Monday, 04 July 2022

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


IN March, Benson WI comes to the end of its formal year and moves into its 95th year.

Members will be renewing subscriptions and electing their committee.

Our president for the last three years is standing down this time, so our sincere thanks go to Brenda Hallett who has taken the reins through these difficult times.

Our annual meeting should be on March 24 but currently we are unable to meet so formalising our new year is having to be done by post and email.

Although February was an incredibly quiet month with no way of getting together, members took the time to send in their choice of campaign resolutions for 2021.

The most votes went to the campaign for raising awareness of ovarian cancer and this has been forwarded to National Federation for adding to the national vote.

Following consultation, our regular meeting arrangements have changed this year and instead of our normal evening gathering, members will meet (when feasible) on the fourth Wednesday of the month at 2pm.

A programme for the coming year has not been arranged so far because of the lockdown uncertainty but all our members have now received their first doses of the vaccine and, with the latest government announcement, it is more likely that we may be able to meet up again in May even if only outside. Fingers crossed.

For any enquiries about Benson WI, call the secretary on (01491) 837885 or email

Sue Brown


ON Wednesday, February 17, president Diane Bush was happy to welcome 23 members to our Zoom meeting.

Our guest speaker was Ailsa Claybourn, whose talk was entitled “The birds in your garden”.

Ailsa, a former teacher at Kendrick School in Reading, shared her passion and enthusiasm for resident birds and winter and summer visitors to her garden.

She included many stunning photographs and also recordings of their singing.

To help us identify birds, her first slide was of the familiar house sparrow.

At 5in (12.5cms), it is useful to compare sizes when looking at an unfamiliar bird. You could ask yourself, as a starting point, “Is it bigger or smaller than a sparrow?”

As with many birds, the male house sparrow is more brightly coloured than the female, who needs to be camouflaged when brooding eggs.

It’s rare, I fear, to see a sparrow in my garden.

Ailsa confirmed that their population is in decline, probably through loss of nest sites and, in rural areas, because of changes in farming, leading to the loss of winter stubble and hedges and depriving them and many other birds of vital food sources.

Happily, the blackbird is not in decline and is a favourite songbird. The female is brown, while the male is blessed with shiny black feathers, a yellow beak and yellow eye rings. He sings to attract a mate and deter rivals. They belong to the thrush family and are definitely one of our favourite birds.

The song thrush is smaller than the blackbird and likes to sing from treetops at dusk and after dawn. His song is distinctive pure notes as he repeats phrases continually to attract a mate. It is so beautiful to hear.

Robert Browning wrote in his poem, Home-Thoughts from Abroad:

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture.

They enjoy eating snails, which they break open on rocks or pavements, and worms but their numbers have declined, at least partly because of poisoning by slug pellets as they ate affected snails.

The chiff chaff is a tiny warbler, the same size as a blue tit. They are one of the first summer visitors arriving from the Mediterranean, or North Africa, and a real sign of spring.

The robin, an iconic and much-loved bird, sings a different song in spring and in winter and is easy to identify.

Winter visitors include fieldfares, which arrive from October, and redwings, which arrive from September, often at night.

Many starlings also come here to join our native starlings, seeking the milder winters. A vast flock of them, or “murmuration”, before they roost is an amazing sight to behold.

Siskins, small black and yellow birds, may come into our gardens in the winter, too.

The tit family is quite large, although its members are not. They are all insect eaters, blue, coal, great, marsh and long-tailed tits all visit our gardens.

Long-tailed tits’ nests are made of moss, feathers, lichen and cobwebs. Even though they are insect eaters, they love peanuts and will come close to get them.

Dunnocks (once called hedge sparrows) are about the size of a robin but look dowdier in their grey and brown plumage. They like to feed on the ground.

Goldfinches are truly striking with black, white and yellow plumage and a red head pattern. They and their cousins, the bullfinches, greenfinches and chaffinches, are resident all year round.

Wrens are very small but have very loud voices. They eat spiders and other invertebrates.

But it is the goldcrest which is Britain’s smallest bird and they often visit gardens. You are less likely to see their slightly larger and rarer cousin, the firecrest. Nuthatches are woodland birds which, like tree creepers, use their tails as stabilisers when feeding in trees. However, they can only climb upwards and have to fly down to start again.

