Jam and Jerusalem in Manchester

There’s one in Longsight, Sale, Stretford and Urmston. There’s also one in Didsbury, Hale and Dunham Massey. So just why has it taken nearly 100 long years for the Women’s Institute (WI) to come to Manchester city centre? Well, nobody seems to have the answer to that question, but the whys and wherefores don’t really matter any more, since a new Mancunian branch has just been set up by the forward-thinking Alexandra Taylor and Lucy Adams.

Lucy was inspired to start the city centre branch following the death of her grandmother, who taught her everything she knows about the make do and mend era and how to bake, knit and sew. “When she passed away there wasn’t really any way for me to carry on the legacy. My mum was born in the 60s and she rebelled against it all,” Lucy says.

Hats off to Lucy’s gran for instilling a truly creative streak in her – after all, without her, a centralised Manchester WI might still be just a whisper on the wind and the 80 or so women who rocked up to the preliminary meeting of the new branch would still be sat at home twiddling their knitting needles.

This includes new member Charlotte Hooson-Sykes, who runs the University of Manchester’s craft group In Stitches and who is now sat in pride of place on the 20-strong committee of the Manchester WI. She’s exceedingly excited about this new venture and is already rubbing her hands together with glee in anticipation of the sub-groups (formed by the WI but which meet up outside the main meetings) she intends to join. So far, she’s got her eye on the cookery, social and exercise groups, and will be in charge of the craft groups herself  – with a focus on embroidery, knitting and cross stitch – so it looks like she has a very busy future indeed.

“I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Charlotte says of the new branch, predicting that it will soon grow beyond the current interested membership of 80.

The fact that it’s a group with a very young median age – the vast majority of new members are aged between 20 and 29 and, at 34, Charlotte says she’s “relatively ancient” – certainly won’t hurt its chances of expansion, neither will the fact that Charlotte believes it will have much the same focus as the Shoreditch Sisters, founded by Jazz Domino Holly (daughter of none other than Joe Strummer of The Clash) and arguably one of the coolest WIs around.

“I think it will take time to find its feet [but] we’re going to aid that by setting up the sub-groups,” Charlotte says. “There are a lot of us looking to expand our friend networks. [It’s nice to meet] people who’re interested in the same things you’re interested in and who you can have a cup of tea and a piece of cake with. There’s nothing in the world that can’t be cured with a cup of tea and a piece of cake.”

The first proper meeting of the Manchester WI is scheduled to take place on Tuesday May 22nd at the impressive building that is Chetham’s School of Music in a 15th-century hall that was apparently considered for the set of Harry Potter and which, as Lucy rightly says, is representative of Manchester and its rich history.

A bit of a fiesta is planned for the Tuesday meeting, with various experts from specialist areas invited to entice people to join the different sub-groups (think chefs from Sam’s Chop House for the cooking groups, Purl City Yarns for crafters and a Waterstones representative for bookworms). Expect refreshments, green and white decorations – the colours of the Suffragettes, adopted by the Manchester WI – a raffle (with amazing prizes, apparently) and a few craft stalls thrown in for good measure. A tattoo artist will also be setting up shop to help you pledge your allegiance to the WI, inking people in temporarily with the heart and scroll from the branch’s official poster.

So three cheers for the newest division of the WI – it’s taken nearly a century but Manchester city centre has finally caught up with the rest of the country. About time too!

Next meeting

Tuesday May 22nd, Chetham’s School of Music, 19:00.

Membership costs £31.50 a year.

Contact manchesterwi@gmail.com for more information.

So come on then, Manchester ladies. Which of you will be going? Maybe I’ll see you there!

7 Responses to “Jam and Jerusalem in Manchester”
  1. I’m really interested in this group, since my novel,just published this summer concerns the contrast between the 21st century narrative and the back drop of letters from the protagonist’s suffragette grandmother (deceased).Called The Purple Rose,and set firmly in Manchester, it asks the question: Is a liberated woman ever truly free? I wonder whether you’d like a talk or similar on topics arising? Perhaps linked to next spring’s National Women’s day or some other occasion.Do get in touch!

  2. Laura loo says:

    I love this feature! I interviewed a lady from the WI for YQ magazine back in the day and this had me reminiscing. Fab x

  3. Sarah Adie says:

    Thinking about it – although I’m a little poor right now! Funds permitting, yes! It sounds like a lot of fun.

  4. Penny says:

    Are you going to join?

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