Friday, 07 August 2020

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


OUR president Brenda welcomed 15 members to our April meeting and began with the usual business and notices.

Members were given a brief report on the Oxfordshire Federation’s centenary meeting where Benson WI was well represented.

One of our group was thanked for her creation of an embroidered leaf which was included on the centenary wall hanging unveiled at the meeting by the Lord Lieutenant.

Our meeting continued by adjourning to nearby RAF Benson church to join the Military Wives Choir for the rest of the evening.

The choir warmly welcomed members to their rehearsal and started the evening with a digital presentation showing the background of how the choir started and a rendition of Jerusalem, which we all know well of course.

Members were invited to learn a song called Carry Me and, after a bit of practice, everyone sang together.

Some lovely refreshments followed, after which members sat back and listened to a performance of several songs from the choir’s repertoire.

It was a very uplifting evening which has helped to strengthen the connection between Benson WI and the very close-knit Military Wives Choir.

At our meeting on May 15, we will be hearing all about swan upping, a tradition that takes place each year on the River Thames.

We will also be discussing and voting on two campaign resolutions.

Our decisions will be sent to the National Federation for its annual meeting in Bournemouth in June. More detail on WI campaigns is available at

For more information bout Benson WI, please email


WITH the first quarter of 2019 behind us, we held our first meeting with the new committee at the start of the Easter weekend.

At this meeting we welcomed our guest speaker, Vik Singh, who works in digital security, keeping people and businesses safe online.

He showed us a website where you can check to see if your passwords have been compromised (and when and from where). You can check for yourself at

He also reminded us the importance of changing passwords frequently and not using the same one for everything.

In April, we were very fortunate to be able to join the beanpole day at Caversham Court Gardens.

It was a lovely event with a variety of stalls. Thanks to those ladies who provided saleable items and information leaflets, we had a great time talking with lots of local people and visitors.

We look forward to being there again next year and taking our turn to run the kiosk café in the gardens later on in the year.

Ladies are very welcome to visit our friendly group: your first three visits are free.

We meet on the third Thursday of the month at 7.30pm, which helps avoid childcare issues. There is nearby parking and a lift to the first floor meeting room at Church House, Church Road, Caversham. For more information, search online for “Caversham WI” or call our secretary Romayne Flight on 0118 947 5176.


WHAT could have been more appropriate for our birthday meeting than to fill our sunlit hall with flowers on a lazy Friday afternoon?

Floristry expert Irene Manson arrived bearing boxes of birthday blooms and held us spellbound as she turned them into works of aromatic art before our eyes.

We watched her bend aspidistra leaves into bows, use tropical fronds crafted into spears and generally enthuse us with the secrets of flower arranging.

Irene, who is secretary of Caversham and Chiltern Flower Club, has shown at Chelsea Flower Show and has run a floristry course at Denman so knows what can be achieved if you let yourself be captured by the potential artistry of flowers.

She was once even asked to do the flowers for the wedding of a minor royal. She may not have got the job but still!

A former physiotherapist, she went with a friend to a flower club meeting 25 years ago and was immediately hooked.

It was to be the start of a new career as a floristry teacher and demonstrator.

While many of us love flowers, most of us admitted we did little more than plonk a bunch in a vase and hope for the best.

But Irene showed us how to make four arrangements from scratch, one traditional and three contemporary — and we winced only once when she boldly chopped up an orchid.

Nothing went to waste, though, as she proceeded to include the leftover bare stems in her arrangement.

Irene says that, contrary to expectations, a flower arranger like her lets hardly anything go to waste.

Her paraphernalia of containers, tools and accessories now fills several rooms of her house, plus the garage, which is proving to be a “sore point” with her husband.

She even keeps secateurs in the car so she can shout to him to “stop!” if she spots something she likes the look of growing by the roadside.

Her first arrangement for Chazey’s birthday was a table decoration which could be made with flowers and foliage from the garden and then filled with sweets for a family Easter celebration.

Irene used a ring of Oasis, the favourite foam of flower arrangers, but there’s a problem.

The anti-plastic lobby, of which the WI is an enthusiastic member, frowns on Oasis, a form of plastic, as it takes a lifetime and then some to biodegrade.

An alternative is a Japanese method featured by Monty Don on Gardeners’ World called Kokedama, a ball of soil covered with moss, which Irene brought to show us containing a small succulent.

