Friday, 9 December 2016

Not in my Name Campaign to end violence against women

Guest blog from Ann Jones, Federation of Wales Chair and NFWI Vice Chair

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence started on 25 November (White Ribbon Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) and runs until 10 December (Human Rights Day).

Alarmingly, one in four women in Wales will experience domestic abuse at the hands of a partner during their lives, and 150,000 women in Wales will suffer some form of gender-based violence.
As part of the WI’s commitment to ending Violence Against Women (VAW), NFWI-Wales engaged WI members in the Not in My Name Campaign for the fifth year.  Established in 2012 in partnership with anti-violence campaigner Joyce Watson AM, the Campaign involves the recruitment of male ambassadors in speaking out against VAW and making a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about VAW.

To mark White Ribbon Day 2016, NFWI-Wales hosted a stakeholder debate at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff Bay followed by a candlelight vigil at dusk on the steps outside the Assembly. Members from as far afield as mid Wales joined us for the vigil as well as stakeholders such as VAW third sector organisations, Gwent Police, South Wales Police, South Wales Fire and Rescue and members of UNISON.

The heartbreaking stories we heard from domestic abuse survivors at both events will stay in our minds. Their experiences sent a strong message demonstrating why we are involved in this campaign and why we must continue to campaign to end VAW. 
I am encouraged to see Not in my Name gaining strength every year amongst the membership. Candlelight vigils, organised by our members, were held in Carmarthen, Ceredigion and Llandudno as well as a Light a Candle Service in Usk organised annually by Gwent Federation. Pembrokeshire Federation dedicated their Council Meeting to raising awareness about the campaign and federations across Wales forged links with male ambassadors such as rugby clubs, male voice choirs and rotary clubs.

This year, NFWI-Wales launched a prose competition linked to the campaign and I was delighted that members in England as well as Wales took part. Congratulations to the winner Therese Casemore, Llandogo WI, Gwent. Therese’s prose, written from the perspective of a man, was read powerfully by Rhun ap Iorwerth AM at the Candlelight Vigil.

In 2015, the Welsh Government passed the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. This legislation has the potential to make a huge difference to women’s lives but its implementation must be backed by strong guidance. NFWI-Wales is a member of the Wales VAW Action Group and, as a member of the group, we will continue to monitor the implementation of the Act and play our part in holding the Government to account. We will also continue to use the strong network of the WI to continue to raise awareness about violence against women everywhere.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Introducing the experts…Teresa Wheatley

We have been introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week and this is the last update.  Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from a range of different sports and fitness experts, and you’ve been inspired to try something new.

What do you do?
With almost 25 years of experience in exercise I regularly deliver education and present both nationally and internationally.  I pride myself on combining energy, enthusiasm and expertise all rolled into one and I’m well known for my ability to see and unlock the full potential in others.

How did you get involved?
During my school years I was a bundle of energy and I was always super keen on playing sports and dancing.  After taking a year out to visit Australia I stepped off the return flight and laced up my trainers (almost literally) and started my hugely rewarding career in group exercise by teaching Aerobics.  Since the early 90s when I first qualified I have continued with my education and professional development to a point now where I am regarded now as a specialist in a number of areas and am responsible for educating others within these fields. My working life has never ever felt like work and I feel very fortunate to still love what I do.

Why is sport important to you?
My parents were always hugely sporty and I am grateful to them for instilling that value in me. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to help other parents to be able to give the same gift to their children.

How can more women get involved?
By creating opportunities such as the WI Sports Week there is a greater chance of reaching more people and making sport and fitness more accessible for families. All it takes to find the recipe to your success is a little searching for the secret ingredients which I will be only too happy to provide based on the skills I have acquired over many years of specialising in this area.

Introducing the experts…Vanessa Barker

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you do?
I’m a personal trainer and I specialise in pregnancy and postnatal exercise.

How did you get involved?
I always enjoyed being active, so when I was at university studying English, I went to the local college and qualified as a fitness instructor.  From there I became a personal trainer, and thirteen years later I’m still working in fitness!

Why is sport and exercise important to you?
Having children of my own has made me appreciate the importance and role of exercise pin helping mums make a full recovery after childbirth. I have two children of my own and it’s made me extremely passionate about helping other mums with their postnatal recovery. I’ve been working with mums on their return to fitness since then.

How can more women get involved?
The mothers I work with often feel confused about what exercise is suitable after having a baby, and struggle to find the time to fit it in!  I think education is key- there’s so much pressure to ‘bounce back’, but when you appreciate what has happened to your body and how long it takes to recover, a more holistic and balanced approach is actually far more effective than rushing back to your old exercise routine. And it only takes 10 minutes a day to do the postnatal core routines I give my clients, plus some walking, which can usually coincide with nap time!


Introducing the experts…Pollyanna Hale

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you do? 
I help tired and busy mums get in shape and get their body confidence back from the comfort of their own home with online coaching and support.

How did you get involved? 
I was active from an early age as a dancer, but in my late teens I developed an eating disorder and through being so unwell and unhappy, I discovered the incredible value of having good physical and mental health.  I became passionate about healthy eating and exercise, but when I had children I found that a lack of friendly resources for mothers was the reason why many of us can’t access the support we need.  So I developed my own system that fits into the life of even the busiest mum.

Why is sport and exercise important to you? 
The connection between mental and physical health is profound.  Women come to me wanting to lose weight and tone up, and whilst I make sure that is achieved, what they aren’t expecting is how happy and content they then feel, and how much new confidence they have, not only with their body but the self-belief that they can achieve something they put their mind to.

How can more women get involved? 
Media pressure has made women believe they have to do everything perfectly for it to work, which is unattainable and prevents people from getting started.  I try to show my clients that it really doesn’t matter if your meal isn’t Instagram-worthy – keeping it simple and focusing on the things that really matter makes healthy living so much easier.


