Monday, 1 June 2009

A Taste of the WI-Life (Families Mag Nov/ Dec 2009 I think)

By Angelina Melwani

Coccooned in a brown, luxuriantly flock-walled and chandeliered private room upstairs in a gastropub in Kilburn, 8 or 9 stylish women in their late 20s to early 30s are seated around a talkative, fair-haired man dressed top-to-toe in black who looks like a cross between Graham Norton and Paul Burrell. On the table before him is an assortment of day-glo plastic containers, shiny jewel-coloured serving bowls and ergonomic kitchen implements. Every so often he lifts one up and caresses it lovingly, demonstrating some clever little hidden facet, to some “Ooh”s and fascinated “Wow”s.

It’s a Tupperware party. It’s hosted by the North West London Women’s Institute. And to their credit, they have secured Graham Burrell (real name Andrew Humphrey), the only male Tupperware agent in the country.

Now Tupperware may not be your bag, but this young branch of the WI has, in its mere 18 months of existence been quite active and creative with the themes of their monthly meetings. They’ve had Poker Night (using Haribos instead of money); Wine Tasting (after which they took home spare bottles); learned tips from a Make-Up Consultant; enjoyed a talk on the Suffragettes; had their eyes opened by a visit from Anna Span (if you don’t know who she is, you’ll have to Google her as it would be inappropriate to comment further within these hallowed, child-friendly pages); as well as a night brilliantly coined “Pimp my supermarket flowers” – all about how to make supermarket flowers look posh; to more pedestrian entertainment pursuits such as just going out with their husbands and partners to a bar. And they are open to new ideas. And new members.

So why join the WI? Georgina Sneddon, the president of the North West London branch says, “I love the sense of community and giving back to the community through helping local organisations and events.

Everyone’s backgrounds are so diverse. If you go to yoga class, you are likely to meet someone with very similar interests as you, but if you come to the WI you will really meet a whole variety of completely different people from your local area, which appeals to me. It’s a wonderful way to make friends and when I leave a meeting I always think: Ah, what a lovely bunch of people.”

Georgina has an insight into the history of the WI; her mother was the president of her own group and as a girl, she would sometimes accompany her to meetings.

The Women’s Institute was formed in 1915 with two clear aims: to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Since then, their aims have broadened and they are now the largest women’s organisation in the UK with currently 205,000 members in 6,500 WIs.”

Their aims are indeed broad. Today, the WI wields strong socio-political influence and they campaign with fervour on issues - democratically selected by vote - that matter to women and their communities, including equal pay in 1942, Breast Cancer Screening in 1975 and, in 2006, they held a Packaging Day of Action which saw WI members throughout the country return unnecessary and excessive food packaging to supermarkets. Today, their focuses range from climate change and food waste to ending violence against women and they are members of the Children’s Food Campaign.

The Women’s Institute prides itself on its diversity of backgrounds and ages. Its whole ethos is centred around learning from each other, young from old and old from young, developing and passing on new skills along the way. Quite simply, its aim is to enable women “to make a difference - to the life you lead, to the community you're a part of and to the world you live in.” Highly relevant and never more pertinent, than in these uncertain times.

Georgina says, “We’re the new brand of the WI. It’s not about jam and Jerusalem. We meet in the pub and it’s a real laugh. We’re really inclusive and if you’re interested, you can just come along for a meeting or two and see if you like it.”

Quotes to highlight/ put in boxes:
Kylie, 31, from Kentish Town. “Joining the WI is a great way to meet different people out of my normal social circle. My friends might not want to go to an art gallery or wherever but I can meet people locally that are interested in trying new and interesting things.”

Rachel, 35, from Kilburn. “I’ve made friends in my local area. It’s nice to be able to pick up the phone and call someone to meet for coffee or go shopping with. I also really was attracted to the cooking, sewing and craft side of things. I think a lot of women are going back to that now and it has wide appeal.”

Info box:
Meetings are from 7.15 -9.30pm on the second Tuesday of the month in the North London Tavern, 375 Kilburn High Rd, NW6 7QB. If you decide to join, membership is £29.00, which entitles you to 11 monthly meetings and a subscription to WI Life Magazine. The North West London WI will be doing their thing for the local community at the Kilburn Festival at Grange Park, Kilburn, 12th July ( For more information e-mail Or visit or their Facebook group “North West London WI”. For more information on the Women’s Institute and how to locate or set up your own local group visit