The gen­er­a­tion game

Marlborough Midweek - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS -

In a sea of wellpol­ished, com­fort­able shoes a pair of heeled boots stands out. Boot-legged jeans and T-shirts are dot­ted among the smart pants and vis­cose. The Women’s In­sti­tute needs to change, could Marl­bor­ough have the an­swer?

Fed­er­a­tion Of Women’s In­sti­tutes is fac­ing a slump and moves are in place to try and stem the de­cline. Amal­ga­ma­tion has been a must for many.

Na­tional pres­i­dent Kay Hart, based in Nel­son, says in­sti­tutes across the coun­try are strug­gling to sur­vive. What was once a hive of thriv­ing in­sti­tutes is now a skin­nier net­work of its for­mer self.

‘‘Dis­tance, old age and trav­el­ling have be­come im­pos­si­ble for some.

‘‘The idea of amal­ga­ma­tion of the Nel­son and Marl­bor­ough In­sti­tutes should not just be wiped with­out thought, there are ways of do­ing this.

‘‘If there are enough func­tions that are in­ter­est­ing enough and peo­ple make the ef­fort it can be done,’’ Hart says.

In Marl­bor­ough, changes are al­ready afoot. Mem­bers of the af­fil­i­ated Tea and Tarts group lis­ten at­ten­tively.

In the sea of well-pol­ished, com­fort­able shoes a pair of heeled boots stands out. There are boot­legged jeans and T-shirts among the smart pants and vis­cose. Some of the women, young and old, are quickly tex­ting or search­ing the in­ter­net for how to make temari balls, a form of Ja­panese folk craft.

Fin­gers fly across smart­phones while oth­ers are more cau­tious and gnarled; stab­bing hes­i­tantly at keys, glasses slid­ing un­no­ticed nose wards as con­cen­tra­tion brings fur­rowed brows to the fore.

An 18-month-old boy tod­dles arounds the room clutch­ing a half-eaten bis­cuit and gig­gling in de­light at all the at­ten­tion he gets while his mother watches with a smile on her face. The Tea and Tarts mem­bers are help­ing breathe new life into the estab­lish­ment.

Blen­heim’s Sally Black­well co­founded the 14-mem­ber group along­side friend Sally Neal three years ago.

‘‘There was a cof­fee group of mums that had no real out­let for their craft skills. The WRI is dy­ing a bit and needed new, younger mem­bers.

‘‘The older ladies tend to meet dur­ing week days and that just didn’t work for some of us who have jobs and young fam­i­lies to look af­ter,’’ she said.

The Women’s Ru­ral In­sti­tute be­gan in New Zealand in 1921 as a way to pro­vide friend­ship and fun while teach­ing and shar­ing home­mak­ing skills. While some of these skills have re­mained rel­e­vant for women in town and coun­try com­mu­ni­ties, many have not, Black­well says.

‘‘We meet on the third Sun­day of ev­ery month and some­times we’ll have cof­fee but oth­ers we might have bub­bles. While we do cross-stitch and weav­ing, we’ve learnt a lot of other skills too like cheese­mak­ing and up­hol­stery.

‘‘Not all of us are in­ter­ested in cro­chet any­more, we wanted to make it fun,’’ says Black­well, adding new mem­bers are al­ways wel­come.

In 2016, there were more than 5000 in­di­vid­ual mem­bers and 299 lo­cal in­sti­tutes, 43 dis­trict fed­er­a­tions over­seen by one na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of seven mem­bers.

In its hey day there were 18 in­sti­tutes in the Marl­bor­ough Fed­er­a­tion, now there are four. The demise of many over the years is the re­sult of the ‘‘at­tri­tion of old age’’, says Marl­bor­ough pres­i­dent Jan Mar­riner.

But she is de­ter­mined to roll with the changes to en­sure the fu­ture sur­vival of the in­sti­tu­tion.

‘‘I think amal­ga­ma­tion is pos­si­ble.

‘‘In to­day’s world of tech­nol­ogy, there’s tex­ting and Skype and tele­con­fer­enc­ing. I vowed at the last meet­ing that I would get a phone that does all these things. I’ve said it so I’ve got to do it now.

‘‘We can al­ways find things to put up bar­ri­ers so let’s not do that, let’s think of pos­i­tive ways to go for­ward,’’ she said.

In 1932, the Do­min­ion Fed­er­a­tion of Women’s In­sti­tutes was of­fi­cially named. In 2004, its cur­rent han­dle re­placed the New Zealand Fed­er­a­tion of Coun­try Women’s In­sti­tutes (In­cor­po­rated).

‘‘For Home and Coun­try’’ is still the motto and the ethos re­mains the same; ‘‘to en­cour­age and sup­port all women within their com­mu­ni­ties’’.

The dis­play of items hand­crafted by mem­bers are tes­ta­ment to that sup­port.

Along­side the more tra­di­tional knit­ted jer­seys sit polka-dot cov­ered fridge mag­nets and painted peg fam­i­lies, care­fully laid out to show­case the many tal­ents.

No item goes un­no­ticed and kind words and com­pli­ments are eas­ily shared.

Some of the Tea and Tarts mem­bers have turned their pas­sion for crafts into thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­tries. In 1921, it was un­think­able for women to work out­side the home.

But the un­der­ly­ing foun­da­tion that pins the or­gan­i­sa­tion to­gether more than 80 years later re­mains the same; friend­ship.

Mar­riner has been a mem­ber for 16 years and has served as pres­i­dent for the past four. There are a sprin­kling of new mem­bers at the gath­er­ing and she hur­ries to make each feel wel­come. Warm ap­plause ac­com­pa­nies her words and late-com­ers smile apolo­get­i­cally as they tip-toe in.

She is en­thu­si­as­tic about plans to keep mem­ber num­bers steady.

‘‘Our num­bers are fairly steady as we’re do­ing our best to keep up with the times,’’ Mar­riner says.

‘‘We of­fer demos and the chance to learn new crafts and it’s won­der­ful to have some of the younger women here and we learn new skills from each other,’’ she says.

‘‘The WRI is about learn­ing, sup­port and en­cour­age­ment. It has an im­por­tant pur­pose for women and I be­lieve it al­ways will.’’

PHOTOS: SCOTT HAMMOND/ STUFF

The chut­ney-taste test is a se­ri­ous busi­ness for mem­bers of the Women’s In­sti­tute.

’Tea and Tarts’ mem­bers of the Women’s In­sti­tute in­clude PJ Muir and pres­i­dent Han­nah Price, back­ground.

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