As you will have read in my last article about the WI, they are currently celebrating their 100th year, so I thought it would be wonderful to interview one of the ladies that makes it all happen. Janice Langley, the Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes kindly agreed to answer some questions.
How do you feel the WI has changed over the years?
The Aims and Objects of the WI are the same now as they were in 1915 when the WI started, but over the past 100 years the role that women have in society has changed. They now take a far more active role in society and have access to better education and the WI has played a key role in promoting this change with educational programmes and campaigns. Today, members still join the WI for friendship, to learn new skills and be part of their community, as they have throughout the past 100 years.
What made you decide to join?
I was at home with a new baby when a friend of a friend knocked on the door and asked if I would like to go, as they were starting a new WI in the area. I had no idea what the WI was or did, but I felt I needed to have some ‘me time’ and so I went along. That was in 1970 and the rest, as they say, is history.
What do you feel you have learnt, whilst being a member?
Lots and lots – a great deal about myself and my capabilities and hidden talents, although I’m not an expert in anything. Cookery was probably my first port of call, doing the WI baking certificates, which my family loved as a lot of practicing went on at home – my husband was especially keen to sample the Lardy cake. My grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet, but the WI gave me the opportunity to dabble in other crafts, and an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears went into these items, many of which I still have in the loft as I can’t bear to part with them.
The support the WI offers its members is wonderful, whether you are a WI President or Secretary, any role at Federation level from Treasurer to Denman Ambassador, or the National Chair. We are all part of the same inspiring team.
What do you enjoy most about being in the WI?
The people I meet, the friends I have made and the support I have had from so many members, whatever I have been doing – from helping with the WI raffle at an event, to taking the Inspiring Women Working Together Conferences out to the members in March last year. I have met some incredible, interesting and influential people. I have stood outside the DTI with people dressed as bananas, promoting Fairtrade bananas and met The Wombles on Wimbledon Common celebrating the 60th anniversary of Keep Britain Tidy, which was established following a WI resolution calling for an end to littering. I enjoy every day.
What does the centenary mean to you?
Being the Chair of the NFWI during this centenary year is an unbelievable experience; scary, exhilarating, exciting and probably exhausting. This is a fantastic opportunity – our best ever – to show everyone what a wonderful organisation the WI is and will continue to be. By sharing traditional and contemporary skills for many years to come, our current members will make sure that the best of the WI is showcased far and wide. I would like every member to enjoy the year in her own WI and federation and to share the day of the Centenary Annual Meeting with those of us who are fortunate to be in the Royal Albert Hall, through the live online broadcast in cinemas, village halls or their own homes. I have had so many invitations to centennial events and wish I could go to them all, as I’m sure they will all be showing the WI at its inspiring best.
What is your biggest achievement whilst being in the WI?
Whatever I am doing at the time, be it being elected president of my WI at the end of the first year following formation, making sure everyone is fully briefed and prepared for an event, being part of the launch of WI Life the membership magazine, everything is equally important. I hope the part I am playing to make this centenary year the best it can be will allow all WI members to feel as proud as I am to be a WI member.
What do you think the future holds for the WI?
Advances in technology and communication will inevitably change how the WI will evolve and the women who are the members will embrace this as with previous generations. The WI will still offer a wealth of opportunities for all women to learn new skills, share experiences and friendships and above all, have fun and enjoy being WI members.
I would like to thank Janice and Joanna Rayner for all their help in putting this article together.