For over 100 years, the Women’s Institute (WI) has led the way in organised women’s groups, but a new wave of modern, independent alternatives are offering a fresh approach to the women of today, and, as Lynsey Thompson explains, the word is spreading.

Donna and Charlotte

Donna and Charlotte

Picture the scene: a group of women, all ages, all types, meet at the local community hub. They enjoy a cuppa, eat some cake, and a chit-chat as they wonder what activity they’ll be doing this month.

Maybe making hanging baskets? Cake decorating or crafting? Not today.

As they take their seats around the large room, in walks their project for the night…. a naked 20-something male ready to pose, and as the startled ladies slowly realise this month’s class is life drawing, the room steadily erupts into schoolgirl laughter.

Pimms and Needles, based in the North East of England, is just one of the new ladies groups which is giving women of all generations a new lease of life.

Set up in 2015 by friends Donna Feeney and Charlotte Pyrah, they currently run 12 groups each month for 60 - 70 women - a total of 750 women each month - and demand for their sessions is so high they’ve had to introduce waiting lists.

But it all happened by accident, as Donna explains: “I joined a sewing course, ran by Charlotte and made friends with the other women in the group, but when the course finished we didn’t want it to end.

“We agreed to meet up each month anyway to try some different activities and said we would all bring a friend along. To our surprise, 70 women showed up at that first session and it went from there.”

What differentiates this group to that of the traditional jam and Jerusalem stereotype is not only the organisational structure, but also the kinds of activities they take part in.

“Originally we were going to set up as a WI, but we thought we’d give it a go ourselves and its working for us,” Donna added.

“We don’t have elections, a yearly president or meeting minutes to approve, we just have fun and try to make the activities as quirky as we can.

“Yes we have sessions in crafts and cooking, but we’ve also done gin tasting, sausage making, belly dancing, laughter yoga, car mechanics, self-defence and even burlesque. Anything we can all have a go at and anything that makes us laugh.

“Funnily enough none of our members seem to miss the life-drawing sessions though!”

So is there a certain demographic that make up the Pimms and Needles members?

“Our members range from 21 to 80 year old, from all walks of life. We have mums and daughters who come along together, older ladies who want to socialise, young mums who need some time out to themselves away from the kids, 30 or 40 somethings who want a night out away from the pub.

“What we love most about it is that it brings women together from all ages and backgrounds who wouldn’t normally come across each other in everyday life and everyone gets on really well.”

The popularity of women’s groups as a whole has always remained steady through the years. Even today, the WI it is the largest women's voluntary organisation in the UK with around 220,000 members.

In a society where many people no longer know their neighbours, where local pubs are closing, where it’s too easy to communicate by text or social media, there’s a current school of thought that, despite the growing connectivity, people are actually getting more lonely and isolated.

Is this the reason that up and coming women’s groups such as Pimms and Needles are so popular in such a short time?

“We are very big on mindfulness and how that can have an effect on someone’s whole outlook on life.

“What we offer is escapism, friendship, support, laughter in an environment with no pressure and no judgement.

We provide an open, welcoming, friendly and most of all fun place for women to come and connect again.”

With a growing demand to start more sessions, word of mouth spreading, and with waiting lists increasing, there’s no doubt that the popularity of groups such as Pimms and Needles seems to be snowballing and fulfilling a real need in society.

Now, where do I sign up?

For more information about Pimms and Needles visit

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