Introducing the experts…Hannah Epps

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do I do?
I teach Pilates and run a small private Pilates studio specialising in women’s wellness mainly classes, mat and equipment and one to one training to relieve back pain, improve Pelvic Floor Fitness, stretching and trigger point release.  I’ma  level 3 CYQ Pilates mat and equipment teacher, a “Pure Stretch” and “Your Pelvic Matters” qualified coach and I encourage daily movement.  Many of my clients are so busy so if they can’t attend classes, my website has videos, online classes and short e-courses. To help get deeper into specific issues, I also run workshops and retreats to make sure we are sociable and approachable so that clients feel relaxed to learn and discuss personal body issues and exercises with me.

How and why did I get involved? 
I have worked in business as a head-hunter and event organiser since 1992, commuting 3 hours to London, sitting all day, running corporate lunches and evenings, and I realised I was sluggish and unhappy.  When 9/11 happened in 2001, I was in the office in London and my attitude and life completely changed.  I decided to hand in my notice, and I became a local Marketing Manager of a Sports Centre in 2001, and I started attending a Pilates class.

I fell in love with the gentle movement and how it made me feel, as it was so much harder than it looks.  After my first baby, I had the car accident in 2004 and Pilates helped not just to get my body stronger but also helped my rehabilitation.  Whilst pregnant with my second daughter, I had had enough of working long hours and I wanted to spend more time with my daughters, and understand how Pilates was helping my back and reducing hip pain, so I trained to become a Pilates teacher and I’ve never looked back.

Why is sport and exercise important to you? 
Pilates is amazing, but I balance it with other forms exercise such as dancing, walking, groups classes and running with my dog.  I know the impact and speed of some fast aerobic classes has made me overuse of some muscles and the pelvic floor pounding means the slow movement and stretching in Pilates is essential for me to isolate the right muscles and focus on my inner core.  This helps support, mobilise my spine and receive my painful achy hip and knee joints.  My posture was very bad after having children and when I work on the laptop, but Pilates helps me work my weak muscles and helps remind me in daily life to draw in my tummy muscles, lift up and lengthen through my spine.  My tummy isn’t perfect but Pilates works my core muscles so they are more toned and stronger to support my back.

Pilates helps strengthen my weak Pelvic floor and tummy and I find Pilates is great for my older clients who have had hip or knee replacement or injuries or sciatica, arthritis, osteoporosis.  It also improves their balance to help prevent falls: a third of all people over 65 fall each year – 3 million people.

I find Pilates very calming in my busy life with a chaotic family and social life and I can get more stressed post menopause as cortisol levels are higher so relaxation and meditation at the end of a class is essential help me create balance.  I swear by my morning Pilates and stretch routine to get me up and moving as I truly believe that you are as young as you feel, so keep your joints moving.

How can more women get involved?
Find a local class - Pilates is so popular for men and women now that classes are run everywhere and remember that although it looks easy, it is important to learn the basics in a beginner’s class or a one-to-one session first.  Good teachers will have a lesson plan but will adapt the exercises to a lower level or appropriate for any injuries that you might have, and a class is more sociable and should always be fun!  You may even make friends through your class – many of my students go for a coffee or drink after class.

Another way to learn is from online videos or courses, or through my website where I have online back care courses.  You can do this in the privacy of your home on your own if you are not confident (but you must check you are doing it right), or involve your family and do it together.

I really encourage my clients to do ten minutes every morning and give daily morning schedules for them as simple exercises, stretches or changing bad posture habits helps your body stay young.  So if you have a persistent back pain or aches and pains or weak pelvic floor that puts you off exercising please contact me, I’m very happy to give you a morning schedule right for you or to help answer questions.

Whatever you decide is right for you MOVE, ENJOY it and MAKE IT PART OF YOUR LIFE!

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Introducing the experts…Hannah Murphy

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you? 
My main role is teaching hula hooping to adults and children.  I am also a professional hula hoop performer and perform regularly at events and festivals across the UK and Europe.

How did you get involved? 
I started hula hooping four years ago when I discovered it at a local festival and it quickly became my hobby.

Why is sport and exercise important to you? 
I’m a busy mum with children and exercise gives me lots of energy to keep up with them.  Hula hooping is a great way to get fit and toned and the best thing about it is that it is extremely fun!

How can more women get involved? 
Although hula hoop classes are not yet on offer in every town and city across the UK, they are very much on the rise and luckily it is very easy to do at home or in your garden with your own hoop.  I recommend the lighter dance hoops as opposed to the heavier weighty hoops, these are safer to use and are more effective.  Just 10 minutes of hooping each day (5 minutes in each direction) will improve fitness levels.  Hoops can be purchased from a variety of outlets and I also sell them via Globe Fit.


Introducing the experts…Donna Noble

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you? 
I am a yoga specialist, life coach and radio show host, working to create a movement that shows that every body is a yoga body.   My aim is to change the image of yoga making it more accessible and inclusive.

How did you get involved? 
A friend suggested that I needed a plan B and at the time I was interested in yoga so started a yoga course, with the intention possibly starting become a Yogi when I retired.  Whilst going through redundancy, it became clear to others and later to me that yoga was my passion so I decided to give yoga a go.  I travelled to America – initially for 9 weeks – to become a Bikram teacher and I ended up staying for 6 months travelling to New York and Texas.   Now I am showing that anyone can do yoga regardless of their shape, size, or age.

Why is exercise important to you?
I found that yoga transformed my life in so many ways, healing me both physically and mentally.   Now I help women through yoga and coaching to be compassionate and self confident with the intention of allowing them to connect with their mind and body, which in terms allows them to leading a simpler and stress free life.

How can more women get involved?
I recognise not everyone has time to dedicate time to yoga – the women I work are time strapped or do not feel that yoga is for them.  I help women get more involved in activity by showing that yoga does not take time but gives time and its many transformational benefits in terms of greater concentration, focus and being able identify what you really want.   Even if you only devote ten minutes a day to a practice, it’s possible to incorporate yoga into your life, which will really benefit your health.  The key is to recognise you can get involved even if you have very little spare time in your day and try to create the time.  Simply getting up a little earlier and getting on your mat and if all you do is breathe: that is yoga.

Countering yoga stereotypes
We’ve all seen that typical image of yoga with some body with their legs behind their head looking like a pretzel.   You’ve been there right?

