Tuesday, 17 May 2022

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


OUR members have not been able to meet as a group since February but maybe after this month things will ease further and we will begin see a way forward.

For our June meeting, we should have welcomed Barbara Hately to talk about “The history and meaning of nursery rhymes” but we had to put yet another interesting speaker on hold.

Most of our members have kept up with WI news with regular online updates but some do not use the internet so have had to be kept informed via articles in the Benson Bulletin and the Henley Standard and by receipt of the national magazine WI Life.

We were pleased to learn that our membership year has been extended. which means our fees will not be due again until April 1 by which time we will hopefully be back on track as a group.

In the meantime, planning for future meetings has not been able to take place. It is the committee’s intention to meet again as and when we can and perhaps chat about this current experience over tea and cake and see where we go as a group.

In Benson, the community continues to be supportive and there has been tentative opening of more shops and food outlets.

The hot weather has seen an influx of visitors to the village and most of our members have been able to see families and friends not seen for some time.

Our thanks must go to the shops, organisations, friends and neighbours who have been exceptional during this difficult period.

It’s still a cautious time for most but getting slowly back to normal is very welcome. Fingers crossed.

To contact Benson WI, call (01491) 837885 or email

Sue Brown


NOT the summer that our WI was hoping for but the good weather enabled members with gardens to be busy.

New technology let some of our members enjoy WhatsApp and our book club had some Zoom meetings.

The Berkshire News for July/August has arrived and has been distributed by the committee with our programme of events, some of which have been postponed of course.

We hope that we can all get together again in the not too distant future

Carol Briscoe


HERE at Cleeve by Goring WI we are in lockdown with no prospect at the moment of a proper meeting until at least September.

The other question is whether speakers will want to come so we may have to resort to Zoom or something similar but we do have members who might find that difficult.

We are all very lucky here in Goring with our local shops, the “street champions” to help with shopping etc and so many takeaway food establishments.

Our surroundings are very beautiful with plenty of different walks and the River Thames of course.

Our president Chris Cox has been very proactive — she has just produced her 14th weekly newsletter with articles from members, photos of past events and old minute reports from the days when ladies wore hats to the meeting and called each other by their married names — no Christian names in those reports.

There was, however, a much larger membership than we have and their programme was very full with all kinds of events.

At the beginning of all this, Chris divided up the membership and gave each committee member five members to keep in contact with so that nobody would be left alone with no outside contacts.

It has worked well and we have probably all got to know each other better — all too easy to sit and talk with your friends at meetings and not talk to those that you don't know so well.

The Oxfordshire Federation has also been busy keeping us entertained and educated with online courses and lectures if we can raise the enthusiasm in the rather relaxed way of life we have all become used to,

Sadly, we have had to abandon our annual lock teas, which would have been impossible to organise with all the precautions now in place, especially social distancing.

So no donations to charity this year but we are in contact with the Wallingford food bank which is doing such a marvellous job. I hope it will not be too long before we are a bit more “normal”.

Sara Turner


MEMBERS have settled into a routine following all the Government’s lockdown recommendations.

The hardest one was perhaps not being able to visit their children or grandchildren, to be able to hug them.

Members have been creative and inventive and also support each other.

On reflection, I think members have been doing that since 1915. At that time they were more involved in producing food during the First World War.

Now it has evolved into the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK. Happily, the restrictions have now eased and our president Diane Bush has welcomed five members to her farm home to join her for tea in her garden, which included her speciality of strawberry meringues.

It was wonderful for the members to finally socialise again.

Diane plans to hold five groups of tea parties in all. Normally we have a garden party in June but this had to be cancelled.

I think of Diane as a “super woman” as she is incredibly busy, especially now as it is harvest time on the farm.

Walking has been a pleasant pastime for many. While out enjoying the countryside, one member saw turkey chicks being delivered to a local farm ready for Christmas. A reminder that life goes on.

The Berkshire Federation newsletter is still being delivered each month but, alas, no information about a return to normality for the WI.

A special mention, too, for Jenny Bendell, our craft representative, who has been a WI member for more than 50 years and who celebrated her diamond wedding anniversary yesterday (July 2) at her new home in Englefield Green.

Selina Avent

I HAVE enjoyed being able to meet friends in our back gardens, catching up over a cuppa, or drinks and nibbles, and also going on walks together keeping at a 2m distance.

I have two daughters at different ends of the country; for one it takes two hours to get home, for the other five.

As I live alone, it made sense to take advantage of the “support bubble” scheme to allow the one daughter to stay while the other visited for a day. That was lovely. I have also met up with my mother, brother and sister for a socially distanced picnic. Seeing family and friends in person makes all the difference.

