Thursday, 10 December 2015

The floods

Guest post from Helen Hinvest, Chairman of Cumbria Cumberland Federation

Cumbria-Cumberland WI members are overwhelmed by the friendship and support offered by WI members throughout the country.  Just to know that fellow members are thinking about us is a great comfort during what has been, and continues to be, a very difficult time.

It has been raining for a week, but the heavy rain started on Saturday morning 5 December 2015.  It rained again all day yesterday 9 December, causing Patterdale/Glenridding to be flooded for a second time.

It was our Centenary Carol Service in Carlisle Cathedral in the afternoon and about 170 members battled through to the city to join us. One of our readers couldn't get through from Cockermouth but we drafted in Vice Chairman Joyce and she did a sterling job!  We had a specially formed WI Anniversary Singers group, who sang four lovely carols as part of the service, lead by Jean, WI choir leader.  They had been practising every week for 12 weeks and on Saturday five of them couldn't get to the Cathedral, but the rest of the Singers sounded wonderful!  One of the readers couldn't get home to West Cumbria and had to stay in Carlisle.  I acted as a Reception Centre for three of my own family members who couldn't get home to West Cumbria either!  Our honoured guest, Lord Lieutenant Mrs Claire Hensman, had a terrible journey from her home in the Kendal area to be with us, and an even worse journey home.

I've been in touch with affected WIs in the Federation since the floods on Saturday and they fortunately they are all safe and well.  Any members who have been affected/evacuated are being looked after by family and/or WI members;  in true WI spirit our members are helping their communities to recover.  Several WIs have both lost their WI meeting venues, including has my own WI here at Warwick Bridge, which is beside the River Eden - now a raging torrent.

I've been visiting two of my own WI members who've been flooded, they are so grateful for the WI friendship (they are both relatively new members).

We cancelled our scheduled Board of Trustees meeting;  it is simply unwise for our members to travel in to Carlisle and add to the chaotic traffic problems in the city.  I did get into the WI office yesterday, as did our Secretary who battled in despite huge traffic jams, and when I drove home along Warwick Road I could have cried; every house in darkness due to no electricity, and the pavements were covered with sodden carpets, mattresses, furniture, waiting to be collected by the Council.  Usually there is a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the window of every house down Warwick Road at this time of the year.

I've had messages from WIs all over the country, too numerous to list here, and it is truly heartening, and the WI network of sympathy and support is incredible and awesome.  I’ve passed on these messages of support to all WI members I’ve spoken to this week, and will continue to do so.  They are all really grateful for fellow WI members’ kind thoughts and messages of support, including offers of practical help, holiday accommodation, and money.  It has brought home to us all what being part of the WI is all about, and it is very much appreciated.

So, thank you to every WI member for kind thoughts and sympathy.  We will assess what help, either practical or financial, our members will need over the next few weeks and months.  When the media interest has died down, we know that members and WIs will still need our support, and will be in a better position to identify their requirements, which is where we can step in and offer help. So if we don’t take you up on your offers of assistance immediately, I hope that you will understand, and hold on until we know what our members need.

Best wishes to all WI members for a happy Christmas and a successful 2016.

I can only end by saying a huge THANK YOU, which seems inadequate but is heartfelt.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

WI members knit for Dementia patients

Elderly patients with dementia or sight impairments in East Surrey Hospital’s Newdigate ward can now enjoy beautiful sensory blankets, thanks to the Aylesford & Eccles WI.

Sensory blankets – or comfort blankets – provide a wonderful source of visual, tactile and sensory stimulation for those with dementia or sight impairments. They are small pieces of fabric with additional items stitched on, with different shapes and textures.

Pam Trangmar, a physician’s associate working on the Newdigate Ward, explained: “People with dementia often have restless hands and like to have something to keep themselves occupied. When I first started work on the ward, I noticed that a high number of our guests, who are mainly elderly, found their change of environment very distressing. A nursing colleague recommended comfort blankets and I asked my mother, who used to be Aylesford & Eccles WI president, whether some of her WI wanted to help make some. They made some gorgeous ones, and our guests are enjoying them greatly.”

