Thursday, 19 May 2022

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


ANOTHER month with not a lot to report.

Members are venturing forth a little more with the easing of restrictions but continuing to be cautious.

We have kept in touch with members via email where we have been able to pass on our regular Oxfordshire News & Views magazine together with any news as it comes in.

For those not on email, we continue to keep in contact via the telephone and with a newsletter from time to time.

We hear that, as the National Federation’s annual meeting was cancelled this year due to covid-19 lockdown, the two top resolutions were not able to be debated and voted upon.

It was agreed that the figures from the shortlisting stage done earlier this year should be used to determine the final outcome of the vote.

This means that both “End modern slavery” and “Stem cell donor registration” have now been adopted by the WI and members are free to campaign on these issues.

It was with sadness that we heard the news that the National Federation is proposing to close Denman College at Marcham.

The college has been a great asset to the WI and most of us have attended and enjoyed courses and workshops there at some stage. It will be greatly missed if it does indeed close.

There is still uncertainty as to when we, in Benson, may be able to meet up for our monthly meetings so we have been unable to book speakers.

Consideration is being given to the idea of getting together for an outside meeting and we continue to monitor the guidance provided by the Oxfordshire Federation and the Government.

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

Sue Brown


WE were very pleased that a few of our members came for coffee recently in Caversham and socially distanced, which was tricky at times for those of us who are slightly hard of hearing.

Another coffee was held outdoors at a local golf club, where chairs and tables were sited appropriately.

The art class will take place in a member’s garden with ladies bringing their own easels.

The book club continues with Zoom meetings.

For our ladies living on their own, meeting again was a real tonic, even if we were all spread out.

Birthday cards continue to be sent on the correct dates, which we hope our members appreciate.

Carol Briscoe


IN 1917, Grace Hadlow, a founder member, captured the essence of the WI: “The Women’s Institute is for all alike: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, all have the same privileges and the same responsibilities.”

At the heart of this new organisation was a monthly gathering for members where talks, demonstrations, competitions, teas and the relaxed chat were established.

Greys WI held its first meeting in March 1920 and these have continued through war and peace, boom and bust, power cuts and snowstorms.

During the Second World War, for example, two families from London were temporarily housed in Greys village hall.

Our WI meetings continued as usual and the evacuees joined in.

In the winter strikes of 1978, a meeting was brought to a sudden halt by a total blackout. Undaunted, members made the best of things: “We put our chairs in a circle and proceeded to scare the nervous by telling ghost stories.”

However, 100 years of monthly meetings suddenly ceased in March 2020 as the country locked down to help control coronavirus.

Today, many people communicate from isolated computers via Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. I’m not knocking any of these — we at Greys are creating a Facebook page and our committee has been working using Zoom. There was, however, no demand for Zoom monthly meetings from our members.

Instead, every month our secretary Jen Smith creates a Greys WI newsletter with many contributions from members.

With one press of a button, this flies off to our members’ computers.

However, quite a few prefer a paper copy to keep, re-read and save, so, we hit on a cunning plan.

Jen sends the newsletter to Merryl via her computer. Merryl compiles a list of members who would like a paper copy and then prints the required number of newsletters plus the monthly News & Views from the Oxfordshire Federation and any other information our members need.

All are hand delivered. One snag — Merryl has a poorly knee and finds walking very painful, so distributing these to members has become a family business.

Eleven members are on the list and four of these live in Elizabeth Road, Henley, as indeed does Merryl.

Ian, Merryl’s husband, takes their dog, Bryn, along the road for his twice daily walk and makes the deliveries like a postman (wearing gloves).

Then he changes roles to become a delivery driver and Merryl is the WI delivery lady. We set off for a tour of Henley. First stop: two members in Sherbourne Gardens. Merryl, wearing her disposable gloves, hops out, tucks her newsletter into the letterbox flap and rings the doorbell.

She then retreats to a safe distance to wait for the door to open, when a conversation takes place; How are you? Any problems? Have you heard that…?

We laugh because we are British but we also complain for the same reason.

Then the Greys delivery service bravely voyages deep into the Gainsborough maze to see our oldest member, who is well over 90 and always cheerful and chatty.

Once, driving along Makins Way en route to another member, we drove through a street party — neighbours on both sides of the road were waving and offering glasses of wine and chunks of cake cheerfully.

Back to two members in Nicholas Road for another socially distanced chat.

Finally, to president Val, who needs a copy for her records.

The conversations change — recently they have been about hairdressers — but the friendship never does. It’s good to talk and even better to see each other.

We are all looking forward to our real meetings; friends, fun and chat together — even if we have to bring our own wrapped biscuit.