Unlike most birds, which have three toes at the front and one at the back of their foot, great spotted woodpeckers have two toes at the front and two at the back. This gives them great stability when moving around in the trees and when drumming on trees to attract a mate.

Our gardens aren’t always safe and peaceful places for the smaller birds. Predators include magpies, jays and sparrowhawks.

Red kites will feed on scraps put out for them but Ailsa advised against feeding them as this may lead to conflict at the bird table and the kites take something not intended for them.

Ailsa told us that our swift population has dropped by 55 per cent in the last 20 years, largely as a result of losing their nest sites in roofs.

The Berkshire Ornithological Club has been generously providing free nest boxes for Berkshire residents and Ailsa has worked with energy company SSE to install them, establishing three “swift streets” to date, with another being developed by enthusiastic local residents in Wargrave.

House martins, like swifts, come north from Africa and are also in need of our help: pre-formed nest cups can be attached to houses to give them a start when nesting.

Ailsa’s talk was fascinating. She concluded it by saying that we could help birds by offering them five essential things: food, water, cover, nest sites and song posts.

Spring is nigh and the birds have started singing. Gardens and woodlands are ready to welcome our resident birds, robin, blackbird, mistle thrush, song thrush, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, long-tailed tit, dunnock, nuthatch, tree creeper, greater spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, tree sparrow, house sparrow, starling. chaffinch, goldfinch, wren, jay, crow, rook, jackdaw, magpie, wood pigeon, collared dove, skylark, linnet, heron and little owl.

Don’t forget the winter migratory birds, fieldfare, redwing and some robins will arrive from Europe and soon the summer migratory birds, chiff-chaff, warblers, robin, pied wagtail, swallow and swift. Martins, cuckoo, nightingale and goldfinch arrive later.

To help identify the birds, there is an app for your phone called Nokula.

Happy bird watching,

Selina Avent


LOCKDOWN was first announced on March 23, 2020, which was nearly a year ago.

Greys WI, along with many other organisations, had to work out how it was going to continue to engage with members and the committee.

In our case, it rapidly became clear that remote meetings for the committee and a newsletter for the members were the route forward.

As I had a Zoom account, I was able to set up the committee meetings — that was the easy part.

Send out the link too early and the email disappears in the list of other emails, particularly if someone replies.

Send it out too close to the time and committee members are already frantically searching their inbox in case they have missed something.

Our committee members have had to upskill their IT knowledge very rapidly, learning how to turn on the sound and camera and how to share screens.

We all struggled to learn how to move from one device to the other when things do not work smoothly, and what to do if the camera is showing another part of the room instead of your face. Panic is not an option.

Not to mention the practical skills of how to prop up the tablet so it does not slide off the table or collapse, where to put all your paperwork so you can check details and, most important, what to do with a hot mug of tea.

Over time we have got used to not being able to speak face to face and we are grateful for the human voices we can hear as it compensates a bit for the lack of contact.

Our other action has been to write a newsletter. The call goes out for items and it seems to be that there is either a deluge or very little, rarely just the right amount.

Proof reading the newsletter is tricky because you are not sitting down with it in front of you able to circle the errors.

Written instructions come through with information like “third paragraph on second page, fourth word in needs to say…”

That is before you get to the joys of Apple and Microsoft not really being that compatible and definitely not talking the same language.

However, our members really appreciate the newsletter and see it as a vital means of staying in touch, particularly as it is often hand-delivered with a short, socially distanced chat to check on how things are going. And now I am sending this, written using Microsoft, for proof reading by someone using Apple.

Ina Chantry


WHILE we all wait patiently for news of how and when the latest lockdown restrictions are likely to be lifted, the good news is that many of our members have now either received or are about to receive their first vaccinations.

However, in anticipation of us not being able to resume group activities in person for some time to come and as staying connected is really important to all of us, the committee is busy organising a variety of Zoom events for over the coming months.

The first of these will be on Thursday, March 11.

The favourable feedback received from members who took part in the quiz was gratefully received and a big thank-you to all the committee for helping to make it happen.

Many thanks, too, to Jan and Inger for having telephoned and chatted to all members recently.