Mary Barton, a patient with some sight impairment on Woodland ward, said: “I really like my comfort blanket, the different patterns and pictures – it’s lovely to touch and makes me feel very calm.”

Michael Wilson, Chief Executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said “I’ve seen first-hand how our patients with dementia and sight impairments have felt comforted by these blankets. We are very grateful for the skill and time that the ladies of the Aylesford & Eccles Women’s Institute have provided to make these.”

Other WIs around the country have been doing similar activities, such as Jevington and Filching WI (below) in East Sussex. They made 40 of these “Twiddlemuffs” for residents living in dementia care homes in their area.

Ansdell and Fairhaven WI (Lancashire) also got involved and made 100 as part of their Centenary Projects. They have more information about the project on their website here:

If you and your WI would like to get involved, please get in touch with your local hospital and suggest the idea to them.

Friday, 27 November 2015

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and provides a vital opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support to people who live with HIV and remember those who have died. Inaugurated in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

The NFWI was one of the first organisations in the UK to talk publicly about HIV and AIDS following its 1986 resolution ‘to inform the general public of the true facts concerning the disease AIDS’ and used its unrivalled network of local organisations to educate the public and get people talking about the issue. One of its first tasks was to debunk the myth that AIDS wasn't a women’s issue. Just because women were officially categorised as a low risk group, the NFWI argued, that didn’t mean that the challenges AIDS presented to women weren’t real, pressing, or unique.  

To tackle this misinformation and produce information relevant to women, the NFWI teamed up with the Terrence Higgins Trust to help publish and produce the educational pamphlet ‘Women and AIDS,’ aimed at sparking a dialogue amongst women about the disease and how to protect themselves and their families. Marylyn Haines Evans, the chair of the WI’s public affairs committee was in fact part of that campaign. Haines Evans distributed Terrence Higgins Trust’s ‘Women and AIDS’ pamphlets “around village halls educating much older women about condoms and sexual health.” In contrast to what some may think older women are interested in, Haines Evans recollected that “they wanted to learn.” 

In the years immediately following the resolution, WI members participated in the government’s awareness raising campaign and challenged media characterisations of AIDS as a ‘plague’ because ‘this has led to unnecessary prejudice and extreme isolation for many sufferers.’ The NFWI also submitted evidence to the Social Services Committee inquiry on AIDS. In 1987 the BBC challenged the WI to ‘Face up to AIDS’ by organising public meetings to discuss the disease. The BBC subsequently reported that the WI response was amongst the best received, with Federations taking part up and down the country. This resolution is proof that, as the Terrence Higgins Trust said in 1986, ‘the WI does not flinch from the more difficult issues that face society.’

Despite significant advancements in HIV treatment and care, World AIDS Day remains as important as ever. There are over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. In many regions of the world women are at a higher risk of HIV infection than men; there are an estimated 380,000 new HIV infections among young women aged 15 – 24 every year with 80% of all young women living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women are a vulnerable group in the fight against HIV; they are particularly at risk due to societal norms such as gender-based violence, lack of access to healthcare services and lack of access to education. A number of studies have shown that intimate partner violence (IPV) increases the risk of HIV infection, as well as unwanted pregnancy. For example, a study from South Africa found that young women who experienced IPV were 50% more likely to acquire HIV than those who did not experience violence. Societal norms regarding gender-based violence also increase a woman’s risk of HIV. A study from Tanzania found that women are expected to stay loyal to their partner even if they are being abused; however men are encouraged to engage in unprotected extramarital sex, thus passing on the infection.

Women can face significant barriers in accessing health care services and education, for example child marriage can mean girls are taken out of school early, resulting in a lack of education about HIV. In addition, youth friendly HIV services are often inadequate due to age restrictions and lack of training on the laws around the age of consent and abortion legislation. For some women, working in the sex industry is their only choice to earn money, which means they are particularly affected by the age restrictions on health care services if they are under eighteen.

Charities such as Wise Up are trying to improve services for sex workers and their clients in Ethiopia by expanding HIV prevention services to venues associated with transactional sex to address underlying factors such as limited access to condoms and education. In addition, the charity Sophia Forum supports the health and welfare rights of women with HIV living in the UK by promoting prevention and treatment for women and increasing understanding of women’s sexual health.

