Monday, 04 July 2022

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


THE March meeting should have been the occasion of our 93rd annual meeting but we have had to postpone it due to the coronavirus outbreak, the health and wellbeing of everyone being the priority.

The current committee will carry on in place until we can meet again.

Sadly, our meetings in April and May (and maybe future ones) are definitely cancelled and our venue, the parish hall, is now closed for the foreseeable future.

We had been looking forward to Benson’s turn to host our local group meeting on April 23, which was to be attended by members of our neighbouring WIs with the RAF Benson Military Wives Choir agreeing to entertain us. Another time hopefully.

Here in Benson there is a great deal of community spirit with a Benson help hub recently set up and operating from the Millstream Centre.

Our local Co-op supermarket and Lloyds Pharmacy are doing their best, along with other local enterprises.

We would like to pass on congratulations to Greys WI who recently celebrated their centenary. We all know that Lady Brunner OBE was a member there and instrumental in founding the Keep Britain Tidy campaign.

Unfortunately, the annual litter-pick in Benson has become a casualty of the current situation.

Please stay well, everybody, and hopefully normal service within the WI will be resumed as soon as possible.


THE Women’s Institute is often thought to be rather fuddy duddy; “They bake cakes, don’t they? as someone once said to me.

In fact, the WI is one of the most important and revolutionary organisations founded in the 20th century when women had very few rights, socially and financially.

The WI created a monthly meeting space for women, organised and led by women and where all women were equal.

Years before all women got the vote, WI members were voting in a secret ballot to elect their president.

To this day, the voice of the WI is heard and respected in our country.

On March 22, 1920, a group of local women met in Greys village hall, elected a president, Mrs Wolferston, and a committee, and registered this new, revolutionary twig as “Greys Institute”.

Meetings were held in members’ homes until Rotherfield Greys village hall was opened in 1925 and we are still there, every month.

During the Twenties, Greys WI campaigned for better housing, “...the new village houses on Shepherds Green do not have a waste pipe from the kitchen sink”.

They also organised outings — one October a group of adventurous members set off in a hired coach to London to see The Desert Song.

Unfortunately, driving back home, they were caught in dense fog and were stranded for hours in the outskirts of London.

The Thirties were a time of severe poverty. Greys WI sent toys and books to poor children in London and clothing and warm bedding to the unemployed people of Jarrow.

On May 12, 1937, George VI was crowned and Greys threw a party: “The platform and the table were decorated with union flags and red and white flowers to celebrate the coronation.”

Lady Elizabeth Brunner joined Greys WI soon after her family moved to Greys Court in 1937 and continued as a member until her death at the age of 98 in 2003.

She was a passionate member of the WI and was chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes from 1951 to 1956 in addition to founding the Keep Britain Tidy campaign.

Nevertheless, she always considered herself first a member of Greys WI, of which she was president several times, and continued to attend monthly meetings until she died.

Greys WI mourned her death and members planted a tree in Greys Court in her memory.

Everything changed when the Second World War broke out. Two families of evacuees came to live in the village hall. Our monthly meetings continued and the refugee families joined in.

The WI adopted “our prisoner of war”, Private Fred Vowles, sending him many parcels of food and comforts during his imprisonment.

Fred wrote, thanking Greys for the hand-knitted socks but hinting that cigarettes would be welcomed, so these were dispatched.

He visited Greys in 1955 to thank members, a poignant moment.

From 1948 to 1970, Greys WI supported a destitute Polish family, the Chicherskis, who had been displaced from Poland after the war and were living in Mannheim in Germany.

They sent parcels of everything from food to shoes to new curtains as well as a regular monthly letter.

In 1970 the WI raised £40 to bring the last surviving member of this family, Mrs Varlascoff, to Rotherfield Greys for a holiday.

She said: “My mother depended on these monthly letters, the feeling that she still had friends...”

During the war, Greys WI opened a successful market stall in Henley, which closed when rationing ceased but re-opened later, finally closing when new regulations came in.

In the next decades Greys members had a very successful drama club, raised funds for local charities, such as Peppard Hospital and abroad (Rwanda, Slovenia and Bosnia), fought hard to keep the village telephone box and entertained groups of Commonwealth students.