Next up was a modern parallel design of stocks, carnations and St John’s wort berries, followed by a flamboyant and elegant two-tier arrangement on a stand with fragrant strands of broom.

Last but not least was a large bowl full of tropical flowers and foliage which Irene said she’d chosen to do to cheer her up during the recent rain.

Her final and probably favourite work of art was a birthday card made for her recent birthday by her eight-year-old granddaughter. Proving that talent often runs in the family, her granddaughter had stuck a small spray of fresh flowers on it.

We have lots of fascinating speakers coming up in our 2019-2020 programme which has just been published. You can get your copy by emailing us at or by messaging us on our Facebook page.


OUR April meeting started with the introduction of the new committee members and their relevant jobs.

We are lucky that our president Christine Cox is willing to continue for another year.

As only two of the previous committee members have stood down, we welcomed Kris Knox as catering co-ordinator.

We welcomed Janet Waling back after her lengthy illness. A display of mini bobble hats for Innocent Smoothies was set up, showing our many and varied designs.

Items from News & Views were discussed and the centenary wall hanging was admired — sharp eyes identified our contribution.

Our speaker was Jean Burt on the work of the Wallingford food bank, which we have supported for the past few years.

Mrs Burt, who was accompanied by her husband, told us how they had started nine years ago in a small way, helped by the Wallingford Churches Together group.

In 2011 they helped 400 clients and last year, there were 2,000 needing help.

We all agreed what a worthwhile cause this is and hope that the couple will be able to find some desperately needed new premises very soon.

Members had donated various items of tinned food for the food bank.

After our coffee break, we heard a report on the Oxfordshire Federation’s annual meeting at the Kassam Stadium which included speakers Emma Bridgewater of pottery fame and Helen Sharman, the astronaut.

Our tea and cake fund-raiser at the Goring and Streatley starter band concert had made a profit of £260.

The evening finished with our monthly Oxfordshire facts quiz and a short quiz on unusual words and their meanings.


ON Wednesday, April 17 Diane Bush took her place at the president’s table for her first meeting as the new president.

She welcomed members, guest Angela Thomas and the returning speaker Simon Jones, whose talk was entitled “Our own antiques roadshow”.

On the stage were two tables laden with antiques belonging to members who were perhaps hoping for a high valuation!

This was Simon’s third visit. He is managing director of Jones & Jacob fine art and auctioneers based in Watlington.

He has 45 years’ experience, which held him in good stead as he examined a range of treasures on the tables. Most of the objects had been in members’ families for many years so each item came with its own history.

The first one he looked at was a Sacha doll, a very collectable item valued at £60 to £70.

An unusual item was a masonic silver buckle belt. The Royal Masonic Hospital, which was built near Hammersmith in 1933, awarded buckles to nurses who trained there between 1948-1996. Our member, who was trained there, received the belt in 1980.

Art deco bronzes were valued at around £500.

Simon was intrigued by a papier-mâché tortoiseshell snuff box, which came with an interesting story.

There was a flintlock shotgun cartridge filler/measure dating back to 19th century when black gunpowder was used. Simon valued this at £30.

Another unusual item was a military police truncheon valued at £30 to £40. This had belonged to a member’s great uncle, who was a volunteer in the special constabulary in London. Apparently, he used it at the famous siege of Sidney Street in 1911.

Simon used a pocket magnifying glass to examine smaller jewellery items. One diamond ring was valued at between £3,000 and £4,000.

He explained that gold was higher in value than silver, which made the owner of a gold 9 carat necklace very happy. There were a few gold and enamel watches dated around 1886, which were 18 carat gold.

The largest item was a lovely large silver bowl which was, unfortunately, silver plated. It was dated around 1929 and had no hallmark so the value was only between £50 and £70.

There were some valuable pieces of Royal Worcester bone china. Simon was enchanted by a silver Victorian apple corer, with a handle made from a bone. He thought there should be a parer with it. He estimated its value at around £150 and said this was his favourite item of the day.

The members learnt that limited edition Royal Mint coins rarely increased in value unless they were gold.

One member had a collection of Chinese coins, some of which were square with a hole in the middle, made of unknown metal.

Simon was very enthusiastic about a statue of a fisher girl, handmade in ivory with a value of £150 to £170.

