3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today click here

Dorset WI members talk about what they have done for the cause

PUBLISHED: 10:22 14 December 2015 | UPDATED: 10:22 14 December 2015

Charlotte Hyslop, from Beaminster WI, who did a skydive to fundraise for Parkinson's UK charity

Charlotte Hyslop, from Beaminster WI, who did a skydive to fundraise for Parkinson's UK charity

Archant

As the National Federation of Women’s Institutes celebrates its centenary, Jess Thompson talks to some Dorset WI members who have baked, preserved, skydived, campaigned and drummed for the cause

With an organisation venerable enough to have The Queen as President of one of its branches – Sandringham WI – you’d expect the celebrations for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes centenary to be substantial. And locally they’ve certainly been keeping Dorset Federation Chairman, Linda Whatman, and her team busy. “Yes, it’s a lot of work,” she chuckles, handing me a cup of tea when I visit her in her bungalow in Shillingstone. “But I just love being involved with the whole movement so I don’t mind. More than 200 of our members have attended events at Buckingham Palace and the Royal Albert Hall this year. There’s also been a nationwide baton relay. In Dorset it travelled 680 miles, with groups of WIs organising tea, lunch or special parties along the way.”

Inside the hollow baton, each County Federation was asked to insert a memory stick with 12 photos. “We chose ‘Dorset Members in Action’ as our theme,” says Linda, “so future generations will see us carrying out activities including archery, stone carving and walking in our beautiful countryside. As well as Beaminster WI member, Charlotte Hyslop, doing a skydive in aid of Parkinson’s UK.”

Locally the WI has particular reason to celebrate, for whilst the first WI started on Anglesey in North Wales, three of the first four established in England were in Dorset: Wallisdown, Hamworthy and Upton - the latter is soon to celebrate its own 100th anniversary.

Originally established to encourage rural women to grow and preserve food for the war-ravaged nation, by 1947 Dorset had 145 WIs. When asked to provide accounts of their WI life in Dorset during the Second World War, 83 of them got involved, hand-writing and illustrating stories of German airmen parachuting into the county and photos of rat-catching competitions. Thanks to a 2007 ‘Hidden Treasure’ award from the British Library, an exact replica of the Dorset WI War Records is now on show at the Dorset History Centre, as well as pages from the original being available to view on line.

June Salt, now 85, joined her local WI in Broadmayne in 1960 when she was thirty, and 55 years later she is still an active member. “The WI is a bit like Radio 4 - it educates, entertains and informs you,” she tells me. “It’s added immensely to my life.” Proud as she is of the organisation’s ideals of Truth, Tolerance, Justice and Friendship - it’s the latter she’s most grateful for. “Take my dear friend who’s just turned 90 for instance. She moved to Broadmayne three years after me and I don’t think I’d have met her otherwise.”

After more than five decades with her local WI, you’d expect Mrs Salt to have many memories and she doesn’t disappoint. “In the 1980s our President decided we should have a celebratory night picnic on top of Broadmayne Bank Barrow, which we did, using lanterns to light our way. Someone saw us and decided we must be doing something quite dreadful and called the police. When they arrived they were most amused and shared a glass of wine with us!” she laughs.

“We’ve had a gentleman visit our meetings who’s got a wonderful selection of African drums, so we’ve all enjoyed a good drumming session. And once a lady was doing an Indian cookery demonstration and the room got so hot the lights blew. But there’s always somebody who’s got a torch in the WI, although it made the tasting session quite tricky.”

Over the last 100 years the format of the WI’s monthly meetings has changed little. Some still begin by singing Jerusalem, while others save the rousing anthem for special occasions, but all meetings start with ‘Business’. After that there’s a speaker, demonstration or film – wildlife is always popular – and then it’s teatime.

“There’s always cake – it’s not possible to have a meeting without it,” says Linda. “In most WIs you have a rota of helpers who bake throughout the year. Although I know some WI’s now go down the pub.”

The original WI blueprint has also proved remarkably resilient over the years. ‘Cohesive’ is a word that’s mentioned a lot, but the WI has also modernised to help attract new members, and the organisation continues to grow in Dorset. “We’ve had a new one start recently in the wilds of Netherbury,” says Linda. “They’ve already got 25 members in just three months. I attended their inaugural night and, my goodness, the food they’d laid on! They must all be top notch chefs.”