They called for free family planning services and for action to protect women and children from abuse.

They were interested in the dresses of Christian Dior, created a tapestry (with other local WIs) of an Aspergillus spore for the Diamond Light Source at Harwell and attended a course on earthquake engineering.

A century after our first meeting, we are still here, still meeting every month in Greys village hall, still listening to interesting speakers and still relaxing in our social half hour, while enjoying tea and cakes.

Visitors are welcome to our meetings, where they are welcomed with warm friendship, relaxing chat and, of course, the teas. Over the years we have learned many new skills, supported more charities, visited some fascinating places and, very importantly, had a lot of fun.

We look forwards to the next 100 years.


SARAH WILLIAMS opened our March meeting, held at the Stag & Huntsman in Hambleden village as the village hall is currently out of action.

A massive thank you to Marius and his team who were very welcoming and kindly provided us with tea and coffee.

Sarah warmly welcomed 20 members to the meeting, our numbers being depleted due to understandable caution regarding the coronavirus.

Details were given of the clubs and activities, including the Buckinghamshire Federation’s 100-mile challenge walk and the book club meeting (Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker).

A group of 10 members met at Parmoor on March 10 for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of short story reading by Louise Andrews.

Louise captivated the group with her reading of stories by Graham Greene, Katherine Mansfield and Saki.

Many thanks go to Louise and Anne Langley for a most delicious tea.

Sadly, the trip scheduled for April to the Greatmoor recycling plant has been postponed. It will hopefully be rescheduled for later in the year.

We were delighted to welcome our speaker for the evening, Debbie Brady, who gave an energetic and entertaining talk on “Photojournalism — a woman in Fleet Street”.

She provided a fascinating insight into her time in a very demanding and highly varied profession.

She took us on a journey from her first day’s exciting assignment on which she secured a picture exclusive of Michael Jackson’s arrival in the UK.

She fully engaged us with humorous anecdotes and a variety of fascinating photographs.

A big thank-you to Jo Tilbury and Teresa Russ for kindly providing the cake and savoury items we enjoyed at the end of the evening.

A raffle was held and a huge thank-you to all those who provided contributions. The table was full of a variety of many tempting prizes.

If you are interested in joining as a guest at one of our meetings or coming on one of our walks, please call either Jan Connelly on 01628 486344 or Sarah Williams on 07817 120339.

We normally meet on the second Thursday of each month in Hambleden village hall.


SHIRLEY WEYMAN presided over her last meeting on March 11. She took us through various items in News & Views but, at the time of writing, most of them will not now take place due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Beechwood Group meeting due on April 24 will also not now take place.

The winners of the monthly competition over the past year were presented with their prizes. Rose Musselwhite gained 23 points and Judith Young 22 points.

Shirley then took members through the annual meeting.

Pam Hails presented the financial statement. Although there is money in the bank, Pam said that unless fundraising events are held, the institute could be in financial trouble within two years.

A questionnaire to this effect was available for members to indicate what kind of event they would support.

Mary Burton gave the secretary’s report, mentioning the variety of speakers that had been enjoyed over the preceding year.

There are now 31 paid-up members, a loss of 10 from 2019.

Shirley thanked the committee for supporting her and undertaking their jobs so efficiently.

Ann Lincoln and Di Painter stepped down from the committee. Susan Beswick was welcomed in joining the following existing members, who were re-elected: Mary Burton, Pam Hails, Suzanna Rose, Jean Newman, Doris Tallon and Judith Young.

Mary will be continuing as secretary and Pam as treasurer. Suzanna was elected president for 2020/21 and promised that she will do her best in her new role.

The Oxfordshire Federation’s climate change ambassador, Hilary Dix, spoke on her specialist subject. She is on the board of trustees and had come from West Oxfordshire, a distance of 46 miles.

She provided members with several questionnaires to fill in, asking for the ways in which they were already helping the environment to become more sustainable and ways in which they will endeavour to make a change in the future.

The competition was for “A favourite poem” and was won by Pam Hails, who submitted The Lady of Shallot. Jasmine Weaver was second and Rose Musselwhite third.