Congratulations to our quiz team, Helen Perry, Ruth-Mary Vaughan, Sheila Brockelbank and Sue Griffiths, who participated in the Berkshire WI inter-quiz night which took place at Knowl Hill village hall on Tuesday, March 26. Our team were the winners for East Berkshire.

Members relaxed over a delicious tea served by Carole Ellis and Maureen Fennemore.

Our next meeting will take place at Crazies hill village hall on Wednesday, May 15 at 2.30pm, when the guest speaker will be Philippa Chan, headteacher of Crazies Hill Primary School talking about the history of the school.


OUR president Val greeted us on a beautiful spring afternoon and wished our elder stateswoman, Margaret, a very happy 96th birthday. The 1919-20 programmes, designed and printed by Merryl, who has been our programme co-ordinator since 2017, were handed out.

So far 27 knitted hats and tops for Africa’s “fish and chip babies” have been completed and Jane has donated more wool to keep us going.

A good number of members volunteered for our centenary committee with the first meeting to be held in the Elizabeth Room adjacent to St Nicholas’ Church at 2.30pm on Wednesday, May 29.

Come along with ideas and inspiration for raising funds so we can celebrate our 2020 centenary in style.

We will have a bric-a-brac stall at the Chiltern Edge Horticultural Society fair at Peppard war memorial hall on Saturday, June 8. All we need is members’ saleable bric-a-brac, together with volunteers to man (woman) the stall.

The business over, it was time to introduce our speaker Jean Turton, a Chinese brush painter with 30 years’ experience and a Denman tutor.

She explained how the Chinese have been using brushes since Neolithic times for their watercolour paintings and for writing — there were no pencils or pens then.

The impressionistic style, which Jean showed us, has been used since 600AD.

What people presume is rice paper is actually made from mushed up bamboo called Xuan and is very absorbent.

Jean demonstrated how the favourite colour, black, was produced by grinding a black ink stick against a wet stone.

Her many brushes, whether big or fat, once wet, form a point, enabling her to produce fine strokes.

Different hairs are used for the brushes, such as cow’s ear hair, sheep’s hair and wolf or weasel hair.

Holding her brush as if she were about to throw a dart, Jean went to her easel and, in a matter of minutes, deftly manoeuvred her paint-filled brush to produce green leaves, shaded with black, blue flowers with yellow stamens and black stems followed by a triangle of tiny yellow chicks with black beaks, eyes, legs and red cockscombs and, finally, a black worm!

Not content with one masterpiece, she placed another sheet of Xuan on her easel and, with her brush filled with pink tipped with white paint, she swept it round clockwise to produce a beautiful peony flower.

A further flower was added, complete with yellow centres, a bud, black veined green leaves and black stems as well as imitation Chinese characters down the left hand side, signed with the characters for “Zhen” or “Jean” together with her chop or seal.

As she painted, Jean explained how paintings needed lots of white space to let qi or chi, the life force, flow through.

However, if the artist gives a painting to the Emperor, for example, he marks it as his possession. Should it then be passed down to his son, he also marks it and so on. Over time the “white space” is filled.

It is possible for archivists to trace paintings back over millennia.

During the afternoon we learned that Qin Shi Huang Di, the first Chinese emperor of Terracotta Army fame, took a daily dose of cinnabar to make himself immortal; he went mad.

He also sent boatloads of virgin boys and girls eastward to find the floating islands and the peach of immortality — perhaps they discovered Japan?

Both Jean’s paintings were available for sale, the proceeds going to Reading Family Aid for their toy appeal. Last Christmas 1,400 children and teenagers received a gift thanks to the charity.

The competition for a Chinese item was won by Gill with her finely painted egg from Hong Kong. Debbie and Val were joint second.

A delicious tea was served by Jennifer and Margaret, ably assisted by other members.

Our next meeting will be held at Greys village hall on Wednesday, May 15 at 2.30pm when Darren and Tracey Curtis will discuss their self-help programme for overcoming anxiety and depression. We hope this will enable us to discuss this problem openly.

Our next lunch will be at the Bird in Hand in Sonning Common on Tuesday, May 21 and we will visit Broughton Castle on Wednesday, July 3. There are a few places still available.


