Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Diary of the NFWI Centenary Baton in Suffolk West Federation: 11th- 18th November 2014

The Centenary celebrations began for us on Tuesday 11th November, when we were invited by the trustees of Norfolk Federation for afternoon tea at the United Reform Church in Thetford for the handover of the baton. 

Eleven trustees attended this enjoyable afternoon, where we heard of the travels of the baton around Norfolk by public transport. 

Handover from Norfolk to Suffolk West Federation

The baton then made its way to Coney Weston, where the Blackbourne Group hosted our first SWFWI event. A delicious soup and pud supper was served and we had the opportunity to look at scrap books and memorabilia which the WIs displayed, covering the decades from 1915. Some ladies had also ‘dressed for the occasion’ in clothing from those different decades.  The evening was a wonderful start to our baton week.

Day two

The following morning, Wednesday 12th November, started with a coffee morning in Great Barton where three suffragettes attended. It was then taken by trike motorcycle to Charlie Fellowes  training stables in Newmarket, where photographs were taken with a racehorse.  That afternoon it was entertained to afternoon tea at Barton Mills, courtesy of Forest Heath Group, again a lovely afternoon of delicious food and chat.  That same evening the Gallops Group held a ‘Newmarket’ sausage bake when members got together at Wickhambrook for supper and were entertained by Chevington WI.

Charlie Fellowes stables, Newmarket

Day Three

After all the food the previous day, the baton started day three, Thursday 13th November, early with a workout at Haverhill Leisure Centre, where Chris Thompson, took it on an exercise bike. Then everyone went along to Sturmer Village Hall where bacon butties were served.  How nice it was to see members from the Stour Group of WIs and a lady who had come along just to check out the hall for her child's birthday party. I think she was quite impressed with the warm welcome she was given. The baton was then taken in a 1953 Morris Minor 1000 named Alice from Sturmer to Clare, where it was met at the village sign again by three ladies dressed in costumes of the early 20th century, carrying Clare WI’s two banners. These ladies then led a procession through the streets of Clare until it reached the Old School, where warm soup was waiting.  After a bowl or two of very tasty soup, the baton left on its next journey, by Rolls Royce to Glemsford and the Gainsborough Group.  In Glemsford it appeared as though the whole village was out to greet the baton.   

Sturmer WI bacon breakfast

On the green in Glemsford, the baton transferred to an amphibious vehicle called a DUKW, colloquially known as a Duck. With a group from  Glemsford WI waving the baton from on high, the Duck led a convoy of cars, including the Rolls Royce, through the village where the whole school came out to wave flags they had made, and the children chanted “the WI, the WI, the WI’, then along the narrow lanes of Suffolk,  until it reached the green in Long Melford where it was met by a 1913 vintage Ford; a very elegant car in contrast to the big bulky military DUKW! 

Having transferred the baton into the capable hands of two ladies from Long Melford, it was driven in this vintage car into the grounds of Melford Hall, where suddenly lots of elegant ladies appeared to meet the baton and the occasion was captured in a photograph outside the entrance to the Hall. 

Melford Hall, Long Melford

From there, the baton continued its tour of the Suffolk countryside, with the convoy now led by the 1913 Ford, to Great Waldingfield; by this time the sun was going down and it was getting a little chilly.   Despite that, a group of hardy ladies came out to receive the baton, where it was handed over to the driver of a large modern tractor.  The tractor driver then headed up a convoy of cars, including the vintage ford, which then drove into the centre of Sudbury handing over the baton to a group of WI members  at the Friends Meeting House, where afternoon tea was being served.  Here again, the WI showed how well it can bake with lovely sandwiches and cakes.  This was yet another occasion when we had the opportunity to chat to members and strengthen friendships.  Four members then prepared to head off to the railway station to catch the train to Bures, but before leaving, a tap broke in the ladies toilets and all had to be put on hold whilst a search was started to locate the stop cock and to mop up the hot water that was gushing into a very small vanity sink and over on to the newly renovated floors.  Trains as we know wait for no one, so a group remained behind to wait for a plumber and mop up the water.  Thankfully, Rachel Thomas located the stop cock under a shelving unit and managed with aid of a walking stick to move it into an ‘off’ position and the plumber arrived shortly afterwards.

Great Waldingfield

The baton was taken with a free ticket on the train, courtesy of Greater Anglia Railways, to Bures, where it was met by four ladies dressed in 1915 costume.  They then took the baton on to their WI meeting where they had cancelled their booked speaker and arranged an open meeting for other WIs in the group.  Members were entertained with a quiz and then with a musical session of early 20th century songs by a delightful and accomplished young singer and her accompanist. Supper just added the icing to the cake that day.

Train from Sudbury to Bures

Day four

The baton started the day, Friday 14th November, in Bures and was taken by motorcycle from there  to Hadleigh, where the Three Valleys Group had arranged a coffee morning in the Guildhall. Yet again, many ladies were dressed in costume or wearing hats and gloves.  The Guildhall is a beautiful building, and with views out over the well-tended gardens, was a beautiful venue for yet another quiz, and delicious cakes. 

