Spa Sweethearts WI

"The WI is a vibrant organisation which can rise to any challenge!"

When was your WI formed and how did the idea arise?

Spa Sweethearts was the brainchild of Bex Hartley who visited the WI tent at the Great Yorkshire Show. She hoped to join a WI to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother but ended up forming a new WI in Harrogate and in October 2011 Spa Sweethearts WI began. By now we have 76 members.

How do you spread the word about your WI?

We have a website where we publish the details of our meetings and the upcoming programme for the year ahead. We also use Facebook for our main WI and all our flourishing sub-groups. We have a Twitter account and send emails before and after each meeting. During lockdown, we welcomed new members via the Unofficial WI and Wanderers sites. And the good old-fashioned word of mouth helps to spread the word about how amazing it is to be a Spa Sweetheart.

What are the three best things about your WI?

The three best things about our WI are definitely the members who are such an amazing and varied group of women. Our hard-working committee who sort everything out tirelessly behind the scenes and our fantastic programme which offers so much from Burlesque to crafting. We value each other the most and the chance to spend time in a fun, caring environment where we can learn new things together.

Do you mind telling us the age of your oldest and youngest member?

We currently have members from their 20’s to their 70’s.

During the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our way of living. How did and does your WI cope with this situation? Is there anything you are particularly proud of?

We are really proud of how our WI has coped with the challenges of 2020. Straightaway our amazing tech wizard Sam Pugmire got us all confident with Zoom and we have delivered as near as we can the programme we promised, even when it meant rearranging every single meeting we had planned. We have reacted swiftly to the ever-changing situation by keeping at our heart the core WI values of support and education. We have tried to help as many members as possible access Zoom and welcomed our doors from the beginning to our WI sisters around the country. Of course, we can’t wait to be meeting again ‘properly’ when we can but we have learned a lot from this situation, above all that the WI is a vibrant organisation which can rise to any challenge by providing support, friendship and education in difficult times.

One of the NFWI’s vision statements is “Bold and Inspiring”. Can you think of a situation when your WI and/or its members stroke you as particularly bold? A situation where your members smashed a stereotype?

This would definitely be our Bushcraft weekend in 2019. 19 of us headed out for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales which involved stretching our limits by climbing down a waterfall. It was extremely challenging but we supported each other. We then cooked our own food around the campfire, cracked open the wine and slept in shelters we had made ourselves. This was all just before my 50th Birthday and I had never been camping before in my life.

Can you name one thing people might not know about the WI or do not expect from the WI?

I think the WI now has an image of jumping out of planes and things like that but I would like people to know that we are still an organisation which values everyone who identifies as a woman and are here to offer friendship and support to all. The traditional subjects of craft and baking are just as popular as ever and a place to meet friends and try new things is still the most important thing about the WI. Whatever your age or interests there is a WI out there which is perfect for you.

In your opinion, how has the WI changed during the last 105 years?

In the last 105 years, the WI has had to adapt to the world around it. From changing working patterns for women to embracing technology in the pandemic the WI has proved it is an organisation which can thrive whatever the circumstances.

When thinking about the future of your WI, what are you looking forward to the most?

Face to face meetings. There is nothing to beat a roomful of women chatting and we can’t wait to experience that again. We would also like to continue our online connections with the WI friends we have made in the virtual world. Spa Sweethearts will turn 10 in 2021 and we would love to mark that in a special way. Real-life or virtual, there is plenty to look forward to in the future of Spa Sweethearts and the WI as a whole.

Spa Sweethearts WI is located in Harrogate (North Yorkshire West federation)