Instead I offer up my entry in the 'WI Life' magazine 'Write a Column Competition', which apparently put me in the shortlist (of 150 entries). On Friday I learned that I will not be that columnist. In truth it's a relief not to win. This is not a club I want to belong to.
The topic was: What is the greatest challenge facing the Women's Institute today? 400 words - this is what I wrote:
A Question of AgeThe other piece - again 400 words - was to be on a subject we cared deeply about. I wrote about my father's unique role as the 'Laundry God'. I'll save that for another rainy day.
The Ladies of Marton WI are once again discussing the increase in Subs. They need little provocation - the slightest hint of things financial and they’re off; complaints and observations rise to a shrill and muddled crescendo. To my left I hear, like distant thunder, a rumble of discontent about ‘That Magazine.’ To my right Lil, oblivious to war of words around her, is trying to interest Margaret in the current state of her bandaged leg.
I’m sitting at a table at the front of the room next to El Presidente who attempts to maintain a modicum of order. I’m endeavouring to keep track of this multi-level discussion in order that it can be recorded for posterity in the Record Book. We are going over familiar ground; I suspect that if I switch off now and tune in again later I won’t have missed much. A bit like following the Archers really.
I find myself idly counting heads. We are a small group of only 16 members.
11 of those heads are grey; another 3 have taken steps to appear otherwise. The hair atop our 2 newest members is the glossy auburn of comparative youth. A quick sum in the margin of the agenda shows the combined ages of our ladies is in excess of 1,000 years. Crikey! Another reveals our average age to be 68. I foresee problems ahead when the inevitable happens and age and infirmity take their toll.
This problem is not ours alone – I’ve attended County meetings with a similar demographic. I reflect we may be part of an outward-looking organisation for modern women but we fail to attract the younger ones. At this rate the survival of the organisation is threatened. What sort of future do we have without new blood?
It’s about image versus reality – the public perception of the WI remains that of ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ regardless of how many ‘sexy’ press releases leave the offices of the National Federation. How do we persuade young women that the WI has opportunities for them but needs their involvement to inject the vibrancy they perceive it lacks at present?
I am saved from finding a solution by a jab in the ribs from El Presidente. Shortly we will learn to crochet and be refreshed with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Time to go and set the world on fire?