THEY have long been associated with baking cakes and sewing quilts but now the Scottish Women’s Institutes are trying to recruit a new group of people after a survey they commissioned revealed many wanted to learn about DIY instead.
The research, carried out by the organisation ahead of its annual conference this weekend, also showed learning a foreign language and car maintenance were among the skills some of the 1,000 Scottish women asked were keen to learn - alongside the more traditional pursuits of baking, cooking, sewing, floristry and stitch crafts.
Accordingly, the Scottish Women’s Institutes (SWI) said they were now running pilot meetings with more flexible hours and an array of “learning” opportunities to better reflect what modern women wanted.
Christine Hutton, chairwoman of SWI, said: “The skills of baking, cooking, sewing, floristry and stitch crafts remain a very important part of what the SWI is all about. The education of women in an atmosphere of fun and friendship is at the core of what we do.
“Interestingly, however, we carried out a survey of 1,000 women of all ages – 18 to 95-plus – last week to find out what skills they would like to learn, and skills such as learning a foreign language, DIY skills and car maintenance scored very highly.
“In fact, six times more Scottish women indicated they would like to learn DIY than baking. In order to survive and to thrive, we listen to what Scottish women of all ages want and find ways to help deliver these skills opportunities to them as well as retaining our true roots.”
Ms Hutton added that they were running pilot meetings to better reflect the lifestyles of younger working women with more flexible meeting times and different venues.
She said that drive had shown positive results: they had 90 women engaging each month for the first time in the last quarter instead of losing 80 members a month. Set up in 1917, the SWI has been struggling to increase member numbers, dropping from 50,000 in the 1980s to 17,722 last year.
The figure stands in contrast to the separate Women’s Institute (WI) in England and Wales that has been enjoying a new influx of members by putting an emphasis on “old values.”
Originally born out of the WWI war effort, with a mandate for revitalising rural communities and encouraging women to become more involved in producing food, it quickly grew into a force for social change and source of friendship for women.
The WI in England and Wales said it has been welcoming nearly 1,000 new members a week so far this year, compared to the 1980s when they were “haemorrhaging” 20,000-30,000 a year. At its peak in 1954, the WI had 467,000 members, and general secretary Jana Osborne blamed the “greedy years” for the losses in the 1980s and 1990s.
Ms Osborne said of the past decline: “It was quite a greedy period when property and money was very important. The community didn’t matter that much that much and the WI was a bit of an old-fashioned concept.
“It was never a case of having to reinvent ourselves as an organisation. Now there is a change of view of how we live and our connection with society – it’s not only about our material possessions and we relate to each other more
“Women are discovering the sort of old values of community involvement and a lot of young women are joining because they have heard about our campaigns but once they join they want to learn those old fashioned skills of knitting, cooking or dressmaking and introduce their own modern twist.”
Now, she said, is a “wonderful time” for the WI, with 212,000 members in 6,600 groups across Britain - including 22,400 new members and 62 new groups in 2015 so far.
Still formally registered as the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes, the organisation is now known without the “rural” and badges were changed in March.