The WI was involved in a virtual mass lobby of MPs on Tuesday. I was invited to attend by a friend from St Mary’s Church in Wargrave.

Sheila Brocklebank


DURING the lockdown and because it is our centenary year, I am looking back through the archives of Greys WI.

We had a successful and popular drama club for 20 years. In 1924, at the Oxford County Exhibition, Greys submitted two short plays for the drama competition. Sadly, these resulted in a lowly third class certificate.

Undaunted, in 1925 Greys entered the Shakespeare acting competition, with excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This time, we won a first class certificate.

On Armistice Day in 1926, the club performed The Unknown Warrior in Greys village hall, which was filled by an appreciative audience of families and villagers.

Everyone joined in the singing of Jerusalem and the National Anthem. It must have been a moving experience, so soon after the First World War.

The year 1927 was a high point as Greys won the drama competition and the Solver Cup with excerpts from Romeo and Juliet. There were other highs and lows.

In 1928 at the Oxford competition, our play The Bake House was bottom of the list.

In 1931, Greys changed tack and performed a mime of Bluebeard at the Oxford Rural Community Festival.

This proved to be extremely popular and was performed at Peppard Sanatorium (there’s no record of how the patients responded) and at the annual meeting at Oxford.

It wasn’t all serious stuff — at the Greys Christmas party of 1936, Miss Wiles, the vice-president, dressed as a green gnome to recite the history of the fir tree, from which Father Christmas distributed gifts to everyone present. She sounds great fun.

In 1937 our drama team won yet another “A” certificate with a new type of play combining mime and singing.

In 1940 in the village hall, for the last time, the drama club read The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling.

The atmosphere was changing. Three Greys members had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Service and were “away serving somewhere in Britain”.

War was looming and the real drama approaching.

During the Forties, Greys WI’s monthly meetings continued without a break but the drama club was defunct.

Merryl Roberts


THERE are now about 18 of us who have been meeting regularly on Zoom to discuss various topics which are set at the previous meeting.

Having had two quizzes, we decided to keep our book club going and Shirley suggested we read Old Baggage by Lissa Evans, which she had already enjoyed.

Several members obtained the book on Kindle and others circulated Shirley’s copy.

This is a story of Suffragettes 30 years on and proved to be an interesting read which provoked a wide variety of comments on the contents and the style of writing.

Suzanna has now suggested we read The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding, which is a portrait of 20th century Germany and the story of one house in particular by a lake, five families and 100 years of history.

We will see at a future Zoom meeting what opinions are expressed after reading this book.

At our meeting on July 2 we were to be entertaining each other with stories of “The best holiday I ever had”.

We have also joined in the lectures provided by the Oxfordshore Federation and have been able to keep up with what other WIs are doing via the emailed copy of News & Views, which has been copied and delivered to members not on email.

The committee keeps in touch by telephone with members, making sure that they are keeping well.

Our committee meetings each month are now held by Zoom, which necessitates keeping to the point and not digressing!

I am writing this when my thermometer in the garden says that the temperature is 43C in the sun. In the shade it registers 32C.

Personally, I would prefer cooler weather and there is certainly no need to take a flight abroad to chase the sun and then have to isolate for 14 days when you return, as the instructions are at the moment.

We welcome all the new changes to our lockdown situation and hope that some members can now get together in gardens to socialise.

We send our best wishes to all WI ladies and hope that it will not be too long before we meet up again, either at our own monthly meetings or in the Beechwood Group or at county level. Stay alert!

Judith Young


WHILE the organised system of contact telephone calls between members of Remenham WI is coming to an end, members are continuing to keep in touch and exchange news.

The lockdown recipe booklets have now been completed and circulated and new recipe ideas are being tried out by members.

The joint story being added to by our aspiring authors is slowly making its way around the group as everyone uses their imagination and literary skills to add to the unfolding tale of intrigue.

With the gradual easing of restrictions, plans are in hand for the first post-lockdown meeting, which hopefully will be an outdoor, socially distanced event.

Daphne Austen


JOAN, our president, has been sending an email to members each month to keep in touch and raise spirits.

She informed us that the subs renewal had been moved forward to April next year and that it was something that had been requested even before the present circumstances.

She had been asked if we could hold Zoom meetings with a speaker and requested members to let her know if they would be interested.

She also asked for some thoughts from our members and was surprised at the variety of the replies.

Janet sent some information about the resolutions which the WI would have been discussing and voting on at the National Federation’s annual meeting last month.

Some ladies have been gardening and walking, some were doing online exercise classes and Whatsapping their activity groups, while others were keeping busy with crafts, painting and writing.

