Forward-thinking Northampton WI says hello to burlesque dancers and goodbye to jam and Jerusalem

Pictured left to right by Louise Smith: Julie, Catherine, Stacey, Katie, Mel with instructor Autumn Noir.
Pictured left to right by Louise Smith: Julie, Catherine, Stacey, Katie, Mel with instructor Autumn Noir.

Northampton Martinis WI might be the most refreshing group since the Women's Institute in Rylstone, North Yorkshire, unzipped for a charity fundraising calendar.

But as the Calendar Girls themselves would say being a member of the Women's Institute is not all about making plum jams and singing Jerusalem.

Autumn Noir gave a performance to the women on Monday night.

Autumn Noir gave a performance to the women on Monday night.

For Northampton Martinis WI, who meet every month at The Old White Hart in Far Cotton, being a part of an all-female group is empowering, uplifting and educational.

So much so, they often arrange quirky storytellers and performers to inspire them, which this week included a demonstration of how to do chair burlesque by instructor, Autumn Noir.

Stacey White, 32, of Northampton Martinis is the youngest president in Northamptonshire who took on the role when she was 29.

She says it is important to challenge how the group is perceived by the public.

She said: "Most WIs are not about jam and Jerusalem now but unfortunately still have the stereotypical image.

"Each WI is different and you no longer go to your nearest but to the one that suits you best.

"Changing this stereotype, and how our group is viewed, is important to the Northampton Martinis, we want women of all ages, shapes, sizes and from all different backgrounds to feel welcome."

The first WI meeting was held in Wales in 1915 and has gone on to become the biggest women's voluntary organisation in the UK with some 212,000 members in more than 6,000 groups.

The Martinis, which got its name from their first meeting at Revolution bar, launched five years ago after two existing members wanted to start their own group.

Now, dozens of women aged between 22-67 meet up monthly from all over Northamptonshire for their meetings.

Aside from burlesque, the women have also been gin tasting, learned how to start beekeeping and do arts and crafts together.

Stacey added: "It’s not just about the meetings, though.

"It’s about the friendships we form and all the sub-groups we have such as pudding club, craft group, walk and talk, bowling and cinema.

"I first joined because I suffered from anxiety and I said to myself one day ‘I was going to go to a group, meet new people and learn new skills’.

"So, I decided on a WI and I found the Northampton Martinis. So off I went on my own and I haven't looked back.

"I love being president as I have 40 new friends. Everyone just has a laugh with each other and we aren't cliquey, it's lovely."

Meetings take place at The Old White Hart in Far Cotton, on the second Monday of each month at 7.30pm.