As a county, Dorset has just over 3,500 members, and Linda would love to see that rise to 4,500. To supplement their income, which comes from membership fees, they organise educational and fundraising events; their popular WI Tea Tent at Camp Bestival, an award-winning family festival held in the grounds of Lulworth Castle, is one of their biggest. “Scores of our ladies bake and donate cakes for Camp Bestival, last year we sold more than 2,400 slices.”

Nationally the WI is working hard to attract younger members – and this is particularly apparent within the newer, urban branches. Emma Forrester doesn’t look like someone you’d immediately associate with the WI. The 25-year-old with vivid aubergine-coloured hair, piercings and discreet tattoos, joined Ferndown’s Absolutely WI in 2013. “My husband and I had just moved from County Durham and I didn’t know anyone locally,” says the Emma, who works as a project manager for a marine consultancy. “I’ve always got on well with older people, so decided to give the WI a go. I’m definitely the youngest by a long way. There are all sorts of women, from all sorts of backgrounds. There’s a barrister, a nurse, someone who works in sexual health. And they’ve all got life experience which someone my age just doesn’t have.”

Emma says she loves the fact that the WI is as famous for its campaigns and community involvement as it is for crochet and cakes. “Last Christmas there was terrible flooding around Ferndown and we helped provide support for the local community. I know that near Weymouth they had a campaign for winter coats for homeless people and collected over 600 in just a week.” And, says Emma, the WI isn’t afraid to tackle issues such as domestic violence and FGM. “It’s not all jam and Jerusalem, the WI is a different form of feminism that’s equally important today. It’s like the original women’s lib, and I really like that.”

Dorset Federation Chairman, Linda Whatman would agree, although she’s more than happy for the WI to be known for its jam. “Jam was one of the things that got us going as an organisation. When you think of what we did in both wars – the Government would come to the WI first if there was a disaster.”

As I get up to leave, rather unexpectedly she presses me to join. “You could go to three or four; try them out.” I congratulate her on her recruiting commitment, to which she retorts, “Why would anyone not join the WI?” Why not indeed. 


READ ON

Famous family trees with roots in Dorset - From a dame with a bigamous Weymouth ancestor to the thriller writer whose grandfather was mayor of Poole, Roy Stockdill traces some famous family trees whose roots are in Dorset

The secret of a legendary cheeseboard - Mark Hartstone, who won Chef of the Year at the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink and Farming Awards, shares the secret of his legendary cheeseboard at La Fosse with us

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Dorset visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Dorset staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Dorset account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Friday, July 27, 2018

Martin Clunes and his family have called West Dorset home for over two decades. Here he shares some of their favourite local places

Read more
Monday, July 9, 2018

Calling all self-professed Clunatics! Test your knowledge on Doc Martin with our quiz.

Read more
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fanny Charles meets some of the residents and businesses owners who are proud to call Dorset’s newest town the place where they work, live and play

Read more
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Donna and Harry Mosley have brought the taste of their world travels to The Paddle in Highcliffe, where brunch and lunch is a deliciously leisurely affair

Read more
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Here we turn the spotlight on some of our county’s most successful and discover what makes them tick

Read more
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith has brought the plight of detainees at Guantanomo Bay into the art rooms of local schools

Read more
Friday, March 2, 2018

Rural communities throughout the UK could be eligible to receive funding via the Calor Rural Community Fund from energy provider Calor

Read more
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

His extraordinary physique made Chang Woo Gow famous, but this well educated family man sought escape from the limelight in Boscombe

Read more
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Retired drama teacher turned film director and producer, Rosita Clarke tells us about the ghostly Dorset love story that has just won her an award at an international film festival

Read more
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

We’ve been lucky enough to speak to some of Dorset’s best known over the years. Here’s what they love most about this beautiful county

Read more
Monday, January 29, 2018

A world-renowned explorer, a palaeontologist and futurist, and a butterfly conservator reveal the importance of the past for the future of mankind

Read more
Monday, January 15, 2018

AFC Bournemouth’s Jermain Defoe tells Andy Greeves how having a virtually vegan diet has helped to keep him at the top of his game and why beetroot helps him run faster

Read more
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Would you decorate your home with human bones and old medical instruments? Plenty do, according to one Dorset couple, which piqued Faith Eckersall’s morbid curiosity

Read more
Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The world loves a panto dame. There is nothing more life affirming, ridiculous or, frankly, quintessentially British. And Lee Redmond – Queen Thelma at Weymouth Pavilion’s Sleeping Beauty this Christmas 2017 – is a master of this great, daft art

Read more