ON April 10, 1919, Dowager Lady Hambleden opened the first meeting of Hambleden WI.

On April 11, 2019, we kicked off our centenary celebrations with a thanksgiving service in the parish church, led by Rev Stephen Southgate.

This was followed by a celebration tea with Prosecco in the village hall. We were privileged to welcome Lady Hambleden as our guest of honour.

She delighted us all with her recollections of Hambleden, some of which caused much amusement!

We were also pleased to welcome Pat Poole, chairman of Buckinghamshire Federation of WIs.

Pat presented us with two certificates to mark our special anniversary.

Our centenary tablecloth, designed by Suzie Livesey, one of our members, was proudly on display as it will be at all future meetings.

Our beautiful planter is now in place outside the village hall and looks wonderful against the backdrop of brick and flint.

It was encouraging to see so many members along with the choir who joined us for tea. A good time was had by all.

We are an energetic and friendly group and, while we are a thriving WI, we warmly welcome visitors and new members. We meet in the village hall on the second Thursday of the month at 7.30pm.

So, if you are considering joining, please visit which has full details of our 2019 programme. Alternatively, call Jan on 01628 486344 or Jo on 01628 505665.

We look forward to another 100 years of not only inspiring and educating women, but of emerging friendships and fun.

Thank you to all who contributed to our special celebration.

Picture This — page 29


OUR April meeting was well attended and started with a chat over tea and wine. Katie, our president, welcomed everyone and talked through the business, including plans for our centenary party in June.

She then introduced our guest speaker Al Hopkins from OxSaR (Oxfordshire Lowland Search and

Al was an inspiring speaker who gave us a real insight into what amazing work this team of dedicated volunteers does.

When someone goes missing the police are informed and, if appropriate, OxSaR are called out (they are on call 24/7).

They can have a team, including mobile control, search planner and trained searchers, on the ground in an hour-and-a-half, which is vital when looking for a vulnerable person.

Last year in the Thames Valley, more than 10,000 people went missing.

When OxSaR are involved their aim is to search for and bring to safety anyone in need of help. They don’t stand down until the end of a search, whatever the outcome.

These volunteers are highly trained and professional in all but pay as OxSaR is a charity entirely funded by donations and sometimes out of their own pocket to pay for the equipment they need.

Please visit their website and hit the donate button as these are the guys you want to be there if ever, God forbid, you or someone you know goes missing —

At the next meeting we will have Harriet Chettleburgh, of Right Fit, talking to us about achievable health and fitness.

This will take place at the Sacred Heart Church hall in Walton Avenue, just off Vicarage Road, on May 17. Please come and join us.

For more information, email hotwi2017@hotmail.


“THE history of the John Lewis Partnership” was presented at our April meeting by David Sheehan, a volunteer at the John Lewis Heritage Museum in Cookham.

The museum has a permanent display of memorabilia from the partnership and the Waitrose food sector.

There is also an extensive display of patterns and fabric from the manufacturing company owned until quite recently by the partnership.

The exhibition is open on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.

John Lewis was born in the West Country, one of five children. He was orphaned at an early age and he and another brother were brought up by two aunts, one of whom was named Ann Speed.

He was apprenticed to a haberdasher and was immediately fascinated by the business.

He trained later in Liverpool and after a year he moved down to London to work at Peter Robinson.

He worked as a silk buyer, which was quite a prestigious job at the time when everyone bought fabric and either made their own clothes or employed a dressmaker to do so.

He was asked to become a director of the company but instead he took the lease of an old tobacconist’s shop on Oxford Street.

In 1864 he opened this property as a haberdashers’ emporium. He took 17 shillings on his first day. The cash book can be seen in the museum at Cookham.

Lewis was very industrious and had a wide assortment of stock and gave a very good service to customers. He was scrupulously honest, which in those days was unusual.

With all these traits, he quickly built up a very successful business. More leases were acquired on shops adjacent to the original shop.

When permission was not granted to link all the shops together he decided to completely rebuild on the site, which is where John Lewis in Oxford Street stands today.

He later bought Peter Jones for £30,000.

Late in life he married a graduate of Girton College, Cambridge, and had two sons, Spedan and Oswald, who came into the business straight from school and were each given a quarter share of the company.

Spedan fell out with his father and moved to run Peter Jones, forfeiting his share of the John Lewis enterprise.