From there it was taken to Hartest, where the High Suffolk Group had arranged for a 1943 jeep to meet the baton.  Here again, the school came out to wave to the baton as it passed the school on its way to the Hartest Institute, where it was met by women dressed in WW1 nursing uniforms and other members from the group.  Each WI had prepared displays showing highlights from both the past and present; a nice way to share ideas and experiences.  Yet another quiz accompanied by more delicious cakes rounded off yet another wonderful event. 

Day Five

A change of pace for the baton on the Saturday when it was displayed on a market stall on Bury market.  We had a promotional stand with information about the WI along with centenary balloons and a bran tub for the children.  The stall was (wo)maned by members from several WIs who spoke to many women who showed interest in our organization. 

Bury market

Day Six

A day of rest – a duvet day, and we do have the photos to prove it!

Day Seven

Monday morning, 17th November, Lark Valley Group arranged a coffee morning at the Odd Fellows Hall to which  the mayor of St Edmundsbury, Robert Everett, had been invited. Each WI in the group dressed in clothes from the different decades since the start of the WI, so many colourful and outlandish outfits were being worn.  After coffee, the members took the baton to the Magistrates Court, the venue for the first Suffolk West Federation meeting. Photographs were taken before the baton was given a send off from the Elizabeth Frink statue of St Edmund.

Ladies from several WIs cycled with the baton from Bury to Thurston Church.  Members from the Thedwastre Group had arranged refreshments in the hall behind the church for the cyclist and supporters.  After more delicious cakes the baton was taken in yet another vintage car to Pakenham, where warm punch and sausage rolls awaited everyone.  Here the baton was handed over to a rider on horseback, who then rode through the green lanes to Norton where the ladies from Norton WI were waiting.  A pleasant time was then spent in the pub enjoying a cup of tea and a chat. 

That evening, the baton was taken to the Blackbourne Hall at Elmswell, where the Thedwastre group had arranged a 1915 themed party, with visitors from other local organizations. Many members wore 1915 style outfits and the baton was brought in by the ‘baton-mobile’, a ‘vintage Rolls Royce’, driven by one of Elmswells senior members who had been to her first WI meeting at the age of four with her mother on a visit to Canada.  The guides brought in banners and flags of the guiding movement and the WI parading through the hall to music. Entertainment was provided by a group of young people who sang songs and read poetry from the early 20th century and of course delicious refreshments were served on arrival. 

Day Eight

The final day of our baton week - the sun was shining as the baton left Elmswell in another vintage car, with a vintage tractor and various cars making a procession through the village. The baton then went on to Woolpit, where again more members of Thedwastre Group were awaiting its arrival.  After photographs were taken in front of the village sign, everyone headed into the church for a warm cup of coffee and yet more wonderful cakes.  After an opportunity to chat, the baton was taken on for lunch with the trustees.

Our trustees and WI Advisers had invited their counterparts from Suffolk East Federation for a lunch in the Woolpit Institute.  Over a lovely lunch, provided by members of the catering team, everyone chatted and discussed the adventures the baton had experienced over the previous week. It was handed over to Jane Collier, Chairman of Suffolk East, to continue its travels around the country before reaching the Royal Albert Hall in June 2015.

I have to say that I am very proud to have been involved in so many wonderful events, where the strong spirit of the WI was evident.  We talked, ate and enjoyed one another’s company - it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better, and to see the WI at its very best.  It will be a week I shall remember for many years.

By Elizabeth Lansman, Chairman of Suffolk West Federation

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Norfolk perspective on Resolutions and Campaigns

Guest blog by Liz Barker, Resolutions Adviser for Norfolk Federation and member of Brundall Evening WI

Imagine a Village Hall in rural Norfolk filled with over 50 WI members, all talking in a very animated fashion- not about cakes and jam- but instead discussing everything from equal pay in Norfolk to education of women worldwide, from food waste to internet safety, from organ donation to safe use of antibiotics.

Yes, you have guessed correctly- on Thursday 20 November, Norfolk Federation were discussing Resolutions and Campaigns, covering both the current campaign on talking about organ donation and the 7 shortlisted resolutions for voting on in 2015.

The shortlisted resolutions provoked much lively discussion, led by members of Norfolk Federation’s PA Committee.  We all hoped that more than one resolution could go forward to the National Annual Meeting at the Royal Albert Hall to make for a meaningful debate of the issues.

Campaigning is very important here in Norfolk and we have had several resolutions taken forward as national campaigns – think Care Not Custody and No Smoking in public places for starters! 

Then in the afternoon we turned our attention to the current campaign about discussing organ donation and we brainstormed ideas for talking about this difficult subject with our loved ones:


·         Ask members of your family whether they have considered organ donation for themselves

Give them a copy of the WI leaflet, with the form to sign up for organ donation in it, and say “I’m up for it, are you?” Perhaps put a leaflet in their   Christmas stocking!

·         Use “triggers” such as WI Life, attendance at this meeting, or news items to start the discussion

·         Involve younger members of your family. Grandchildren might be more receptive to a discussion

·         If you carry emergency details such as allergies, medication advice, phone numbers with you, then add your wishes about organ donation

·         Have a notice in your kitchen saying “Please take my organs when I no longer need them”

We then moved on (because we are a thoughtful bunch of ladies who have lots of ideas – like most WI members!) to discuss possible future resolutions and explored ideas including internet safety, road safety and children’s language skills.  Even buggy design attracted our attention!

