CFWI Information for New Members

Cambridge Federation of WIs Information for New Members


Welcome to the WI

What is it all about?  What have you joined?

The WI is the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK.  It was established in 1915 and is a trusted place for all women to share experiences and learn from each other.

There are 3 parts to the WI:

  1. WIs: Joining your local WI means becoming part of the WI organisation.  Every WI is an independent charity within the framework of the WI constitution and belongs to a regional office known as a federation.  There are approximately 5,500 WIs across England, Wales and the Islands.
  2. Federations: There are 69 federations and each one is run by an elected board of members known as Federation Trustees and employed staff.  Your WI is part of Cambridge Federation of WIs (CFWI) which currently has 10 Trustees, a secretary and a bookkeeper. There are currently 53 WIs in CFWI.
  3. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI).  The NFWI is responsible for running the organisation as a whole.  Its headquarters are in London and there are offices in Cardiff and Oxfordshire.  It employs about 50 staff and is run by an elected Board comprising WI members.

The WI is not bound by political or religious affiliation.  It has a strong voice and can influence decision makers at all levels.

How does your own WI work?

Not all WIs are the same, each is individual in the way that it operates, but must follow the Constitution.

  • Members pay an annual subscription. This is reviewed each year and fixed by the National Council.  You can find out more about this on the NFWI website.
  • The subscription is divided between your WI, the Federation and NFWI.
  • Included in your membership you will receive copies of WI Life magazine, produced by the National Federation, posted to your home.
  • All WIs must hold 11 monthly meetings a year and once you have paid your subscription you are entitled to attend these meetings without further cost.  Raffles are frequently held at meetings to boost funds.
  • At the monthly meeting, there will be some official business and announcements, a speaker or demonstration and a chance to chat to other members over refreshments.  In addition, a lot of WIs have book or walking groups, craft clubs, and other outings and visits.
  • Your WI is organised by a committee, nominated at your WI Annual Meeting by secret ballot.  The officers are President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  Most decisions are then made by all the members at all meetings.
  • You can belong to more than one WI – becoming a Dual Member.

Cambridge Federation of WIs (CFWI)

There are currently six committees which together run the federation:

The Board of Trustees:  The Trustees are nominated by their WIs every two years and are responsible for the overall running of the Federation, supported by our secretary and bookkeeper.

Craft and Cookery Subcommittee:  Encourages educational skills in a wide variety of subjects and is responsible for providing activities involving visual and creative arts.  This includes workshops and day schools, with skilled tutors and opportunities to visit places of interest, including craft exhibitions.  There are also social coffee mornings and informal drop-in craft sessions.

Combined Activities Subcommittee:  Covers a wide range of activities, including the arts, music, drama, as well as leisure and social activities.  These include coach trips, an annual quiz and jigsaw challenge, coffee mornings, and a series of lunches throughout the year as well as a Christmas celebration and drama productions.

Membership Subcommittee: Consists of WI Advisers who support WIs on constitutional issues and can answer queries on the wider aspects of running a WI and opportunities for members in the organisation. WI Advisers are WI members who have been trained by NFWI.

Public Affairs Subcommittee:  Isinvolved in the campaigns and resolutions.  It makes members aware of how they can play a part in any campaign, beginning in their own communities.

Finance Advisory Panel: Oversees the CFWI budget.

Our headquarters building is in Girton and comprises an office for the Federation Secretary and a meeting room.  This is where we hold our committee meetings and many of our activities.  We produce a monthly newsletter which is sent out by email to all WI members via their secretaries.  This includes information about booking our events and activities.

  • The Federation Secretary is in the office on Monday and Thursday 10am-1pm and 1.30am-3pm and contactable by email only on Tuesday.
  • Office phone number is 01223 234872.  Email is
  • The newsletter can be viewed on My WI by clicking the Federation tab My WI
  • Events can be viewed on our the CFWI website
  • You can book an event using a dedicated email address

Some WI Jargon Explained: To help you settle into the WI, here is an explanation of some of the jargon you will hear at meetings:

NFWI Annual Meeting (NFWI AM):  Takes place at different venues each year and is open to all Members.  There is a vote by delegates on the public affairs resolutions and any changes to the Board of Trustees are announced.

