100 years of the WI
This month, the WI is 100 years-old. Here we celebrate the WI and meet a member who founded a group in her community. Photography by Alice Hendy
Originally formed to encourage women to become more involved in producing food in the First World War, the first ever WI meeting was held in Llanfairpwll on Anglesey, Wales, on 16 September 1915. The WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK, with 212,000 members and 6,600 WIs.
The network has helped form thousands of friendships, given women the opportunity to learn and improve a huge variety of skills and continues to passionately work towards causes that matter to the organisation. These include; Care Not Custody – calling for an end to the inappropriate detention of people with mental health problems, SOS for Honeybees, Dementia Friendly Communities, Climate Change Fair trade and More Midwives.
Climate Change – For the love of... bees. And for strawberries, cheese, bluebells and hedgehogs. For the local park and England's beautiful seasons. For the food on our plates and the tea in our mugs. For the love of all the things that matter most, we're taking climate change seriously.
Honeybee SOS – Honey Bees play a vital role in the pollination of food crops and in our environment. In view of concerns about the accelerating decline in the UK honey bee population, this meeting urges HM Government to increase funding for research into Bee Health.
Hindon & Fonthill Bishop WI - Wiltshire Federation
Lottie Storey from Bristol set up a WI group with her antenatal group, back in 2008. She wanted to continue the friendship and bond the women had created during maternity leave. “At the heart of it our group was true friendship, a ready-made cheerleading squad, all combined with gallows humour and many, many shared experiences, fraught tears and (post-baby) belly laughs.”
The more Lottie researched the WI, the more she discovered that it’s far more to it than church halls and cake. “The WI is actually a kinda radical organisation. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that the jam and Jerusalem façade fronts a radical political force to be reckoned with. Campaigning has always been at the heart of the WI, with work on subjects as diverse as school dinners (1926), equal pay (1943), and breast cancer screening (leading to a change in government screening policy in the 1970s). And who could forget the slow handclapping of Tony Blair at the WI conference back in 2000? Powerful stuff.”
The Bristol borough group started with 12 members, but this grew and quickly became 120 members. With their local advisor and Lottie’s dedicated WI mother, they prospered. Women attendees range in age from those in their twenties, up to their seventies. “One of the initial reasons for starting the group was to bring different generations of women together. Without local or living grandmothers or mothers, women miss out on the company and experience found in a mix of ages and backgrounds.”
The group has enjoyed talks and sessions on Indian head massage, story-telling, self-sufficiency, oral history documentaries, Morph-making with Aardman, as well as the classics: flower-arranging and knitting. “And there’s the cake. There is always the cake. Tiny chocolate slices sit alongside classic Victoria sandwich cakes. Scones. Muffins. Cupcakes. Brownies. It’s quite a sight to behold,” says Lottie.
Inspired by the WI Lottie started, members who had trekked across the city to attend, began forming their own groups close to where the live. “I think we were onto something when we started our group,” enthuses Lottie.
Become a member – Are you already a member? Tell us about your experience of the WI, we'd love to hear your thoughts!