So overall we had a really good day and went home full of ideas. This is what the WI is all about – learning from each other and constructive discussion sprinkled with a dose of humour! This sounds like a recipe… so we are back to cakes and jam again! 

For more information on the #WITimeToTalk campaign, please see our website:

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Not in my Name Campaign

A blog post by Ann Jones, NFWI Trustee and Chair of Federations of Wales Committee

25th November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  It is also recognised as White Ribbon Day; a day when men and boys across the world pledge their support to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.
Since 2008, the WI has been campaigning to end violence against women with a focus on awareness raising and combating stereotypes about violence against women. It is shocking to note that up to three million women across the UK experience rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, stalking, sexual exploitation and trafficking, female genital mutilation or so-called ‘honour’-based violence each year. As highlighted by the independent research commissioned by the NFWI in 2009, violence against women is a hidden issue happening in towns and cities across the country.  A survey of members undertaken back in 2008 found that nearly half of members surveyed had experienced violence themselves or knew of someone who had experienced some form of violence.

A culture change is needed so that violence against women is unacceptable and is not tolerated by society. Engaging with boys and men is crucial in challenging the inequalities and attitudes that cause violence against women.  Education and prevention must start at an early age and schools have a significant role to play. By addressing these issues from an early age it is hoped that children and young people will grow up in a culture of respect and equality.

The Welsh Government’s draft Gender-Based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill is currently being scrutinised by the National Assembly for Wales.  In our response to Stage 1 of the consultation process, we highlighted our disappointment that education was omitted from the face of the Bill and emphasised the importance of education and prevention in schools. We called for high quality and consistent educational and preventative initiatives on violence against women and girls and healthy relationships to be delivered across all schools as a compulsory element of the National Curriculum.

In 2012 we joined up with Joyce Watson AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales to establish the Not in my Name Campaign which involves the recruitment of male ambassadors to make a stand against male violence against women. Over the years, the campaign has secured the support of a number of high profile clubs and groups including the Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey Team, the Welsh Rugby Union, Only Men Aloud, NFU Cymru, Farmers’ Union of Wales, the Wales YFC, Wrexham FC and Newport FC. This year, we are delighted to have the Cardiff Blues rugby club supporting the campaign. Sportsmen are role models for the future generations and their support has an important part to play in challenging those attitudes that persist.

WIs have engaged many local groups such as male voice choirs, rotary clubs, local football and rugby clubs and businesses to pledge their support. By using their strong links in the community, they have been able to raise awareness about violence against women and gather the support of men in publicly condemning such behaviour.

To help spread the message that violence against women is unacceptable, we have set up a Thunderclap message to enable ambassadors to pledge their support to ending violence against women. At midday on 25th November, a Thunderclap message stating that violence against women will not be tolerated will be posted on supporters’ Facebook and Twitter accounts if we get 100 supporters signed up.  

Please do support the Thunderclap at and encourage others to do so also.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

My experience of the NFWI Members’ Open Day – Wednesday 15th October

By Amy Middleton (Whiteley WAGs WI)

On the morning of 15th October, I made my way up to London from Winchester. I have never visited the Fulham/ Putney area, so prior to my visit I did some research to make the most of my day trip to the capital, and my day off work! I came across Fulham Palace, home of the old Bishops of London on the tourism website. So on arriving in London armed with my camera and a map, I headed towards the Palace through the gardens which run along the river Thames. It was a beautifully crisp and sunny autumnal day. I spent a couple of hours enjoying the palace grounds, learning about the palace’s history and enjoying a lovely lunch at the cafĂ© there- any excuse to have a cuppa and a piece of cake! 

Fulham Palace

After lunch, I headed over to the NFWI Office at 104 New Kings Road. Upon arrival I was shown to the waiting area, where who should I find but four ladies from another Hampshire Federation WI! It turned out that the ladies from Stakes WI meet about 20 minutes away from where the Whiteley WAGs are based!

Other ladies started to arrive and we were shown downstairs to the room where the board meetings are held.  There was a lovely array of cakes and biscuits laid out as well as lots of information leaflets on resolutions and various sub committees. I then found out that the ladies I was sat next to were from a WI twinned with a Hampshire WI, who are based 5 minutes down the road from the Whiteley WAGs and who we have dual members with! The WI world is a small one!

Once everyone had settled, we were welcomed by Janice Langley- NFWI Chair, along with Joy Thompson, Chair of the NFWI Membership Committee, her side kick for the day, and they explained about the work that is undertaken at WI HQ. After the introduction, all the ladies got an opportunity to have a photo taken with Janice and Joy, which was put on a mock cover of a WI Life magazine. Being by myself I asked the ladies from Stakes WI if I could join them and make a Hampshire federation photo; luckily they were happy to have me join them! 

Outside the door of 104...

After the introduction, several members of staff from the various departments gave an overview of the work that they and their teams carry out. Most of the teams are made up of 3-6 people and they have a great deal of work to do. In total there are about 90 members of staff over 3 sites that work for the NFWI, WI Enterprises Ltd and Denman College. The other surprising factor was the diversity of work that is carried out at 104 New Kings Road; everything from the website, Facebook page, to finance, HR, advertising, the magazine and the design of the centenary goods and logos. This is certainly a mammoth task for such a small (wo)man force!