Resolutions – Every year WIs and members put forward resolution suggestions.  From a shortlist of between four and six, WI members select the one which they individually support, and the most popular of these is debated by WIs.  The voting results of these debates are given at the Annual Meeting.

My WI – Dedicated WI website exclusive for members.  You can access lots of information about the WI, education, campaigns, and activities which may be of interest. You will be issued a password by NFWI when you join and you will need to make sure your MCS rep has your correct email address so you can login.  My WI

MCS – Membership Communication System. This is what is used to enter your details onto the national database so you can receive WI Life magazine and also log onto My WI.

Have a great time at your WI and please contact CFWI Office if you have any queries.

Below is a brief explanation about how the WI started and the journey that CFWI has travelled since it was formed on 1 November 1919.


How Did it All Begin?

Originating from Canada in 1897, the organisation was founded by Adelaide Hoodless, a farmer's daughter from Stoney Creek, Ontario, who lost her fourth child through ignorance of basic hygiene. She urged that lectures and demonstrations in domestic science and home crafts to be made available to local women.

The first institute to be opened in Britain met in September 1915 in Llanfair, Anglesey, North Wales.

The Cambridge Federation From 1919 – to date Tibbs Row to Girton

There is little known of our time in Vicar’s buildings, Tibbs Row where an office and restroom were rented in 1919.  By 1922 an Institute Shop existed on the ground floor of a house in Saint Andrews passage where the County Office was housed in a first-floor room let to the new County Federation by Girton College.

The object of the WI shop was “to provide sale for work of members who have mastered the craft,” but by 1925 the shop sales were not good, and the shop had a short life, but it was useful advertising for the new organisation.

In 1929 the county office moved to Cambridgeshire House on Hills Road.  The large, detached house had been acquired by the Rural Community Council as a joint home for itself, the WI Federation the British Red Cross, and the Council for Preservation of Rural England.

This was our home for over 30 years, when in the early 1960s plans were afoot to develop the Hills Road site and the Federation began house hunting.  By 1965 nothing suitable having been found, Mrs Enfys Chapman, then County Chairman, offered to the WI the tenancy of the ground floor of a house in Saint Paul's Road which she had recently bought.  Temporary planning permission having been obtained the federation moved its headquarters on the 29th of September 1966 into two offices and a committee room on the ground floor of number 8.  We knew this to be a temporary move and the house hunting began in earnest in 1970.

A house belonging to Peterhouse College came on the market, this was 11 Warkworth Street.  Being within the blighted KITE area, with its future development yet unknown, the house was set at a price we could afford.  Having taken legal advice, we prepared to purchase.  At the 1970 Autumn council meeting the County Chair, Audrey King, launched an appeal for £4000 pounds from 4000 members and with great enthusiasm the members accepted the challenge.

In 1971 number 11 was bought for £7,000 with donations large and small, interest free loans were soon repaid.  Alterations over the years made the house more useful and the basement flat helped produce an income towards the maintenance.

The house was our home for over 30 years until the laws governing disabled access together with needing to comply with up-to-date fire regulations made the Executive Committee, under the Chairmanship of Ruth Bond, take a good look at the future.  After much consultation with members it was decided that the time was right for CFWI to sell the property and find alternative accommodation.  As an interim measure, prior to having our own property again, WI House moved into a leased accommodation in Haslingfield in 2002 and settled well into a much smaller and more convenient office space.

In December 2003 CFWI was fortunate to purchase a piece of land in Girton at a favourable price thus enabling it to engage an architect to design a state-of-the-art office building for the Federation. To comply with planning permission the new building had to occupy the same footprint and shape as the building it was to replace; that building had been a pig farrowing shed!  Hence, the CFWI pig sty was established, designed by Ellis-Miller architects, and built by Britannia Build.  The environment friendly concept of Agenda 21 was followed throughout, as well as that of sustainability.

Construction work began in March 2004 and the office was occupied in mid-October 2004.  It was officially opened by Prince Edward on 7 April 2006.

It is over 100 years since CFWI was founded and there have been several moves; surely this will be the last for many years to come!