WI group stages unlikely rebellion

IT is the unlikeliest of rebellions, but members of a Women's Institute in Suffolk have decided they want to break away from the movement - in retaliation for what they regard as “dictatorship”.

By David Green

IT is the unlikeliest of rebellions, but members of a Women's Institute in Suffolk have decided they want to break away from the movement - in retaliation for what they regard as “dictatorship”.

The Hoxne and Denham WI has its roots in the 1950s and many of its existing members have been attending the monthly meetings for several decades.

However, the raising of the annual subscription to £26 to include the cost of a “compulsory” new magazine has proved the final straw.

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Members have voted 18-2 to leave the WI movement and set up as an independent group from January 1.

Doreen Weller, secretary, said: “I feel rather sad about it but we are not going to be dictated to.”

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Mrs Weller, 82, a former president of the WI, said there had been a lot of ill-feeling over the raising of the annual subscription to include the “no choice” purchase of the new magazine.

“We want to keep the group going on a social basis - without the rigorous control of the national federation,” she said.

A lot of the Hoxne and Denham members were new to the village and were not particularly dedicated to the WI movement.

The majority of members were also elderly and rarely went to county events in Ipswich or elsewhere.

“On winter nights it is enough for most members to come down to the village hall in their cars, let alone drive half way across the county,” Mrs Weller said.

Members who visited other areas had reported a great deal of ill-feeling and unrest about the imposition of the magazine cost in the annual subscription, she claimed.

“I think the federation is going to get a bit of a shock,” Mrs Weller said.

She revealed that the Hoxne and Denham group had been told by the federation to return any money left in the WI's finances together with its competition trophies and even the tablecloth embroidered with the names of members.

“Apparently they will hold it for three years in case anyone comes along and starts-up the local WI again,” Mrs Weller said.

Most of the trophies had been donated in memory of past members and had a sentimental value.

The federation had also insisted that an adviser visit the WI in December to formally wind it up, Mrs Weller said.

Amy Bick National Federation of WIs spokeswoman, said the decision by members of the Hoxne and Denham WI was “a real shame”.

She denied the federation was in any way a dictatorship, pointing out that the board of trustees was democratically elected by members nationally.

Ms Bick said the magazine was being launched because of past difficulties in communicating to each of the nation's 215,000 WI members.

“Up to now we have been sending out information bulletins to each WI four times a year but relied upon local officials to inform members of the contents,” she said.

A membership survey had found that over 50% of respondents said they would like a membership magazine to be part of the subscription.

Ms Bick said a minority of WI members nationally were unhappy with the rise in subscription to take account of the cost of the magazine - to be called WI Life - but 200,000 had already put their names on the distribution database. “The overwhelming majority are happy about it,” she said.

The Hoxne and Denham WI artefacts would have to be deposited with the federation under the regulations regarding the assets of charities, she added.

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