Young women changing face of WI

IF the film Calendar Girls changed people's perception of the Women's Institute, then a new group could be about to break the mould even further.

Elliot Furniss

IF the film Calendar Girls changed people's perception of the Women's Institute, then a new group could be about to break the mould even further.

A group of 20-somethings have set up a branch in Colchester and are looking to marry some of the movement's traditional craft and charity activities with some rather more 21st Century events.

By keeping the knitting and cooking aspects of the WI - but adding elements of fashion and outdoor activities - new president Sarah Capel, 27, said she hoped the new group would attract a younger demographic.


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The group will be known as the Colchester WIGs (Women's Institute Girls) to set them apart from the fame-hungry shopaholic wives and girlfriends of England's footballers, branded “WAGs” by the media.

Miss Capel decided to launch the group along with fellow colleagues from a publishing house based in Hawkins Road, to help members connect with like-minded women, discover hidden talents and engage with the community.

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She said: “Celebrities such as Twiggy and Gok Wan are bringing a creative culture to the mainstream. Crafting has been bubbling under the surface of mainstream for years but the credit crunch and increased awareness of the state of the environment has now given our group a reason for being.

“We are going through a cultural shift and there are lots of women who are looking for direction for what to do in their spare time.

“I used to think the WI was for women of a certain age. I liked the idea but was never attracted to it because of its image.

“However, it's so much more than 'jam and Jerusalem'. Our group is for creative women who are keen to meet new people and learn new skills.”

She said the Colchester WIGs will provide inspiring speakers, craft groups, a fundraising committee, in addition to networking and socialising opportunities.

The group is also looking at organising clothes swapping parties and murder mystery nights to complement some more sedate activities associated with the WI, which has 205,000 members in the UK.

It plays a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills, to take part in a wide variety of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities.

The image of the WI changed when members of a WI group from North Yorkshire dared to pose naked for a charity calendar and raise almost �600,000 - which was turned into a hit Hollywood film in 2003.

Miss Capel, who lives in the Maldon Road area of the town, said the idea for the new group was inspired by an article she read about the Shoreditch Sisters WI branch, run by Jazz Mellor, daughter of Joe Strummer of the Clash.

The Shoreditch group is mostly made up of women in their mid-20s and Miss Capel said that since she got in touch with Miss Mellor to find out how to set up her own version she had never looked back.

The new group will be holding monthly meetings at the Hythe Community Centre in Ventura Drive starting on Wednesday January 14 from 7.30pm to 10pm.

The annual membership fee is �29 and meetings will be open to guests with a �2 entry fee. For more information on joining, contact Sarah Capel by emailing thew.i.g.s@live.com.

nThe National Federation of Women's Institutes is the largest voluntary organisation for women in the UK.

nThe idea originated in Canada in 1897 and the first British meeting took place in Wales on September 16, 1915.

nToday there are 6,800 groups in England and Wales that are linked by a network of 70 county and island federations.

nEssex is the largest of these federations with 225 institutes and 9,500 members - set to rise with the formation of the new Colchester group.

nThe WI is known for its cake sales and knitting groups, but the new Colchester branch is just as likely to host a fashion show or clairvoyant sessions.

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