The Day I Infiltrated The W.I.

Seeing as the last few days have been all about the Queen in the UK, and of course in various other parts of the world, I thought I would carry on with the quintessentially British theme by talking about the W.I. If any of you are wondering just what the W.I. is, it is the Women’s Institute and having run since 1914, when it was formed “to revitalize rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War”, it has become something of a British Institution, but also something of a mystery to many. Well thanks to books, and indeed this blog, I got invited to a meeting, so I thought I would report back…

How did books get me, with my beard too, sneaked into a Women’s Institute meeting? Well, since you asked so nicely, it was actually an invite from Louise (one of the lovely new members of The Manchester Book Group – who I will not be seeing at the meeting tonight as I am still ill with this stomach thing, made all the more vexing by the fact tonight is my blinking choice too) who wanted myself and Lucy of Literary Relish to come and talk as “book experts”, which we both thought was debatable, and as people who have set up a book group or two and might have advice. Plus there was the offer of a grand old building to roam around and lots of tea and cake. I was sold on the simple idea of seeing just what happened at a meeting, the cake was just an added bonus. How could we refuse?

So a few weeks ago, a little nervous but very eager, myself and Lucy rocked up at Chetham’s School of Music which is a wonderful old building in the heart of Manchester where the new Manchester W.I. group has been set up.

The lovely Lucy outside Chatham’s School of Music

Well it wasn’t what I expected at all. I thought it would be a) filled soley with some very old ladies who would look at us over their glasses with utter disdain b) filled with a few Kirsty Allsop wannabes c) possibly a group of women chanting how much they hated their husbands. Instead was a wonderfully eclectic group of women of all ages and walks of life (though with a common passion for a floral design on their personage, lovely) who were all very welcoming, though I think the sixth time someone came up and winked ‘you shouldn’t be here should you’ at me it started to lose its charm. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and excited to be there, it was most contagious.

Lovely ladies of Manchester’s W.I.

 The meeting was designed to set up some sub groups for people within the Manchester W.I. for members who also had the same interests to join. Each one was introduced; there was a ‘fine dining group’, a fitness group, a charity group, a baking group and many more which of course included the book, cinema and theatre group (which was run by Louise and which myself and Lucy were there to offer tips and bookish recommendations too)…

Manchester Women’s Institute Book, Cinema and Theatre Group

 Frankly I wanted to join them all. Particularly the ones involving books, chocolate, tea, cake or all four combined – the fitness one I might possibly not even have looked at. People seemed to mill about and have a gander at everything and then suddenly it was time for tea (in a wonderfully old room)…

The tea-room…

Followed by homemade cakes…

Cakes; please note one of these was for Lucy, they weren’t both for me…

 And then we were all deluged suddenly by people wanting to know how a book group should be set up, what books people should recommend for a group read, what had we loved and read lately etc? It was ace! I don’t think Lucy will mind me saying we were rather in our element. Louise too seemed to have lots and lots of people signing up for the sub-group and people wanting to join her book group AND ours, who says the love of a good book is dead?

The lovely Louise getting deluged in requests for her W.I. sub-group

Well it was lovely. Did I learn any of their secret rituals, well yes I did, but if I told you I would have to hunt you down, if that is ok with you all, do you all agree? (Members will know why that is so apt.)

On a serious note am quite jealous I am not allowed to join one. I was talking to my Gran about this and I can’t even use the gay card, apparently someone tried at the one local to her, which she isn’t a part of, and they said no. In fairness I am not a woman, I think it might be the beard that gives it away, but I would so love to find a group of men and women near me who like books, baking and the like and who I could meet up with at random times to indulge in it all with. I guess I will have to make do with The Beard for now, though I think he may have over exaggerated his love of books in the early days, that’s by the by though (and he has started building a library and getting bookshelves sorted here there and everywhere – swings and roundabouts, you can’t have everything hahaha) back to today’s post…

Do any of you know, or have started and so could give tips, groups of both sexes who bake and the like together anywhere? Is there an online directory you might have heard of? Should, when I am a little better, I start my own? Are any of you members of the W.I. or something similar?


Filed under Book Group, Random Savidgeness

20 responses to “The Day I Infiltrated The W.I.

  1. gaskella

    Your post has inspired me to check out my local WI group – and to my amazement it meets at the British Legion which is about 150yds from my house!

  2. Here in the US my husband and I were part of that kind of group once. It was through a New Neighbors club. They had groups for everything you could think of including book group, card groups and a supper club. It was a lot of fun. Maybe you could band together a few book clubs and mingle together to do other things?

    • I like the idea of a New Neighbours club, I wonder if that would work in the UK? In this building it might as I have met all the neighbours and they are lovely, and I haven’t officially moved in yet, In last few places I have lived I have never met the neighbours, well one set when I had to complain about noise haha.

  3. My book group have discussed starting a spin off knitting and baking group as we often sit around talking about crafty things after the book part. We all seem to have one speciality that we could teach the others! I think some WIs are better than others, I’ve heard they’re a bit cliquey and snobbish round here.

  4. JanaNav

    This post will have me smiling all day. Everything from the ‘gay card’, The(deceptive) Beard, to the beautiful photos. All delightful. I love my book group, but if only we could meet in a lovely old building such as the Chatham’s School of Music…alas we must settle for a late 20th century Seattle bookstore. And we don’t even have tea & cakes. Or any food for that matter. I guess you can’t have everything.
    But we do have a love of good books, and that’s most important, right?

    • hahahaha lad that I could make you laugh Jana, always nice to hear.

      A love of books is of course the most important thing. But baking… I have a craving for it at the moment. More on that next week.

  5. I agree with Tracy, make a group if you can’t find one. Maybe the members of your Manchester book club would like to expand the subjects a bit? I’ve heard both good and bad about the WI, and before the current move towards it again, the bad reports were louder and the stereotype used to excess. Reading your post was a delight.

    • I think I could make a group, though it would be another project I would have to organise. I would like to join something organised, for a little change. Hahaha, maybe that is just my role in life.

  6. Rosie

    Have you tried the Clandestine Cake Club?

  7. Try Clandestine Cake Club, there are lots around. Both sexes can join!

    I have been part of the Shoreditch Sisters in London for about a year and a half, and it’s the best thing I have ever done!

    • Rosie recommended that too Martha, I am now signed up on the website, though there isn’t one round here The Beard is thinking of hosting one and I will co host.

      It sounds ace.

  8. How fun. I only know about the WI through the show “Jam and Jerusalem”, so it is nice to have the inside scoop.

    • That is what I was expecing Thomas, however its not at all. Oddly the fete I went to over the jubilee weekend was just like an episode of Jam and Jerusalem. The Beard and I couldn’t believe it.

  9. Oh, my, those cupcakes do look tasty!

  10. Actually, my book group recently evolved a baking group offshoot! I’m not sure we shouldn’t combine the two…

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