The WI’s pioneering work helped fuel debates specifically about women and HIV and challenge the stereotypes people so often had about AIDS.

The NFWI asks that WI members take a moment today to commemorate World AIDS Day by speaking with their friends, family, and colleagues about the virus and asking yourself what you could do to help educate others and support those living with HIV and AIDS. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

WI Tea - Cheshire Federation's digital transformation

By Rachel Hughes, CFWI's Webeditor

Many of our WI members in the 40 plus age bracket find themselves in the group of women who left school before digital literacy became the 3rd basic skill taught in schools.

These members now find themselves making up part of the 10.5 million people in this country who have never been online.  Unless they worked for a company who encouraged the development of digital skills, then they can find themselves excluded from large parts of our modern society which is based on digital literacy.

Since the NFWI ran its initial Digital Champions scheme a few years ago computer skills have been superseded by the introduction of tablets. Many members find tablets easier to use and we have seen a rapid growth of interest from members wanting to use the internet and looking for support in doing so. Children and grandchildren have bought tablets for ‘Mum’ or ‘Gran’ but not sat down to help them come to terms with the new technology.

Our members have coped with so much rapid change over the years. They have all coped with new modes of transport and methods of communication and new gadgets in the home.  Tablets and the use of laptops can also be taken on-board quite readily with just a little help and support, and welcome guidance to the meaning of new words which have entered their vocabulary.

Cheshire Federation has spent the last 12 months improving its internet access and support for members.  The new website www.cheshirewi, has attracted half a million visits since it went live at the start of the centenary year.  Within the website are links to every WI in the Federation, where they can include links to their own websites and Facebook and Twitter pages.  Every WI in the Federation can also have their own information page within the county website to promote themselves and use as an independent web page if they want to.  WIs recognise the importance of a web presence to bring new members into their WIs and now over 60% of the WIs in Cheshire have taken advantage of these promotional tools.

On WI day on 16th September 2015 we launched the Cheshire Federation Facebook page and have attracted friends from all over the world who follow our posts.  We received over 2,000 hits for the first meeting of the newly formed WITea training session held in WI House on 28th October. Through Facebook we can keep in touch with WIs and Federations and share events and information amongst our members.

One of the WIs in our Federation submitted a Resolution this year to alert members to the problems of digital exclusion.  The resolution was not shortlisted, but we believe in what we are doing and are helping to offer support to our own members.

With the help of Cheshire East and Cheshire Libraries we have now launched our WITea scheme to train WI members who enjoy the benefits of being online, giving them the information they need to help their fellow members to use the internet for friendship, shopping and banking online safely.

We are rolling out support through WIs across the county making use of the resources which are free of charge to members of the libraries.  We also have computers and a WIFi hub in WI House in Chester which is used for running IT sessions for members.

Our second training session is being held at Macclesfield Library this week and in the New Year we are going to offer more drop-in sessions at libraries across the county and in WI House.

Now they are trained, members of the scheme are already running one to one sessions with fellow members and have set up WI training groups within their own WIs.  With the help of the MOODLE we have put together training materials and information to share with members and are busy setting up guidelines for internet protocol.

The last stage of the Cheshire Federation reaching the digital age is the launch of an online newsletter for members to subscribe to in 2016.

As to our WITea and cupcake logo.  Our scheme does what it says on the tin.  We offer IT support to WI members over a cup of tea and a cake.  The WI Inspiring Women.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Wasted food

Guest blog by Ruth Bond, Barton WI
Resealed, shrink wrapped, and bottled, are just three of the methods the packaging industry has introduced to preserve food stuffs for longer, and all in the name of reducing food wastage. A supermarket guru to shop with you, or the chance to be that supermarket’s town of the year are just two initiatives in the continuing lesson of how to use food for the consumer’s benefit and not to the detriment of the food stuff.  In other words, these are all actions we should try in order to eat what we buy before it goes off and, sadly still the case in many areas, topples into landfill pits or onto landfill mounds. 