Keeping in touch is vital and we were very pleased to hear that members appreciated the calls.

Jan and Inger both reported enjoying making the calls and felt it was a really worthwhile exercise which as a committee we will repeat.

The book club continues to flourish remotely via Zoom. The next book is Autumn by Ali Smith and the club’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 18.

They would really welcome more members and if anyone is interested please contact either Inger or Frances.

Thank you to all our members for voting for the National Federation resolutions. The resolution put forward by Hambleden WI to the Bucks Federation was “A call to increase awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer”.

We look forward to being able to meet up on March 11 via Zoom and in the meantime wish to emphasise that the committee is here to support in any way we can. Our contact details are or email hambleden.wi@email

Sally-Ann Roberts


THE February meeting was again successfully held by means of Zoom and was chaired by Suzanna Rose.

The talk was given by Anne-Marie Gawen and her theme was “Happiness”.

We were asked the leading question “What makes you happy?” Is it money, is it children, is it being married and there were varying replies from members.

Money can buy you happiness but only if it is spent in the right way.

There are two types of happiness — hedonistic, being all about maximising pleasure but the trouble here is that not all “pleasures” lead to wellbeing.

Then there is Eudaimonic, which is lasting happiness and contentment with meaningful activities and positive relationships.

Quite a few little things make us happy and we all agreed that sunshine makes a difference, fresh sheets on your bed, or even your car passing its MOT. Many thought that having a pet can also make us happy.

Anne-Marie’s prescription for happiness is to write down at the end of the day three good things that have made us happy that day.

Take one dose of these three “good things”, write them down and read when required.

Be aware that there are side effects from this prescription, i.e. they could make you happier, they may cause feelings of joy, they may increase calmness, they may decrease stress and they may improve sleep.

Finally, do not stop taking this prescription as it is a lifelong treatment. Unlike other prescriptions, this one may be shared by other people.

Suzanna warmly thanked Anne-Marie for such an inspirational talk.

The latest government measures regarding covid-19 don’t seem to allow indoor meetings to take place before midsummer at the earliest but hopefully our garden meeting will be possible in August.

Lockdown restrictions seem to have given WI secretaries a lot of extra work via emails to various sections of the WI.

Mary Burton has been very busy informing members of the rules for holding our annual meeting via Zoom and we hope this will run smoothly as always. Nominations have been received for the new committee and for the position of president.

So have your cup of tea and slice of cake ready and please join your WI friends on Zoom at 2.30pm on March 10.

The formalities will be followed by Suzanna telling of her time as a deputy lieutenant of Berkshire.

HOT (Henley-on-Thames)

SPRING is definitely on its way with the hope of greater freedom and the fantastic rollout of the covid vaccine. With lots of the members of the WI receiving their first and second vaccines, we look forward to resuming a more normal form of meetings.

In the meantime, we have plans to have more intimate get-togethers as and when we can.

Since it was Chinese New Year last month, did you know that in Chinese culture it’s traditional for all family members to return to their home town?

If you can’t make the most important meal of the year (Chinese New Year’s Eve), the rest of the family will leave your spot empty with a spare set of utensils.

How apt is that during this lockdown when we can’t be together?

Our Valentine’s challenge was a welcome distraction and allowed the ladies to express themselves in a variety of mediums.

I did an online brush party. I have done quite a lot of these in normal times. It’s a very social activity usually in a pub, a very pleasant way to paint a great picture being led step by step. No artistic skills required.

This month’s newsletter was delivered mostly on foot and included a crafty rabbit project for Easter. The HOT WI ladies will be attempting to create a little bunny project together with the aid of their first Zoom meeting.

We had a fun “meet the member” questionnaire with questions such as what’s your favourite outfit/most surprising thing in your wardrobe and what’s the best secret to keeping young?

We look forward to hearing everyone’s answers later in the year, perhaps in the form of a quiz.

Nicola Taylor


WE gathered together on Zoom to listen to a talk given by Melanie Gibson-Barton, who had lived in Belgium and developed a great love for the country, its people and the beautiful city of Bruges.

We were invited to join her on a journey through Bruges’s cobbled streets, open squares, parks and waterways.