Oswald lacked enthusiasm for the business and left to join the army and eventually became a very successful barrister and Conservative MP.

Spedan was forward thinking in the running of Peter Jones and immediately he took over the store he put the employees’ wages up and allowed them each three weeks’ holiday.

He also introduced a medical service and bought the Odney country club in Cookham where employees could take holidays.

Spedan published a weekly gazette which told the staff how the business was progressing. This is still published today.

John Lewis died in 1928 at the age of 92 and Spedan took over the running of the Oxford Street store as well as Peter Jones and immediately set up the first trust, making the people who worked in the store partners.

In 1929 Spedan bought the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, which included a manor house, Longstock Park, which has a world famous water garden, and 4,000 acres which is now the Waitrose farm.

The Waitrose chain of 16 small food shops was bought in 1937 and in 1939 Selfridges’ small outlets around the country were bought.

The partnership also bought the castle on Brownsea Island for the partners to use.

Latterly, five small hotels have been added to the company portfolio.

There have been several chairmen since Spedan retired, Sir Bernard Miller, Peter Lewis, Sir Stuart Hampson and Sir Charlie Mayfield.

David’s talk was well illustrated by many interesting photographs.

Gina Foden gave the vote of thanks. In her professional life as a graphic artist, she was involved in the design of some of the John Lewis logos.

Tickets are now on sale for the bridge afternoon at the Wargrave Village Festival in the new St Mary’s Centre on June 19 at 2.30pm.

If you missed festival ticket day, please call Hilda Freeman 0118 940 2657.

In June we have an afternoon visit to Dorney Court.

Meetings are held in the Hannen Room, Mill Green, Wargrave, on the first Wednesday of each month at 7.30pm.


WE were delighted to welcome back Roly Richardson to talk to us about his visits to China and show us slides of some of the places one would not normally see.

Having travelled widely, he opened up a new world to us, encouraging us all to learn more about this vast country.

After discussing future events, we enjoyed tea provided by group three.

Our next meeting was to take place at Peppard war memorial hall on Wednesday with a discussion on the resolutions for the National Federation’s annual meeting in June.


OUR April meeting was a very jolly games afternoon with 20 members present.

Our president Daphne Austen welcomed a new member and received apologies from Ann Francis, Pat Sly and Blanche Williams.

Past and much-loved member Judy Hamilton Fraser has moved to Wales to live with her daughter and family.

Daphne told of a busy summer ahead, including an invitation from Littlewick Green WI to a picnic to celebrate the WI’s centenary, Ladies who Lunch on May 20 and coffee and cake at Toad Hall garden centre in Henley on June 14 as well as a summer tea party at our president’s home.

We then divided into groups of four and played various games, such as beetle drives, perfect squares and shut the box, moving around so everyone played everyone else. This prompted a lot of chat and competitive hilarity.

Carol Wissett, June Shelton, Sheila Constantinidi gave a superb tea, served by Jen Terry, to revive us all.

Our next meeting will be held as usual at Remenham village hall on May 13 at 2.30pm. All very welcome.


OUR March meeting was mainly taken up by the annual meeting and electing the committee for the next year.

Arlene Riley stays as president, Mary Robinson as secretary and Judith Sharp as treasurer. We were pleased to welcome Ryszarda Palarczyk on to the committee. Thank you to all for your hard work.

On a rather cool, early spring afternoon, our president Arlene Riley welcomed members and visitors to our April meeting.

She began by saying that the record for the March meeting was available for all to see. Secretary Mary Robinson listed several items for our information.

We had received an invitation to Chazey WI’s birthday meeting.

There would be a WI adviser drop-in day on Saturday, May 11.

Orders for the WI bulb scheme were to be returned by June 1.

The closing date for the Jubilee Cup competition is November 1.

Mary also drew our attention to the April issue of Berkshire WI News which included dates for Patchwork Day (May 17), visit to Bletchley Park (May 23); visits to water treatment plants, Berkshire West and East (June 13 and 14).

Treasurer Judith Sharp announced that in March the sales table raised £3.70 and the raffle £31. Thank you to all contributors.

Members celebrating birthdays in April were given birthday buttonholes — thanks to Margaret Seal for providing these.

The Scrabble group met twice in April and the book club once. Ladies That Lunch met at Côte Brasserie in Reading.