The group was then split into two for the grand tour of the office; the first group were marched up four flights of stairs to the top floor and the second were taken to the Resources department on the ground floor (fortunately I was in the 2nd group).  On the tour we visited all the various departments and were given the chance to speak to the staff and ask questions. We were also given a sneak preview of the Christmas edition of WI life, which looks fantastic! One other notable thing about the tour was the amount of tea we saw…. There are cupboards full of it!  It doesn't matter where in the WI you are; tea is an integral part of the WI!

The whole day was thoroughly enjoyable, and it was an eye opening opportunity to see behind the scenes. In our individual WIs it is easy to forget about the amount of work it takes to keep this impressive organisation running. Simple things such as ensuring your MCS records are up to date so every member gets their magazine will save the team there from having to process the hundreds of magazines which are returned each month. If you have an exciting event coming up, let the magazine team know in good time so they can arrange to send a photographer and cover the event - they are always looking for stories. Or if you have any ideas for guest speakers at events or a resolution suggestion- send it in!

The other outcome from the day for me was a new friendship with the Stakes WI ladies. As a relatively young WI (we turn 4 in November 2014), building relationships and learning from other WIs is important, and hopefully at our birthday party this year we will have two visitors from Stakes WI. I have also learnt that whatever WI event I attend there will always be a smiley and friendly face, so you needn't worry about going by yourself… the WI really is what you make of it. There are so many opportunities and events there really is something for everyone. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Singing for Joy

Guest blog by Susan Collins (Isle of Man Federation) about the IOMFWI Choir's experience in the Singing for Joy competition on 11th October in Shrewsbury

The weekend before last, I had the most amazing weekend with the IOMFWI Choir in Shrewsbury for the first heat of the centenary choir competition.  Everything ran like clockwork: the flight left on time, our coach was waiting at the airport, the hotel and theatre staff couldn't do enough for us, and everyone from National was extremely welcoming and well organised.

We may not have secured a guaranteed place in the final but it was a fabulous experience for us all and we sang our socks off!  We left the theatre on a high- being ‘in it to win it’ was only a very small part of our two and a half year journey. Our emphasis has always been on fun and friendship, which we have in abundance- one choir member even persuaded her son to feed us all that evening! Thank you Deirdre Berriff and son Michael for a lovely meal, and if we’re passing The Old Three Pigeons at Nesscliffe again we’ll be sure to call in.

Our choir had very humble beginnings, with just twelve ladies attending the first meeting to decide if the Isle of Man WIs could enter a choir in the Singing for Joy competition.  Many of us were just like the lady in Joyce Grenville’s sketch ‘A Terrible Worrier’, who had never done a rabbit herself but had seen many a rabbit done.  We had seen many choirs perform but we didn’t read music and had never been in a choir before… but what the heck, there was no audition necessary!

The same was also true of our conductor, Karen Elliott who, whilst being a well-respected soloist with an extensive repertoire in oratorio, had never conducted before. However, she decided to pick up the baton and give it a whirl. It is her hard work and professionalism which built the choir we have today and her dedication and enthusiasm which keeps it going and makes it all so much fun. She even keeps her fringe unfashionably short so that we can see her face- now that's dedication for you!

Karen Elliott, Conductor

Under Karen’s guidance the choir membership grew steadily and our repertoire increased. Soon we felt confident enough to perform in public- firstly at Federation events and then in the community.  Such is the reputation of WI that once word of the choir got out the invitations started to arrive and we have performed in shopping malls, churches, residential homes, community halls and even the local museum.

The choir is generating such good will that when it became known that many of the halls and homes did not have a piano, the ladies of the local RC church organised a coffee morning and presented the choir with a cheque for £500 to help us buy a keyboard.  The local newspaper ran an article about this and a local business, Manx Telecom, picked up on it and decided to donate a further £400 to help us equip ourselves to entertain in the community. They have also asked us to sing at the presentation evening on 1st December.

Without the Singing for Joy initiative the IOMFWI Choir would never have been formed, and the opportunity to get out in the community as ambassadors for the WI would have been lost.  There are definitely no losers in the Centenary Choir competition – even on day one we thought we were reaching for the moon, now we are ready for infinity and beyond…….

Monday, 20 October 2014

Research and Campaigns Officer, Gabrielle Bourke, discusses the WI’s recent visit to the NHS Blood and Transplant Tissue Centre in Speke.

The most dramatic moment of the NFWI Annual Meeting back in June was when WI member Jenny took the microphone, and implored members to pass the resolution on Organ Donation because she was only able to see the stage that day from receiving cornea donations, just weeks beforehand. Though 4,000 people singing along to Jerusalem is a closed second, to be fair!

Tweet from the AM debate

Each year thousands of people have their lives transformed through donations of tissue. Skin is used for burns victims. Heart valves and bones, tendons and cartilage can all be used.  Tissue donation also suffers some quirks: women are less likely to pledge to donate their eyes rather than their hearts, for example. People can give their consent to donate ‘any of my organs and tissue’ by ticking the first box of the registration form, but one kind of tissue donation – from eyes – is also listed alongside the organs.

A NHSBT Organ Donation Registration leaflet

The BBC ran a documentary about the Tissue Centre in Speke, just east of Liverpool, a few weeks ago. Information has power: there was a spike in Organ and Tissue Donor registrations after the show was aired.  Along with NFWI Public Affairs chair Marylyn-Haines Evans, I was privileged to visit the Tissue Centre in Speke recently, to get a better understanding about the centre, its work and how it helps donors and recipients alike. 