Future meetings of Harpsden WI are now postponed for the time being due to the pandemic.

We trust that all WI ladies, wherever they may be, will stay safe and well and we send them all our very best wishes.


PRESIDENT Frankie Macmillan, secretary Pat Jones and programme secretary Carol Evans gave our guest speaker a warm welcome to the March meeting.

Jane Turner, a volunteer helper from Limnerslease House, Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village, near Compton in Surrey, came to guide us through the properties and galleries.

The Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village was developed by George Frederick Watts and his wife Mary to showcase the works of Watts, who was then one of the most famous artists in this country.

Watts was a sickly child and spent a lot of his time in bed and had no academic teaching or artistic training.

He did attend the Royal Academy Schools when he was 18 for six months but left as he felt they could not teach him anything he didn’t already know.

From the age of 11 he was selling his drawings to support his father and family. He had a very well developed social conscience which was evident throughout his life.

He was married briefly to Ellen Terry, the actress. His second marriage to Mary, who was also an artrist, was enormously successful despite the 30 years difference in their ages.

Watts was a founder member of the Tate Gallery, donating 20 of his symbolistic paintings.

He was also a founder member of the Portrait Gallery, giving 40 of his portraits of the great and good of his day. These were exhibited as the Hall of Fame.

Watts was the only living artist invited to exhibit works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during the 1880s and sent some of his larger pictures to America.

Limnerslease House, and later the Artists’ Village, was designed and built on land purchased from the Loseley Estate as a winter escape from Watts’ London house in Holland Park and was completed in 1891.

Mary had a special interest in ceramics. After Watts’ death in 1938, she designed and built the chapel with local help.

She employed local workers to help and later developed the pottery to ensure they had skills for further employment when the chapel was completed.

After Mary’s death, Limnerslease House had several different owners and was used as a factory during the Second World War. It was renovated in 2011 and is open to visitors.

Jane certainly gave us a comprehensive overview and a very interesting evening. Christabel Grimmer gave the vote of thanks.

We were due to visit Limnerslease House and the artists’ renovated studio, along with several galleries in May but this has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, as have all Mill Green WI meetings and activities for the foreseeable future.

We do hope you all stay safe and well and we hope to see you again in the autumn.


IRENE LINDSAY, our president, welcomed our WI advisor Pauline Goddard, and future advisor Pauline Goddard to our annual meeting in March.

After attending to the business matters, Pauline presented the cup for the flower of the month

Irene gave the president’s address before handing over to our new president Sandra Rhodes and wished the new committee every success in the coming year.

A delicious tea was provided by buddy group 4 and members discussed future plans.


AS our president Daphne Austen was away, our vice-president Judy Palmer took the chair.

Diane Sutherland gave her apologies.

We heard that Joy O’Brian had gone into a care home in Ascot. She is settling in happily and can have her beloved dog with her. She would welcome visitors.

The report on our annual meeting was very positive. The committee had provided a light lunch and all is settled for the forthcoming year.

Carol Wissett has retired from the committee after many years organising the teas. She thanked the members for a lovely orchid.

It was agreed that in future the teas should be shared between the committee and the members, £3 to be given for each cake or loaf or sandwiches made.

Wendy Robinson, the Denman College representative, was a guest and much enjoyed the afternoon.

The five resolutions, which had been discussed and voted for at our previous meeting, have now been collated with all the Berkshire entries.

The results are as follows: 1 For a stem cell register, 2 End modern slavery, 3 Saving helium; 4 Discussing with relations death and dying; 5 Research on crash test dummies.

These were to be collated nationwide and debated and voted for at the National Federation’s annual meeting in June but this has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was proposed that members should bring two quality items of clothing for a “dignity room” set up at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading for those kept in after accidents and bereft of clothing.

Another request from the hospital is for members to knit little cuffs for the premature babies who have drips inserted in their arms, which are likely to be scratched out.

Judy then introduced our speaker, Alison Edwards, who spoke about the Sue Ryder hospices.

She had got involved with the charity after a friend had died at one of its hospices.

She was so impressed by the fantastic care, not only for the patient but for all the relations and friends.