We have come some way since the launch of the WI’s Love Food Hate Waste project in 2007 and WI Food Champions roamed the land, but the waste continues.

Last week the WI took part in IGD’s Working on Waste Debate ( with a panel of five from the world of legalities, packaging, selling, government, and the WI. There was the lawyer to make sure that collaboration does not restrict competition; the European director of marketing from a design and packaging company; a supermarket’s head of sustainability, energy and engineering; the director of WRAP to worry about waste every day; and the WI – to consume and try to teach what to do with leftovers.

Do we need industry to collaborate or be competitive, and is it behavioural change both en mass and individually that will stop the seven million tonnes of food waste generated by households yearly? How can we stop the avoidable 4.2million tonnes of that wasted food?

In the WI, we know it is a combination of education and practical teaching, as well as words that bring about a change in the individual. Supermarkets’ hold over producers and consumers also needs to be acknowledged and changed, and profit has to be relegated from top slot in order to feed our nation.  Something is wrong somewhere.

However, every individual action does make a difference. To alter a strap line of one of the major supermarkets: each small action to use, rather than abuse, food means a little less to throw away. Unsightly but still good vegetable and fruit can be used, and sell by dates have a lot to answer for. Perhaps a current television programme will go some way to getting the message over to more consumers on how not to waste food, but those Love Food Champions need to put on their aprons again and rally to the cause.

When there’s a problem, who do you call? The food myth busters – Food Champions, Let’s Cook tutors – the WI!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

White Ribbon Day - 25th November

The White Ribbon Campaign is an international effort by men and boys towards ending Violence Against Women (VAW). On 25 November (International White Ribbon Day and International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) men across the world speak out against male VAW. In the UK, the White Ribbon Campaign runs from 25 November until 10 December (Human Rights Day).

The first White Ribbon Campaign was launched in 1991 by a group of men in Canada in response to the brutal mass shooting of 14 female students at the University of Montreal in 1989.  The first White Ribbon Day in the UK was launched by Womankind in 1998 and in 1999 the UN officially recognised 25 November as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It is shocking to note that up to three million women across the UK experience some form of VAW each year.  If we are to challenge the attitudes towards VAW and behaviours that persist in our society, men must be part of the solution.

In support of White Ribbon Day, since 2012 NFWI-Wales has worked with Joyce Watson AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales on the Not in my Name Campaign; a campaign to recruit male ambassadors to speak out against VAW and to make a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about VAW.  

Ann Jones, NFWI Chair of Federations of Wales Committee, and Joyce Watson AM

Over the years, the campaign has been supported by a broad range of bodies and groups from the Welsh Rugby Union and Glamorgan Cricket to Only Men Aloud, the Wales YFC and the Cardiff Devils.  WIs have also been using their strong community links to recruit male ambassadors and groups from their communities such as sports clubs, male voice choirs and businesses.

Cardiff Blues
The White Ribbon is a symbol of hope for a world where women and girls can live free from the fear of violence. By wearing a white ribbon and speaking against VAW, men can play their part in raising awareness that VAW should never be accepted, ignored or excused and challenge the attitudes and behaviours of a minority of men who use or condone violence against women.

As part of our Not in my Name campaign, we are urging people to sign to our Thunderclap message to send out a strong message that VAW will not be tolerated and to pledge support for the Not in my Name Campaign.  Sign up to the Thunderclap at 

Also, on 25 November, NFWI-Wales will be holding a candlelight vigil in Cardiff Bay to mark White Ribbon Day, show solidarity with victims of VAW across the world and spread the message that VAW is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

For further information about the Not in my Name Campaign, please visit

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Marking International Day of Rural Women and World Food Day with a potted history of the WI and food (minus the Victoria sponge!)

Right from its humble beginnings in a small north Wales village (and at a time when few women participated in public life and the vote for women had not yet been won), WI women rolled up their sleeves and joined forces to feed the nation and create a better society for themselves and their communities. As we mark the International Day of Rural Women (15th October) and World Food Day (16th October) – let us reflect how through food these strong country women shaped Britain’s future.


