Bravo Knaresborough! Is this Britain’s most fun WI?

NAKP 16040112AM3 K'boro WI Lunch. Graham Chalmers with some of the ladies of The Knaresborough WI.(16040112AM3)
NAKP 16040112AM3 K'boro WI Lunch. Graham Chalmers with some of the ladies of The Knaresborough WI.(16040112AM3)

By Graham Chalmers

It’s a staggering panorama, possibly the best view of any WI group’s headquarters in the whole country.

The ladies of Knaresborough WI are holding their first-ever lunch at their new home at The Hub at St John’s Church.

But they’ve paused to gather on the balcony to mark the occasion with a group picture for the Harrogate Advertiser Series.

They’ve insisted I join them but, as the only man in attendance, I feel like a streaker at a tea party.

Through the railings at the balcony’s edge lies Knaresborough’s iconic viaduct, the castle, the winding river of the Nidd and the charming houses along the Waterside.

It’s a wonderful setting but if any WI deserves such plush surroundings its Knaresborough’s.

Since it first formed more than three years ago, its membership has soared.

It’s partly a reflection of the increasing popularity of the WI movement as a whole.

But it’s also undoubtedly because of the friendly nature of this particular branch.

President of Knaresborough WI Carole Reid said engendering a spirit of fun was as important as anything else.

She said: “I think our progress is linked to the WI’s national growth in recent years but we have a reputation of being a very friendly group.

“It’s such a nice group to be president of. There’s a real warmth there We’re not cliquey. “

A team operation, Knaresborough WI doesn’t rely on the hard work of just one or two people and can boast a very active committee.

Carole herself leads a busy life - as anyone involved in community projects in Knaresborough will tell you.

As well as her WI role, she is also chair of Knaresborough Bed Race Commitee, chair of Knaresborough Relief in Need, treasurer of Knaresborough Spring Fair Committee and member of Knaresborough Friends and Lesiure Centre - among other things.

Not that this effervescent ex-chief executive of Investors in People for Yorkshire and Humberside ever expected to become a member of the WI, never mind taking on such a responsible role.

Carole said: “I never thought I’d join the WI and when I did I expected not to like it.

“But I’m proud of the group. We’re quite innovative and we like to try different things. Fun is the operative word.”

But it does take the formal side seriously.

Part of the meeting I’m lucky enough to be invited to visit is a discussion on this year’s resolutions up for debate at the Annual Meeting in Brighton in June.

As befits an organisation which has largely shaken off its traditional stuffy image of old, the issues are topical and important:

How to reduce food waste at supermarkets.

Improving the life of dementia carers.

In regard to the latter cause, Knaresborough WI has also invited Alison Wrigglesworth, services manager of Dementia Friends for York & Selby, Ripon Harrogate and Craven, to talk about her work, though there is still time for lunch - and two coffee breaks!

Originally an afternoon group at Aspin Cricket Club, Knaresborough WI grew from 14 members to 70 in only three years with ages ranging from 50 to one member who’s just hit the grand age of 90.

This rapid expansion in membership forced it to move to the luxurious new premises at The Hub at St John’s.

It’s also now got a waiting list for new members.

There’s much more to the WI these days than Jam and Jerusalem but cake does seem to retain a central role.

There’s a tempting array of homebaked goodies on offer at this packed afternoon meeting.

One of the current members even managed to bake a total of 400 cakes single-handedly for the North Yorkshire West Federation’s WI pavilion at the Great Yorkshire Show.

At one point Carole jokes in the style of a well-known TV advert that the delicious cake she’s holding “isn’t an M&S cake, it’s a WI cake.”

Does anyone know if men are allowed to join the WI?