We are hoping to have a safe meeting in the village hall on September 16 at 2.30pm. Until then, our delivery round will continue. Cheers, everybody! New members and visitors always welcome. If you would like more information about amazing Greys WI, please call (01491) 628349 or email

Merryl Roberts


AS with many other groups, lockdown has seriously curtailed our activities.

However, the committee all met via Zoom in May to catch up and discuss the best way forward.

Walking through the village, the only real signs of anything amiss are occasional queues outside the shop. People are still to be seen standing and chatting (perhaps with face masks at their side) but, thankfully, everyone is adapting to a new way of living and working.

Denman College, the WI centre of learning near Oxford, has increased its range of online courses and Hambleden WI’s own website continues to keep everyone informed. It is worth taking a look at them.

While we were forced to cancel our monthly meetings, including our July summer party, we are happy to announce that the walking group has started up again.

July’s walk near Nettlebed was followed by lunch at the White Hart. We look forward to this becoming a regular activity once again.

Unfortunately, to ensure the safety of our members and to comply with the new rules in place in respect of the village hall, we have decided not to go ahead with the September meeting. Keeping well and staying safe is the main priority.

Do take care and we look forward to all meeting up just as soon as we are able.

For those of you who are not members, if you are interested in finding out more about Hambleden WI, you are most welcome to join us on one of our monthly walks.

Alternatively, come along for (a socially distanced) lunch afterwards. All details are on our website,

For more information, please call either secretary Jan Connelly on 01628 486344 or president Sarah Williams on 07817 120339.

Jo Martin


IN the midst of lockdown we have acquired a new member and a new face at our Zoom meetings — welcome Susan Jeffery. Our membership now stands at 32.

Several members managed to get to the end of our latest book club read, The House by the Lake.

It was well worth the effort as it proved to be both a fascinating tale and a reminder of German history to the present day.

Many viewpoints were put forward in our lively discussion via Zoom.

We are now reading The Lido by Libby Page. The lido is threatened with closure and the locals set out to prove that the pool is more than just a place to swim and in fact is the heart of the community.

We continue to vary our Zoom meetings, sometimes with a quiz. No doubt at our next meeting we will be discussing the sad news of the proposed closure of Denman College.

With the lovely sunny days recently, some members have played canasta in the garden. This was okay until a slight breeze arrived and the cards blew into the lilies and agapanthus decorating the terrace.

Order was restored and, of course, no cheating took place.

Weather permitting, we will be holding our next committee meeting in our president’s garden and are hoping that we can begin to think about returning to our hall for a monthly meeting.

Stay safe and well, everyone.

Judith Young


MEMBERS met recently for the first time in several weeks and thoroughly enjoyed a riverside repast.

They met in the gardens of Pat Sly, bringing with them a decorated food hamper and all the necessary accroutrements for a picnic, including their own chairs, which were placed at the required social distance.

Having had to miss Henley Royal Regatta, Henley Festival, Ascot and other glamorous “hat occasions”, members also arrived in the finest of millinery creations.

A prize went to Judy Palmer for her delightful hat festooned with handmade butterflies. A prize also went to Irene Parker for her gaily decorated hamper.

During the afternoon Rosemary Pratt was presented with a plant for her “special” birthday and a cake was cut during a splendid rendition of “Happy Birthday”, much to the surprise of those walking along the towpath.

Everyone enjoyed the gathering and there seemed to be much to catch up with after so many weeks and it was agreed that nothing beats a face-to-face chat.

The group is now looking forward to the next meeting, which hopefully will be on August 10.


WE normally hold our summer party at Shiplake Memorial Hall on the third Wednesday of July but this year is certainly not a normal one.

Our president and committee have become more accomplished with technology in recent months so they decided to hold the monthly meeting online.

Joan Jolley welcomed the ladies to this new version of a WI meeting.

She told the attendees about the rescheduled dates for the annual meeting and other county event.

Joan also explained the two resolutions that were being put forward: Stem cell donations and modern slavery.

She thanked Janet Matthews for all her work on the resolutions and hoped that we would find ways to support them later in the year.

The speakers that had been arranged for our meetings in 2020 have all been transferred to next year.

Joan then spoke about some details from News & Views and mentioned the photographic competition which she hoped members would enter.

The committee had arranged to phone all the members to check how they were managing during the lockdown. The feedback from this was positive.

Joan also announced that the village walks would restart on Fridays at 10am, starting at the Corner Shop. Sue Lines gave an update on the outings, which had all been postponed sadly.

The theatre trips to see Pretty Woman and Dolly Parton have been rebooked for later dates and the trip to the Fairmile Vineyard in Henley would be rearranged when it will be possible to visit in a large group.

Helen Robinson organized a short quiz on nature and the natural world, which we all found fun but very difficult.

Four ladies were taking part later that evening in the county quiz and we all wished them good luck.

The meeting ended with some general chat about village matters, including the submission of the Shiplake neighbourhood plan.

