The Women's Institute's Isle of Wight Federation doubled its annual income and forged links with a younger generation by raising £3,600 selling tea and cakes at the two-day 2006 Bestival music festival. The Women's Institute is developing plans to emulate its success at the Glastonbury and Big Chill music festivals in 2007.
The WI is a charity divided into 70 self-governing federations throughout the UK. It offers members a programme of education and campaigns on issues such as health, social policy and the environment.
The Bestival music festival is held annually in September at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight. In 2004, festival organisers offered the local WI federation a free stall from which to sell tea and cakes to 15,000 festival-goers. Last month, the Women's Institute returned for a third year.
How it worked
In 2004 - its first year at Bestival - the federation hosted a stall at the top of a hill near the entrance to the festival. The stall raised £1,000 from sales to people entering the site, but achieved few sales during the day because the location was away from the main site.
In 2005 and 2006, the WI was up-graded at no cost and was moved to a tent in a central area near an acoustic stage, a farmers' market, massage area and sushi tent. In 2006, the stall was sponsored by The Guardian.
The WI stall shared the newspaper's promotional tent.
The federation explains that it "stuck to the basics", selling tea, coffee, home-made cakes and water, all priced at 50p per item. Members provided cakes and a team of local volunteers staffed the stall and also drove supplies to and from the site.
This year, the stall raised £3,600. Every morning, the tent opened to a queue of about 60 people and supplies sold out each day. The national press picked up the story: editorial coverage appeared in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
Local WI federations in Somerset and Herefordshire have plans to host fundraising tea and cake tents at the Glastonbury festival, which sees 150,000 visitors, and The Big Chill, which hosts 27,000. "We could charge more, but we couldn't buy the goodwill," says Joan Finch of the Isle of Wight federation.
EXPERT VIEW - JANE ASSCHER, MANAGING PARTNER, 23RED
Any mention of the Women's Institute conjures up images of blue-rinsed ladies, cream teas, knitting patterns and a sweet but rather anachronistic organisation rooted in a long-forgotten past. While not entirely accurate, this assumption is pretty widespread, so the WI's mission to address it is long overdue.
Choosing to ally itself with the cool yet slightly homely Bestival event on the Isle of Wight was an intriguing and, by the looks of it, largely successful move. Bestival is probably the most civilised event on the UK's festival circuit, small compared with the likes of Glastonbury and Reading, and renowned for its relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The Guardian sponsorship was also an astute move. It has the credibility to lend a little kudos to the WI and is a good choice of partner, both for exploiting the Bestival link and for educating a younger audience about the WI's work.
A glance at the WI's website, however, hints at the deeper issues it faces in transforming itself for a younger generation. "There are no major headline bands," it says of Bestival, "just loads of things going on." Perhaps the ladies didn't notice the Pet Shop Boys and the Scissor Sisters.