It’s been a year since I decided to make a significant shift in my life and remove some time-consuming commitments that were creating serious amounts of overwhelm. One of these was having a key role within a ladies chorus; its weekly rehearsal commitment (along with committee obligations, section rehearsals, extra training, competition and so on) played an important part of my life for over 14 years.
A year on, I’ve achieved more of a balance but there’s something I miss.
I miss belonging to a social group
I miss the regular interactions with like-minded women. I miss belonging to a social group. In his book, The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer, Bertil Marklund’s tenth tip emphasises the positive benefits of a good social life. Marklund explains that time with friends not only reduces stress but decreases inflammation in the body thus strengthening the immune system, leading to a longer life with more fun in it!
So, what to do?
My friend, Lynne, suggested a reading group. Re-joining the gym was a possibility but less likely to offer the kind of personal connection I was seeking. However, there was something else I had in the back of my mind: The Women’s Institute. Would this provide the kind of social network (an actual social network) that I would enjoy?
Could I find a WI locally?
I consulted Google to see if there was a WI in my local area. To my surprise, there were three. Two existed in my home town of Kenilworth but there was one in the next village – Leek Wootton – that was just 5 minutes away. In fact, that’s nearer than going into town.
I realised that this group met monthly on a Tuesday evening at 7.45 p.m; a perfect slot for me. So, I clicked on the group’s website. What should I see there but a photograph that included the image of my lovely neighbour, Gill! There was a meeting coming up in a few days’ time, so I tapped on Gill’s door to see if I could go along with her. Unbeknown to me, Gill regularly gave a lift to our mutual neighbour, Lesley, so we became instantly “The Cul-de-Sac Three”.
What’s the WI all about?
At this first meeting, I gained a small insight into the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) whilst also seeing – at first hand – how my local WI operated. Back at home, my research enabled me to discover more.
Did you know that the WI actually originated in Canada in 1897, only starting in Britain in 1915 as a way to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food, as part of the war effort? During the Second World War, the WI earned its association with jam-making, as members preserved nearly 12 million pounds of fruit that might otherwise have been wasted.
The WI has a political agenda
As the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK, activism has played a key role in the life of the NFWI. I was particularly struck by one of its current resolutions, Food Matters, which is to ‘avoid food waste, address food poverty.’ Recent campaigns have also included issues such as Fast Fashion and Packaging and Waste. All of these speak very much to the minimalist heart.
With a pro-active Public Affairs team, the NFWI is not only a political organisation, but an effective one it seems! Indeed, the NFWI’s continued use of ‘Jerusalem’ as its anthem signals the organisation’s ongoing links with the wider women’s movement and its commitment to improving rural life.
An organisation committed to developing people
The idea that the WI offers development opportunities to its members is very appealing, as are the cultural and social activities enjoyed at local level throughout the year. Offering education to women and the chance to build new skills, the NFWI also has its own cookery school in Oxfordshire where craft and lifestyle courses are also delivered.
At the Leek Wootton WI, members of the craft group are busy making tiny knitted cotton octopuses, which will be offered to our local neo-natal unit. Apparently, the babies’ tiny hands perceive the octopus tentacles to be like the mother’s umbilical cord. This spurs me on to improve my knitting skills, as those of you who know me well may remember that I’ve been knitting a scarf for about 3 years now. My husband calls it my Brexit scarf, as the UK will have left the EU before I finish it….
My second visit
A month after my first visit to the WI, I returned for a second time on Tuesday. The evening’s theme proved to demonstrate what a lively and fun group I had discovered. The theme was belly dancing! After a demonstration from our fabulous guest, we were warmly encouraged to get up and have a go. Everyone – of all ages – had a great deal of fun trying the various moves, before relaxing over a rather lovely Pimms and lemonade.
As a visitor, I was warmly welcomed by this friendly bunch and had another very pleasant evening. So, after the summer break, I’m going to join and I look forward to trying new things and having the opportunity to broaden my horizons a little. Local friends, do come along with me if you are free on the third Tuesday of the month!
What about you?
Do you belong to an established organisation? Or have you created a group that brings like-minded people together for a particular reason? Let us know by replying to the post below!
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