In 1917, with word out that only three weeks food supply remained in the country, the newly formed National Federation of Women’s Institutes urged WIs to get behind food production efforts. WIs began growing more for villages and communities and, at a time when fruit conservation was something of a novel concept, members began bottling and preserving excess fruit in tremendous volumes. Building on this successful contribution to the war effort, the NFWI published a pamphlet in 1917 entitled Women’s Institutes and their part in the reconstruction of rural life. The pamphlet highlighted the WI’s important role revitalising rural communities and made clear: ‘The WI movement is not a war emergency measure but will be of permanent value in the world of rural regeneration.’

During the Second World War efforts were again stepped up. Members organised markets, and bottled and preserved thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste. Between 1940 and 1945, over 5,300 tonnes of fruit was preserved – nearly 12 million pounds of fruit that helped ensure the food security of the nation. The jam-making label stuck.  While it is now something of a stereotype, it is one that the WI is rightly proud of – demonstrating the organisation’s commitment to encouraging members to give help where needed, and tackling some of society’s major challenges along the way.

As well as their stellar work during both world wars, WI members have always been heavily involved in food production and preservation – as individual farmers and as WI members working together, especially in times of great need. In 1929, the WI drew attention to the urgent need for fruit culture and preservation to be promoted in England and Wales. In the aftermath of WWII, at the 1946 NFWI Annual Meeting, the WI noted ‘with grave concern’ the world short of food, and so pledged itself ‘to do everything in its power to increased home production and preservation.’ Again, in 1975 and in light of world food shortages, WI members called for the scaling up education in food production and preparation, and provision of a stable, well-balanced agricultural policy domestically and globally.


The WI’s focus on food production has also included fair conditions and fair prices for both farmers and consumers. In reaction to the critical situation facing the dairy industry, in 2007 the NFWI launched the WI Great Milk Debates to raise awareness of the challenges faced by dairy farmers and the importance of the dairy farming industry to the UK. The WI Great Milk Debates examined how best to safeguard the future of the industry with 100 debates taking place, involving 15,000 people, and tapping into the huge strength of feeling about the dairy industry that still exists across the country today. While dairy farmers continue to face a number of challenges, the years that followed saw several major retailers invest millions of pounds in establishing dedicated relationships with the dairy farmers that supply them, encouraging retailers to enter long term partnerships, and taking greater responsibility for the fortunes of their producers.

This, of course, was by no means the first time that WI members focused on milk. Resolutions in the 1930s highlighted the very high cost of milk to the consumer at that time, and the concern that this was detrimental to the nation’s health. In 1936, the NFWI was asked for evidence by the Reorganisation Commission for Milk and so a questionnaire was duly drawn up and sent out to federations. The responses received revealed the widespread concern that the price of milk at the time was limiting the amount of milk that people could afford to consume. WI members called for the government to intervene to reduce the retail price, in a manner that bore no adverse effect on the producer, so that milk would be available more widely for consumers. Over the following years, WI members were called upon to collect more detailed information about what (if any) local schemes existed that helped mothers and young children get affordable milk, leading to letters to MPs and meetings with the Minister of Agriculture to promote the cause.

This support for farmers was not just confined to the UK. In 1992, the WI joined with CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft and the World Development Movement to become a founding member of the Fairtrade Foundation. Today, the foundation reports that the Fairtrade certification mark is on over 4,500 products in a market worth over £1.7 billion, which includes the UK’s top-selling fruit: the banana. As a result, over 1.4 million farmers and workers have been supported in improving their lives and their communities.


The WI has also brought a strong consumer rights perspective to food issues, especially with regards to food quality and hygiene. In 1929 the NFWI focused on bread, starting with the call for the loaves of bread that were being transported across districts and towns to be enclosed in paper bags. Quality of the bread was also an issue, with a resolution the following year about the nutritive value of commercially-sold bread. In 1931, the WI called for the extension of the National Mark to jams, honey, pickles, bottled fruits and vegetables ‘in order to safeguard consumers and to enable them to distinguish goods made from a full percentage of home grown fruit and vegetables from other kinds appearing on the market.’ Some twenty years later, a further resolution saw members turn attention to the ‘deplorable conditions’ in which food was handled, distributed and served, urging members to ‘help the authorities in every possible way.’