We would travel on a tour-bus, an open horse-drawn carriage, a canal boat and even a Segway. Failing that. we could go on foot. Did we have an umbrella? Be prepared as rain is taken for granted here but they don’t talk about it.

We notice that here in Bruges wreaths adorn the doors of houses throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Windows attract your attention, too, with ornaments clearly designed to give pleasure to passers-by rather than those within.

We both hear about and see Gothic architecture, history, Flemish culture, artists, tapestries, lace making and, of course, chocolate.

But did were know about a special Belgian cheese, or that hops from Kent are used to produce their beer?

Oh, and one more thing before you depart for the Eurostar, you might like to consider the museum dedicated to the potato — yes, chips in fact.

I am not joking. Just imagine, perfectly cooked chips using beef fat, sizzling hot and sprinkled with salt.

Melanie’s talk was colourfully illustrated throughout and left us wanting to make another visit even if we had been there previously.

Sue Drew


WE held another meeting via Zoom in January and it was interesting to note that the two circulating newsletters were still being received, read and then forwarded with an added sheet of news and gossip.

Members had received all the information for the forthcoming resolutions and were encouraged to return their voting slips.

Members are still being kept in touch with regular phone calls from the committee and the Remenham Rag continues to be distributed each month.

After the business part of the meeting, members took part in two quizzes. The first was all about music, with questions ranging from the classics to tunes from the Sixties. It was certainly a trip down memory lane.

After a break for tea and cake, plus chatter, a second quiz was presented. This time it was on food and drink but it was noted that the majority of questions centred on drink.

As one member observed at the end, “I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know.”

The February meeting was focused on the annual meeting, which was very different from normal but all the matters of the day were discussed and agreed.

Following the annual report, it was pleasing to note that so many activities had been undertaken and enjoyed in spite of the many restrictions and difficulties being experienced.

All the committee members were re-elected and previous roles are to continue in the year ahead.

Members were then given some fresh ideas on how to fill some “spare” time during the day.

The ideas ranged from going through an unused handbag to searching for forgotten “treasures”, walking out in the garden to pick a small nosegay and breathing deeply while out there, preparing and planting sweet pea seeds ready for the new season, to going through and naming old photographs or writing down a few memories from your childhood.

A welcome cup of tea and cake provided the background for another 30 minutes of catching up.

Daphne Austen


A NEW month and another online meeting. We are getting good at logging in and remembering to turn our videos on and our mics off.

Many thanks to Helen Robinson for organising the technical side of the gathering again.

Joan Jolley chaired the meeting and was pleased that 29 ladies had joined in.

She talked about the progress of the vaccination programme and was feeling positive that we would soon be able to have “normal” meetings.

The dates of the National Federation’s annual meeting at the Albert Hall and the Oxfordshire Federation’s annual meeting in March were announced.

Our own annual meeting will be online and members will receive the financial report and the president’s report. The constitution has needed to be amended so that WIs can hold their annual meetings online.

The committee is planning to join the NHS Social Day on July 5 and asked members for any suggestions on how we can serve tea and cakes to the village.

Sue Evans and Sally Taylor have taken over the organisation of the arts trail and have asked Shiplake WI to provide refreshments at the Memorial Hall.

The speaker this month was Tamsin Wimhurst, who is a trustee and founder of the David Parr House charity in Cambridge.

Her involvement with David Parr started when she was invited to a small terraced house to see a lady called Elsie Palmer.

Tamsin was amazed to see the interior of this seemingly normal house. It had been decorated during the 19th century by Elsie’s grandfather, David Parr, with stunning intricately painted walls and ceilings.

He had bought the house for his family while he was working for Frederick Leach as a decorative painter.

He worked on a staircase at St James’ Palace and the ceilings in Jesus College, Cambridge.

He used his skills to decorate his home with stencils, friezes, freehand painted birds and flowers and stained glass windows.

The charity was able to raise funds to buy the house in order to protect these beautiful interiors and to tell the story of David Parr.

The house next door has been turned into a visitor centre and Tamsin encouraged the ladies to see the house on a virtual tour.

Visits are possible but they can only have 2,000 visitors a year and only small groups of five or six are able to go into the house at one time.

Joan thanked Tamsin for a very interesting talk and hoped that we would be able to organise a visit to Cambridge to see the house for ourselves.

