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How the WI has Stayed Relevant for 100 Years

I love the WI. Having performed for dozens of groups and with bookings stretching out to 2021 (know this if you know nothing else, they are organised) it has been my absolute pleasure to meet hundreds of women who are hell-bent on supporting not only their fellow members, but fellow human beings too.

Since its inception in the UK 105 years ago, its members have campaigned against FGM, for equal pay – back in 1943 – and resolutions under consideration this year include whether to place pressure on the government to legislate for female crash test dummies (women are significantly more likely to die in a car accident) and how to protect our non-renewable helium resources which are at risk thanks to our reliance on it in the medical industry (see – it’s not just used by ravers).

It’s all about singing Jerusalem isn’t it?

No. I’ve only ‘known’ the WI for a few years but in that time I’ve performed for a wide range of groups and while some do sing Jerusalem, there are probably more that don’t. And whether they do or not, they will all join in with a song about your dog humping your leg if you ask them to.

I’ve performed for groups that meet in the day and those that meet in the evening. There are those who drink wine and those who prefer tea and cake. But, until last night, I hadn’t met a group who class themselves as ‘New Wave’. I knew they existed, because I’ve been on Twitter and found groups in London and Manchester like ‘Shoreditch Sisters’ and the ‘Social Lites’ but until, this year, I hadn’t been invited to speak at one. So I thought I’d go and find some by hopping on the WI website and searching for interesting group names that were near to me. Which led to a booking from Thame Belles who most definitely fit the New Wave bill.

What makes them New Wave – and what’s it got to do with being relevant?

1. They ‘get’ social as a means to attract and engage members.

Thame Belles are on Insta. And they’ve got more followers than I have. I need to tap up their social media person 🙂

2. They know good design is important to make you stand out

Getting people off their sofas and out into the real world – especially when you want to attract a demographic that is typically juggling career + family life + wanting a social life – takes skill and persuasion. They’ve created some very cool flyers that are on-brand with their banner and list out the year’s speakers. For once in my life I got top billing 😀

3. They know the power of a free sample

The reverse of the flyer had the offer of a free meeting – nice work!

4. They don’t compromise on the core WI values

Being New Wave doesn’t mean having to rip up the rule book. At the heart of the WI is fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. Its campaigns and mandates focus on serious stuff: climate change, mental health, ending violence against women. To call them “Jam & Jerusalem” does them a disservice that undermines their value as a campaigning organisation that is practical, ambitious and doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

In meeting Thame Belles I not only got a warm reception, an excellent night out and the opportunity to perform a poem about intimate grooming under the watchful gaze of a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, I also got to witness how an organisation that has been very much part of the British landscape for more than 100 years will continue to be relevant long into the future.

Behold – Thame Belles WI!

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The set I performed for Thame Belles was ‘I Need a Wife’ – an hour of comedy and poetry that takes in some of life’s really big issues like how ashamed I am of my glass recycling bin and why I have totally had it with thongs. If you’d like to book me for your group or organisation – get in touch at toni@tonikent.co.uk

One reply on “How the WI has Stayed Relevant for 100 Years”

Hey, Toni! Thanks for those beautiful words and glowing report. At Thame Belles WI, we really do strive to be the best we can, whilst having a great time too. Sorry I wasn’t able to be there last night. Sarah x

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