"Betty Leopard": Sotonettes WI: The Newest Girls on the WI Scene

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Sotonettes WI: The Newest Girls on the WI Scene

I started to develop an interest in the WI (Women's Institute) some time last year, through my developing love of cooking and crafting, craft magazines and blogs, as well as the raise in the profile of the 'modern WI' thanks to people like Kirsty Allsop and Jazz Domino Holly; and the fact that I want to get out more, meet new people and try new things! I can't say I've ever thought badly of the WI, but I suppose they did develop a bit of a reputation as being groups of old, fussy women debating the finer points of the perfect jam or sponge cake or flower arrangements - which isn't really everyone's cup of tea.
The rise of the modern WI really began around five years ago when Jazz Domino Holly (daughter of Joe Strummer of The Clash) and friends founded the Shoreditch Sisters WI in east London - and prompted an awful lot of publicity for the WI and their novel take on it. They still get involved in the more traditional side of it -crafts and baking - but also try out new things that a traditional group might not, like Burlesque Life Drawing, Zine Making as well as prison visits in aid of Care not Custody (aiming to end inappropriate detention of people with mental illnesses).

Anyway, I had  a look through the list of my local WI groups on the WI website, but didn't really find one nearby that really fitted with me and what I was looking for. After reading Jazz Domino Holly's book Queen of Crafts (which I blogged about here), which has a section on WI groups and setting up your own, I did consider trying to gather a group of ladies to set up a Shoreditch Sisters style group locally, but lack of time and confidence meant that idea never got off the ground. Then, a few weeks ago, as if my prayers had been answered, I saw a tweet about the Sotonettes - a group of ladies hoping to get a group together to start a new, modern style WI in central Southampton. Absolutely, totally, 100% what I was looking for! With the added bonus of it being a new group so I wouldn't have to worry about being an outsider trying to penetrate an existing group :)
Needless to say, I headed straight over the the Facebook event (yes, it's that modern!) and clicked to attend.

The first introductory meeting was held yesterday evening, upstairs in a bar in the city centre. While I am now quite used to attending events of this sort on my own, I had shared the event on Facebook to let others know about it, so I ended up with three friends who came along too.
The idea behind the Sotonettes was put together by three young, Southampton based ladies; Marli, Emma and Cat. They had put in all the leg work for getting the event, and hopefully their own WI, off the ground - and it must have been a lot of leg work required! They all seem like great ladies and loads of fun, which bodes well for the Sotonettes.
The space was absolutely packed! Apparently, overall, around 80 women showed up to find out more about the group and what the WI was all about. There were more people there than I think anyone expected. Even as just someone interested in the idea of the WI and meeting new people, I thought it was great to see so many ladies turn out, it must have been truly stunning and rewarding for the founders!
I loved the classic WI touch of the handmade bunting that the room had been decorated with.

It was a nice and pretty informal affair. There were representatives of existing WI groups, who had been involved in the association for years and knew all the in's and out's, as well as a lady who set up her own new WI just a few years back, all mingling with the crowd and available to answer questions, as well as to ensure the official business of getting people to sign up and pay their subscription all happened properly. There was also a table with WI magazines and leaflets, a raffle, a selection of biscuits and an 'ideas line' where you could write suggestions for future events and pin them to a washing line.

Ideas Line
Cookies and Cakes

Then - the mother of all ice-breaking games - social bingo! If you read my post about the ZOMG lipstick launch, then you should already have an idea about social bingo. For those of you who aren't familiar - you get a bingo card with boxes that have different descriptions of people in, in this case they included 'Someone who can knit', 'Someone who has done a skydive', 'Someone with a tattoo', and 'Someone wearing party knickers'. Then, everything descends into chaos as a room packed with 80 women all head in different directions to try and find someone who fits those criteria. I can think of few better ways to break through the awkwardness of meeting someone new than by approaching them with the question "Are you wearing party knickers?". Social bingo is definitely my new favourite game. Everyone seemed to really throw themselves into it and got properly involved in the mingling, which was great. After about 15 minutes, time was called, and then names were drawn out of a box until someone had completed one line, then two lines, then a full house, as in regular bingo. There were prizes, I didn't win anything, but I sure met a lot of new people and had an awesome time.

Marli and Cat calling Social Bingo
There wasn't really a question for me about joining. I had already turned up with the required £31.50 annual subscription fee in my purse. So, when I got a spare moment from all that was going on, I filled in my form, paid my money and am now a member of Southampton's newest, and coolest, WI! They needed at least 20 ladies to sign up on the night in order to be officially declared a new WI, but they sailed past that target well before the end of the night.
I also put down that I would be interested in getting involved in the group committee, which, at this stage of setting up a new group, apparently means I am on the committee! I was a little shocked but am really quite excited about the prospect :)

Cat and Marli, two of the three founding members (sorry Emma, I didn't manage to get a pic of you!)

I am still buzzing quite a lot about it even now just writing about it. If you have ever had even a passing thought about joining a WI I would really recommend you have a proper look into it. You can find a list of existing WI's by region here. If you're in the Southampton area - come along to Sotonettes - that's isn't even a recommendation, I'm telling you! Sessions are held on the last Tuesday of every month, currently upstairs in The Slug and Lettuce. The next session is speed crafting on Tuesday March 27th, where you can have a go at a whole range of different crafts for 15 minutes each. If you aren't a member I believe it will cost you £4 for the session. The April event is cupcake decorating with Hannah of Hannah Banana Bakery, an independent, one woman vegan bakery in Southampton.

To find out more about the WI head over to their website. The Sotonettes have a Facebook page, website and tweet as @Sotonettes.

Hope you're all having a super week,

(aka. Liz, this blog identity thing is getting complicated, lol)


  1. Omg! That sounds so cool!
    Kudos to you for having the courage to go, I know I would have probably chickened out.

    Good Morning Angel.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, I'm still in amazement that so many ladies came and have so much enthusiasm for a modern WI. I'm really looking forward to taking it forward & hope to offer up a range of things for us all to try. For any one wanting further info; our website is www.sotonettes.co.uk, or just search for us on facebook.

    Thank you for coming along,


  3. It looks so good! Check my blog and follow me if you want!

  4. Id feel out of place as im in my 50's not interested in jam making but more in going for a meal/cinema/ theatre/ drink is there anything forodern 50 somethings?

    1. Well the WI is definitely not all about Jam anymore! There are loads of groups and they are all quite individual - I would recommend getting in touch with your local federation and they should be able to help direct you to a local group that is suited to your interests.
      You can find your local federation on the WI website - http://www.thewi.org.uk/
      Thanks for reading,
      Betty x


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