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An education from the Women’s Institute


From enabling members to learn new things to sharing life skills with the wider community, the century-long history of the Women’s Institute has been filled with education.

As one of its founding aims, education has run through every part of the WI since the first group was established in 1915 – and is still a key part of members’ experiences today.

Educating local communities

Following in the footsteps of high profile chefs like Jamie Oliver, WI members in North Yorkshire have been helping local families to learn the importance of home cooking.

The ladies of Roecliffe WI, near Boroughbridge, ran a six-week Let’s Cook Local course at Knaresborough Children’s Centre, helping local parents to learn the basic skills which would enable them to create simple, home-made dishes for their children. Family favourites like Yorkshire puddings and a multi-purpose white sauce were on the menu, along with treats like a traditional Victoria sandwich.

With some students confessing they had never even understood what flour was for, it soon became clear the course was absolutely vital – and it was repeated due to high demand.

Learning new skills

As well as educating their local communities, members of the WI are keen to pick up skills themselves.

Monthly meetings usually enable members to either learn how to do something new, or find out more about local history, organisations or people, which they might otherwise never have known.

Whether it is felt making, cake decorating and creating delicious sushi, or hearing about the work of the local police force and the animal rescue centre, the variety of opportunities to learn through local WI groups is enormous.

The WI ‘college’

As well as monthly meetings for each branch, the WI has one national centre of education: Denman.

Based in rural Oxfordshire, it is the WI’s official ‘college,’ offering a wide range of day and residential courses.

It was formerly known as Marcham Park, and when it was opened by the WI in 1948 it was renamed in honour of Lady Denman, who had just retired after 30 years as national chairman of the WI. For almost 70 years, it has been offering everything from tap dancing to creating a family tree, plus much more in between.

What makes Denman particularly unusual is that it is open to everyone – not just WI members – and that includes men. Anyone can sign up for a course and take advantage of tuition from the experts who lead them.

Alongside the various rooms for workshops, meals and socialising, there are 69 en suite bedrooms to accommodate students, and they have been tastefully and individually decorated by WI members. Most of them are single rooms as a lot of visitors travel solo, but there are twin and triple rooms as well.

Even those who are not interested in the many courses on offer can take advantage of the beautiful setting and surrounding countryside, because Denman also offers bed and breakfast accommodation.

To find out more about Denman, visit

Do you think providing education should still be part of the WI’s role? Is there still a need for it when the population has more access to education than ever before? Is it something you’d considering taking advantage of?

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

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