The WI has well and truly arrived demonstrated by its appearance as a chosen specialist subject on Mastermind. Congratulations to Sally Mabey of Glamorgan Federation for not only putting herself through what must surely be an ordeal but also for attesting her passion for the WI. There are such vast amounts of social history to be found within the WI; everything that the WI undertakes, at every level – national, federation and most definitely local – is history that is well worth preserving and building upon.
2012 is the WI Archive Year, so please do check if the completed minute books and memorabilia for your WI are logged and stored in the correct manner and place. If you need any help, federations have their own archivist who would be happy to give help and advice.
The WI has always been good at keeping records; it's the ‘where’ that has proved difficult! The National Federation of Women's Institutes archives are housed in the Women's Library at the London Metropolitan University, and the National Needlework Archive has a note and a very long list of all of the WI textiles up until a few years ago. With so many new WIs springing up it might soon need to update its records, especially the tablecloth department as this is more often than not the first craft or textile piece that a WI produces and owns.
Our archives tell us about the huge variety of activities that WIs used to partake in, and they are key to the organisation’s longevity. Every decade of the WI’s archives reflects the varying challenges and popular activities of the time. The essence of the WI does not change, its aims and objects remain constant; it is what is happening in society at any given time that shapes the WI. WIs have always played a role in shaping their communities, whether from within or as a consequence of a national mandate, with both giving rise to campaigning and action in some instances, and sometimes merely raising awareness of a particular issue.
At the top of this post I spoke of one woman's passion. For regular readers you might recall the passion in my posts about my trip to Germany in November 2011. This same passion ensured that renewable energy was powering the electricity and heat facilities that I visited on my trip. Following this, the participants have met, and yesterday we invited Secretary of State for the Environment, Chris Huhne, to join the discussions. He is aiming to take renewable energy from NIMBY to YIMBY, but to achieve this there needs to be much more involvement of and conversations with people. To ensure that we can still enjoy the luxury of turning on the lights with the flick of a switch in the future means that renewable energy needs to be talked about and established.
Mandates on the environment – in particular one from 1977 calling on government to look into the use of renewable energy – gives the WI a voice in this ongoing debate and need.
Finally, I was pleased to see the WI on the television again this Wednesday past, with members making bunting and decorating cupcakes on Alan Titchmarsh's show. "The WI was never like this", he commented when greeting Jazz from Shoreditch Sisters WI. Well, actually, the WI has ever been like this. Thousands of women down the years have become WI members in their early 20s, myself included, and had the media been as it is today I'm sure many of them would have looked as good on TV!