Friday, 30 July 2010

The last couple of weeks have been filled with meetings, meetings and more meetings! I know that's not what the WI is thought to be about, but someone has to make arrangements for everything to happen, which is just what the Board of Trustees has been doing throughout July. The first board meeting after the AGM was held in June and there was so much to look back on, and even more to look forward to!

In September, the WI celebrates its 95th anniversary so the real countdown to 100 years will begin in earnest. I'm sure most of the 6,500-plus individual WIs will be planning special meetings or events for 2015, but in the meantime, I expect many a member, like me, will be making sure that the garden is tidy and the chairs plentiful in readiness for the extra garden meeting. If yours is like my WI, it meets in a member's garden in the month of August. Of course, we have the 11 formal meetings during the year but my WI has August as the holiday month, rather than, say, January, as I know many WIs do.

Anyway, I am bemoaning the lack of green grass – we need a deluge of rain to transform the garden’s scorched earth appearance before early August! As for the chairs, we have a few now; it's just the table that we need now for the bring and share supper dishes that will appear with each member. Perhaps there is one more ingredient – a fine evening! – otherwise the garden meeting becomes a house meeting. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 16 July 2010

WI members visit HQ

120 members visited the NFWI's head office at 104 New King's Road over two days this week for the very first time, bar a couple of members who had visited before. Some of the visitors had been members for many years, while others were relatively new to the WI.

Open Days are an ideal opportunity for members to see, first hand, just what work is going on in Headquarters on behalf of the 207,000 members, and also see just how 31 members of staff manage in what is a relatively small office space. Every department presents its work to the members in open presentations, and their is a brief overview by all departments including Public Affairs, Public Relations, Finance, Central Secretariat, WI Enterprises (generating income from advertising, sponsorship etc.), WI Life magazine and Human Resources. Denman College was also discussed, as was the increases in membership that those at 104 keep an eye on every day. At the moment, about 300 to 500 new member packs are being sent out every couple of weeks.

Participants in the days were shown alternate versions of the front cover for the next issue of WI Life and amazingly, each choice had almost the same number of "votes"!

If you are a WI member and would like to visit 104, I'm sure there will be more Open Days to look forward to in 2011 and beyond.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

By now you will have heard of The Harmonies - the voice of the WI - a group of 5 WI members, names yet to be announced, who will begin recording a CD that will hopefully be climbing the charts just in time for Christmas. As I said on countless broadcasts throughout the whole of Friday last week, the standard of singing of those who auditioned was just so good; it was truly inspiring. Hearing some of the ladies truly made me tingle. As you know, I think that all WI members are great, and these members were no exception. So watch this space and fill in the pre-order details – I guarantee you will love it!

But I do want to point out that the WI has not made a million pounds deal. This is the sum that the record company, Universal, is purported to have invested in the project. The WI has only provided the voices.

Every day is different with the WI; I was recently lucky enough to have a trip around the Olympic site immediately following a television interview, which certainly made it a day with a difference. If you get the chance do take a guided tour of the site, you will see all about the different buildings and learn about how some of them are permanent while others are not. The roof over the swimming pools must almost be a wonder of the world; it is supported by a girder measuring 160 metres, giving the entire structure the wow factor. Congratulations to the engineering team! There are many opportunities to volunteer in one capacity or another during the Games in 2012, check out the website to see what catches your eye.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

On a glorious sunny day a week ago hundreds of members and friends flocked to Denman College, the WI’s own college in Marcham Oxfordshire, to see something of what the WI has on offer. Set in beautiful gardens, lake and all, for the past 62 years Denman’s doors have been open to WI members to learn all manner of skills, from cooking and craft to literature and language, with music and history in between, not to mention fashion and food.

The college has a cookery school – food and the WI just go together so well, don’t they! And if you have a secret desire to know how to make that ubiquitous jam - Denman College is not only the place to learn how to, but it is also the place to show off your jam making prowess by entering our Jam Festival in November this year.

Following our 2009 national mandate, SOS for Honeybees, Denman has acquired its own hives, and I do believe Denman honey is now for sale in the college shop.

Body Fit Camp has also come to Denman - you could shed the pounds or just keep fit and healthy with this specially tailored course.

You do realise, don’t you, that you don’t have to be a WI member to have a place on the courses offered? Not so long ago a gentleman flew in from New York to attend an embroidery class.

In 1948, when the college was opened and named after the first NFWI National Chairman, I wondered if the members then expected that it would not only thrive into the 21st century but that hen weekends would be offered; a weekend where brides and friends can dip into different crafts or cookery, indeed, your choice of any of the courses on offer. Check it out – a hen party with a difference.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Two weeks ago in London the NFWI launched it new campaign petition – ‘Mums Matter’ calling on the UK government to keep its promises to reduce maternal deaths, especially in the developing world. The issue of actions to achieve these Millennium Goals, in particular no. 5 – the reduction of maternal mortality – is being championed by the WI with Oxfam. You can sign this petition on line at the

Last Thursday I was in Cardiff, Wales to launch the petition again, this time in the auspicious surroundings of the Welsh Assembly Senate, once more with Oxfam Cymru. Many agencies that already work in this area of maternal health were present as well as the first minister of the Welsh Assembly Government, Carwyn Jones. Angela Gorman spoke of her work with which helps many, many women during maternity.

Another organisation that gives women in this country help and a listening ear is Breast Cancer Care whose House of Commons reception I attended to launch their summer fund raiser of Strawberry Teas. I met several WI members – in any gathering of women it is a rare occurrence when none of them belong to the WI – who are volunteers and give their time to this cause. How refreshing to see so many women of every age, all in summer dresses and only a very few dark suited men; albeit men who care equally as passionately. I’m sure many WI members know of Breast Cancer Care, but it is always hoped that many more should know of its existence.