Speke Tissue Centre

We were met by Kyle Bennett, who’s worked for NHSBT in tissue services for 14 years, and he walked us through the stages of tissue donation, all the way from donation and consent to recipient. Other tissue banks only collect a few types of tissue, but the centre in Speke is unique. It’s the only multi tissue bank in the UK and the biggest in the EU.

Collecting tissue from recipients happens in a different way from organ donation. Many families who were asked to donate their loved ones’ organs were also asked about tissue, and most of them generously said yes.  But if someone is suitable to donate tissue only, consent for their tissue will be asked for over the phone. NHSBT has links to hospitals all over the country (and coroners, nurses and police), who inform bereaved families that tissue donation might be possible. NHSBT also has a presence in a dozen or so of the biggest hospitals throughout the UK. 13 specialist nurses make the calls to families to discuss the options. Because tissue can be kept for many years (10 years for heart valves, 5 for skin), the need for different tissues waxes and wanes. But the window for collecting tissue from a deceased person can be as short as 24 hours, and demand can spike with certain kinds of injuries (Kyle told us about the 7/7 attacks in London having an impact, for example). It’s up to NHSBT to manage the demand for tissue and make sure families are called when they are needed. The nurses who make these calls are specially trained, and consent from families is high.

It’s not all responding to accidents however. Sometime NHSBT staff are on the lookout for specific tissues to fit a particular patient. Sick children may need bones of a certain size, for example. The tissue centre also works with donations from living patients. One of the nicest aspects of hip replacements is how it goes on to help others: The bones removed from 3,000 hip-op patients last year made ‘cement’ used in the hip replacements for other people. It works better than a synthetic product! Donations of the amniotic membrane from women undergoing elective caesarean sections help with eye operations. The consent nurses must switch from asking bereaved families to these living donor cases frequently, so need to be well-trained and able to balance the different aspects of their role.

Once tissue has been donated from a patient, NHSBT gather up more information about the donor, screen the donation and make sure it’s safe to use. The information is then all independently checked and verified.  This process can take up to three months, so the tissue is stored in NHSBT’s facilities. Some tissue can’t wait three months to be processed for use, like skin and heart valves. These gets processed as soon as possible, stored in liquid nitrogen while the information gathering and verification go on.

Storing tissue in liquid nitrogen

Then the tissue itself is checked, processed and goes into freezer storage, ready for use. The site in Speke has a bank of freezers, all hooked up to two independent monitoring systems keeping them safe. Kyle’s phone alerts him to when any abnormal temperature is recorded.

Kyle walked us past the state-of-the-art labs where the tissue is processed, making guesses as to who was working as some staff are wearing scrubs and facemasks, making them all look alike! Each stage of the tissue processing has a different grade of cleanliness. The labs at the centre are sterile to a much higher standard than any operating theatre in Britain. Sterility must be strictly maintained, otherwise donors’ precious gifts are compromised. It’s the cleanest place in the country by far.

A lab

And then the donations are sent to hospitals to be used for the people who need them. Staff turnover at the centre is low, and you can understand why. Every day, they make a difference.

The lesson for WI members is that as well as finding the time to talk about organ donation, they should talk about tissue too! Families every day in Britain are asked about donating their loved ones’ tissue. The reality is that if you want to be a donor, it’s not up to you. Kyle’s team can only start their work when your family carry out your wishes. So let them know today!

More information about tissue donation is available here on the NHSBT Tissue site.  If you want to sign up to be an organ or tissue donor, click here. Once you’ve told your family about your decision, show us who you told through our Big Conversation craft project.

A big thank you to Kyle and his team for showing us around. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Solemn commemoration

Report on our visit to the commemorative service of World War One in Westminster on August 4th 2014

This guest blog is written by Hilary Haworth, Chair of Education and Current Affairs committee in Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes

What a privilege to be able to take part in the commemorative service for the Centenary of the outbreak of World War One, late in the evening of August 4th.  Lynn Foster and I were there representing the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes.  We were slightly outclassed from the start, joining the queue that snaked around the outside of Westminster Abbey just in front of two leaders of the British Sikh community and just behind Harriet Harman, MP.

Once past security, there was a real sense of vigil from the very beginning.  We were spared the voice- overs and interviews which the BBC feels obliged to conduct over the organ music at such occasions as we filed in through the Great West Door, past the stunning floral border to the grave of the unknown soldier, and on to our seats.

After we had all lit our candles and once all the great and the good had processed in, there was a true silence inside the Abbey; only the hum of a helicopter outside served to remind us not only of the intensity of the security operation in progress, but also how changed is our world from that of 1914 when planes were called upon to defend us which appear impossibly flimsy today.  The organist played an improvisation on the harmonies of the hymn tune Aberystwyth very softly as the Duchess of Cornwall arrived, which led wondrously well into the only Congregational hymn of the evening Jesu, Lover of my soul.

The music throughout the service was particularly well chosen.  I shall never forget the sense I had of  ‘inhabiting’ the sound of Vaughan Williams’ Kyrie, as its tendrils were sent coiling around the Abbey by a choir utterly in command of its repertoire, its ensemble and its acoustic space.  Another sound that will stay with me is the very human ‘last breath’ sigh of a hundred or so candles being blown out at once around me.

