Monday, 8 August 2011

Love Your Libraries

Last Friday, the WI launched its Love Your Libraries e-petition following the government’s promise of a debate in parliament if a petition receives 100,000 signatures. As I write at 10.32am on Monday 8 August, there are already 1,831 signatures. The premise of the petition is that WI members believe libraries are an essential local education and information resource but with many libraries under threat, the future of the library service is at risk.

The WI wants to see the value of libraries recognised at both local and national levels, and members are calling on the government to honour both its commitment to act as a champion of the library service, and its duty of oversight; to ensure that a comprehensive and efficient library service is provided. If you are in agreement, please add your signature to the e-petition, which can be found at It can also be downloaded for written signatures at, or a copy can be requested from the NFWI office.

If you are reading this blog from your iPhone or Smartphone and in the habit of downloading the latest app, there's another one for your collection as of today – “Wild Jam Maker”. The app, created by WI Real Jam Festival sponsor Stoves, has been launched ahead of the festival, which takes place from 8-9 October, and has been designed especially for the country's “budding wild jam makers” and the many people who already make jam. It lists fruits and berries found in the wild that can be used to make jams, and there are also wild jam recipes, from hawthorn and crab apple jelly, to gooseberry and elderflower jam. Incidentally, the latter recipe won the best in show in the first WI Real Jam Festival held last year.

The WI Real Jam Festival is open to all; WI members and non-members, male and female, adults and children. Give it a go; even if you’ve never tried before you could discover a new talent in the process!

While you are about it, why not visit Denman College, the venue for the Jam Festival? Denman College is the WI's educational institution with a proud 63 year heritage of teaching and instructing WI members and non-members in all manner of crafts, cookery, literature, language, music and much more. Visit the superb WI Cookery School and sign up for a course. When you are staying at Denman College the world retreats and you are enveloped in the desire to learn.

Having had another quick check online as I finish writing this at 11.15am there are 1, 901 signatures on that petition.

Monday, 1 August 2011

START with packaging

Last Friday, I heard the comment, “…it's not that important an issue”, from a British Retail Consortium representative in reference to the number of carrier bags being used and discarded by the general public. It has been five years since the NFWI launched its campaign to cut the amount of packaging on certain foods and goods to reduce waste and its detrimental impact on the environment and wildlife so the fact that 6.8 billion bags go to landfill in a year should be an important issue for all WI members, if not to the rest of society. In our throw away culture where plastic bags still represent 0.3% of all household waste, perhaps the WI should be back on that campaign trail.

In 2006, the main thrust of the campaign was to reduce the number of plastic bags produced and used, as well as the amount of packaging for certain goods, e.g. the WI called for more loose sales for fruit and vegetables, and to reduce the amount of packaging where it was deemed necessary. Reducing the amount of packaging used means that less is sent to landfill meaning less methane gas is produced, which ultimately reduces the effects of climate change. At the time, I was interviewed by Jennie Murrie on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss the example of over packaged vegetables. I took four parsnips on a polystyrene tray, wrapped in cling film with me, and right on cue they oozed liquid onto the desk, proving that such covering of fresh vegetables was not desirable.

I'm sure we all have several hessian bags – both purchased and given out free – that we can use instead of plastic bags. Until about 30 years ago every household had a shopping bag or two but with the advent of supermarkets, the plastic carrier bag has taken their place. There is no doubt that the WI's 2006 campaign made a big difference to shopping bag habits; the use of plastic bags decreased, but unfortunately, their use has gone up once again.

The reasons for our 2006 campaign remain the same; degradation of the environment and climate change. These are still major issues that the WI continues to tackle.

Those very issues of environment and climate change are behind HRH Prince of Wales' START project who invited the WI was invited into the garden of Clarence House where superb displays of sustainable gardening and growing by the Soil Association, Garden Organic and the National Trust were on show last week. There was a fantastic forest garden exhibit and representatives from the British Bee Keepers Association was also there; I was able to chat for a while with the lady bee keeper there, informing her about all the WI had done with its SOS for Honeybees campaign, which is still ongoing!