‘There is a wonderful vibrancy to this pop-up village on the edge of the Black Mountains’ – Maggie Andrews

‘There is a wonderful vibrancy to this pop-up village on the edge of the Black Mountains’ – Maggie Andrews

This is my first time at the Hay Festival and there is a wonderful vibrancy to this pop-up village on the edge of the Black Mountains, alongside a willingness to engage, critique and question ideas and knowledge and books. This is the sort of cultural milieu that those of us who believe that research, education and knowledge do not belong within the confines of university campuses, but in the community, really relish. The University of Worcester’s involvement in the Festival has therefore provided a fascinating opportunity to engage with diverse audiences — including delightful groups of students preparing for A Levels and wondering what Cultural History actually is.

In giving a talk about the Women’s Institute as an Acceptable Face of Feminism there is always an anxiety that I will upset either WI members or feminists; and 25 years ago I definitely would have. Yet in the last 20 years the work of the Rystone WI Calendar Girls, the slow handclap at Tony Blair and the emergence of younger, trendy and often urban WI groups such as the Worcester Belles, have led people to see the WI as a more feisty organisation. There is now scope to commend those women who have, over many years, slowly chipped away at gender inequality and, in the era of ‘The Great Bake-off’, not to feel so uncomfortable about domestically orientated women. Maybe, though, there are now new and awkward questions to be asked about which politicians are progressing the needs of women who, whether paid or not, continue to carry the burden of low status and the exploitive, grotty sides of domestic work.