EATING FOR BRITAIN: ONE NIGHT WITH THE W.I
Fifty women average age below thirty and me. I liked the sound of those odds as I made my way to St James Hall in Islington.
Baking plays a huge part in the history of British food and, as a counter point to my time spent with the good people of Betty’s of Harrogate, what better than to visit with the W.I?
My mind was filled with thoughts of kindly old women, all of whom would, of course, resemble my granny, imploring me to eat my fifth slice of Battenburg while pouring me cups of tea and fussing about how skinny I look (hey, it could happen)
Well, it would appear that the W.I is changing, well at least in the Islington branch it is, because tonight’s meeting, where the assembled throng would be guided through the black arts of cupcake decoration, had me in the company of a group of women most of whom were younger than me and many of whom I was old enough to have sired. I felt lucky and wizzened by equal turns. Not quite the demographic I was expecting but I was told a sign of the increasing interest in the organisation from a whole new generation.
The W.I, despite my misconceptions, remains a hugely vibrant movement. With over 6,500 branches around the country it has, since its inception in 1915, brought together women of all ages to pursue traditional activities like baking and crafts as well as uniting women into a quietly potent force against some of the world’s ills such as trafficking of women to Europe’s sex industry.
After the meeting was called to order and Katie, the current president of the branch explained who the hell the middle-aged man was who was taking pictures, the business of the day got under way and groups of tables helped them selves to pre-made cupcakes and twists of lurid icing and began to give it their best shot.
In truth, precious little icing seemed to be going on and more than one of the members confessed to “eating the evidence” but everybody seemed to be having a whale of a time and even members recruited during a recent drive seem to be made incredibly welcome.
As for me, I moved from table to table, trying not to get in the way and asking why they were there. The answers, almost inevitably, were as much to do with the social as they were to do with preserving the national heritage of Britain’s traditional skills. However, the W.I is, I know determined to maintain these for future generations and the courses at the refurbished Denman College will be up and running again in April.
As part of the EATING FOR BRITAIN journey, my night with the Islington branch of the W.I may only be a brief footnote, but I still got to spend my evening in the company of a whole heap of delightful young women, and you didn’t.