I am the former president and co-founder of Manchester Women’s Institute, one of the largest and youngest W.I’s in the UK.
The Huffington Post journalist Brogan Driscoll interviewed me lately to find out more…
The Women’s Institute (WI) has long been associated with blue rinse, homemade jam and knitted cardigans – but, as the organisation reaches its centenary year, there is a new generation of WI members who are breathing fresh life into the old order.
Now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK with 212,526 members, the WI has more than six thousand groups to cater to different ages and interests – including many who would sooner share a bottle of wine than a pot of tea.
But swapping bunting for burlesque or pearls for pamper days doesn’t mean rejecting the organisation’s traditional values.
The WI was founded in 1915 to involve women in food production during the war effort and revitalise rural areas – today food and community spirit remain deeply engrained in the fabric of the organisation, simply in a more modern form.
We caught up with four WI members from across the UK to discuss the organisation’s changing reputation, modern femininity and the importance of giving back.
Name: Lucy Adams
Occupation: Project Co-ordinator and in my spare time I write a lifestyle blog www.ledbylucy.com
Joined WI: I spent just under two years as president and co-founder, and am now a proud member.
Name of WI group: Manchester WI
How long has your group been running?
Alexandra Taylor and I launched Manchester WI two years ago. It started off as just an apple in our eye and now it is one of the largest in the UK.
We had eighty members rush through the doors on our first meeting, we had booked the room with a capacity of 40 – it was so exciting!
What sets your group apart from others?
I’d say the vibrancy of our meetings and members. Manchester WI puts its heart and soul into sourcing interesting speakers and organising the creative events.
The members are an eclectic mix of ages and backgrounds which make the meetings so vibrant, people have met their future bridesmaids, housemates and employers at our meetings. It is a real melting pot of activity.
Lex Taylor, Manchester WI Co- founder
Describe a typical meeting
There really isn’t a typical meeting! Each has a different theme. My favourite meeting was the sustainable fashion event, we had stylists and designers speaking about the effects of disposable fashion then we hosted a huge clothes swap party. The clothes were amazing; I bagged a Megan from Mad Men style 1960’s dress and one of the other girls got a Vivienne Westwood ring!
I also really enjoyed our sisterhood meeting, the speaker was feminist artist Charlotte Newson who created a huge portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst using images of inspiring women from around the world. It was really relevant given Manchester’s suffragette history.
Do you think the current reputation of the WI is fair?
For some groups it might be, but not at Manchester WI. A blogger from Mancunian Matters joined us for a meeting and summed it up with: Forget twinsets and pearls, unless making a sartorial style statement, these are women aged 25-40 who are more drum n bass than Jam and Jerusalem.
Lucy Adams, Manchester WI Co-founder
What are you doing to bring WI into the 21st century?
I think the very fact that all of our members are working women, living in the city with lots of passion and energy makes it really relevant to current day.
Also Emmeline Pankhurst is featured in our logo, but she is winking and has a tattoo!
Would you consider yourself feminist?
Absolutely. There is a strong sense of sisterhood at Manchester WI, it’s all about learning new skills, networking and having fun.
Manchester WI Members.
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