The Womens Institute
The Womens Institute or WI as it is more commonly known is an organisation of approximately 210,000 women who belong to local groups. Their objective is to provide women with educational opportunities, develop new skills, and give them new opportunities to participate in a wide variety of activities. The WI was formed in 1915 with the objectives of revitalizing rural communities and encouraging women to become involved in producing food during the First World War. Since this time, the objectives have broadened considerably. The WI are staunch campaigners nationally and at local level on issues that concern them and local communities. There are 7000 local groups that belong to 69 regional areas. Originally, it was only rural areas that the WI was concerned with but in recent times, perhaps in no small part due to a desire to get back to basics, urban branches have sprung up. The first was in Fulham, London and from there membership has spread across London and into other large urban populations.
The general view of the Womens Institute is one of middle aged, middle class ladies in stout footwear and good tweeds baking for fetes, learning how to make chutney and jam, sewing with left over pieces of Liberty prints and knitting floppy-eared rabbits and baby clothes for good causes. It is true that crafts are one of the core features of the WI, but make no mistake there is way more to the organisation than that. They are assisting the National Needlework Archive to build an exhibition of WI needlework through the ages, generating interest in knitting for young people in association with the Crafts Council and UK Hand Knitting Association. Always associated with good food nutrition and healthy eating (as well as delicious scones, cakes and jam) the WI have projects to help disadvantaged young parents to cook well on a limited budget.
The Womens Institute are responsible for serious campaigns including preserving the honey bee, improving maternity care in third world countries, prevention of violence against women, women and climate change, love your libraries campaign and safeguarding the future of dairy farming.
Denman College is the hub of the WI’s creativity. This is where courses are run to learn cookery, decorating, crafts and lifestyle. Whether it is for a specific skill or just for a weekend of fun and industry with the girls, Denman is a magnificent country house devoted to good living and to teach everything from computer skills to dress making. There are plenty of craft projects that the Womens Institute teaches that will complement a home. Many of the skills learned can be used in interior design and acquiring skills such as mosaic, cushion making, upholstery, tapestry and so forth can give your interiors a really personal touch.
Jam and Jerusalem is an affectionate term for the WI and while “Jerusalem” is not the official hymn of the WI, it has been adopted and is often sung at meetings. This stems from just one meeting where a special arrangement of the hymn was sung by a WI choir. It just stuck. WI Jam may now be bought via the Womens Institute website and in good stores, but they still strongly advocate getting out your preserving pan and home grown fruit. The organisation is strong in its campaign missions and committed to practical values. Long may they prosper!