Unafraid of choosing European composers as well as British, the designers of this commemoration were also courageous to choose not only the more ‘obvious’ readings and reflections.  It acknowledged that not all perspectives on the war accord with those we are used to hearing in the voices of the major poets of the time; we are befuddled, now, by the foolhardiness in the Rose Macauley poem read by Dame Penelope Keith, or the buoyancy in a letter home from a soldier just off to the front - but both of these would have been genuinely felt and made perfect sense at the time. 

The final silence, in as much gloom as TV cameras can tolerate, was also perfectly solemnly observed.  We were treated to a final and magisterial bit of Bach (the C minor prelude and fugue BWV 546) from the organist before spilling out into a darkened Parliament Square with our now strangely misshapen candles.  Rushing for the last train, Lynn and I only had a few seconds to chat to Diana Birch and our other friends from National who we met on the way out, and we probably paid the light tower Spectra less attention than it deserved. 

It was an honour to attend this ceremony on behalf of the WI, and an occasion I shall have cause to remember for many years to come.  I am really grateful for yet another wonderful experience that would never have come my way if I had not become so involved with the WI.

NFWI Vice Chairs Lynne Stubbings and Diana Birch, and Head of Public Affairs Rachel Barber, attended the service, on behalf of the NFWI.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Making our voices heard on climate change

On Sunday morning, WI members from as far north as Yorkshire and Manchester, and as far west as Cornwall and Somerset gathered in London. They were joined by their families and friends to march alongside 40,000 other climate conscious campaigners from across the UK, adding their voices to calls for positive action on climate change ahead of today’s UN Climate Summit in New York. The rally had a festival feel, all generations from babies to great grandmothers joined in to celebrate the things we love that will be affected by climate change, and to demonstrate to government that scale of public support for ambitious action to safeguard the planet for future generations.  

 Here, some of the WI members that attended share with us why they believe action on climate change is so very important.

Protecting future generations was a common theme – Evelyn, who had travelled from Middlesex, explained:  “Like many WI members, I have children and grandchildren and I'm looking to their futures. We encourage them to work hard at school and in employment to have 'a better life' but that 'better life' will not happen if we continue to squander the earth's resources and pollute our atmosphere, seas and the land too.”

Susan from Wiltshire added: “Climate change is the most important issue of our time! Marching is one way of taking action and bringing the issue of climate change to the attention of everyone – keeping the planet green for the love of bees and my children and grandchildren.”

Pippa from Cornwall joined the march because of her concern that “We seem to be dangerously close to a number of tipping points. I feel that without action on climate change my children and grandchildren have no future, and I can see no other way of making a difference.”

And it was not only future generations that WI members were concerned about: “One of my fellow-marchers mentioned that her house had been flooded earlier in the week following a torrential downpour. This is the sort of incident that brings the reality closer to home. We need to think of other women across the world who have to cope with floods and droughts, that make their lives even more difficult.”

Another common theme from WI members was the frustration at the lack of action on the part of global leaders to create the framework to challenge climate change. Jan, a member from Wiltshire explained: “I feel very passionately about the damage which is being done to our lovely planet in the quest for non-renewable resources. There is so little being done by world leaders and politicians; they do not seem to see the bigger picture of what trouble we are creating for future generations, and pay lip service but do not take action.”

Jenny, from London added: “Our leaders must create the political will and policies to fund the technology and implement the means to avert the effects of continued carbon emissions now confidently predicted by 97% of the scientific community and based on hard evidence.”

There was a feeling that the inaction on the part of global leaders was exacerbated by business interests. Anne, a member who had travelled from Somerset expanded on this: “There are enough resources at our disposal to do without fossil fuels. The problem is there is too much vested interest at stake from big business to get the required investment. We are held to ransom by the oil companies.”

Finally, Jean from Manchester, set out some of the green policies she would like to see implemented in the future: “I am worried about the inertia from world leaders. All London buses and taxis could be electric to reduce pollution and health impacts such as asthma. All new build could have solar energy to help electricity consumption during the day. All political parties need to be green.”

Friday, 19 September 2014

Coming Up Smelling of Roses

First busy workshop with 50 participants for Gloucestershire Federation

The last couple of weeks have seen a new activity for the Picture It… Chemistry team: hands-on workshops in the chemistry of scents, building on one of our first blog posts on Roses. We have teamed up with the National Federation of Womens’ Institutes (NFWI) to bring these workshops to their members. Here are some photos and impressions from the first three workshops, held for the Gloucestershire, Lancashire and Cumbria-Westmorland Federations.

Just over a year ago, co-founder and co-chief-editor of Picture It, Natalie Fey, saw an article in the NFWI members’ magazine, WI Life, indicating plans for a greater focus on science in new WI activities, prompting her to get in touch and offer a series of activities based on this blog. The first series of workshops, “Coming up Smelling of Roses” have since been developed by Natalie, with a lot of help and support from our second co-founder and co-chief editor, Jenny Slaughter, as well as undergraduate summer student Lexy Miles-Hobbs. These involve the extraction of scents from herbs and flowers, as well as an exploration of the effects of chirality on scent and an opportunity to blend perfumes from plant extracts and essential oils.