What I love about yoga is that it is a practice that is inherently flexible.  It can be modified to cater for “every body” - regardless of you size, age or sex.  You will not only gain flexibility in the mind but also on the body.

The important thing to remember is that yoga is an equal-opportunity pleasure: whether you are young, old, male or female, large or small.

You don’t have to wait until you’re in a different place in life to start exploring your body’s potential.
Let me list some of the commons excuses for not considering yoga:

1. I am not flexible, so I can’t do yoga

This the primary excuse that I hear from a lot of individuals.  We’ve all seen the bendy yogis on the covers of yoga magazines on the supermarket shelf, Instagram and Facebook.   If you create a consistent yoga practice then you will become more flexible.  I am amazed at how many people come to yoga for the first time and are astounded at how loose they are (as termed by one of my yoga students).   With dedication and a little patience, you will become more flexible when you practice yoga.  Having tightness in your body does not stop you from reaping the awesome benefits of the practice.

Yoga is not all about the postures, so if you are breathing, you can do yoga.   It is essentially about mind, body connection through the use of the breath.

2.  I’m a total novice, I have no experience and I have no skills in the practice of yoga 

I always advise everyone to approach yoga with an open mind.   Being curious, open, and present is key, whether you are taking your first yoga class or your one hundredth.

3.  Yoga will conflict with some of my beliefs

Yoga is a study of the self — helping you to understand your inner world through movement and breath.   Helping you to identify any negative self-thoughts you may have about your body or life.   Individuals of all cultures and religious backgrounds can practice yoga.   It is true that it's generally seen as a spiritual practice but it's up to you to get what you want from yoga for instance its many wonderful benefits.

4.  I am too busy to do yoga

The more crazy life gets and feels, the more important it is to make time for yourself.  Think of likening your time on the mat to plugging your phone or computer into an outlet to get recharged.

Yoga does not take time it creates time!

When you make your practice a priority, you’ll be able to achieve more in my life, in less time.  You will be better able to focus on what is important.  Try to consider choosing something else in your life to be too busy for — like television or social media.  Placing higher priority on yoga will allow you to receive all the beautiful benefits a regular practice provides.

5.  I am too old to do yoga.

Yoga is ageless: the world’s oldest yoga teacher is 97.

There are so many benefits to be gained from a yoga practice: stress relief, healthy benefit, strength, balance, flexibility and mind, body connection.

Hopefully you will not get on your mat and start your wonderful yoga journey!

Twitter:  @Donnanobleyoga and @Curvesomeyoga

Guest blog by Claire Baird (Tea and Tarts WI) for WI Sports Week

Thirteen years ago I had left university, was working shift work, and met my husband. Life went on and the weight piled on from my new lifestyle. I was able to lose a couple of stone with sensible eating, but I wanted to get fitter as well. I dabbled in different forms of exercise, but shift work took away the ability to have an exercise routine.

In January 2015, I contracted severe pneumonia, and I was determined to never feel that way ever again. I used to see hundreds of people swarming to the Greenhead Park, Huddersfield every Saturday for the Parkrun. I decided that was my goal, to run the 5k Parkrun.

At the start of my recovery, I asked if I could volunteer for the Parkrun. The 15-minute walk to the Park and back was a challenge in itself. As I became stronger I started using the NHS couch to 5k podcast to build up to the 5k challenge. At this point my fellow Tea and Tarts WI members decided to support me on my journey. Samantha, Laura and Charlotte pushed me and supported me to my goal.

In September I did my first Parkrun with 650 other runners and my fellow tarts. And guess who got Park runner of the month? Me! Since then I have not looked back.

At the Parkrun, I spotted a few people with very bright ‘Acre Street Runners’ T-shirts, so I stopped one and asked them about the club. The man I spoke to was very enthusiastic and I arranged to go the following Thursday (with my tarts).

The club environment is so supportive – nobody is ever left behind, and because I am a slow runner this has always been important to me. All the runners take it in turns to encourage and support the beginner runners. We are also running a 5k heroes 8-week course with more Tea and Tarts members starting to run!

This year I completed the Jane Tomlinson 10k series, I have completed a 10mile race, and next year I am going to do the rock and roll half marathon in Liverpool.

So why do I run? Running is therapy. I feel physically and mentally stronger, healthier. I have new passion. I have made lots of wonderful friends. I get to explore my surroundings. I would recommend running to anybody. Everybody has a reason to start running and I find that inspiring.

Remember a 20-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile.

Thank you to my friends at Tea and Tarts for their ongoing support, and to Nicola Ingle for helping me write this article.

Introducing the experts…Sam James

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you do? 
I am an L3 Exercise & Disability specialist and I work in both the gym and group exercise environment. I present, talk and train others in disability fitness, and I teach disabled children and adults Zumba and Clubbercise.  All of my classes are open to everyone and are fully inclusive.

Why did you get involved? 
I cracked a bone in my shoulder joint and went through a year of rehabilitation to get it back to where it is today. I had a lot of physio and hydrotherapy, but it was when I worked with my friend who is a personal trainer in the gym that I saw the biggest improvement! He encouraged me to train and told me about the qualifications I would need, and advised that I should work with disabled people. I started researching and the first thing that came up was instructability.  Even though it sounded too good to be true, I applied and got on to the course to train to be a gym instructor.  Now in less than two years, I am lead instructor on the sessions I did my work placement on for the course.

Why is sport and exercise important to me?
Sport and exercise is so important because it breaks down all the barriers that normal life brings us: there is no right or wrong.  It doesn't matter if you’re doing your own thing as long as you’re moving.


Introducing the experts…Chris Tuck

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you? 
I specialise in working with women who need to ‘break the cycle’ of living an unhealthy and unhappy life.  I help women who have been through challenging life experiences as a child, adolescent or adult to transform their lives through their mind-set, nutrition, fitness and de-stressing their bodies.

How did you get involved? 
At the age of 30, I had a breakdown as a result of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect as a child and adolescent.   The impact of what I had been through affected both my mental and physical health and at this crossroads in my life, I knew that I needed to make massive lifestyle changes in order to regain my health and happiness.   I specialise in health, weight management, Pilates and movement, working with children, adults and the older population, either in a group or on a 1:1 basis.