The date for the trip to Milestones Museum in Basingstoke is now confirmed as Tuesday, July 9 and members were requested to confirm if they wished to go.

A coach is being provided but the cost of entering the museum will be £13 (£12 for concessions).

Next Arlene introduced our speakers Graham and Angela O’Connell from the National Gardens Scheme.

They gave a very interesting talk about the scheme, how it was started by William Rathbone, with a link to Florence Nightingale, right up to the present day.

In 2017 £3.1million was donated to various charities, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie and Hospice UK.

We were shown a few slides of some of the gardens in the local area that are open.

Thank you, Graham and Angela, it was lovely to hear about the hard work being done and which continues.

Finally, we had the usual cup of tea and biscuit before the raffle was drawn.

Arlene closed the meeting by inviting all to our next meeting on May 1.

We meet at St Barnabas’ Church hall in Emmer Green on the first Wednesday of the month at 2pm.


REDUCE, re-use, recycle and, if in doubt, put it in your black bin — two tenets we took from a recent visit to the Ardley energy recovery facility.

Oxfordshire County Council is, believe it or not, at the forefront of municipal waste treatment in the country and this facility diverts at least 95 per cent of the county’s non-recyclable waste from landfill and generates sufficient electricity to power 53,000 homes.

If you have the opportunity, do visit. Near Bicester, it’s only an hour down the M40. It’s free to enter, clean and non-smelly and very well worth it.

Our thanks to Sue Lines for arranging the outing.

On a lovely spring afternoon, president Joan Jolley welcomed lots of members with the news that Shiplake had been awarded a two-night Denman centenary memorial bursary. Because we all wanted to go, there was a draw and the lucky winner was Stephanie Blake.

Our speaker was Peter Halman, a member of the Berkshire Local History Association, who gave us a very interesting talk on the River Thames from Oxford to Windsor.

When compared to the Nile or Mississippi, our river is almost insignificant but to this small island it has provided an effective political and social boundary, a direct source of food, irrigation for crops and opportunities for specialised employment.

Until the middle of the 19th century, the river had always been a main highway for goods, people and ideas.

With the coming of the Great Western Railway, this traffic soon ceased, but it created the opportunity for riverside towns, such as Henley, to develop the leisure and recreational industries we have today.

A lovely tea was hosted by Beryl Lawson and Brenda Lea-Cox.

Joan, who “never wins anything”, won both the flower of the month and the competition!


JENNY WARD opened our April meeting with a warm welcome for members, guests and our speaker, Sue Drage.

On behalf of us all, welfare officer Jane Handley wished “Happy Birthday” to the eight members celebrating their birthdays in April.

Gill Hayward gave a report on the Oxfordshire Federation’s annual meeting celebrating its centenary year.

This year the meeting was held at the Kassam Stadium, an excellent modern venue that was very fitting for the occasion.

There was a parade of all the various and colourful WI banners from around Oxfordshire. Jenny Ward proudly carried the Sonning Common banner.

Tim Stevenson, the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, unveiled the Federation’s centenary wall hanging. Every WI in Oxfordshire had contributed an embroidered leaf.

Sonning Common WI’s leaf was embroidered by Diane Soden.

The Lord Lieutenant spoke with warmth and praised the WI movement and its achievements and campaigns over the last 100 years.

Another VIP guest was Sir Hugo Brunner, the son of Lady Brunner, who was chairman of the National Federation and in 1955 founded the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. She lived at Greys Court and was a founder member of Greys WI.

Lynne Stubbings, the current chairman of the National Federation, also offered her congratulations.

The first WI group in Oxfordshire, Steeple Aston, was opened in 1918 and is still going strong today.

Jane Probitts, chairman of the Oxfordshire Federation, spoke of the challenges and triumphs of the Federaion and the events which were planned for 2019.

There is to be a Federation weekend at Denman College in November with a choice of six courses plus a gala supper and an Abba singalong.

The first guest speaker was pottery designer Emma Bridgewater. It was very interesting to hear how she had set up her business in Stoke-on-Trent.

Emma described the WI as the “Ministry of Decency and Common Sense”. After lunch the speaker was Britain’s first woman in space, Helen Sharman.

After training in the UK and Russia, she was part of the Soyuz TM12 mission to the Mir space station in 1991.