Everyone thanked Joan for organising the online meeting and it is hoped that we will be holding another one next month.

Pam Hudgell


AS our members number 70, the social distancing requirements have made it impossible to hold our monthly meetings or host the village coffee mornings or go on our planned summer outing.

Meanwhile, the hardworking committee has held regular Zoom meetings. In these strange times it is easy to feel cut off, anxious or lonely, so as many phone calls as possible have been made to as many members as possible.

Jane Handley has been sending emails with messages and poems and photographs of her “teddy bear family”.

Alison Bishop has ensured members who are not online are not left out so they all receive a copy of the monthly newsletter.

Determined to keep in touch, the president and committee have invited members to attend garden tea parties, six ladies at a time.

The craft group members have held garden coffee mornings and the darts group is holding outdoor darts matches.

Throughout the lockdown, Jenny Ward has done sterling work from her home with second hand books, jigsaws, plants and handcrafted greetings cards available to WI members and local residents alike.

Donations have been made and local causes have benefited.

The books continue to be available on a Wednesday from 9am to 5pm at 22 Lea Road, Sonning Common.

Members have appreciated all the work that the committee has undertaken to keep us all in touch.

The news that Denman College will be closing is very sad.

The loss of income during lockdown with no further revenue for the remainder of the year has made it impossible for Denman to break even and operate commercially.

It was in 1945 that Lady Brunner sketched out her vision for the WI to have its own further education college.

In 1946 she launched an appeal to raise £60,000 and Denman was purchased in 1948 for £16,000. The college was named after Lady Denman, the first chairman of the National Federation of WIs (1917- 1948).

A wide and varied number of courses have been held. Members of Sonning Common WI have enjoyed good times at Denman, most recently the Oxfordshire Federation weekend, which ended with a happy, boisterous Mamma Mia party never to be forgotten.

Upsetting as the closure is, our thoughts and sympathy are with the National Federation trustees and all the staff involved at Denman at this sad and difficult time. Happier times will return and when times are safer we will all meet again.

Sue Hedges


SOME of our members have ventured out when they have felt able to join small groups for the craft and book clubs, in the open air on fine days, keeping to the social distancing rules.

It is not easy but it is the best some can hope for at present in order to see their WI friends.

Some are meeting just one person at a time to go for walks and some are still staying home or just meeting in small, family-only “bubbles”.

Online shopping is proving a lifesaver with food and essential home items all arriving by parcel, including birthday presents, as the coronavirous crisis goes on longer and more events are being affected.

The big news for members was the proposal to close Denman, the WI residential college in Marcham, near Abingdon.

It is not, as some local papers (not this one) have reported, the headquarters of Oxfordshire WI, which — as all Oxfordshire members know — is in Tackley and is not at risk. Denman, however, is now in a consultation period but closure looks unavoidable as it has not been able to run courses, which is its main source of income.

Consequently, it is running up huge debts and is likely to have to sell to repay loans etc. and pay the staff bills so far incurred.

Staff are not needed now and our thoughts are with them, many known to us personally, with no courses, no catering and no accommodation required since lockdown.

We wait to see if some alternative source of educational lectures etc can be found for when we are back to whatever normality we can get, possibly in the new year.

With only three per cent of members nationally booking courses, Denman really is a luxury we cannot afford for those few, many of whom would come from Oxfordshire as we live so close.

Members from counties in the far reaches of the country have always found it difficult, and costly in travel, to attend a course when their journey may have taken them all day at either end. So, for Oxfordshire members at least, including many at Stoke Row WI, this closure will be yet another very sad victim of covid-19.

Opened as far back as 1948, Denman is set in beautiful grounds and will be sorely missed, even as a day visitor.

Our own members continue to use Zoom for some talks and maybe a quiz now and then, but it is no substitute for the real thing.

Penny Noble


MEMBERS traditionally meet on the third Tuesday of the month at the Whitchurch Hill village hall, opposite St John’s Church.

Built as a Sunday school more than 100 years ago, the hall has an airy, spacious main room with seating for up to 60. It has all the necessary facilities, which makes it ideal.

However, in today’s climate of social distancing, its size limits the numbers of people who could access it safely — even if they felt confident enough to do so.

Therefore, like most if not all WIs, we are still unable to gather together as a whole group.

Some of us are, however, able to take the opportunity to meet up and participate in a monthly community walk around the village and surrounding area.

Others are focusing their attention on the many and varied Zoom training and information sessions being provided by our training centre at Denman.

Garden plant sales are raising money for local village facilities while the production of much-used homemade face masks are helping to keep the spirit of the WI alive and well.

We are looking to the future and if you are too and would like to know more about Whitchurch Hill WI, please call Frances on 0118 984 2162.

Sally Bergmann

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