Why is sport and exercise important to you? 
Activity and exercise has always been important to me. The only time I felt any peace as a child was dancing around the radio in my bedroom on a Sunday evening to the Top 40 or running the 800m and 1500m at school.

When I left school, I started attending aerobics and “legs bums and tums” classes in order to release pent up energy and the anger that I felt from my childhood.  Whilst studying long hours for my accountancy qualification, I always looked forward to my scheduled ‘fitness breaks’. Even at this early age I knew that exercise was an important to how I felt and how productive I could be.

At the age of 33 I retrained as a Fitness Instructor so that I could share the benefits of exercise with my local community. Through my own healing I have come to realise the importance of having a positive mind-set, eating well, exercising and de-stressing my body are for me to cope with everyday life… be healthy and to be happy.  Exercise is part of my everyday life like breathing is to all of us.

How can more women get involved?
I think we need to really need to show women the real benefits of exercise on both their mental and physical health. We need to meet women where they are & discuss all the options with them.  When I start working with a new client who is stuck in a rut we look at where they are now and where they want to be. We look at their current lifestyle and habits and we devise a plan together that suits their needs at this moment in time.  This plan of action will change and evolve with the client.

To get started with exercise I encourage everyone to get out walking and connecting with nature, this will have a massive impact on their mental and physical health. Buying a step counter and trying to do 10,000 steps per day is a great starting point.
There is an activity available to suit every woman’s needs whether it be more intense like a HiiT class or running to walking, swimming, cycling, Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga.
We all have so many demands on own time nowadays that it is really important that we all schedule time into our diary for some daily activity.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Introducing the experts…Marion Foreman

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more….

What do you? 
I am a nurse and Personal Trainer, specialising in working with older ladies and those people on their cancer journey.  I work not only in my gyms but also in a local residential home and with a local cancer charity.

How did you get involved? 
I wanted to find my own Personal Trainer who would understand me, I am not in my 20s  so wanted a more mature PT.  I couldn’t find one, so I decided that I would retrain to be a PT and be able to offer this service.

Why is sport and exercise important to you? 
The benefits of exercise have been well documented but I am constantly delighted to see the change in people as we work together.  Not only do they become healthier, they start to feel far more confident about themselves.

How can more women get involved? 
Exercise isn’t all about going to the gym, plenty of other options exist. It’s about being more active – whether it’s walking, swimming or even doing the housework! The same thing does not work for everyone; find something that motivates you to keep active.

Twitter: @ForefrontMarion

Introducing the experts…Lillie Pragnell

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you? 
I am a health coach with a twist. I am a personal trainer, nutritionist and beauty therapist. I like to use my knowledge and skills in each area to help women take back control of their life and appreciate how amazing they are.

How did you get involved? 
Originally I ran my own beauty therapy business but I have always had a true passion for health and fitness.  One day I woke up and decided that beauty really was only skin deep and want to help my clients get more from me so I retrained gaining a degree in nutrition and completed my Personal Training qualification.  This allows me to give a well-rounded, holistic approach to their lifestyles.

Why is sport and exercise important to you? 
Having never been particularly sporty growing up I was relieved to find I loved running at 23 and now 7 years later I am competing in my first ever Triathlon. It opened my eyes that we categorise and stop ourselves believing that we can do it.  I now help many clients that are scared to exercise, as they have never done it before or they are intimidated by gyms.

How can more women get involved? 
By incorporating belief, motivation and homebased exercises into women’s lifestyles it gives them the confidence to go for it. We all have to start somewhere, even if it is a power walk or slow jog for 5 minutes, every day that will grow minute by minute. I design workout plans tailor made for my clients to ensure they feel comfortable with the exercises. By achieving them week after week it gives them the positive mind-set they deserve and shows them that they can ‘do it’!


Monday, 12 September 2016

Introducing the experts…Mary Huckle

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you?
I am the founder and owner of Breakthrough Fitness.  I’m a personal trainer and Pilates instructor working with clients from all walks of life, and I’m qualified in pre and post-natal exercise and children’s fitness.

How did you get involved?
I have a background in banking and finance but decided to embark onto a fitness career about 12 years ago as health and fitness was always a lifelong passion of mine. The majority of my work is for a variety of personal training and I also run Pilates classes.

Why is sport and exercise important to you?
Undoubtedly, the general benefits of exercise are immeasurable; after all, there is enough evidence to suggest that exercise is the new drug. For me personally, however, it means so much more. I have been twice diagnosed with breast cancer and exercise has been my saviour. Furthermore, having first-hand experience and knowledge of a chronic illness now enables me to pass on my expertise and help others in similar situations.

Every day, exercise is being recognised for its long term health benefits, in particular for people who have suffered some kind of illness. Being unwell can throw us off track to wellbeing and this is when we may need encouragement and help from someone else. I actively help women during and after breast cancer surgery and treatment, empowering them with the reassurance and knowledge that their quality of life can and will improve at a time when all seems quite bleak. The key is to recognise that you can remain or become active during these difficult times.

Twitter: @mary_huckle

Introducing the experts…..Karen Laing

We will be introducing a range of different experts from WIFE throughout WI Sports Week so make sure you check back in regularly to hear more…

What do you?
I run a fitness business with my husband Chris teaching Pilates in classes and online, specialising in women’s health.  I also write about fitness, physical and mental health and women in the fitness industry.

How did you get involved?
If I’m completely honest, my ‘portfolio’ fitness career came about by accident.  After four years as a management consultant for PwC Consulting I took voluntary redundancy I re-trained both in fitness and as a journalist.  Since then I’ve developed my business from being a freelance fitness instructor to a fitness business co-owner with my husband.  I write.  I present.  I teach.  And hopefully, I inspire.

On reflection, my ‘portfolio’ fitness career is everything that I need for job satisfaction. I’ve always loved teaching and coaching and always craved a mixture of activity and the need to use my brain with my work. My business lets me have it all. I can write, research, interview and present but I can also do and instruct.

In everything I do, I aim to inspire and inform. I want to break down barriers to activity and exercise in order that more women can improve their life quality through small, yet informed changes to their exercise and activity levels.