Helen described herself as the girl from Mars (she previously worked as a chemist at the chocolate factory) who went to Mars, saw the stars and went into another galaxy.

Helen is passionate about encouraging girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths.

She was a very exciting speaker who thrilled us all.

Jenny Ward thanked Gill for her report and then went on to give our best wishes to member Jenny Hermon on her move to Dorset.

For many years, Jenny was a member of Dunsden WI but after its closure she joined Sonning Common WI. She served on the committee and was an active member of the craft group and a member of our winning Henley Show team.

Jenny also made a magnificent floor cushion for children’s story time at Sonning Common library.

Sue Frayling-Cork reported on the excellent Oxfordshire Federation trip to the Chelsea Hospital and the Army Museum.

The hospital is in fact a home for retired soldiers, where they are very well cared for and can lead interesting and active lives.

Members took a full tour of the hospital and much admired the beautiful chapel and magnificent dining hall.

At the Beechwood Group meeting, hosted by Harpsden WI, we learnt more about the interesting lives that the Chelsea Pensioners lead.

Brian told us more about the life at the home and joked that the initials on the pensioners’ hats stood for “Retired Hippies”.

Harpsden WI served a delicious tea and there was an enjoyable quiz. Reports completed, it was time to hear from Sue Drage who, in her words, had come 70 miles to talk rubbish.

Sue had an amazing display of upcycled craft items made from rubbish that would have otherwise been destined for recycling bins.

Plastic bags had been knitted and crocheted into attractive bags. A wide range of materials, plastic bottles, ring pulls, aluminium tins, crisp packets, magazine pages, CDs etc had been transformed into bowls, earrings, bracelets and other useful items.

The April competition was for an Easter hat and was won by Di Soden with Jane Handley in second place and Sue Frayling-Cork in third.

Entries in the flower of the month competition made for a beautiful display of spring flowers.

The winner was Christine Gibson with Sue Frayling-Cork second and Chris Marsh third.

As ever, the coins used for voting will be banked and at the end of the year passed to the Associated Country Women of the World.

After the raffle and refreshments, Jenny Ward called the meeting to a close.

The next meeting will be held on May 16 when the resolutions for the National Federation’s annual meeting in Bournemouth in June will be discussed.

The resolutions are “A call against the decline in local bus services” and “Don’t fear the smear”.

Visitors are welcome. For more information, call our secretary Carol on 0118 972 3738.

The next Sonning Common monthly coffee morning, which is hosted by Sonning Common WI, will be held at the village hall on June 6 from 10.30am to noon.

The Ways and Means Trust and Greenshoots will be selling seasonal plants, fresh vegetables and other produce.

Also on sale will be books, jewellery, greetings cards and craft items. All visitors are welcome.


WE met in the village hall on Tuesday, April 9. Rita Mann welcomed members and one visitor.

She then gave details of several Oxfordshire Federation events, including a trip to London in May to celebrate 100 years of the WI, an art taster event at Benson, a talk by Simon King and an evening with Dame Stella Rimington, former director general of MI5.

Details were also given of the spring group meeting in May when the speaker will be Diana Mitchell, head guide at Highclere Castle.

After the usual WI business, Rita welcomed Biff Raven-Hill, who was a lively and amusing speaker with a talk entitled “The wartime housewife”.

A delicious WI tea was provided by Pat Hawkins and Margaret Thorpe.

We celebrated five members’ birthdays and finished the afternoon with a raffle.

Sadly, we learnt on April 11 that Janet Steel had died.

Janet had been a member of South Stoke WI for many years and a committee member for more than 18 years. She was secretary for 15 years and served two years as vice-president.

Janet will be greatly missed for all her help within the WI and her involvement in the village. If she saw something that needed doing, she did it without any fuss. She will be greatly missed by us all.


OUR first meeting of the new season featured a very interesting talk called “Platinum, from worthless to wonderful”, given by local resident Christopher Barnard.

Our new programmes were given out and look very promising.

The May meeting will feature a discussion on the national resolutions and in June we will have our garden meeting in a member’s garden. (She won flower of the month award last season, so we are expecting great things!) The Denman bursary draw was won by Vera Butler.

The coming dates were given out for our extra clubs, including books, craft, swimming, walking, games and dining.

