'WI must be modern to survive'

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First published in News
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Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Call me on 01865 425403

WOMEN’S Institute members are traditionally seen as enjoying a spot of jam-making and sewing.

But a more modern approach is needed to represent the 21st century member, according to Clare Mackintosh, who is in charge of social media at the WI’s Denman College in Marcham near Abingdon.

The college has ditched some of its more obscure courses including Folk Songs of Britain and Dance Through the Musicals, to broaden its appeal.

Instead the college is increasing more popular options such as Pilates, Jane Austen’s World and history lessons.

It comes after the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) said it was forced to bring in independent consultants – Counterculture Partnership – to look at how to make the college more profitable.

Ms Mackintosh, 37, from Chipping Norton, has been a member of the West Oxfordshire town's WI branch since 2012.

She said: “The WI is a wonderful organisation, but it needs to represent its members.

“Although there are still a huge number of members who are interested in traditional skills, we need to recognise the new skills that women want to learn and need to learn.

“It’s not about age. We’re not replacing the older interests with younger. Most of my students are older ladies.”

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College chairwoman Anne Harrison said Counterculture Partnership recommended the facility, which has been running since 1948, should close the obscure courses to attract students.

Last year, Denman saw more than 8,200 students attend its 700 courses, and it hopes to increase numbers this year.

Ms Harrison said it had taken on board the advice given and were making other changes, including the structure of courses so it runs three times a year rather than annually. She said it would also be advertising to hold weddings at the college.

She said: “Trustees and staff have been working hard to promote the unique educational opportunities at the college wherever possible, and the future is looking up for Denman.

“Residential bookings for this and next year show the college is reaching targets.”

According to the NFWI’s 2013 annual report, the college’s financial standing has improved. Its total income was £2.35m, while the total expenditure was £2.29m, meaning there was a profit of £60,000.

Counterculture Partnership refused to comment.

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