Why is sport and exercise important to you?
I used to just move because I enjoyed the freedom and fun of movement.  I especially loved dance.  I was never particularly ‘good’ at sport and was never in any teams but I could dance and I enjoyed it.  I used to play tennis with my friends in the holidays but never attended sports camps.  As I’ve got older I’ve realised that anyone and everyone can learn to play sports for fun.  I felt I didn’t learn how to get better at sports and therefore didn’t enjoy them because I hadn’t naturally excelled.

Today I love to move and exercise because it makes me feel good and helps me to manage my anxiety and a chronic health condition (I suffer with general anxiety disorder and an over active thyroid/Graves disease).  I also know it helps to keep me mentally sharp and gives me the best chance of staying healthy and active as I age, vital now as I approach 40 with two young children.

Sport and activity is also important for body image. As the mum of a girl, I would love for her to learn and understand that her body is not something to be objectified but that she can be strong and fit for whatever sport she chooses.

I do Pilates, I run, I cycle, I lift weights, I play golf and tennis, and I love to try new sports.  In the past few years I’ve tried gymnastics, open water swimming, surfing, and river kayaking.

How can more women get involved?
My plea is for women to just move more. There is no snobbery in sport or activity. Find something you love. Do it with people you love or make new friends. And find a great instructor. Don’t give up at the first instructor who doesn’t float your boat - be persistent. If you really want to improve your quality of life, it’s worth sticking at it until it becomes a habit.

If you try to squeeze exercise around your busy schedule it will often if not always slip of the end. I’d recommend fitting your busy schedule around your exercise, then you can squeeze more activity around your busy schedule!


Friday, 9 September 2016

WI Sports Week – launching on 12 September

On Monday 12 September, the first ever WI Sports Week will kick into action with a huge range of activities and events planned and run by federations across England, Wales and the Islands.  The NFWI Facebook page will be dedicated to sharing as many of these as we can, as well as showcasing expect information and advice from members of WIFE - Women in Fitness Empowerment.

WIFE brings together some of the most inspiring and influential women working in the health and fitness industry today and provides training and education, as well as a platform for women to share their expert knowledge.  Engaging more women in taking part in regular exercise, sport and activity is an important part of their role and they hope to help as many women as possible to the health benefits and the enjoyment of leading an active lifestyle.

During WI Sports Week, the WIFE Expert Team will be bringing tips, advice and videos to motivate and encourage everyone to try something new, or answer any questions you have.  Their expert team represents true diversity of ages, interests and ability and includes busy mums with small children as well as older women with grandchildren.  From fitness competitors and athletes to disabled instructors, there will be someone on hand who understands your particular needs because they are just like you.

Throughout the week we will be introducing experts from the WIFE team and linking through to their social media accounts so that interested members can contact them directly to ask questions and find out more information.  We will also be showcasing some of the activities and events taking place in federations everywhere, and sharing photos from members who are getting involved – so if you are planning to attend an event, please let us know and send over your photos!  Keep an eye on the NFWI Facebook and Twitter accounts for more information, and for inspirational help and advice from fitness and sports experts.

We will also be sharing information, images and events planned by federations and WI members everywhere, so please do get in touch to let us know what you're up to, and check in with our social media accounts to see what fellow members are up to.  It promises to be a really inspirational week!


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Guest blog by Enid Grattan-Guinness, High Cross and Thundridge WI, Proposer of the COOL campaign

I joined the WI because of the resolutions. My mother was also an active WI member for the same reason. However it took me from 1972 to find what I thought was a really suitable subject that affected all of our members, and one which (at the time) I thought could be easily dealt with.

A member of my WI told us about a Federation current affairs meeting she had been to, where she had learnt about the lion mark on eggs. I was curious, and when investigating the egg and the lion for myself, I ran into the subject of the mislabelling of food. I read about an East Anglian MP who was trying to get the law changed on the label wording of imported pork which could be called 'British' if it had been processed in some way in the UK, even though it had come from another country whose treatment of animals may not match the stringent regulations in this country. He was doing this on behalf of the East Anglian pig farmers. I wrote to him, and he was delighted that I had picked it up and was thinking of making a resolution about it.

Enid Grattan-Guinness with pigs on a British farm

I wrote to my own MP, the Ministry in charge of food, the NFU and my local trading standards office, all of whom sent me a great deal of information. The most important information I found stated that there was an EU ruling with a loophole, which had originally been nothing to do with food but with making parts of white goods in various countries within the EU and the final assembly in one country, which could then say it was a product of that country. It was later agreed by the European court that this could also apply to food. Thus in the UK chickens and other meat could be imported from overseas, cooked and re-sold in various ways, and then labelled as 'British' quite legally.   

My WI agreed that it was a good resolution and that we had a right to know where our food came from, and encouraged me to continue with it. So I carried on with my research, and started on the resolution wording. This is not as easy as you might think, as a WI resolution has to be something that we as members can easily get involved with and follow up in our own way in our own areas, as well as writing letters to MPs and asking the government to do something about it.

The rest is history regarding it being short listed, and to my total amazement, being finally chosen as the resolution that year. I was well into my 70s when this resolution was chosen, which just shows that age is no barrier to your going ahead!

Following much campaigning by members, in 2015, EU rules came into force which introduced country of origin labelling for unprocessed, sheep, goat, chicken and pork meat products. This means the label must show the country in which the animal was reared and slaughtered.

In the UK the government has gone further, and worked with the large supermarkets to voluntarily put country of origin information on packaging. This means that the vast majority of fresh produce, meat, milk and dairy products now include this information.

Many members also went to their local shops and restaurants and lobbied the manager to give them what they wanted.

The issue of country of origin labelling is still live. The resolution and our strong campaigning locally and nationally have made it clear how important knowing the source of our food is to us and our families. This has helped make decision makers aware of other labelling issues that they are able to deal with, which perhaps would not have been dealt with had our whole membership not made it quite clear that we wanted honesty from our food producers.   

