Motueka's Kay Hart has been the national president of Women's Institute for only a week and already she has big plans for the organisation's future.
With 6500 members WI, once known as Country Women's Institute, is the largest organisation for women in the country, but as Hart admits, its membership is ageing. The average age of the Stoke-Wakatu club members, for example, is more than 80.
Hart said that when she first joined WI 49 years ago as a 23-year-old newlywed in remote Upper Takaka the club was a great source of community and knowledge in a time and place where there were fewer opportunities for socialising and fewer pressures on women's time.
But Hart is convinced that the organisation she calls a "comfortable place for women where they can make friends and learn hobbies" still has a place in today's faster-paced world.
WI still attracts younger women, especially in rural communities, although Hart said they had less time to give to groups like WI than older members did, and that they might not have had time to develop some of the hobbies that WI encourages.
As well as being a friendship organisation, WI raises funds for charity, such as the $110,000 members raised for Kidney Kids last year.
"We're not going to get the younger ones to come and sit in rows in a hall so one of my challenges is to get members to start institutes that cater for a younger group."
She envisages that might take the form of meeting at a pub for a meal rather than the formal meeting structure most institutes still favour.
She said she was encouraged by the pending formation of a new branch in Canterbury's Woodend, where a growing population meant that about eight women in their thirties were keen to join.
Hart said the Nelson branch, formed 40 years ago, had begun in a similar fashion, and she believed that WI needed to evolve every generation to keep its appeal. In August, WI members aged 35 to 55 would meet in Wellington to discuss what they wanted from WI and how the organisation could meet their needs.
As president, Hart travels around the country to mentor and encourage branches, as well as presiding at board meetings in Wellington.
She was elected unopposed to a two-year term and said that although she had declined to stand in previous years, she had support from members throughout the country and so felt she could take on the challenging role now.
She also serves a lobbying role meeting cabinet ministers to push concerns of the membership.
She said the six branches that made up the Nelson Federation of WI had about 135 members, although some WI clubs, such as Motueka's popular mah jong group, attract many women who were not WI members.
For information on how to join WI, contact Nelson Federation president Kathy Brewer at 528 4604.
- The Nelson Mail
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