In the early 1960s, the WI turned its attention food safety and to the increased use of chemicals in food production, with resolutions calling for stricter controls on insecticides and pesticides in agriculture (1960) and scaled up research into what effects these chemicals had on human health (1962). Food irradiation was another issue that mobilised WI members, with the prospect of the ban on commercially available irradiated food being lifted promoting members to pass a resolution in 1987. This gained the attention of WIs across the country which highlighted their twin concerns around food safety and consumer choice. WIs swung into action, urging the government not to legalise the irradiation of food without research about the effects, or the introduction of proper safeguards to protect the consumer. Members came out in force – descending on Westminster for the WI’s first ever mass lobby of Parliament in 1990.

The WI’s work on securing a sustainable future for the UK’s dairy industry, recent pioneering work programmes on food security and food waste, and campaigns on country of origin labelling demonstrate that the WI is a leading voice on food matters here in the UK. As the NFWI continues to promote and reflect WI members’ concerns at national and international level, WI members play a fundamental role in our campaigning – informing the issues we work on and bringing the strength and credibility that ensure the WI is an organisation that is not only heard, but more importantly – gets things done! 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Minchinhampton Flower Festival celebrates 100 years of the WI

Guest blog by Germaine Ballinger, member of Minchinhampton WI and Box WI, and GFWI Public Affairs Committee

This autumn our biennial Country Fayre returned to Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. It is a wonderful community affair with a town crier, jester, parade of vintage cars, a children's pageant based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and lots more.

The Minchinhampton Flower Festival, held over three days in our beautiful fourteenth century church, is a popular element and this year the Flower Guild chose the WI Centenary as their theme.

The Flower Guild of the church invited five local WIs and another Flower Club to depict an aspect of the WI over the years using flowers and artifacts to portray the scene or message. Each institute decorated an area of the church and the presentation of the flower arrangements were designed to reflect some of our campaigns.

Minchinhampton WI chose the recent 'Saving Our Honey Bees', complete with a hive and beekeeping gear, a honey cake made by our newest member, plus an array of flowers attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Box WI collected many fly-tipping pieces and natural material to illustrate the 1950s 'Keep Britain Tidy' campaign with photographs of members collecting rubbish from our nearby 600 acres of common land.  

A colourful display by Avening WI around the pulpit and in front of the chancel screen showed the WI and 'Dig For Victory', and the work of the WI between 1940 and 1945  in preserving nearly 12 million pounds of fruit which would otherwise have been wasted! 

An evocative display for those of us who have been to Denman was designed by Nailsworth WI. It showed the extensive range of activities and courses we members and our families are able to enjoy at Denman.  

A delightful scene which conjured up images from the TV series 'Call the Midwife', with its upright bicycle with front basket, nurse's  bag of instruments, and cradle was depicted by Brimscombe and Thrupp WI.  It illustrated the 1931 resolution for better medical supervision of pregnant women in rural areas and the 1947 successful campaign to allow rural midwives to use analgesics plus the recent campaign to employ more midwives.

Many other aspects were displayed by the Flower Guild and Nailsworth Flower Club, including representation of the WI anthem Jerusalem in the chancel and behind the altar, the 'WI as a Force for Change: 100 years of Campaigns and the Demand for Equal Pay in 1943', WI Market stalls, WI badges over the years. and floral pictures on the pillars showing other aspects of WI life.

We also had a stand showing the WI today, including pictures of the smiling Queen and members of her family celebrating the centenary with us at the Royal Albert Hall. A visitor from Sheffield while looking at this display was delighted to recognise her daughter on the front of the membership leaflet which shows members of Seven Hills WI dancing with their umbrellas under the spray from fountains!

The result of the wonderful collaboration of the groups across our community was both beautiful and informative.  So many visitors were were amazed at their creativity, but also at how much the WI does and has done over the past century.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Cake Making and Campaigning

Guest blog by Mary Dorrell, Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, PA Chair

On September 17th the first ever WI meeting in the Houses of Parliament took place. The meeting launched a major new publication reflecting on the WI’s history and its members’ views on some of the UK’s biggest social issues, as part of the “Parliament in the Making” season celebrating the Magna Carta.