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Inspiring resolution

Guest post from Amelia Wilson, President of Nedderton and Bedlington WI, proposer of the mandate that inspired the Love Your Libraries campaign

Although I was initially nervous about submitting a resolution for consideration by the WI, I felt concerned enough about the proposed cuts to library funding and threatened closures that I reached a point where I could not let the opportunity pass.  Once I had composed my resolution, I was grateful for the support I received from my local WI members and the committee at my local federation. after proposing the resolution, it was so gratifying to watch it progress through the selection procedure and eventually find it accepted, although I was somewhat nervous about the prospect of addressing over 4,300 fellow WI members at NFWI Annual Meeting in Liverpool.

I felt fully supported in the debate from my fellow WI speakers on the day, from the guest speakers Erwin James and Sir Steve Redgrave, and to my delight, the resolution was passed by a large majority.

It is not every day I am called upon to address a very large crowd, but I would definitely encourage anyone who feels as strongly about any subject as I did about the library cuts to press on and confront their initial reluctance.  If I can produce a resolution, I am sure most members can enjoy the same success.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Gossip from the garden; citizen scientists!

Guest blog by Susan Jonas, proposer of the SOS for Honeybees campaign 

There is a wonderful podcast - ‘Gossip from the Garden Pond’ (Best of Natural History Radio 4) - three tales written by Lynne Truss which reveal the funny side of life in and around a garden pond and open a door into this fascinating world.

My favourite is the tale of the Garden Spider – it includes the protestations of a wasp being wrapped up ready for lunch and the delights to be had from consuming a butterfly, but I did feel sorry for the bee as it got caught in the web! All these insects are pollinators to be welcomed in the garden, but many are facing far worse problems than being eaten by a spider.

In 2009, honeybees were in the news because their populations were declining, and without pollination many crops are at risk of failing. The resolution ‘SOS for Honeybees’, which was carried at the 2009 NFWI Annual Meeting, highlighted the plight of bees and identified loss of habitat as a possible cause. The response from WI members was overwhelming; some members trained as bee-keepers, and bee-friendly plants were planted in even the smallest window boxes- there was something for everyone to do!

The national campaign led to the WI’s involvement with the National Pollinator Strategy.  

Loss of habitat, disease, pesticides, climate change – or a combination of these – may all be contributing to the decline in pollinator populations. However there is a huge need for more research, particularly in the field.  Scientists require data as the evidence base for policy decisions, but how is this data to be collected?

At a ‘Bee Summit’ hosted by the NFWI and Friends of the Earth to coincide with the first anniversary of the publication of the National Pollinator Strategy, I was asked to speak about ‘Engaging the Public in Citizen Science’. This involves creating a partnership between professional scientists and enthusiastic volunteers. In the UK, there is a wonderful history of volunteers collecting data, particularly for birds, butterflies and mammals, so could we do the same for pollinators?

To try this out, I signed up for a citizen science project - ‘Bees ‘n Beans’ – at Sussex University.  This project was a little bit more than just data collecting; it was actually doing an experiment alongside about 500 other people spread across the UK.  The aim of the project was to study insect pollination in gardens and allotments.

My garden is where it all happens!  I call it my evolving work of art, a place to experiment and sufficiently 'messy’ to be attractive to pollinators.  For those worried the science might be too hard, rest assured there are no ‘right answers’.  This is an investigation! All that is required is some knowledge of growing plants, a bit of time and some space.  It is no harder than following a recipe, and the results can be a surprise...

So what did I actually do?

The broad beans and ‘rat-tailed’ radish seeds arrived from Sussex University in April with plastic pots and plenty of instructions about how to grow them. I started a journal to record everything I did and everything I saw. I made sure I treated all the seeds fairly – same compost, same watering regime, etc.

Four specimens of each plant were selected in May - one plant was put under fleece, one plant for hand pollination, one free for all, and a spare in case of accidents!

Hand pollinating the broad bean flowers was quite straightforward- the bumblebees joined in! 

The radish flowered in July - the small white flowers were of no interest to bumblebees but attracted hoverflies. I hand pollinated with a paintbrush. 

Small beetles attacked the leaves and flowers of most plants, but under the fleece the plant grew magnificently with masses of flowers!

I harvested the broad beans in August, counting and weighing the pods and beans. The radishes had no pods to harvest – this was all part of the experiment! 

All the data was sent to the professionals for analysis plus information about the pollinators I had noticed.

As well as providing vital data for large-scale research, taking part in this citizen science project was fun. Recording everything in a journal is quite revealing.  I had not taken much notice of hoverflies before, but now I recognise them as important pollinators. The fleece protected plants from predatory insects but there was no harvest. No pollination means no crops.

Hand pollination is quite time consuming and may not give the plants the extra ‘buzz’ to release pollen that insects give them. I saw Carol Klein on Gardeners’ World use an electric toothbrush for this purpose. Research shows that good pollination increases both the quantity and quality of yields. My blackcurrants are testament to this - I won first prize for them in the village show.

Resolutions give us a mandate for action but we still need to be engaged and given something positive to do.

We are helping bees by creating ‘bee-friendly’ habitats and using less pesticide in our gardens – now the researchers need a helping hand too.  The need for information is great and creating partnerships can make it happen.

At Sussex University, the Buzz Club organises citizen science projects which connects enthusiastic volunteers with large-scale research.  This year I am taking part again – this time with two projects ‘All About Alliums’ and ‘Bees ‘n Beans’!

The Buzz Club offers citizen science opportunities across the UK and more information can be found on their website

You can also take part in citizen science projects through Open Air Laboratories.

Susan Jonas speaking at the 2015 Bee Summit (credit: Amelia Collins)

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Guest blog by Susan Baines, proposer of the More Midwives campaign

I am proud to say that, “I am a Midwife”. I have been one since 1986 and prior to that I was a S.R.N. specialising in Gynaecology. So all of my working life I have been involved in the care of women. Currently I am a Lecturer in Midwifery and an Independent Midwife. Over the years I have witnessed, and also been pro-actively involved in, many changes directed at improving services for women during the childbirth continuum. However, upon reflection I can conclude that modernisation has not achieved all it set out to and that some aspects of care are currently a lot worse for women than at any other time I have ever practised. 