Our netball players are really enjoying their games and anyone who has not been yet was invited to come along for a taster session. It is a lot of fun — and good exercise.

We are trying to muster an entry into the group art and craft exhibition in September to go with some individual ones for display. The exhibition is countywide and being held in Didcot.

Some of our members went to the group meeting in Harpsden, which had an excellent speaker from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where some of us are going to visit in July.

The next group event is in June, when we will celebrate the 100 years since the formation of the Oxfordshire Federation of WIs. Two of our group will be 100 either this year or next.

Our usual super supper and raffle rounded off the evening.

We look forward to the rest of this season’s events, which include a visit to Broughton Castle and a day of guided talks and visits in and around Wallingford as well as our popular tea on three dates. WI members joined other villagers in Stoke Row’s litter-pick day.

The volunteers tidied up the verges and collected many sacks full of debris.

The WI members wore bright pink jackets, provided by the Oxfordshire Federation as part of its new campaign to update the Keep Britain Tidy initiative that was started more than 60 years ago under the guidance of a Greys WI member and former Federation chairman, Lady Brunner, of Greys Court.

The jackets are known as “gillets rose” and are issued at relevant events around the county. Among the women was Jane Probitts, our county chairman, whose home WI is in Stoke Row.

She is pleased to be continuing the work started by her predecessor Lady Brunner, another “local girl”.


WE met at the town hall on the evening of Wednesday, April 10 with 26 members and four visitors present.

Dawn Matthews, our president, opened the meeting and received apologies from Maggie Bruce, Sandra Clements, Steve Craddock, Rosemary Heasman, Carol Kelland, Ann Miller, Margaret Mills, Isobel Simpson and Vida Warde.

Our speaker was Caz Hitchcock, a local yoga teacher, who gave an inspiring and motivating talk about keeping mobile in later years.

There is even chair yoga for the less mobile — age is no barrier — but balance is important.

After Caz had answered several questions, Janice Measures gave the vote of thanks on behalf of the members.

Tea with delicious cakes and biscuits was served by Sue Parker and Eleanor Holden.

Dawn Matthews drew members’ attention to News & Views, which contained several items of interest, including the 100-mile challenge, the arts and crafts exhibition in September and the Associated Country Women of the World thanking us for our contribution.

Maggie Bruce’s leaf design was on the front cover, part of the Oxfordshire Federation’s new wall hanging.

The Federation’s annual meeting was held at the Kassam Stadium.

Kath Gomm gave a brief report of proceedings.

We did the raffle at the group meeting held at Chalgrove church on April 25.

Watlington community fair will be held in the Social on June 8 and we will be attending.

The garden party will be held on June 12 but we are still deciding where.

The theme for this year’s Watlington Christmas tree festival is “It’s a wonderful world”. Helen Weidermann was warmly welcomed back after a long absence due to breaking her femur in a fall.

The treasurer reported that our balance as of March 31 was £2,733.99. The accounts have been sent to the National Federation.

Rosemary Lewis was the lucky recipient of a birthday posy.

The raffle, which was organised by Angela Jacob and Janice Measures, was won by Sue Markham.

We had a splendid display of “smoothie hats” knitted by members. 25p from the sale of each one goes to Age Concern.


WE were welcomed by our new president Patricia Solomons on a warm spring day.

Thanks were given to Shirley Bryant for producing our programme for the coming year.

Birthday buttonholes were presented to Margaret Carter and Pat Hunt.

We received a certificate from the National Federation on Woodcote WI’s 75th birthday.

In May we will have a trip to Savill Garden at Windsor and a boat trip. In July we will visit Greys Court for elevenses followed by a garden and house tour.

Our speaker Ann Sharman told us about the wedding she went to in Delhi.

She showed us the beautiful invitation and explained about the clothes and the ceremonies.

These were all illustrated with photographs, including the beautiful henna decorations that the ladies have on their hands and feet.

This was followed by a lovely tea thanks to Audrey Hawthorne, Connie Vickery and Iris Lewis.

The lunch club this month will be going to the Highwayman.

In June the speaker will be Ann Smith who will tell us about “100 years of Reading shops” and the competition will be for an old photograph of Reading.

We meet at Woodcote village hall on the third Wednesday of the month at 2.30pm. Please come and join us.

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