Back in March I gave a talk on Mental Health and Mindfulness to my local Women’s Institute – which was daunting but rewarding. I’ve been a member of Hebden Bridge WI for a few years, and it has contributed greatly to my Wellbeing in that time. It has helped me to get to know people in a new town, taught me new things, and enriched my life.
The Women’s Institute has been a powerful force for good for a hundred years – most people don’t realise how radical an idea it was to bring women of all classes together in those days. They have campaigned on controversial issues and helped keep Britain going at times of crisis.
In the post war years, the Institute fell out of favour somewhat, people became more isolated, and turned to the exciting world of convenience and ready made things, not being interested in learning how to do something an international corporation was quite happy to do for them. And who can blame them, after centuries of having to do these things, the luxury of being able to buy a nice jar of jam, or a machine knitted jumper, for not very much money must have seemed amazing. And as women started to go out to work the time available became much more precious.
However, times change, and we began to see the consequences of industrialisation, and the value of hand made a little more. And perhaps it was my generation growing up and wondering why we didn’t know how to do things our great grandmothers would have been able to do blindfolded, things our mothers and perhaps grandmothers had not wanted to learn, or spend time on – which has lead to the recent revival of WI branches across the land, along with craft and cooking classes.
Hebden Bridge WI is not “your stereotypical WI”. It couldn’t be, whatever that is anyway, as Hebden Bridge is not a typical town. We have such a concentration of diversity, creativity and talent, that we are very lucky to be able to draw on members for fascinating speakers, as well as paying for people to come in. (Not that I was necessarily fascinating) I know not everywhere is as lucky – I have a friend who is in a small rural WI with only a few very elderly members, and her experience is not the same as mine – though she enjoys the things they do. Over the years we’ve had sessions on self defence, gin tasting, wild mushrooms, Palestinian cookery and the situation in Gaza, storytelling, tea tasting, gift wrapping, photography, fifties hair styling…. Much much more…. And of course, Mental Health.
I’m pleased to say it was one if the most popular sessions in the last year, with quite a few visitors coming along as well as regular members. I tried to outline the prevalence of mental health problems in the UK, the impact on our society and economy, discuss what mental health means, how we can try to improve our mental Wellbeing. And there was a nice little chocolate meditation at the end. I know how to keep a room full of women happy. I also know how to keep a room full of Hebden Bridge women happy, so there were a variety of alternatives including non-dairy, fair trade and organic options 😉
We had questions, one of which being why do people talk about mental health, when it’s mental illness they mean. To which I would say the point is that it is not just about mental illness. If you want to know how someone is, you might ask, how’s your health? Not how’s your illness? We want people to understand that mental health is something we all have, good or bad, and it changes and fluctuates, and some things which affect it we can’t do anything about, and other things we have a good deal of control over. Talking about mental illness, misses a whole side of the spectrum, and allows people who have never had a mental health problem to thing it isn’t relevant to them. When Mental health is relevant to everyone.
Several people came to speak to me after the session, and I got a good deal of interest in Mental Health First Aid, so I am hoping to put on a course in Hebden Bridge later in the year (see next post for details!). We also had an ongoing discussion on the group’s Facebook page. It got people talking and that’s what we need. So we can find solutions, and so we realise that even in our darkest moments, we are not alone.
So, if you are a woman, go and have a look at your local WI and see if it is as great as ours, many are – and if not, why not stage a coup, or set up your own? Or I am sure the other womens and community groups out there are just as rewarding. Meeting new people, learning new things, being a part of your community, all are vital parts of building Wellbeing. And for the fellas – well, there are all sort of options (not to mention of course mixed groups) – my husband thought he had found a funky speakeasy last week in Whitby – and old oak door down an alleyway, with the letters RAOB on the door, and the sounds of merrymaking within. A quick google search informed us it was the meeting house of the Royal Antideluvian Order of the Buffalo or something like that. Fascinating. And they have a Men’s Institute over the river. Who knows what they get up to.
Next Monday Hebden Bridge WI are learning about bees and bee friendly gardens. Awesome.
ps. If your would like me to come talk to your WI or order of the buffalo, drop me a line.