When I started my career, midwives were community based and knew women and their families personally; they were a point of contact for a myriad of social concerns and were respected and valued. Today it is argued that pregnancy is more complicated and professionally demanding than before, with the Midwife needing to draw on far more technical skill - as a result her practice is often driven by a fear of litigation and is therefore often defensive. This serves to impact on the choices and support women receive. There is a reputed shortage of 3500 trained Midwives currently and some NHS units are at breaking point. Staff shortages impact adversely on normal birth and home birth statistics, and postnatal care is in some areas a postcode lottery.  A lot of Midwives are working on their good will in order to do their best for women in their care.

After my two adult daughters left home, my husband and I returned to the small town where I had been brought up and I looked for a WI to join. There was none. I therefore decided to set one up. In 2011 Horwich WI was created and I became President. Our numbers slowly grew and one day a communication arrived via our secretary asking members for ideas for resolutions.

Our treasurer was at that time pregnant and I remember we chatted about her experiences and frustrations with local maternity services and her rushed and limited antenatal appointments.  It was then that I proposed to the membership that we create a resolution about Midwifery care and particularly about training, recruiting and employing more Midwives so as to better support mothers.

Everyone seemed so eager and there was a buzz around the room as the group recalled their experiences. It was so interesting to hear from our more mature members that they could recall with clarity their Midwife’s name, such had been the impression she had made upon them. Younger members on the other hand could not do so, as they had received team care and had never seen the same Midwife twice antenatally or known the Midwife when their labour had started. 

Our resolution was sent to the Lancashire Federation. We were surprised and delighted to later hear that ours had been short listed, especially being such a new WI. I recall that the next few months were a frenzy of presentations with other local WI’s in order to drum up support.

I was asked to present the resolution at the AGM at the Royal Albert Hall and I remember feeling unusually very calm, even though faced with thousands of faces. I think this was because I really felt we were “one” in the auditorium. Everyone was so kind and supportive. The resolution achieved 96% in favour and was duly passed.  My spirits soared with the huge backing of the WI membership. I felt that we as women were standing together to support women and Midwives.

A few weeks later I was invited to attend WI headquarters in London and become part of a joint research advisory group looking into women’s experiences of maternity services. I was in the company of Elizabeth Duff from the NCT, and Jacque Gerrard from the RCM.

In May 2013 the research study ’Support Overdue: Women’s Experiences of Maternity Services’ was published.  The study made three salient findings: that choice remains an aspiration and not a reality for most mothers, that current maternity care is fragmented, and that postnatal care is a postcode lottery.

From the offset, WI members worked pro-actively to increase awareness of the issues faced by mothers and their Midwives including writing to their local MPs. The NFWI also collected almost 30,000 signatures calling for urgent action, which were presented to the Minister of Health Dr Dan Poulter in October 2013.

To date, the NMC has been receiving more complaints from mothers about their Midwifery and Maternity care experiences than ever before and I feel this is due in part to the increased awareness and pro-activity of over 215,000 WI members up and down the country. Women talk to other women and this is extremely powerful dialogue regarding the standards of care they should expect to receive.

I wish to thank my WI, Lancashire Federation and NFWI for their support of women and for their support of Midwives.

You can read more about the campaign so far and its successes here: 

Friday, 1 July 2016

Climate Change Impact on Gardeners

Guest blog by Kate Mawer – WI Climate Ambassador, Braunston WI, Northamptonshire Federation

As an amateur gardener I enjoy the uncertainty that working with the seasons brings. Gardeners are adaptable people, it is no surprise when a late frost catches us out and an apple crop is poor or when a mild winter brings more devastation from slugs to our hostas. The changes we experience year on year can be part of the fun and is what maintains our passion for gardening. This year my herbaceous perennials are looking wonderful, filling every gap in my garden, and the new planting in the village community garden has established quickly because of the spring and summer rain.

It is the greater occurrence of more extreme weather events that is the concern of the gardener. I am fortunate that my garden is not in a flood risk area and so I have not had to replace a garden that has been devastated by floods. As chairperson of the Braunston Village Gardens Association gardeners are telling me about how they have had to replant their produce gardens this year as they have lost a high proportion of their first plantings due to the wet and increase in pests. This is costly, time consuming and demoralising.

As gardeners we are custodians of biodiversity. Extreme weather events create uncertainty. Gardeners may be put off by the challenges of new diseases and unfamiliar pests that are difficult to control. It is a concern that for some the solution is to replace plants with hard landscaping or artificial turf reducing the opportunities for wildlife to thrive and ironically further adding to the issue of flooding.

Climate change is complex. Planting Mediterranean gardens and investing in a water butt system, at one time popular suggestions for gardeners coping with climate change, is not a solution when the dry summer has been replaced by one of the wettest on record.  

I, like other gardeners, appreciate the physical and emotional health benefits of this hobby. We will continue to garden and even thrive on achieving successes despite the unusual seasons. We are significant players in terms of food production, wildlife conservation and flood control and understand that working with others now to limit carbon emissions will make a significant difference and benefit the gardeners of the future.

 Join the October Week of Action!

Join us from 8th-16th October in a Week of Action to celebrate the people, places and things we want to protect from climate change, and make sure MPs feel that love. People all over the UK will be lobbying their MPs in their local area, and we'd love you to be involved.

We'll be seeing nature walks, tea parties, classic lobbies, community energy visits and all sorts of other events to show MPs why you would like them to take action to protect your community from the impacts of climate change. All this will involve MPs so that politicians see, feel and hear how much their constituents care about what we could lose to climate change.

More details, including an action pack and a range of resources to support you, are available on the NFWI website at

Friday, 24 June 2016

The Women’s Institute: More activism and adaptation than Jam and Jerusalem

Guest blog by Johanna Wilson, Borough Belles WI

The office where it all happens...

It felt strange to be entering the heart of the Women’s Institute in London. While I am the Social Media Officer for the Borough Belles WI and have been a proud Belle since last year, that’s only part of the reason I am here. The other? Curiosity. I moved to London to work as part of the Charityworks Graduate Scheme, which offers the opportunity for trainees to explore the charity sector further. Hearing from organisations across the sector got me thinking: while I understand how traditional charities work, how does an organisation like the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) work? An organisation that is made up of smaller charities with their own boards, that operates on a federation model and whose campaigns are determined by the membership. I got in touch to find out more about how the NFWI supports members to campaign, and the Public Affairs and Communications teams were kind enough to let me visit for a day to find out for myself!

