Grans learn Facebook and teach young to knit

Published on: 03 Mar 2014

downend wi

LOOKING like a scene from the Next sale, women queued in their droves in the cold and dark.

But rather than the latest fashions at half price, these women were after something entirely different.

Their bounty was annual membership to the new Downend Women’s Institute and it was the hottest ticket in town.

Entry to Christ Church Parish Hall in North Street was orchestrated like clockwork to ensure the women were kept waiting for as little time as possible.

A team of WI committee members were lined up by the doors, eagerly ready with entry forms and paperwork – they knew that once the boring official stuff was out the way their attention could turn to the reason everyone was there – fun and friendship.

Once the 112 women were through the doors and signed up they were addressed by Jean Sims, vice chair of the Avon Federation of Women’s Institutes, who was clearly delighted to witness the popularity of the new breed of WIs.

“It’s just a joy to see the enthusiasm and vibrancy coming from you all. You are going to have a wonderful time,” she told the crowd.

It was then over to new-elected president Tracey Simmonds who came up with the idea with a group of friends.

“We are just astounded by how many people have turned up. We are so humble – it’s amazing,” she told everybody.

“In the past the WI has been known as being quite stuffy but over the years it has improved vastly and that’s why people are now interested.”

The women, who ranged in age from their twenties to their seventies, were then given chance to look around the room to see posters with some of the future activities on offer including Indian cooking, wreath making, burlesque dancing and photography. They were also encouraged to put forward their own suggestions.

Local businesses donated items for a raffle and the visitors tucked in to cupcakes decorated with Downend WI’s eyecatching logo.

Libby Lockyer, WI adviser for the Avon Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “It’s great to see such a range of ages.

“It’s a trade off – the young can teach the grandmothers to use Facebook and the grandmothers can teach the young ones to knit.”

Mum-of-three Carmen Chidzey, 30, said: “I’m looking forward to getting out, meeting people and trying out new activities like photography. It’s a nice relaxing night out. I was chatting to women in the queue and they seem really friendly.”

Downend WI will meet once a month for 11 months of the year, however there will be additional sub-groups for activities which members can chose to sign up to. 

The WI is also looking to appoint a charity, local if possible, which will benefit from fundraising activities. Members were invited to come along to the next meeting with their suggested charities.

Tracey said: “The women all have busy life-styles and give themselves to their work and their families but for at least once month every month they can have time to themselves.”

The group has proved so popular membership is now closed but due to popular demand a waiting list has been started up.

The ladies were due to get together again on February 25 where they were meeting Henry Herbert, one half of TV foodie stars the Fabulous Baker Brothers.

The success of Downend WI follows hot on the heels on Bromley Heath WI which attracted 350 women to its opening night back in October.

downend wi 2tracey simmonds

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