Ladies were missing their volunteering duties at National Trust properties and other charity centres.

One lady attended a virtual funeral and found it a surprisingly satisfying experience.

Shirley let us know that she had been donating material to Sue for making masks and she thanked the farmer for the pretty fields of linseed and opium poppies.

She had attended online church services with coffee afterwards, celebrated a one-year-old’s birthday in Oregon and played interactive noughts and crosses with her grandchildren.

She had ordered some takeaways from Orwells and the Flowing Spring as a treat and had not used any cash for weeks. But she was really missing the WI teas.

Rachel wrote: “Wednesdays were ‘my day’. On a Wednesday I could stay in bed longer, live in my PJs until midday; I didn’t have to do anything.

Covid-19 changed that. Every day became a Wednesday and lockdown made sure I didn’t do anything. The weather was good and I had lots of things to do. Winter clothes got washed and put away, summer clothes transferred to the wardrobe.

Blankets, duvets, pillows were laundered. Oh joy, it was all going so well.

“Our beautifully tended garden became even lovelier and the weather was very good, so we sat outside with tea or wine.

“But where was my structure, my reasons to get up at 7am each day; where had my carefree Wednesday gone?

“I began to miss family and friends and my WI with its warm, friendly chat and yummy teas.

“So I Zoomed in. I Zoom into Friday natters with the Pudding Club, Monday Italian catch-ups and Thursday exercise classes. I Zoomed into the Oxfordshire Federation’s talks on the Mitford Sisters and ‘The Joy of coffee’.

“I joined the Great Oxfordshire WI Quiz Night. Hosted by Pauline Goddard, this was the first of a proposed monthly exercise to keep our brain cells ticking over. It was fun, very well presented, not too taxing but tricky in parts — who knew another name for an aubergine was a brinjal?

“Soon we will return to a new normal. My ironing pile will reappear but has my carefree Wednesday gone for ever?”

Irene wrote to say that she had displayed her teddies in her front window so children or people on their own could look out for them when they took their one-hour exercise walking past her house.

The teddies had lots of adventures: VE Day on the boat in the garden, on the windowsill enjoying cocktails, having a tea party, at Chelsea Flower Show and sunbathing. The children of the village loved them all.

Belinda wanted to let everyone know about the problems of wildlife eating her garden fruit.

She said: “The first to be attacked was the cherry tree — the pigeons ate quite a lot of the blossom and also many of the leaves.

“We put some netting over parts of the tree, so hope to get a few ripe cherries but the pigeons still jump up and down on the netting, so take any fruit they can reach through it.

“We also had lots of strawberries forming but the blackbirds got to the ones in troughs by jumping on the netting and the squirrels got under the netting to get to the rest.

“I improved the netting but next day found a squirrel-sized hole in it and more gone. (More go each day despite further attempts to stop them.)

“One day, I found two blackbirds in the raspberry cage and a squirrel nearby. The latest problem is a deer which discovered my Victoria plums — unfortunately, the fruit is all low down. So what looked like a bumper crop is benefiting the wildlife but not me.”

Jean emailed about an online talk she had joined. She said: “When I moved to Henley three years ago, I joined Shiplake WI and I am so glad I did.

“Through them I discovered Denman College and attended a couple of weekend courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

“When this wretched lockdown struck I wondered at first what I could do with myself and then I heard from Denman College about online events it was holding.

“I looked at the list and decided to join Simon Gregson’s ‘Walk from Covent Garden to Bloomsbury’ and I could not have made a better choice.

“Simon pointed out some beautiful architecture and told us some very interesting historical details about people and places that are not often brought to notice. There were some sad anecdotes and we also had a few laughs.

“It certainly brightened up my day and brought back some old memories of when I was a child growing up in Bloomsbury. I shall most certainly look out for more online activities.”

Banba wrote to say that she had done more walking during lockdown — just over 5km a day (so she must have completed the WI 100 by now.)

Her walk takes her down to the river, up past the church and the school, over the fields, past woods and home again.

In the beginning she looked forward to seeing the wood anemones and then the bluebells under pale green sprays of beech leaves. Hedgerow flowers have come into bloom and faded. Now hedges are draped with wild roses.

The river still, with no passing boats, has reflected horse chestnut blossom, cow parsley and yellow flag irises. A swan was making a passing family of geese keep their distance from its nest.

The cattle coming down to drink on the other side were only there for a couple of minutes.

Now the fields, which were bare brown when lockdown began, are coloured with sweeps of blue flax and red and pale mauve poppies. All the time a lark has sung above them.

