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