Busy extracting scents from plants in Gloucestershire

The first workshop took place on 28th August 2014 in Churchdown, Gloucestershire, and was attended by 50 participants from the Gloucestershire Federation. Despite delays caused by the bottom falling out of a box of safety specs (not kidding), terrible Bristol traffic and roadworks along the M5, Natalie arrived in Churchdown with just enough time to set up for the first workshop, while local organisers Diana and Sue set up tables and projectors.

Testing the solubility of vanillin in oil, water and Vodka

After an introduction to molecular structures and the crucial safety briefing, participants were soon let loose on some real chemistry, testing the solubility of vanillin in water, oil and vodka, as well as extracting scents from various herbs and flower.

Comparing geometrical isomers in Gloucestershire
After cleaning everything up and enjoying a well-deserved tea break, part 2 saw the introduction of isomerism (both cis/trans and centro-chirality) with the help of both Lego and molecular models, followed by an opportunity to smell the different isomers of limonene, carvone and cis-rose oxide. The evening finished with practical perfume blending, using both the extracts prepared earlier and a broad and varied range of essential oils, with the most memorable recipe a musty shed scent for men, designed to allow fellow human beings to detect their arrival with ample advance warning. Participants were keen to decorate our “Feedback Labcoat” with their comments at the end and everybody seemed to have a good time. Washing up could wait until the next day…

Some of the comments on our feedback labcoat from the Gloucestershire Federation

The second and third workshops took place a week later and required a little more travel – while Churchdown is just over an hours’ drive from Bristol, Leyland, the venue for a day-time workshop with the Lancashire Federation, required more than three hours of travel, mitigated only slightly by taking Natalie past her alma mater, Keele University, where she lived and studied for almost 8 years.

All ready to go in Lancashire

Equipped with a substantial packed lunch from her B&B’s landlady, Natalie met local organiser Pam in the morning of 4th September, following her to the Lancashire WI office in Leyland. Thanks to practicing in Gloucestershire, set-up was quick and members soon arrived, this time accommodating 25 participants.

This workshop followed the same format and progressed well, gathering further positive feedback on our labcoat.

Here is what local organiser Pam Coates wrote about the event:

“Lancashire Federation enjoyed  an educational day with a difference. Dr Natalie Fey presented a well-prepared,  fun workshop which the ladies were eager to get ‘stuck into to’. There was much excitement as they ground up leaves and flowers and tested out other essences. At the same time they were very attentive during the teaching sessions, learning a little of molecular theory, then couldn’t believe their luck when they were able to ‘play’ with Lego to make 3D structures.
The effect of chirality on scent was new to us all in scientific terms and, as ladies made up their own  perfumes, the room did truly ‘smell of roses’. Many thanks to National for subsidising this course, please can we have more to fulfil one of the aims of the WI, which is education? Thank you, Natalie and the team.”

Unfortunately, with a second workshop planned for the following day, this time the washing up could not wait and caused the first casualty – a pestle dropped and broke, typically only after it had been cleaned. Undeterred, Natalie set off again, driving a further hour north to the Lake District, arriving after a short detour (planned!) in Kendal for dinner and an overnight stay.

Perfume blending in Lancashire

In the morning, local organiser Brenda was on hand to direct Natalie through the maze of Kendal’s one-way-system to the Cumbria and Westmorland Federation‘s office in the (very swish) Masonic Hall, second venue for the week. Set-up was so quick that there was actual waiting-around for the 41 participants to arrive.

Just checking personal protective equipment with Cumbria-Westmorland Federation

Again, the format was similar to previous workshops, with a break for a very fine home-cooked lunch, organised and provided by the Federation’s catering committee. Once visiting dog Star had been made comfortable again in the WI’s office, well away from the smells, and all participants were seated, the second part again caused much entertainment and a little bit of education, gathering further positive feedback.

The local organising team kindly stayed around while test tubes, mortars, pestles, beakers and conical flasks were washed up and Natalie’s car loaded up yet again.* Just another 4 hours of driving to go… Natalie eventually arrived home in the evening of the same day.

Cis and trans isomers captured in feedback

More workshops will take place in the next few weeks, seeing Natalie visit Wiltshire and West Kent, as well as the Avon Federation (local to the University of Bristol), hopefully with the rest of the team in tow. Building on the collaboration with the NFWI, the workshops have also attracted further support from the RSC Small Outreach fund after a successful application by Jenny. This success will allow the team to open up activities to additional federations, including Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Dorset and Derbyshire, as well as school groups and gardening clubs.

Contributors: Natalie Fey (presenter, text), Sue, Pam and Doris (who took the photos), local organisers Diana, Sue, Pam, Brenda, Celia & many others of the Cumbria-Westmorland Federation, Helen Neal (NFWI liaison), Jenny Slaughter (editing).

*Thank you again for the federation goodies!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Twinning Tales by Whiteley WAGs WI

The beginning of it all
Whiteley WAGs became a twin WI in 2012, when we were approached by Brimscombe and Thrupp WI, or The BATs as they are now known (as we are the WAGs).

The WAGs’ founding member, Chloe Bowler, grew up with a family connection to Brimscombe and Thrupp (B&T) WI; her Mum Pat and two of Pat's sisters have been members of B&T for many years.  In the early days of the WAGs, the BATs gave us a lot of useful advice and Pat visited the WAGs whenever she was in Hampshire to visit Chloe and now has dual membership.