A WI meeting needs a cake and I had the privilege of baking Julie Clarke's (North Yorkshire Federation) winning centenary recipe for the occasion.

The whole process set me thinking about the WI's history of Resolutions and Campaigns. You see, when I look at the ingredients assembled, I remember that the WI is synonymous with good food and its preparation. This theme has been a regular theme in resolutions and debates, for example, in 1955 the NFWI passed a resolution that welcomed “the Clean Food Bill now before Parliament. They pledge themselves to maintain a high standard of cleanliness in their own homes and to demand it in public places especially at Women’s Institute gatherings.” And with ingredients coming from UK, EU, Commonwealth and USA, I am reminded that the “Great Food Debate” is truly global and that the WI has long sought International understanding and co-operation, as in 1921when an early resolution declared: “That this meeting urges all Women’s Institutes and County Federations within the National Federation to encourage the study of the principles underlying the League of Nations.

Not all the ingredients are easy to source in Norfolk and I remember the regional differences and diversity we celebrate within the WI. The pinhead currants: familiar to Lancashire and Yorkshire members had to be researched and sourced online.

When I look at the eggs, I remember our concerns about animal welfare. A resolution submitted from Cambridgeshire Federation to the June 1937 AGM stated: “That this meeting of delegates from WIs in England and Wales approves the action of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in endeavouring to secure international agreement for the protection of animals through the League of Nations, and pledges itself heartily to support its efforts.

When I look at the butter, I remember “Mission Milk” and the need to “Support British Dairy”. Find out more about the campaign here.

All the ingredients make me remember our COOL campaign for clear country of origin food labelling: “The meeting urges HM government to introduce clear and mandatory country of origin labelling on all meat, poultry and fish products sold in this country.”  Submitted by Bengeo Evening WI, Hertfordshire Federation in June 2010

I look at the candied peel and cherries and I have to decide how finely to chop them up. Is many and smaller always better? I remember the eight Millennium Development Goals we made members aware of through our Women reaching Women initiative.

Later this month, 25th September to 27th September a United Nations Summit will launch the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Is this too fine?

Project Everyone, founded by Richard Curtis has the simple but mighty ambition to share the global goals with 7 billion people in 7 days. You may have read about this in Emma Freud's column in the Telegraph.

Is Goal 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, going to be effective? Will past gains in moving women into equality, as well as out of poverty, be allowed to regress or be restored and strengthened?

I remember our 1999 resolution on  Women’s Human Rights “This meeting deplores the fact that women’s human rights continue to be violated worldwide and calls upon the governments of the world to adhere to the commitments made at the Fourth UN Convention on Women 1995, ‘that women’s human rights are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights’ and to implement policies to this end.”

Now the tin must be prepared and when I look at it I remember that all legislation, just like baking a cake requires a lot of prior investigation, calculations and preparations.

A lot of White Paper(s) are involved and the whole thing is wrapped around with journalism/newspaper.

In the WI we like to put just as much work into preparing our resolutions, and as I finally begin to mix everything together I remember how a resolution is assembled. The individual parts have to be investigated, collated and are ready to be put together. 

During the summer it must be collated and passed at local level. Off to short-listing …. will it rise and be in the short-list, or even make it to the AM for voting?

Where will our campaigning take us next? Will we continue as cake bakers and trouble makers (or as the Guardian had us: “pleasingly bolshie”)? 

Maybe our inspiration will come from Africa and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia): “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

More information about the report can be found here:

Friday, 11 September 2015

"Yarn-storming" by The Heatons WI

Guest blog by Sally Stelfox from The Heatons WI, Cheshire Federation

“YARN-STORMING: the art of enhancing a public place or object with graffiti knitting or crochet (and running away giggling)”

Following the challenge from the NFWI to find novel ways to celebrate the Centenary, The Heatons WI thought long and hard about what they should do.  One of our members suggested we yarn storm a tree in a local park to mark this momentous event.  What was then a very small project grew (just like Topsy) into a project that involved most members of our WI. 

