When I say that I am a member of the WI it’s amazing how many people snigger and think that I must be finally losing my marbles! Poor Brigitte..getting old before her time! My ex husband, bless him, asked if I had succumbed to a blue rinse and perm and did I really know all the words to Jerusalam!

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There is still this preconception that the WI is aimed at ladies who are in their later years in life who wear sensible brogues and probably elasticated waist skirts and a hand knitted cardi. They make jam by the gallons and can knock up a Victoria Sandwich that surpasses anything Mary Berry could produce. Not only that but they can flower arrange, knit, crochet and drink tea like no tomorrow. A formidable lot too. When I ran a pre-school in a village hall we often had our knuckles wrapped if there was so much as a biscuit crumb left on the floor when they had their meeting later in the day. You don’t want to mess with the WI..no siree!

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Well, to put the story straight, yes there are still traditional branches who probably have a membership of more mature ladies who are more than happy to carry on as they have done for many years, and if they are happy to do so, then good for them. The WI is about being diverse, accesible to all whist still keeping to the basic values that came about 100 years ago this year.

I had been toying with becoming a member ever since Mr R’s work meant that he would be away during the week. I didn’t want to spend all of my evenings watching TV for hours on end or wasting time surfing the net. The trouble was there wasn’t a branch close enough to home that I felt was the right one for me. Imagine how excited I was one day to read in our local free newspaper that there was a possibility of a new branch being set up close to where I live and was anyone interested enough to come to a meeting. Absolutely blooming right I was! A double wammy was that I had already met the lovely Jill who had the brilliant idea to bring the WI to North Swindon.

You should have seen the length of that queue of ladies of all ages waiting to get into that hall for that introductory meeting. There were ladies in that queue who felt until now, there was no way to meet other women in the community as they worked all day or didn’t have young children, which through our little darlings, is often the easiest way to make new friends. That meeting was a turning point for many including myself. I went home excited and raring to go!

It takes a while to get the wheels of the WI in motion. There’s procedures to follow, paperwork to sort and a committee to form. Being me, I wanted to be in the thick of it, so here I am today a committee member who’s main role is to sort out refreshments..and yes, cake and tea is a WI tradition that will never die. We do love our cake, but we don’t mind if it’s homemade or shop bought. It’s cake and that’s all that matters!

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The WI continues to grow from strength to strength. It’s attracting ladies of all ages and all backgrounds. No two branch is the same as each decides on a programme of events and speakers. There are sub groups ranging from book groups, to crafting groups, to pudding groups, to walking groups..oh, I could go on and on. I bet you would be more than surprised to know that one branch attracts goths! Whether a modern branch or a traditional branch the values and ethos of the WI is the same.

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I love my WI. I have lovely new friends and love being part of a fantastic organisation that bring women together. Even though we have only been up and running a few months we have tried belly dancing, had a fabulous talk from the delightful Annabel from The House Of Colour and had a go at making a Christmas wreath as demonstrated by the lovely Adele from Tin Can Floral. On Tuesday we are having a beer tasting session. Something I imagine more traditional members might think a bit shocking, or maybe they might actually quite like to give it a go themselves! I can’t wait to see what exciting times are ahead for the North Swindon branch. We are willing to give anything a go, apart maybe from becoming Calender Girls. But hey, never say never!

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