I started the Sotonettes, along with two friends – Cat and Somali – because I was interested in joining the Women’s Institute but couldn’t find one in Southampton that really fitted with what I was looking for.
I was drawn to the WI for a number of reasons, mostly, the crafting, the campaigning and the sense of community. There seemed to be so much possibility in the WI, with a great variety of different groups across the country, making their WI what they wanted it to be. I found the stories of The Shoreditch Sisters WI in London and Buns and Roses WI in Leeds, two modern WIs founded by young women, inspiring – so I decided to find out about founding my own WI, and recruiting my friends to help out!
With Cat and Somali on board, we chose a name and set a date for the first meeting of the Sotonettes – in only 6 weeks time!
In the time between the idea and the first meeting we did some research and visited some other less traditional WI’s.
We headed up to London to attend a meeting of the Shoreditch Sisters, where we got involved in some social bingo (an idea we borrowed for our first meeting) and chatted with them about starting out .
Cat and Somali also paid a visit to the Disparate Housewives, another ‘non-traditional’ WI based in Twyford, Hampshire (you might have seen them making silk roses on Kirstie’s Handmade Britain!). The girls joined in with some Tai Chi and also picked up some hints and tips from the ladies.
We also met up with Lynne Andrews the chairman of the Hampshire County Federation of Women’s Institutes, to talk over our ideas, as well as what running our own WI would actually involve. Everyone was really helpful, I must have emailed the WI ladies on a daily basis in the weeks before our first meeting, checking ideas, possibilities and what we could and couldn’t do.
When we weren’t running around meting other WI ladies, the three of us also met up on a weekly basis for planning. We sent out dozens of emails – requests for help and favours from friends, to get a logo, website, posters and badges together for the first meeting. Our following on Facebook was pretty good, we had a basic website up and running and had posters put up around town. The time flew by and before we knew it there was only a week left before we were due to turn up at The Slug and Lettuce in Southampton City Centre, and hope some other interested ladies would join us!
A few days before the meeting, the three of us gathered in Somali’s kitchen to exploit Cat’s baking skills to bake like we had never baked before, turning out so many cakes and cookies.
When the day finally came, I was terrified! We turned up at The Slug and Lettuce with granny trolleys in tow, much to the amusement of the manager. We set up and waited. We needed 20 people to show up and sign up in order to become an official WI group.
In total, 90 of you turned up to pack out the upstairs bar and find out what we were all about and 35 ladies signed up there and then, making us an official WI! I was absolutely flabbergasted, I still am.
Thank you so much for your support.
Sotonettes WI President