To say that the WI has members in high places, and I mean high places, would be an understatement this week! You may or may not know, but HRH Queen Elizabeth is the President of Sandringham WI in Norfolk, and last week Her Majesty attended its monthly meeting, signed the minutes, listened to the speaker, gave a short address, enjoyed the home grown entertainment and took afternoon tea with the members. I was honoured to be invited to the meeting, together with our Honorary Treasurer Aleathia Mann, who is a member of Norfolk Federation. Our task was to judge two competitions: a Diamond Jubilee card in any medium, and six cupcakes decorated to reflect the anniversary. It was a wonderfully enjoyable and magical afternoon with a touch of the surreal about it, and yet it felt like any other village WI meeting with a VIP in attendance.
Sandringham WI has a prestigious royal history; its first President was Queen Mary. Her daughter-in-law Queen Elizabeth then took over, and now our Queen takes the presidential chair at the January meetings. Queen Mary played a large part in setting up the WI on the Norfolk estate, since she was so interested and intrigued to hear of the organisation that first began in Canada in 1897, but from 1915 was engaging the women of Wales and England.
The rest is history; a synopsis of which can be found on the NFWI website as well as in several books. Within these histories, mention is made of the NFWI’s first national Chair Lady Denman, after whom the WI college in Oxfordshire is named. As a lady of drive and determination, she left such an active legacy from which members have benefited and acted for almost a hundred years.
The essence of the WI is bringing women together to find company; to provide opportunities to learn new skills; make a difference within their communities; and possibly above all, be themselves and have fun. Empowerment and education were the original words much used, and the same is true today, but we may go about it in different ways.
The WI has always provided a place where women can be themselves. Mariella Frostrup, in response to a correspondent who was trying to find a way to cope with daily frustrations and let off steam, advocated the WI as one possible option. Nowadays when so much socialising is carried out online, nothing can beat the face to face interaction with like-minded, or otherwise, people in a safe place for a couple of hours a month. That, combined with the chance to learn something new every time, can begin and become an obsession!
Not much is completely and truly ‘new’ as someone somewhere has usually advocated the same, or a version thereof, years and years before; but having had a look at the Start website, I am thinking of cleaning without modern products enhanced by chemicals. They are offering “new ways” of cleaning with lemon, bicarbonate of soda and other natural elements: nothing new there! There are several WI books on the subject not least the last booklet produced by the NFWI, “Simple Solutions”, which sold in its thousands in 2004/5. Many of these old methods never loose their efficacy, and they were no doubt in use and under possible discussion when Queen Mary was President of Sandringham WI.