Binky Bear with his paws in the air

Binky Meets The WI

These days Binky has a lot of public engagements and he now has a brand new audience – the ladies of the Women’s Institute, the WI. Back in September I was chosen by Hampshire WI as one of their newest speakers, to give a talk on the Making of Binky Bear.

I don’t know about your impression of the WI; I had never been to a WI meeting until this year. Furthermore, and I am being totally honest here, when I was asked to join about 12 years ago, I took the request as a clear indication that I was looking old and should get myself a good haircut! How daft could I be.

Having now spoken at several different WI meetings, I can tell you the while the age ranges will vary, every single meeting I have attended has been full to the brim with women who are curious about the world, want to do things together and are keen to meet new people and have fun. So if you want to get out a bit and meet new people, it strikes me that £37.50 for an annual membership subscription is great value.

Then your decision is which WI to join

Using the WI’s handy postcode locator I have a choice of 19 WIs within a 15 km radius of where I live and the way each one is run will be unique and down to the members’ wishes. That is the beauty of the WI; if tradition and formality are your thing there will be a WI near you wanting to welcome you in but if you want something else, this is where the WI is challenging stereotypes. With group names like Disperate Housewives, Kitchen Dancers and the Fourmarks Foxes (they have a very nice bar by the way) the WI is flexible and is guided by its membership, to cater for all tastes but still under the same WI umbrella.

So what can you expect at a monthly meeting? Here’s a flavour. There may be a guest speaker (like me!) or perhaps it’s a craft evening or something more active like learning the salsa and there is a more serious side. One local WI lists the following as some of the other things they have learned about: “proposals to legalise prostitution in the UK, the shortage of midwives and the difficulties facing busy maternity departments.” And in terms of who the members are, another describes its membership criteria as: “If you wish to join, just be a woman (of any age) who is prepared to share her wisdom. Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters, Working Women, Volunteers, Ladies who Lunch, Ladies who would like to lunch, everyone is welcome!” Many groups have informative websites and all of them seem to have additional spin off activities throughout the month: book clubs, breakfast clubs or going to the cinema etc.

The WI celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Starting from a government initiative to encourage rural women to grow and preserve food during World War 1, the WI is nothing short of blooming today.
So if you want to have a date in your diary each month where you will meet with a crowd of engaging women who want to meet you too, then seriously, google the WI The strapline of the WI is ‘inspiring women’. They do and they are and they have thoroughly inspired me.