A DIFFICULT decision on the future of Denman College, the jewel in the crown of the Oxfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes, is on the cards this year.

A debate on whether to keep the "ageing and expensive" facility has arisen in the Women's Institute (WI) nationally after the centenary festivities last year have led to a smaller budget for Oxfordshire.

Speaking before 500 WI members at the Oxfordshire Federation's annual meeting in Oxford Town Hall in March, federation chair Pauline Goddard extolled the virtues of the WI's Marcham Park college.

She said: "We are so lucky to have it on our doorstep, to absorb the special atmosphere, hone skills, make new friends and meet older ones.

"The National Federation has been concerned about the finances. They cannot condone members' money being spent just to keep an ageing and expensive dream alive."

Based in a Georgian mansion in 17 acres of grounds in Marcham near Abingdon, Denman College was founded in 1948 and offers residential and day courses in cooking, crafts and lifestyle.

Mrs Goddard, of Wendlebury WI, said: "Denman needs constant and expensive maintenance in line with its Grade II listed status.

"For the moment its head is just above water and sensible reserves are made every year to maintain and repair the facilities, but they are stretched to the limit."

A consultation was undertaken in Autumn 2013 and the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) was advised to increase the number of students on courses, and make courses less specialised. Trustees have also been advised to promote the 'Friends of Denman' charitable scheme.

A spokeswoman said: "The NFWI board is very concerned that despite investment and hard work the college is not able to generate modest levels of income to ensure its future.

"The buildings and grounds are beautiful. However, they are costly to maintain.

"It must be stressed that Denman is not closing. Denman's current bookings look healthy and there is every indication the college can achieve its target by September 2016."

Despite the doom and gloom, Mrs Goddard said 2015 was a triumphant year for Oxfordshire, in which a baton celebrating 100 years of the WI passed through the county's 150 WI groups by steamer boat, vintage car, Shire horse and fire truck,with tea parties, picnics and plays along the way.

Some lucky members met the Duchess of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace in September and joined the Queen herself at the WI's annual meeting in the Royal Albert Hall.

Mrs Goddard said there was not a dry eye in the house when the Queen joined members at the meeting.

She added: "We rose to our feet as one, and there was not a dry eye in the place. Behind the scenes little did we know the Queen was having trouble cutting the centennial cake."

Presenting the finances for 2015, treasurer Julie Pierce noted that centenary activities had been a "double-edged sword" because it pulled audiences away from regular events.

As a result annual takings for Oxfordshire were £69,348 - £13,450 less than the year before - but Mrs Pierce said she was "sure" they would get back on track in 2016.

She added: "I saw this maxim on holiday: 'A woman is like a tea bag - only in hot water do you realise how strong she is'."