Sue Ryder had become interested at age six and in her teens persuaded her mother to turn the family home into a hospice.

In 1959 she married Leonard Cheshire and between them they started many care homes.

There are three Duchess of Kent Hospices in this area, in Newbury, Wokingham and Reading. The Reading one is opposite Prospect Park and has 15 rooms, all en suite, and a family room and garden.

Newbury and Wokingham are day hospices and can accommodate 10 to 12 people, three times a week. Much is provided, from just a cup of coffee and a chat to acupuncture, massage and crafts. All services are free.

It costs about £13,000 a day to run each hospice. They are partially funded but the rest has to be raised.

As we know, there are retail shops but Alison fundraises herself and is getting more corporate donations.

To quote Lady Ryder: “We only get one chance of death, so we must get it right.”

Of course there were many questions, particularly about the closure of the Sue Ryder hospice at Nettlebed.

Alison explained it only had five beds, of which only three were usually occupied, and it was an enormous property to manage and it was just not viable to run.

She was warmly thanked by Judy.

After a superb tea provided by members of the committee, the meeting closed.

• In view of the current situation of not being able to hold meetings, Daphne has arranged for each committee member to have two or three members to ring each week to keep in touch and check on their wellbeing.


OUR March meeting was also our annual meeting. Firstly, president Arlene Riley welcomed all members and visitors present.

Treasurer Judith Sharp then gave the annual finance statement, which revealed the interest on our business account was the amazing sum of 62p.

Over the year £356 was raised by the raffles and £162 from the sales table and £40 was given for hospital emergency packs.

Our membership for 2019 was 58 full members with eight new full members.

All members continued to receive a copy of the Berkshire Federation’s monthly newsletter.

Arlene proposed the appointment of an independent examiner, which was agreed by a show of hands.

She then gave the president’s address and proposed the adoption of the annual report, which was proposed by Mary Robinson and seconded by Brenda Thames.

Orchid plants were presented to Margaret Pyle and Mary Robinson, who are standing down from the committee and Arlene thanked them both for their hard work over the years.

An orchid plant was also presented to Judith Sharp for her services as treasurer. Gill Sawyer was thanked for her work in compiling the hospital packs and for running the raffle.

Arlene then introduced the members of the committee for the coming year — Ryszarda Palarczyk, Pat Denney, Barbara Wood, Elizabeth Hutton, Brenda Thames, Carol Adams and Gill Sawyer and new members Doris Goddard and Sue Green.

She then thanked all members who had made such an amazing amount of knitted goods over the year. Keep those knitting needles and crochet hooks busy!

A record of the February meeting was available for all to see and any queries should be brought to the notice of the president or secretary.

The Scrabble group and book club both met in March and the cinema group was hoping to see Military Wives. Ladies that Lunch were to meet at the Moderation pub in Caversham.

Those interested in the Thames trip in July were asked to pay a £10 deposit.

Then our speaker, Clive England, gave a very interesting (and sometimes amusing) talk about the air ambulance, explaining that it is kept going by charity donations, including the Lottery, with no money coming from either the Government or the NHS. The talk was followed by the usual cup of tea and biscuit before the raffle was called.

In view of the current situation it is impossible to say when our next meeting will be. We normally meet at St Barnabas Church hall in Emmer Green on the first Wednesday of the month at 2pm.


OUR annual meeting on March 10 was attended by 25 members. As there were no new nominations for the committee the current members and president were re-elected.

After the usual WI business had been dealt with, Rita Mann welcomed Teresa Blay, our speaker for the afternoon.

Teresa is a Goring first responder and gave a very interesting and informative talk about the work of the first responders.

They are normally the first people to arrive on the scene when the ambulance service has been called out to an emergency.

One person celebrated her birthday this month and Pam Seymour and Patti Akers provided a delicious tea. We finished the afternoon with a raffle.

In line with government advice, we have decided to cancel the monthly meetings until further notice.


THE WI has been shut down for the first time in its long history.

Even in wartime Women’s Institutes kept open, meeting in rural areas to keep the community going and famously making jam.

