THE genteel world of bulb catalogues, crochet demonstrations and garden parties have dominated the meetings of a North Yorkshire Women's Institute group over the last 12 months.
But when Elaine Fay decided to liven up her local WI's programme, members were unprepared for the array of items their next guest speaker would bring - with guns, tasers, battering rams, CS canisters, stingers and stun grenades among the formidable weaponry on show.
Sinderby WI usually sticks to the script for its fortnightly meetings in the village hall near Thirsk, in rural North Yorkshire, with previous activities living up to the group's 'jam and Jerusalem' image.
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After three years of trying, programme secretary Mrs Fay managed to get North Yorkshire Police’s armed response unit to agree to do a WI demonstration at their January meeting.
But she was unimpressed by what the force offered them - so she took matters into her own hands.
“When I first contacted police they offered a talk on neighbourhood watch," she said.
"I thought 'how boring, we need something with a bit more oomph'. So I just contacted the firearms unit on my own.”
Mrs Fay booked the team with the instructions: “Come suited and booted. We want to see something. Don’t just stand and talk.”
And they certainly took her at her word when two officers turned up with the kind of weaponry usually only seen in films.
The demonstration included stun grenades – used as a distraction device – CS gas canisters, stingers used to stop cars and a selection of guns. The entire kit weighs 60lb when put on and includes advanced medical equipment so officers can save anybody they shoot.
“When all this stuff came out I thought 'Oh my goodness'," said Mrs Fay.
“There were truncheons, tasers, gas canisters, two pairs of handcuffs, a battering ram, stingers, handguns, guns that fired blanks, grenades. They fetched everything. I was quite surprised. It was really, really interesting.”
The WI described it as “without doubt” one of the best speakers and demonstrations they had ever had.
Although Sinderby takes part in more traditional pastimes associated with Women’s Institutes, Mrs Fay is keen to explore grittier territory with the group, which has been running for 35 years.
In the past couple of years they have enjoyed talks by a forensics specialist, a police dog unit, alcohol addiction workers and had a talk on heroin.
“Police are just so interesting,” she said.
“We had the police dog unit give a demonstration three years ago. They were on duty. They had just finished running down the field with their fake arm when they got a call and had to go out to a major crime.
“So I checked with the armed police if they were on duty. They said 'yes'. I thought, “Well they’re not going. I’m locking the doors. It’s taken me three years to get them here”.”
A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “We conduct talks on a regular basis to raise awareness and to give the public a better knowledge of the work we do.
“We have a stock of weapons that we take out for such events and none of the ammunition displayed are live.
“We are pleased that everyone enjoyed the event.”