It is not ‘just jam and Jerusalem’ at WI

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There was a time when joining the Women’s Institute with its reputation for making cakes and jam did not necessarily appeal to the younger generation.

But one group in Harrogate, which still enjoys traditional aspects of the WI such as baking and crafts but also offers its members less established pursuits such as the chance to tackle an assault course and learn about sushi making, is proof times are changing.

The average age of those attending Spa Sweethearts WI, a branch based in Harrogate, is just thirty and they are keen to shake off the organisation’s old-fashioned stereotype and prove it has much to appeal to today’s modern woman.

Its president Becky Warburton, who lives in Harrogate, is aged just 26 but says the WI can offer something to women from a range of different backgrounds and ages.

Miss Warburton said: “Too often, the WI is described as ‘just jam and Jerusalem’ which does a huge disservice to its members and all they have achieved over the years.

“There are more than 200,000 WI members across the UK, including a growing number of young women who are very passionate about what the organisation stands for,” she says.

This year the WI marks its 100th anniversary and the Spa Sweethearts have launched a campaign to attract new members of all ages and from all walks of life.

“We are quite keen to try and disprove some of those myths that you have to be an older woman and you have to live in a rural community to join.

“Its not all jam and cake making and things like that we to do different things.

“We have done sushi making and we are going to do an assault course,” Miss Warburton said.

Spa Sweethearts WI’s programme for the year includes learning about international cookery, tea tasting with Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, an evening exploring the benefits of mindfulness, and carol singing at Christmas. The group is also organising a residential development weekend, when members will have the chance to try unusual activities such as pottery, walking and team-building tasks.

Last year Spa Sweethearts WI launched a campaign, aiming to recruit a hundred members during 2015 and in keeping with the group’s modern approach a social media blitz has been started with Miss Warburton setting up a new Twitter account to demonstrate the diverse activities of WI groups around the UK. Each week in 2015, a new group will take over @WomenoftheWI and share their news.

Miss Warburton says her branch of the WI, which was founded in 2011, is open to women of all ages and despite having many younger members also has older members.

She became involved in the WI because she wanted to meet new people when she returned to Harrogate after attending university and realising her old school friends had moved away.

The group meets on the second Thursday of the month at 7.30pm, at St George’s Social Club, St George’s Road, Harrogate. More information is online at www.spasweetheartswi.co.uk, and on social media at: www.facebook.com/spasweetheartswi and @SpaSweethearts

“We’re very proud to be part of such a powerful and respected organisation, and we also want to show that the WI is relevant to modern women of all ages and has an important role to play in 21st century life,” Miss Warburton said.