Next month’s meeting will be the annual meeting and will be online.

Pam Hudgell


REASONS to be positive. More members have received their vaccines and spring is on the way.

Sonning Common WI has now purchased a Zoom licence. This will enable our first members’ meeting using Zoom to take place on March 8, which will be our WI’s annual meeting.

Sonning Common Primary School continues to raise funds by being a recycling collection point for Terracycle. This is a company which recycles traditionally “non-recyclable” waste and pays the school for collecting this waste for them.

To help the school, our members are collecting used toothbrushes, batteries and printer cartridges, empty crisp bags and milk bottle tops, which are passed on to another charity.

Member Beverley Porteous has been keeping herself occupied (or “beating boredom”, as she puts it) during lockdown by constructing an intricate carousel from a kit — and it actually works.

February 6 was Mental Health Day. Sue Frayling-Cork has been in communication with Dr Michelle Brennan, the clinical director of Henley SonNet.

She recommends Talking Space Oxfordshire, a free NHS service which has a good website and where patients can self-refer for counselling services.

For more information, visit

Keep safe, everyone

Sue Hedges


WE invited members of other local Wis to our Zoom meeting as it was our 65th birthday in February.

Not quite the same as having a packed hall as we have had for previous birthdays but it was very nice to see faces on screen that we have missed over the year.

It’s a whole year since we last got together properly and we are now used to Zoom which most, but not all, of our own members can and do use.

Our birthday talk was on the Ridgeway and was enjoyed by the members, several of whom had walked at least part of it.

We also had a not too difficult quiz, very light-hearted and just what we needed.

We had time for a chat with friends we had not been able to see for a while and most of the nearby WIs were represented.

In our own meetings we had a coffee morning, tea at three, book club and craft sessions, all in our own homes, of course.

Sometimes this is actually easier as you do not need to drive and you have your equipment near you.

However, we still miss the close contact and hope that now the vaccines are being rolled out, it should not be too long until we meet in person again, although we do have some youngsters among us who will be further down the priority list. At one meeting we saw how to make paper flowers and then showed our efforts on screen.

Not too bad really and quite easy to do once you had mastered where to cut your paper.

Another, harder, quiz kept us searching our memories for “what was the year?”

In March we will have our annual meeting, where we will elect a new committee, including some new faces, and we will find out how we are dealing with a possible discount on subscriptions, which are payable in April.

Instead of the normal display of scrapbooks, we will have a PowerPoint presentation of what we have been doing, mostly compiled from photos that have been put on to our WhatsApp group chat.

With more than 70 photos, it would seem we have managed to do quite a lot despite the various stages of lockdown we have been through since last March.

The March issue of our magazine, Oxfordshire Inspires, is out with a lovely bright yellow cover and we hope that reflects how we are feeling now we can perhaps see an end to our isolation.

Penny Noble


WHILE much of what any WI branch does is obviously on hold for the moment, we continued doing things under the radar.

In February the winner of our Christmas-themed photographic competition was announced.

Members voted for Susan Dryden’s photo of a popular window decoration seen widely in Sweden.

She spent much of the autumn and early winter there awaiting the arrival of her grandchild.

Made of paper and filled with lights, it is something we don’t necessarily see much of in our own windows at that time.

Our flower of the month competition is restarting to reflect the arrival of spring.

Held every month, the competition involves a monthly vote and therefore a winner. At the end of the year the person with the most wins receives a prize.

It’s normally done in real time, of course, so we still having to make do with photos.

Other activities include our jigsaw swap, a new competition based on words, Easter card making/sharing, and Zoom-based coffee mornings.

We still continue to support the Wallingford food bank and respond to county and national initiatives.

Members are still making good use of the Denman at Home online courses which cover many topics, such as history, craft, exercise, baking, hobby skills. New topics are published weekly, providing something for everyone.

Hopefully, by the time of the next report,we will have met up again in person.

This may possibly still have to be outside but we are happy to make good use of our village greens in Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill if necessary.

Once we do get to go indoors we look forward to the return of our varied and interesting programme of events and activities.

If you fancy knowing more, please call Frances on 0118 984 2162.

Sally Bergmann

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