Chris let us know that she had been gardening, teaching her grandson phonics, playing golf, reading stories and doing the odd bit of decorating.

She had a socially distanced afternoon tea that a friend organised for her birthday and a socially distanced drinks do with the golf girls.

Clare told us about her mammoth efforts to clear her garden pond and in doing so had found six newts, a toad and a 7in long snake, which sped off, luckily.

Paula sent in a tale of the problems of trying to photograph wildlife.

She said: “Two very young foxes were in the garden at 7pm. So tonight I’m putting out the baked rind from a gammon joint. Camera at the ready this time. Photos to come if successful.

“Yes! Two cubs out but more interested in digging up the lawn. Just getting dark and our security lights came on to show an adult plus youngsters. But the flash from my phone startled them and the photo was rubbish.

“I’ve put up CCTV cameras today so will put them on in readiness. It will save me being on duty in anticipation.”

And she eventually managed to send in a photo. Ann wrote to say that she had not been out of the house for weeks so had to think of something to keep her sane.

She has begun to write about her childhood in Hull which, given her age, also spans the war years.

It turns out that her children are very keen for her to do this. She enjoys writing but writing this has already involved catching up with far flung family members.

It has given her a feeling of purpose and has proved a good way to spend one’s time.

The lockdown and social distancing has now been going on for weeks but Shiplake WI ladies have certainly been keeping busy.

Sending their thoughts and photos to the other members has helped everyone to keep in touch at this difficult time.

We will all be glad when we can resume our regular monthly meetings and get back to normal.

One positive thing that has come out of this is that most of us can now use our laptops and tablets more effectively.

We would like to add our thanks to all the NHS staff, all the carers and all the essential workers who have helped us during the last three months.

Pam Hudgell and Rachel Lloyd


OUR last meeting was on February 20. Sue Frayling-Cork, our new president, and committee members have successfully held their first committee meeting via Zoom, planning for when we can meet again safely.

Thanks were made to Jenny Ward, the retiring president, for the past four years of guidance, hard work and time she has devoted to Sonning Common WI during her time as president.

Jenny has made Sonning Common WI more involved with village activities and encouraged us to offer support to many other groups.

With help from the coffee morning team, she will continue to be coffee morning co-ordinator.

Alison, our programme secretary, sends monthly newsletters to all members with local, county and national news and Jane, our welfare officer, has written poems and sent messages to keep members in touch.

Members have kept themselves busy and have made beanie hats for the Fish volunteer centre and also made laundry bags for NHS workers.

Jenny has opened a book shop in her garage at 22 Lea Road, Sonning Common, on weekdays 9am to noon. Social distancing is observed.

The books would normally be available at the monthly coffee mornings. They are donated by members and Sonning Common library.

Greetings cards made by Jane and her husband are also for sale along with donated plants and jigsaw puzzles, which have proved very popular.

The splendid sum of £220 has been raised from sales so far and has been donated to the Henley food bank, run by Nomad, for the purchase of much-needed food.

The Sonning Common Denman bursary of £350 was won by Gill who is happily looking forward to choosing a residential course to attend at the college. There are courses available on a wide range of subjects.

The winner of the competition cup was Diane and the flower of the month cup was won by Jo.

In the two darts competitions the winners were Beverley (highest score with three darts) and Beverley, Yvonne and Jo, who tied for the highest dart out cup.

Our president and secretary have taken part in the Oxfordshire Federation’s training sessions for presidents and secretaries via Zoom.

Other Federation online events that members have enjoyed included a talk on “The miracle of Bletchley Park” by Gillian Cane describing the brilliant eccentric heroes who worked in secret at Bletchley during the Second World War.

There was also a demonstration on book folding, making a hedgehog and a fairy house which may be handy to share and enjoy with grandchildren when lockdown is over.

There has also been a Federation quiz.

Two resolutions have been adopted by the National Federation — “A call to increase potential stem cell donor registration” and “End modern slavery”.

A range of educational and discussion materials will be produced over the coming weeks to allow members to consider the issues in more depth.

Members were sad to hear of the passing of Barbara Gray MBE.

She had been chairman of Oxfordshire WI (twice), membership chairman, a long-standing WI adviser and a Denman ambassador. Barbara inspired many.

In the words of our president (actually they’re Bob Dylan’s), “The times are a changing” and we are all having to adapt in various ways. Communication is vital and members are encouraged to keep in touch with each other.

Whatever members chose to do — extra cleaning (really?), reading, relaxing, gardening or crafting, our president says keep safe and, with fortitude, friendship and grace, “we’ll meet again”.

