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The WI and the charity calendar

When you tell anyone you are a WI member, it’s surprising how often the same question comes up: ‘are you doing a naked calendar then?’ Almost 100 years of history, extensive work for communities across the country and a powerful reputation as a campaigning organisation, and it always comes back to women covering their modesty with a pair of currant buns.

The 'Alternative WI Calendar'

The original Alternative WI Calendar, as it was known, was a fantastic success and something that most WI members look on with pride and admiration. In the 15 years since they came up with the concept, the ladies of Rylstone WI have raised more than £3 million for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, aided by the hit film Calendar Girls, which shared the story with audiences around the world.
However, unlike the film, the leaders of the Women’s Institute were always supportive of the idea, despite its obvious differences from the landscapes and nature pictures which featured on WI calendars prior to this.

The original Calendar Girls bared all to raise money for charity

Fundraising and campaigning have always been central to the WI’s aims and the organisation’s members and leaders spotted the potential of such an inventive idea. Cuttings of national newspaper coverage of the calendar launch, and the film premiere, have pride of place in the headquarters of the federation to which Rylstone belongs, North Yorkshire West, in Ripon.

Creative calendars from modern WIs

Fifteen years after the original calendar was created – going on to sell a staggering 88,000 copies – the concept has been used and abused by organisations of all shapes and sizes around the world.
Groups continue to produce their own calendars, but naturally they look for more original ideas every year. For the modern groups, it is a chance to have some fun while looking back through the organisation’s long history.
As well as being a fantastic way to celebrate what the WI has done over the last century and represent what it is today, the calendars are often used to raise money, either for the WI group itself or for another good cause.

Age is no barrier

Salford Angels WI, for example, has created three fundraising calendars which have fetured members in period costume, dressed as everything from Land Girls of the Second World War to screen sirens from the golden age of Hollywood.
Members at Seven Hills WI in Sheffield, meanwhile, created bright, striking images of members at some of the city’s best-known landmarks and raised almost £1,700 for local cancer charity the Parents’ Association of Children with Tumours and Leukaemia.
Age is no barrier to determination and a wicked sense of humour.
The original Calendar Girls were aged between 45 and 65 when they agreed to pose nude for their charity calendar, proving the indomitable spirit of the WI runs through all its members – and age is no barrier to determination and a wicked sense of humour, even if you do have a few more bumps than most topless models. The WI calendar girls are icons in their own right, and I’m sure this is a tradition set to continue.
What’s the most creative charity calendar you have ever seen? What would you like to see in a local charity calendar? Would you ever agree to bare all for a good cause? Share your thoughts below.

This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.


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