Norfolk WI – staying relevant now and for the next 100 years

PUBLISHED: 10:33 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:33 11 February 2020

The WI has a huge appeal to women of all ages and backgrounds

The WI has a huge appeal to women of all ages and backgrounds

Liz Gregg

Margaret Collingwood, chairman of the Norfolk Federation of WIs, says the organisation is just as relevant in the digital age as it was a century ago

The WI has a huge appeal to women of all ages and backgroundsThe WI has a huge appeal to women of all ages and backgrounds

Last year was the 100th Anniversary of the Norfolk Federation of WIs - just in case you hadn't noticed! The WI is always an exciting organisation to belong to and so to celebrate a varied and interesting programme of special events was devised and executed for the enjoyment of many of our members. But that doesn't mean that the fun has stopped. We still have a few things up our sleeves and the usual activities and workshops begin again.

We are planning an exhibition in Evelyn Suffield House in July. One hundred years' worth of our history will be on display over one special weekend. We have quite a task on our hands but we're confident it will be worth the effort and allow our members and friends to learn about the WIs accomplishments in Norfolk over the past century.

The questions on all our lips is: How do we move into the next 100 years and is the WI as relevant to the future as it has ever been before?

I'd say a very big 'yes' to the second part of that question - we certainly are still very relevant.

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Although society has changed, to an extent that nobody could have imagined 100 years ago, the WI has constantly developed and adapted alongside. We have steadily progressed from our focus on village housewives to embracing women of all backgrounds, positions, occupations and ages - town and country, young and old, the affluent and the under-privileged. So diverse and wide ranging are we today that some would say our only common denominators are that we are women, and that we like to get things done.

The WI's history of campaigning and lobbying is something we can be proud of. Looking through the resolutions mandated at our national meetings over the past 50 years, starting from 1970, there have been no less than 12 that sounded an alarm about pollution, renewable energy and the environment (and two of those came from Norfolk). There is little doubt that in 100 years' time, the WI will be still there demanding urgent and effective action.

As for our WI activities, even though society has transformed around us, it is surprising to see how much has been business as usual, and how constant has been the supply of friendship, cooperation and support. Priorities and interests do change - we are less interested nowadays in pageants and poetry recitals - but new ones take their place. Education is as important as ever - we now have a digital team, running workshops to make WI members at home with their laptop, tablet and smart phone and ensure that they are comfortable with today's technology.

What's impossible to forecast are the activities that our members will be enjoying during the next 100 years. I'm sure that technology will play an ever-growing part in our members' lives inside and outside the WI. Advances in technology will have their negative as well as their positive sides, and the WI will need to play our part in making all members aware of the risks as well as the opportunities. Health and mindfulness are coming to the fore. Our future selves will need to spend more time keeping active and eating the right foods. Thankfully, the WI has always been at the forefront of advice on cookery - we have speakers who can tell you how to use exotic spices or join in with laughter yoga! At the same time, surely our traditional and valued activities will remain, such as arts and crafts, singing, dancing, acting and of course our excursions and holidays.

Finally, we can hope and indeed predict that over the next century our values will not have changed either. The WI is based on the ideals of fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice.

If we and those who follow us stay true to those ideals, the WI in Norfolk and beyond will enjoy as successful a century as the one it has just completed.

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