The WI has a proud history and has thrived since it was founded in 1915 to help develop rural communities and encourage women to become involved in food production during WW1, becoming what is now the largest voluntary women's organisation in the UK. The model can be a bit complex to get your head around. Your own WI is an individual charity while your Federation provides opportunities and support for a number of WIs. The National Federation is a national charity which represents WI members across the UK and provides guidance and support to Federations and WIs, and a lot of their work goes unseen; in fact, some WI members don’t even know they exist. When I visited the office, everyone was pretty excited preparing for the upcoming Annual Meeting (AM). The AM is the key date in the NFWI’s calendar. It’s not only a logistical challenge for the Events team and an important WI tradition. It is the votes of the delegates at the AM that sets the organisation’s campaign work for years to come. It decides who they’ll be working with, where they’ll be focusing their energies, what actions members can do and what message they’ll be sharing. Though there are a lot of stages to the process, every resolution is proposed by a WI member and shortlisted by members. These resolutions are then debated throughout the organisation by local WIs before being brought to the AM, and once a resolution is adopted, it becomes part of a bank of mandates dating back to the earliest days of the WI, and can be worked on at any point in the future.

When discussing the campaign resolutions put forward this year with the team, there are clear benefits to both. Food poverty is a huge challenge, with food bank use in the UK at a record high and eight million people in the UK struggling to put food on the table. At the same time, dementia care is an issue that is growing in importance and dementia carers are currently saving UK services £11 billion annually. The WI currently has no resolution on unpaid care, an issue that still predominantly affects women and in the Public Affairs department they have to keep an eye to campaigns that could open up other avenues for work (the fun thing about writing this retrospectively is that I now know both of these resolutions have passed!) There is a huge variety in WI campaigns work, both on a daily basis and in the new campaigns that have been chosen by members. Just a few of these are:

  • More Midwives: The WI’s Midwives campaign has been widely celebrated and since its launch in 2012, NFWI research has been cited in NHS England’s National Maternity Review and the WI have contributed to The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence’s first ever safe-staffing guidance for midwifery services. One staff member at NFWI was so inspired by the campaign that she has since gone on to become a midwife herself!

  • Care Not Custody: In 2008, the WI passed a resolution calling for an end to the inappropriate detention of people with mental health problems and has been working with the Prison Reform Trust towards this. This was a campaign of particular interest to me, not only due to my interest in mental health but also because the charity I work for runs Liaison and Diversion services. Mental health in the criminal Justice system is sadly still a huge challenge, but following on from the trial sites and despite delays, the NFWI is hopeful that a full rollout of these services will be announced soon - a huge success and a promise of support when people need it the most.

  • Climate Change: While this campaign is a longstanding one, there will be a lot of new actions and campaign work coming up. So watch this space, or if you want to get in on the ground floor, apply to be a volunteer Climate Ambassador and work with NFWI to look at climate change in your local area (details here).

Yet what seems most surprising is the continuity of campaigns. To celebrate the centenary last year, we Belles did a whistle-stop tour of the century, and looking at what previous campaigns have been, some issues have clearly remained at the heart of the Women’s Institute. Yes, it seems unlikely that a resolution 'that this meeting, remembering that our young Queen has duties as a wife and mother urges the nation as a whole not to overwork her Majesty' (1952) would get passed now, but the WI has spent one hundred and one years speaking out on the environment, education, women’s rights and rural services, and will be fighting for these issues as we move into the next century.

The team are quick to acknowledge the challenges they face and where they plan to make improvements. The WI is still an organisation that is predominantly rural and while the number of women living in rural areas who are members is fantastic, there are practical challenges to communicating with them. There was even a case of one WI streaming the Centenary AM for their members, which promptly took out the internet in their whole town! Because of this, WI Life is the only consistent way to reach everyone, which brings its own challenges in terms of sharing information quickly, especially for those of us who are used to checking our emails religiously! The WI has a huge geographical reach, which can make it challenging to make sure campaigns are relevant to all members. It’s not rare that proposed resolutions don’t address the current situation in Wales or the Islands who have separate parliaments and work in a completely different legal framework. The Public Affairs team always has to have a view to the wider picture.

Yet it is the strengths of the WI that stand out, and the strength of its members that makes it so formidable. Members of the WI are there because they want to be there and the organisation is member-led. While the small public affairs team doesn’t always have the detailed policy knowledge needed for a new campaign, they are able to create strong partnerships with national organisations, where their partners bring the resources and political links and the WI bring 220,000 engaged and passionate members across the country. The range of campaigns means that there’s always an action to do or somewhere to push for change; from specific climate change action weeks to legal changes around country of origin labelling on food. While the old-world “Jam and Jerusalem” stereotype can linger in the minds of some press offices and production companies, the variety of what the WI does and the women who are members have broken down this stuffy reputation over time.

As the make-up and lives of members change, the NFWI is re-examining their ways of communicating and selecting resolutions. Work to review the resolutions process and consider ways to improve it is underway. The NFWI is also currently organising a full members’ census. With new members joining all the time and new WIs being started every week, now is a perfect time to ask members for their views on campaigns, Denman and ensuring education is accessible for all, as well as something as basic as how people would like to be contacted. The NFWI always looks to change and evolve to ensure that the WI represents every member, old and new, while keeping true to the its roots and ethos.

The Public Affairs team’s newsletter relaunched recently, so you can sign up here to receive regular updates. If there has been one takeaway message I left the NFWI with, it is that the members are at the heart of what is done here and they want to hear from them, not only about their ideas and requests but even just about what they are up to. Hearing from members is what keeps the NFWI connected and they’re always looking to hear from more people - remember, any member can submit a resolution. So finally, all that remains is to say a big thank you to Lisa, Oliver, Jana, Emma, Joanna, Charlotte and Fiona for hosting me for the day!