N1 Women’s Institute: Leaving ‘jam and Jerusalem’ stereotypes in the past

N1 Women's Institute. Picture: Louise Pratley

N1 Women's Institute. Picture: Louise Pratley - Credit: Archant

N1 Women’s Institute is now 10 years old. President Rosie Harvey tells James Morris why the old stereotypes are irrelevant.

Rosie Harvey, president of N1 Women's Institute, cuts the cake to celebrate its 10th birthday. Pictu

Rosie Harvey, president of N1 Women's Institute, cuts the cake to celebrate its 10th birthday. Picture: Louise Pratley - Credit: Archant

When asked to describe the main benefit of joining the N1 Women’s Institute, Rosie Harvey’s answer is striking in its accuracy.

“Friendship,” she says. “It’s sad, but it can be hard to make friends – especially in a place like London.”

It’s something that you never think about, yet it immediately makes sense when you hear it.

The fast-paced and stressful lives many lead in the capital means time is precious – often too precious to spend on people outside our inner circle.

The N1 WI, which turned 10 years old last Tuesday, is something of an antidote. The group meets in St James’ Hall, Prebend Street, on the last Tuesday of the month. Its website urges first-time visitors to introduce themselves on arrival.

Rosie, 32, has been the face of the WI as its president since April.

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“My role is about making sure our women are empowered,” she says.

“We aim to educate in all of our sessions, from sign language classes last Tuesday to inviting a Women’s Equality Party speaker in May. And we engage with people and charities in the community.

“We meet once a month, but also have different sub-meetings, so you get to do lots of different things.”

Rosie, of Lewisham, first attended N1 WI at 30 – but her history with the institute goes back further. “My granny was a member years and years ago in Coventry,” she says. “It always seemed like something I should get involved with.

“I went to an N1 WI meeting two years ago and joined on the same night. They were a friendly bunch!”

N1 WI’s membership ranges in age from 20 to 70. This year, it has hosted celebrity talks by comedian Phil Jupitus and BBC presenter Ewan Davis.

It also became the first WI to visit a sex shop.

Proof, according to Rosie, that perceptions are beginning to change: “People are starting to look at WIs differently, compared to the ‘jam and Jerusalem’ stereotype.

“Social media has allowed people to see WIs are in fact with the times. When the Somerset WI had a cake stall at Glastonbury, that was great – it showed they are not just ladies in their 70s.

“And the sex shop visit was a really popular meeting.”

The next N1 WI meeting is on November 29. Non-members are welcome (£5). For more information, see n1wi.co.uk

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