The women also picked the fruit and vegetables for preservation or pickling and carried on the work on the land while their men were away at war.

They picked flowers, seeds and berries as well, some, such as foxgloves, to produce medicines, digitalis in that instance.

Although this was work, at least they could do it together.

One of the main reasons women of all ages join the WI nowadays is for the company and friendship of other women, meeting in (currently prohibited) large numbers for education, enlightenment and just plain entertainment, among other things.

Now we are denied these gatherings and we should all stay at home unless for the few permitted reasons.

Our March meeting was cancelled and we cannot see into the future to when we will re-open.

All of our extra groups have had to cease as well as they were attended by groups, definitely more than two people and definitely not able to keep 2m apart.

We have been inventive and started a WhatsApp group, so those who can are instant messaging within the group on their mobile phones.

We are sending news of what we are doing at home, or exercising, and posting photos to keep in touch.

On the first day, 10 members signed up for this and two of the first photos are shown — that of member Penny Noble gardening in the sunshine with the help of her four-legged friend and of Robbie Foster taking a more leisurely approach in her garden.

This link, we are sure, will go some way to stop us feeling lonely and keep our spirits up. This is in tune with one of the WIs current campaigns; little did we think that it might be needed for ourselves.

If every member contacted just one new person within their circle of neighbours and friends who might be feeling lonely over the next who knows how long, then we will have done our bit and feel better for it.

All National and Oxfordshire Federation events have had to be cancelled and we wait to see when these can start up again.

Meanwhile, we are coping as best we can. Some of us were already self-isolating before our March meeting was cancelled so we are getting used to manging the problems of shopping for food and medicines.

The meeting would have been our annual meeting where we elect the coming year’s committee and

As this did not happen, the existing members will carry on and Sandra therefore continues to be our president. Not that there is much to preside over but nonetheless we need someone at the head.

This will have happened in a lot of WIs, although some which managed to meet before the closure will have conducted their elections.

Now we are all in shutdown across the country, unable to meet for any kind of gathering, event, trip or meeting, social or otherwise.

Some of our walkers, who would normally have met once a month with a stop for tea, are now walking in isolation or with their husbands for their once a day exercise but everything else requires a group.

We are, of course, telephoning and using social media but for those living on their own, possibly far away from family even if they have some, this will get more difficult as time goes on and we must be sure to keep in touch with them. It is what WI does best, after all.

Two of our members are part of the Oxfordshire Federation team that produces the monthly newsletter, News & Views, which every member in the county can access as a glossy 14-page news magazine.

With events and trips cancelled, we did not want to send these magazines out for secretaries to worry about delivering to their members without a meeting at which to hand them out, which is the normal method.

Half of the content of the already printed April issue was redundant anyway, so distribution was cancelled.

Instead it will be sent as a pdf by email to those members who can access it that way. There will not be any more News & Views until we are all open again as there is plainly no news to impart.

Our members’ thoughts are with everyone who may be suffering any problems at the present time.


AS March was our annual meeting, we had no speaker.

The committee and president were all asked if they would agree to stand again, which they did. Thanks were given to the committee for all their hard work and we all look forward to another year of being a great WI.

After the business of the evening, Sue Markham held an excellent quiz, which was great fun. The winners received chocolate bars while losers got toilet rolls!

We usually meet in Watlington town hall on the second Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm. For more information, please call Dawn Matthews on 01494 612023.


LIFE before covid-19. Our last month was one of increasing concern about what was then on the horizon.

Despite that, we managed to hold a successful fundraising event, running a coffee morning at the art café in Whitchurch on a Saturday morning.

While quieter than on previous occasions, it proved a good opportunity for WI members to meet up with others in our community. We shared good company, coffee and, of course, the obligatory home-made cake.

Our last meeting on March 17 was originally for our annual meeting but with participating numbers well down it was decided to postpone this until more members could attend.

In the end only seven members came together to share refreshments and hints and tips on how to stay fit and healthy.

There will be no more WI gatherings until we are given the go-ahead to resume group activities.

We wish everyone good health and good spirits and look forward to picking up where we left off.

When we do resume, if you are interested in joining us, please call Frances on 0118 984 2162 for more information.

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