Friday, 25 February 2011

A Royal Visit

A dull and drizzly day at Denman College was transformed in an instant when HRH the Duchess of Cornwall arrived to take a look at the WI's seat of learning. It was truly exciting to show Her Royal Highness around the ground floor of the magnificent house that is Denman College before escorting her down the gravel pathway to view the accommodation cottages and, in particular, the Gloucestershire bedroom where she signed her name in the visitor's book. Why this room in particular you ask? Well, the Duchess is a member of Tetbury Evening WI in Gloucestershire and this is the room decorated by her federation.

The tour continued on to the
WI Cookery School where a demonstration by Dhruv Baker, 2010 Masterchef winner, was in progress. Something chocolately was in the pan and the Duchess joined fellow members around the table to watch the proceedings. Chatting all the time with members, we returned later to the WI Cookery School to view the students preparing a chicken dish that they later enjoyed for their lunch.

This week courses at the WI Craft School included negative and positive appliqué and Italian embroidery, as well as bookbinding and painting with acrylics. It appears the Duchess is a dab hand with the paintbrush as she painted a sunset quite effortlessly and was obviously quite taken with the bookbinding.

At the reception that followed in the beautiful Ferris Theatre, The Duchess of Cornwall spoke to every person present including members of Marcham WI, who hold their WI meetings in that very room. One member told me that to round off this very exciting morning they were going off to lunch together to celebrate.

It was an honour to receive our royal WI member and I do hope the Duchess enjoyed her whirlwind tour of Denman College. Who knows, maybe one day she might even be a student there herself.

From one extreme to another - our
Mums Matter petition has only a short time to run before it is handed over to government campaigning on the necessity for money to help mothers in pregnancy and childbirth in the developing world that has not gone away. At a superb Women Reaching Women evening in Suffolk West Federation, the plight of pregnant women and the ways in which they are currently being helped was graphically shown. Every woman from every country is our sister across the planet, and caring about their plight is so much of what our Women Reaching Women project has encompassed. Millennium Development Goal number 5 regarding maternal mortality has a special place in WI members’ hearts and minds and to which thousands have responded.

The WI's Women Reaching Women closing conference is to be held on 12 April – everyone is welcome to attend.

Monday, 14 February 2011

WI Year of the Archive and Aladdin's cave

A brief trip to Denman College to speak to more than a score of Federation Secretaries showed me once again why time at the WI college is time well spent. Even in February the gardens provide an idyllic setting for an early morning walk or afternoon stroll ; its just the perfect learning environment. As well as the workshop for the Federation Secretaries, there was a course taking place on archiving for county federations’ and WIs’ archives. The NFWI archives are housed in the Women's Library in London, having been recovered from the garage at Denman College where they languished for many years. In fact, 2012 has been designated the “WI Year of Archives” so I'm sure federations are gathering all those files and bits of paper, minutes and records to be collated and stored properly, or rather, archived. Several such courses have been offered at Denman College for interested WI members over the past few years because it is so important to record what the WI collectively, and the federations and WIs individually have accomplished so much over the last 96 years, indeed, over nearly a century.

Within that time federation offices have been housed in many different types of buildings. In the last decade many have moved the administration of the federation to state-of-the-art offices of all sorts and descriptions – from an eco-friendly pig sty (Cambridge) to a cockpit (Powys Montgomery) and every type of building in between. Some have retained Georgian and Victorian town houses, but a recent move for Hertfordshire has taken them to the Old Curiosity Shop; a delightful old shop, which I should like to think was once a sweet shop, with a beautiful bowed window. Through the window you can be seen all manner of the most delightful and exquisite items: bags and necklaces; cards and pictures; garments and scarves, all made by WI members in the federation, and all for sale. A veritable Aladdin’s cave of craft at its best. Beyond the shop area are the offices and a board room; everything that an office needs. Last week I had the privilege and pleasure of cutting the ribbon at the official opening of the Hertfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes where I was made so very welcome and had a wonderful time meeting the members who had gathered there. Thank you HFWI.

So what will this week bring? An NFWI Board meeting among other things. Watch this space for more news….

Friday, 4 February 2011

Goodbye January

The last two weeks of January have been filled with internal meetings and discussions on policy and membership; areas that are right at the heart of the WI. It is very exciting that many hundreds of new members are joining each week, as well as forming brand new WIs; in fact 16 new WIs were formed during the months of December and January. Membership is always high on the WI agenda and by the time we reach our centenary in 2015, our aim is to increase membership significantly so that we can stride confidently into the next decades.

For some women, joining the WI can change their lives – new friends, new interests, new skills, and discovering a confidence perhaps not previously achieved. Not every woman who would like to join the WI is able to get to a monthly meeting, which is why the WI Associate scheme is so ideal because it offers the opportunity to become a WI member without the need to belong to a specific WI. There’s the chance to visit a few WIs in your federation before deciding which one is for you while receiving the membership magazine, WI Life, along with notification of all that is happening in your area and nationwide. And let us not forget that courses at Denman cost the same for WI Associates as for WI members.

Other benefits include the Associate Forum on the Moodle where you can chat to other Associates. A forum is also available to WIs within London. Request a password and you will be able to access the Moodle where there is everything you might want to know about the WI.

Speaking of Denman College, there is currently a fantastic course taking place called ‘Inspiring New Business Women’, and have you seen the upcoming new bridal series; courses on everything you need to know if you are catering for your own wedding from making the invitations to arranging the flowers.

Being a WI member is certainly COOL. As followers of this blog will know, that is also the title of our current campaign on county of origin labelling of meat and fish. Do check out the short film on the NFWI website,, for more information.

One of our ongoing campaigns is combating climate change and yesterday I learned of an important debate around the opportunities for offshore wind farms in Britain. Chaired by Damian Carrington, it brought together experts from several sectors – energy, politics, finance and activism. Apparently, there was not one woman panellist in sight. This does not surprise me but it does dishearten me: how long has the WI been saying women must have a say in the solutions to the changed climate? Since 1927, that’s how long.