Fund raising summer fair is a first for Swanage WI

A fund raising event on Swanage seafront will be the first for the newly formed town’s branch of the Women’s Institute – which had the bad timing to set up just weeks before Covid locked down the entire country.

The most recent reincarnation of Swanage WI spent the first two years of its life running meetings through Zoom, including some interesting experiments trying to learn crochet online.


Swanage WI members listen to the club’s latest news and announcements at Herston Hall in Jubilee Road

Surviving the pandemic years

After surviving the pandemic years, the group has restarted so strongly that it has just been granted special permission from the Dorset WI Federation to exceed usual health and safety limits on membership numbers.

A new maximum allowance of 70 members means that the popular club has been able to admit those on its waiting list – but is expected to be back at full capacity before long.

That’s not surprising, given the sheer volume of interest groups and special events that Swanage WI’s committee organises, ranging from Nordic walking and cookery to walking netball and a newly formed lunch club.


Swanage WI president Karen Corney lines up her award winning shot at the county archery tournament

Another string to the club’s bow

Other groups include crafting, gardening, leisure walking and a book club, while members – whose ages range from early 40s to late 70s – have also tried their hands at paddleboarding, pottery, stone carving and axe throwing.

Club president Karen Corney has just represented Swanage at the Dorset WI Federation archery competition held at Tolpuddle on Monday 3rd July 2023.

She not only won the event for the town, but also picked up a second trophy for being closest to the gold, Robin Hood style.


The Swanage WI logo has been designed by Hannah Martin at Hubble to give a sense of adventure and opportunity


On a club meeting to Sculpture At The Lakes are, from left, Karen, Barbara, Marion, Hannah, Hilary and Sue

Formed just before UK was locked down

Jo Martin, the club’s social and media officer, said:

“Swanage WI formed in January 2020 just before the pandemic struck – it wasn’t the best of timing!

“We had two meetings at Herston Hall, which were really successful with about 55 people joining up, we formed a committee and then the pandemic struck and it became a whole different ball game.

“We didn’t know each other and we were having to do everything by Zoom, including four of us who learned to crochet, but it was not the easiest way to run a club and the lockdown seemed to go on and on.

“We managed to get a core group of us staying in touch with each other, and when the pandemic was finally over and we were allowed to meet up again, we started up again and now have 66 paid-up members and a waiting list.

“We are going to change our meeting place next year, because Herston Hall is being redeveloped, so we are hoping to go to the new Wellbeing Centre in Chapel Lane and perhaps increase our numbers even more.”

The inaugural meeting of Swanage WI, eight weeks before a national lockdown was enforced


Marking the Coronation of King Charles III are Karen, Marion, Elizabeth, Catherine, Lyn, Jo and Anne

Raising funds to sponsor a seat at The Mowlem

Having been so disrupted by the Covid panademic, the group has not managed to organise a large fund raising event before now, but its first fair will be held from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday 16th July 2023 next to Swanage Information Centre, selling crafts, books, preserves and jams, cakes and more.

It will raise money for the running costs of the WI, support The Mowlem by paying to sponsor a seat under the Take Your Seat campaign and will also be collecting funds for Herston Hall.

Members of Swanage WI have also thrown themselves into charitable works, including collecting surplus supermarket food for a war on waste campaign and recycling and repurposing everything from cans to candlewax and from broken jewellery to bras.


Budding potters at Furzebrook Studios, from left Anne, Karen, Marion, Glynis, Elizabeth, Jules, Gail, Jill and Cathy

Jam and Jerusalem image was lost long ago

Jo Martin said:

“Traditionally WIs have been made up of older women and earned a ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ tag, but that image was lost a long time ago.

“The most important thing now is supporting women to learn new skills and to form strong friendships.

“A lot of ladies who move into Swanage, especially those who are newly retired and looking for things to do, the WI is a great place to start, especially if they don’t know anyone.

“I gave up work, moved down here and didn’t know anyone, but the WI was just forming so I joined and it has made such a difference to my life.”

Plenty of laughs at the monthly WI meeting – wait until they try Greek dancing!

A guide to Greek dancing and bat rescue

A guest speaker programme at the group’s meetings on the first Tuesday of every month except January will include guides to Greek dancing, Swanage Railway, bat rescue and rehabilitation and opera singing during summer and autumn 2023.

Additional social events will see members visit Swanage Brickworks, a trip to the pantomime Cinderella at The Mowlem and the Dorset Arts and Crafts show at The Purbeck School. They’ll also be trying their hands at art, pottery, needlefelting and golf putting.

The WI was formed nationally in 1915, largely by women who had been involved in the suffrage movement, to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during World War One.

In the decades that followed, it campaigned to raise the age of consent during the 1920s, set up a produce guild and a plan to evacuate children ahead of World War Two in the 1930s, and started the Keep Britain Tidy campaign in the 1950s.

Always ahead of its time, the WI campaigned for waste recycling in the 1970s, raised awareness on HIV and Aids in the 1980s and was a founding member of the Fair Trade Foundation in the 1990s.


Members of the WI’s Nordic walking group from left, Nancy, Sue, Cathy, Karen and Lynda

Further information

  • Swanage WI’s summer fair will be from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday 16th July 2023 next to Swanage Information Centre, selling crafts, books, preserves and jams, cakes and more
  • Find out about Swanage WI on the Dorset Federation website
  • Follow the campaigns of the national WI movement online

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