End of an era as Arisaig SWI closes after more than a century

Arisaig SWRI members photographed around 40 years ago. Photograph: Arisaig SWI. NO F27 Arisaig SWRI 01
Arisaig SWRI members photographed around 40 years ago. Photograph: Arisaig SWI. NO F27 Arisaig SWRI 01

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After more than a century of helping bring women together, the closure of the Arisaig branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute (SWI) last month marked the end of an era, writes Nic Goddard.

It was one of the first institutes in the country, starting in 1917 when a group of women in Arisaig began the branch of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI), an organisation which was new to Scotland.

In recent years with the growth of the SWI as more branches opening in towns and cities, the R for ‘Rural’ was dropped from the name in 2015.

The Arisaig branch has proved a lifeline for many women over the intervening decades but at the institute AGM last month the difficult decision to close was taken.

Last month's AGM at which it was decided to take the sad decision to close the branch. Photograph: Arisaig SWI. NO F27 Arisaig SWRI 02
Last month’s AGM at which it was decided to take the sad decision to close the branch. Photograph: Arisaig SWI.

Member Ann Martin said: ‘It was both a celebration to have an in-person meeting and a sad occasion to be taking the decision that the institute would close. Over half of our members do not have access to social media and were unable to attend the online events which enabled other institutes to continue.

‘Despite our best efforts to attract new members we simply did not have sufficient capacity to continue with a committee.’

Secretary June Cairns explained: ‘Although in many ways the SWI is not as necessary for providing a social life for rural women as it once was, it is still very relevant to women today.

‘Sadly many younger women would find that hard to believe and that is partly why
it can be so difficult to attract new members. The organisation is seen to be for elderly
ladies drinking tea, knitting and baking scones.

‘SWI is still able to make women’s voices heard in government and the business world. So although some institutes, like Arisaig, are unable to continue, SWI will be relevant for a while yet.’

The legacy of the work undertaken by the SWI in Arisaig will be remembered in the
history of the community, both during the war years and during celebrations and village
events when those baking, organising and fundraising skills were put to excellent use.

Ann added: ‘Over the years the ladies have had a lot of fun, learned many new
things as per the unofficial motto of the organisation, ‘If you know a good thing, pass
it on’.

‘Arisaig ladies are very proud of our record as winners of the Federation
annual quiz. Our names are on the shield so many times that it sometimes seemed
to have taken up residence in our cupboard in the Astley Hall where we met.’

The Institute may have closed but the women of Arisaig will continue to meet for
walks, lunches and outings, and the Facebook page for the branch will remain open
to allow others to join in.

There remain several institutes in the Lochaber Times area and to find your local SWI branch check the website at www.theswi.org.uk