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.