start at 7.30 but people drift in earlier to chat with friends, and have a drink and some cake. Meetings proper start with a bit of an intro from the President (me), where I run through anything that might be happening in the WI in South Yorkshire or the country as a whole. We talk about any decisions that need to be made for the group, and then we move into our meeting activity. Activities usually last just over an hour,  and then we wrap up for the night. As we meet in a bar people do stay and grab a drink afterwards if they fancy it too. And no, we don't sing Jerusalem, but there are some events where they do sing it... Honestly? I don't know the words so I stand there like one of those footballers at the world cup not singing the national anthem, being glared at by the old school members.

What has been your biggest project?
I'd have to say our biggest project was a craft fair we organised for charity. We had 30 stalls, loads of people through the door and about £500 raised for charity. It took a lot of work from everyone, so it was a big commitment, but so so worth it. One of the events we're running this year (and which we did last year) is a swishing event. That was really popular and a really fun evening too. 

How do I join? 
The WI website has a list of all the local WI's in existence and details on how to create a new group in your area too. I'd also search Facebook for groups. You can find a lot out about a group that way as I think it's important to find one that works for you. 

Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
This is a difficult question to answer. I've never classed myself as a feminist as I have this vision of feminists as aggressively fighting for women's rights and hating men. I know it's not like that, but that's where my brain goes.But I do believe that women should have equal opportunities. I've always been told that I can do anything I want. That I'm just as able as anyone else. And this is true of all women. Work hard and you'll get what you want. I don't think our WI is a feminist group, but it does build friendships and it does provide a great support group for our members.

Thanks Em! It was really good to get an insight into what goes on within a modern WI. Girl Power!!


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