Sue Hedges


OUR members have settled into their different ways of life for now but are all keen to get back to some sort of normality, although it will possibly never return to the same as before.

But WI is always there and now, more than ever perhaps, is so important for some of our members. Our netball players have settled into a weekly routine of exercise that has become a chat before and afterwards with other members from around the country.

This is something that could not have happened before so is a plus for the two regulars and the odd extra who pops in and out of the sessions, which are on Zoom, of course.

It is interesting to see what the weather is doing round the country.

As I write on a very wet day in Henley, it was a help to know that everyone was in the same boat, except for Cumbria, which showed us sunshine.

Sometimes people take their laptops into the garden on a sunny day and we hear birds singing in Cornwall, colourful gardens in Norfolk and interesting hobbies or backgrounds in the rooms from which they are “broadcasting”.

This week on screen we met a gorgeous cocker spaniel who belongs to our techy lady at the National Federation and has become a bit of a WI star.

He sits on a chair beside her and licks her arm or rests his paw there gently just to remind her that he would like some attention please — very sweet.

Other Zoom meetings have included learning bookfolding and our members produced several items.

It is an interesting therapeutic activity, while we have time to spare, and it keeps our fingers and minds active while chatting.

Both the Oxfordshire and National Federations have organised talks, demonstrations and activities for those who want to and can access them online.

National has cookery demonstrations from Denman College in Marcham, which is closed to students but can be accessed online or on Facebook.

Both organisations are producing monthly magazines. National is posting theirs out as normal and county is sending theirs out by email.

Jane, one of our members, featured in the last News & Views as she has finished her term of office as county chairman and there was a lovely pictorial tribute to her in the June issue.

Looking through the latest WhatsApp group photos, we can see what some of our members are getting up to. A large offering of completed jigsaws, neat and tidy gardens and various craft items are the norm.

Some members are getting more in touch with nature as we sit and watch in our gardens the jays, magpies, blue tit babies, woodpeckers feeding their offspring frantically, squirrels conquering the challenge of the feeders, mice snatching the seeds and the wood pigeons clearing up the debris falling on the ground. It is all very entertaining in this slower pace of life at present.

Of course we are missing the contact, both with family and friends, but we know it will improve sometime and so we have to keep ourselves as safe as we can.

The hand-painted birthday cards being sent to our members in lieu of the flowers they would have received at a meeting have proved a popular surprise for the recipients, who have been unable to celebrate in the normal way.

We have been informed by National that because we have been unable to attend gatherings, our subscriptions will run on for an extra three months before we have to pay again in April so this is welcome news.

Penny Noble


AS an active branch of the Women’s Institute, we are of course still unable to meet up in our village hall.

This does not stop us being in contact with each other, however.

Our president Frances is excellent at keeping in contact with us all, which encourages us to share news on books read, recipes tried and everything in between.

Our training college at Denman sends out weekly updates about online courses available, from craft work to history, from health and wellbeing activities to cookery. There is truly something for everyone who has access to a computer.

Families, too, are encouraged to participate, recognising the fact that family members play an essential role in support of the WI.

A local walking group is restarting in July and ideas are starting to emerge on things we might do together when face-to-face meetings resume. We look forward to our first reunion.

We can see more of our families now and socialise at a distance with a few friends at a time. For the time being however, for us as a group, the telephone and computer must prevail.

For anyone living in or around Whitchurch Hill, please do call Frances on 0118 984 2162 if you are interested in learning more about your local WI.

Sally Bergmann


IT is with great sadness that Oxfordshire WI has released the news of Barbara Gray’s death at the age of 88.

Barbara had been a major figure in the Federation for more than 50 years.

She chaired many WI committees, as well as being the chairman of Oxfordshire WI for more than five years.

She helped form at least 20 new branches in the county and was made an MBE in 2016 for her outstanding work.

Barbara was a firm believer in the value of the WI and was one of the volunteers credited with reviving the organisation during a period of decline in the Seventies and Eighties.

Her passion for education was a priority. She was an ambassador for the importance of the WI’s national college, Denman, which is in Marcham.

Oxfordshire WI has sent is condolences to Barbara’s family of two daughters, twin sons, 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Oxfordshire WI chairman Catherine Blaxhall said: “Barbara was one of the most inspiring women I have ever met.

“She was WI through and through, generous in her support of others and a great role model for all of us who benefited from her leadership and mentoring over the years.

“It was an honour and privilege to have known her.

“She was loved and respected by us all and will be hugely missed by her family, friends and colleagues across the whole of the WI.”

Barbara’s contribution to the WI in general and Oxfordshire WI in particular will long be remembered.

Graeme Gettings

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