The WI or Women's Institute has quite a reputation - jam, Jerusalem and middle aged ladies doing naked calendars; but there's much more to WIs than that. I joined two last year, one called the Golden Triangle Girls - a modern and new WI set up by young women my age and also a second WI near where I live. This one is much more traditional and has been running for over sixty years.
I love both the groups; but for very different reasons. I get different experiences at eachand enjoy socialising with both the older and younger WI members. Having been ill for all of my teens and twenties I missed out on the social groups and circle of friends I would have discovered through University and work. Now working from home writing my novel and doing my Live in Love in Laugh in work, I don't get to meet people, so joining a WI was the perfect way to get out and meet some new people. Most of my friends are either ill or live across the country or even the globe - great for chats online; but not so good for meeting up for a drink or a meal out.
That was the biggest draw for joining the Golden Triangle Girls (GTG), finding a place where I could meet other young women who were also looking for friends. In this day and age it's easier to meet a man than it is to make friends - you just go online and do some internet dating; but where do you go to meet friends?
Tthat's exactly what I love about being in the GTG, everybody is so friendly and welcoming. You talk to strangers and within a short time they're friends and you look forward to seeing them each month. I love being part of the GTG so much that I joined the committee, I knew I wanted to get involved and it's been fantastic, I've made some lovely friends and now have a full social calendar as a result - we've got Craft Club aka Grown Up Brownies, as well as the regular meetings and committee meetings. I always have something to look forward to.
The local WI I joined with my Mum because we wanted something we could go out to together. It is exactly what you imagine a WI to be: singing Jerusalem, selling jam, cups of tea and more traditional speakers - tonight it was a Potter's wife, last month we learnt how to make the perfect scones. At the GTG we've had beauty therapists, vintage hair and make up and debates on feminism. I find both equally interesting and I think it's great to mix the modern and traditional.
Many of the women in the local WI have been members since they were in their early twenties and it's really interesting talking to them and seeing how life has changed. I wonder what the WI has instore for me over the next few decades and how it will change with the times. I will certainly look forward to finding out.
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.