When Pat returned to Gloucestershire with stories of the WAGs and what they were up to in Whiteley, B&T thought it would be fun to be twinned with the WAGs and we took them up on their offer.  As an urban new-wave WI, the WAGs are very different to B&T WI who are based in rural Gloucestershire just outside Stroud.  The WAGs celebrate their 4th birthday this year; B&T have been running as a WI for 57 years. However, it is this difference which makes for a good twinning combination….

WAGs road trip to Gloucestershire 
In the summer of 2013, three car loads of WAGs took the 2 hour drive to the village of Brimscombe to meet our twins in person. We got up at the crack of dawn, and, armed with cakes, we hit the road. We were unsure what to expect, but were excited when we noticed that the colours of the buildings had changed from the red bricks of the south to the yellow Cotswold stone - we were getting closer.
We arrived in the beautiful village of Brimscombe and found our way to the hall where the BATs meet. We were greeted by the members of Brimscombe and Thrupp WI who had tea and biscuits waiting for us after our journey. The president Marilyn welcomed us to Gloucestershire, and we were given gifts of personalised notebooks. We also exchanged gifts to mark the beginning of our twinning. The BATs presented us with a lovely pennant depicting the 5 hills which meet in the valley of Stroud, and the sheep that graze on them. In return, the WAGs presented the BATs with some colourful butterfly bunting so they could hang it in their hall at their monthly meetings, as we do at ours. This was made by our craft club and was one of their first projects. We now have the pennant on display on our notice boards, so we have a small piece of Brimscombe and Thrupp at all our meetings.

The BATs provided a lovely lunch and games for us during that first twinning visit. We also had time to chat and get to know our twins; it was wonderful to hear all their stories, the history of their WI and make new friends. After lunch we went for a walk across Rodborough Common, where Winstones ice cream factory can be found, and as it was a beautiful day it would have been rude not to oblige and have one! We sat on the Common, enjoyed our ice creams whilst Chloe picked out the key landmarks of Stroud and the surrounding villages. We also had a bit of time to enjoy Minchinhampton, a small village nearby, before stopping off at Pat’s for tea before the journey home.

The BATs come to the coast
In July 2014, the BATs made the journey down to the coast to visit us. Despite getting slightly lost on some very busy Hampshire roads, the party of 18 ladies from B&T WI arrived at St Faith's Church, Lee-on-the-Solent at the same time as a Family Fun Day was getting underway in the considerable Church grounds.  We convinced our twinning ladies for all of five minutes that of course we had laid it all on in their honour, and it provided the perfect backdrop to our planned day.

After a welcome from our new President, Sue Daish, we distributed hand-crafted bags to all the ladies as a gift from Whiteley WAGs WI.  The bags featured a mix of our motif, pink butterflies, strawberries as a nod to the strawberry-growing in our area, and anchors to represent the ocean (the craft club have become more adventurous since last year!).  The delighted ladies of B&T were very pleased with their WAGs bags and the entrepreneurial ladies of B&T quickly asked for the pattern so they could make up some bags to sell to fundraise for their WI. 

A ploughman's lunch, much chatting and laughing, followed by a walk on the seafront and a paddle in the sea (to cool off from the sweltering heat of the day) ended our time in Lee-on-the-Solent. Some even brought along bottles of chilled wine, which went down nicely whilst sat on the beach! The twinning ladies then travelled to Whiteley for a quick tour of the new town to show the ladies where we hold our monthly meetings.  Following tea and cake at Chloe's house to sustain the ladies on their journey back to Gloucestershire, we waved goodbye to our twins.  Some of the ladies were so enchanted by the area that they are going to consider planning a weekend-long WI trip to Hampshire to take in more of the wonderful sights, sounds and to enjoy some more paddling!

The benefits of twinning
The two WIs have lots of differences, not just in location, but the types of activities we do, the age of the groups and types of meetings we hold. However this works to both our benefit; the WAGs learn from the masters and we keep the BATs up to date with new ideas. We stay in contact during the year and often exchange cards and gifts. We like to know what the BATs are up to, in case there is anything that inspires us, or that we could adapt for our group.
Since becoming twins the BATs have almost doubled in size - they have now attracted some younger members and are soon investing in a Facebook page, as they have been encouraged by the WAGs. The WAGs loved the idea that the BATs kept a scrapbook showing the history of the BATs and now we keep our own scrapbook as we start to build our own WI history.
The BATs also adapted our very successful idea of holding a bake sale to raise funds, as we did in Whiteley Shopping Centre in March, and took their baked goods to the Stroud show which was a huge fundraising success for them.  We don’t mind them stealing our ideas as I am sure we will be stealing some of theirs in the future and have done in the past! Working together and learning from each other is an important part of the WI to ensure both groups continue to be successful and grow in the future.

If any WI has thought about twinning but not got round to doing anything about it, then get on with it!  The friendship, shared laughter, swapping of ideas and camaraderie is wonderful to be part of. Both WIs are more than happy to boast that they have a twin; different in so many ways, yet sharing a common love of life.

Thanks to Amy Middleton - Secretary of Whiteley WAGs WI - for sharing this story.