The beginning of it all
Whiteley WAGs became a twin WI in 2012, when we were approached by Brimscombe and Thrupp WI, or The BATs as they are now known (as we are the WAGs).
The WAGs’ founding member, Chloe Bowler, grew up with a family connection to Brimscombe and Thrupp (B&T) WI; her Mum Pat and two of Pat's sisters have been members of B&T for many years. In the early days of the WAGs, the BATs gave us a lot of useful advice and Pat visited the WAGs whenever she was in Hampshire to visit Chloe and now has dual membership.
When Pat returned to Gloucestershire with stories of the WAGs and what they were up to in Whiteley, B&T thought it would be fun to be twinned with the WAGs and we took them up on their offer. As an urban new-wave WI, the WAGs are very different to B&T WI who are based in rural Gloucestershire just outside Stroud. The WAGs celebrate their 4th birthday this year; B&T have been running as a WI for 57 years. However, it is this difference which makes for a good twinning combination….
WAGs road trip to Gloucestershire
In the summer of 2013, three car loads of WAGs took the 2 hour drive to the village of Brimscombe to meet our twins in person. We got up at the crack of dawn, and, armed with cakes, we hit the road. We were unsure what to expect, but were excited when we noticed that the colours of the buildings had changed from the red bricks of the south to the yellow Cotswold stone - we were getting closer.
We arrived in the beautiful village of Brimscombe and found our way to the hall where the BATs meet. We were greeted by the members of Brimscombe and Thrupp WI who had tea and biscuits waiting for us after our journey. The president Marilyn welcomed us to Gloucestershire, and we were given gifts of personalised notebooks. We also exchanged gifts to mark the beginning of our twinning. The BATs presented us with a lovely pennant depicting the 5 hills which meet in the valley of Stroud, and the sheep that graze on them. In return, the WAGs presented the BATs with some colourful butterfly bunting so they could hang it in their hall at their monthly meetings, as we do at ours. This was made by our craft club and was one of their first projects. We now have the pennant on display on our notice boards, so we have a small piece of Brimscombe and Thrupp at all our meetings.
The BATs provided a lovely lunch and games for us during that first twinning visit. We also had time to chat and get to know our twins; it was wonderful to hear all their stories, the history of their WI and make new friends. After lunch we went for a walk across Rodborough Common, where Winstones ice cream factory can be found, and as it was a beautiful day it would have been rude not to oblige and have one! We sat on the Common, enjoyed our ice creams whilst Chloe picked out the key landmarks of Stroud and the surrounding villages. We also had a bit of time to enjoy Minchinhampton, a small village nearby, before stopping off at Pat’s for tea before the journey home.
The BATs come to the coast
In July 2014, the BATs made the journey down to the coast to visit us. Despite getting slightly lost on some very busy Hampshire roads, the party of 18 ladies from B&T WI arrived at St Faith's Church, Lee-on-the-Solent at the same time as a Family Fun Day was getting underway in the considerable Church grounds. We convinced our twinning ladies for all of five minutes that of course we had laid it all on in their honour, and it provided the perfect backdrop to our planned day.
After a welcome from our new President, Sue Daish, we distributed hand-crafted bags to all the ladies as a gift from Whiteley WAGs WI. The bags featured a mix of our motif, pink butterflies, strawberries as a nod to the strawberry-growing in our area, and anchors to represent the ocean (the craft club have become more adventurous since last year!). The delighted ladies of B&T were very pleased with their WAGs bags and the entrepreneurial ladies of B&T quickly asked for the pattern so they could make up some bags to sell to fundraise for their WI.
A ploughman's lunch, much chatting and laughing, followed by a walk on the seafront and a paddle in the sea (to cool off from the sweltering heat of the day) ended our time in Lee-on-the-Solent. Some even brought along bottles of chilled wine, which went down nicely whilst sat on the beach! The twinning ladies then travelled to Whiteley for a quick tour of the new town to show the ladies where we hold our monthly meetings. Following tea and cake at Chloe's house to sustain the ladies on their journey back to Gloucestershire, we waved goodbye to our twins. Some of the ladies were so enchanted by the area that they are going to consider planning a weekend-long WI trip to Hampshire to take in more of the wonderful sights, sounds and to enjoy some more paddling!
The benefits of twinning
The two WIs have lots of differences, not just in location, but the types of activities we do, the age of the groups and types of meetings we hold. However this works to both our benefit; the WAGs learn from the masters and we keep the BATs up to date with new ideas. We stay in contact during the year and often exchange cards and gifts. We like to know what the BATs are up to, in case there is anything that inspires us, or that we could adapt for our group.
Since becoming twins the BATs have almost doubled in size - they have now attracted some younger members and are soon investing in a Facebook page, as they have been encouraged by the WAGs. The WAGs loved the idea that the BATs kept a scrapbook showing the history of the BATs and now we keep our own scrapbook as we start to build our own WI history.
The BATs also adapted our very successful idea of holding a bake sale to raise funds, as we did in Whiteley Shopping Centre in March, and took their baked goods to the Stroud show which was a huge fundraising success for them. We don’t mind them stealing our ideas as I am sure we will be stealing some of theirs in the future and have done in the past! Working together and learning from each other is an important part of the WI to ensure both groups continue to be successful and grow in the future.
If any WI has thought about twinning but not got round to doing anything about it, then get on with it! The friendship, shared laughter, swapping of ideas and camaraderie is wonderful to be part of. Both WIs are more than happy to boast that they have a twin; different in so many ways, yet sharing a common love of life.
Thanks to Amy Middleton - Secretary of Whiteley WAGs WI - for sharing this story.