When our President, Angela Britland, spoke about our plans during the Annual Meeting link-up with the Cheshire WIs from the Imperial War Museum, there was a real buzz around the Royal Albert Hall; we then knew we were onto something special and there was added impetus to our efforts.

Known by various terms, yarn storming, yarn bombing, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that uses colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre.

The project was masterminded by Chris Stables, Craft Co-ordinator of the Heatons WI Committee, and we christened the project “Wise Owls”.  For over six months members knitted, crocheted, felted and stitched squares, chains, small animals and birds (including lots of owls) and flowers.  Volunteers stepped forward to form a sub-committee to oversee the project and our fundraising team began to plan how we could use the event to boost our funds.

The venue for the display was Heaton Moor Park, a small but beautiful park in the Heatons, a leafy suburb of Stockport.  The park is cared for by the Friends of Heaton Moor Park and thanks must go to them, in particular the Knitting Friends, for their help in making this event such a success. The local media was bombarded with details about the event and posters started to appear in local shop windows and community spaces.

As the installation took place, more and more trees, bushes, railings, gateposts and benches in the park were festooned with our work.  Pompoms hung from trees and knitted bees buzzed around tree trunks.  Owls peeked out through branches and new varieties of flowers appeared in the flower beds.  Tennis players were astonished to find their games being watched by a huge owl woven into the court fence.  The centrepiece, a huge blanket wrapped around a tree in the centre of the park, contained over 130 squares.

On Sunday, 12th July we held a friends and family picnic in Heaton Moor Park followed by the official unveiling of the display by local celebrity comedian, Justin Moorhouse. 

We were delighted to be joined by a number of members from local WIs who turned up to admire our efforts.   Proceeds from a craft and produce stall will be for the benefit of our members to thank them for the hard work involved in making this event such a success.

The display has generated very positive feedback from the public.  Many people said how much they had enjoyed our work which was both ingenious and witty and they now realise that there is more to the WI than the perceived image of “jam and Jerusalem”.

Photos by Chris Barnes, Lindsey Loughtman and Sally Stelfox

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Duchess of Cornwall joins Llandovery WI

Guest blog by members of Llandovery WI

Women in the small Carmarthenshire town of Llandovery were amazed to receive a letter from the Duchess of Cornwall agreeing to become a member of their local WI as well as an announcement that she would love to join them for a cup of tea the very next week.

‘I couldn’t believe it! Earlier this year we had suggested that our secretary send a letter to the Duchess of Cornwall and we received a response soon after thanking us for the invitation and saying that she had many such invitations and wanted time to consider it. To be honest, we thought that was a very polite ‘no’. We had no idea!’ said Cath Collins, President of Llandovery WI.

Louisa Huxtable-Thomas, who sent the invitation letter, said ' I was amazed when the letter from the Duchess arrived on my doormat saying that she’d be pleased to join us! I've only been the secretary for a few months and I'm one of the younger members.  When I moved to the area, joining the WI really helped me to feel welcome, I love the way that the WI brings us all together, young and old, mothers, doctors, housewives, widows, and teachers. I'm really proud to be a member and I'm in such good company with the Duchess joining us too!'

During a tour of Llandovery’s renovated YMCA building the Duchess spent an hour meeting with community organisations and finished her tour with a cup of tea, freshly made welsh cakes, and in the best traditions of the WI, a Victoria sponge cake. The Duchess enjoyed her cup of tea and had a good chat with nine of the local members about their interest in crafts. The ladies had been for a visit to an Italian Prisoner of War Church the previous evening and shared their enthusiasm for the site and the local residents who gave the tour.

Jeanette Jones, the local vice-president was still thrilled hours after the special visit. ‘She came and sat down next to one of our founder members, Eluned Jones. We had all been nervous to get everything just right. She was so lovely she put us all at ease straight way because she was genuinely interested in our work and our programme of events. It was a real pleasure - of course we’re proud of our town and how we support the community, but most of all we’re a group of friends and we loved chatting and sharing our stories. It was such an honour!'

Llandovery WI meets on the first Monday of every month. More information can be found at