Friday, 29 November 2019

Get together this winter to tackle loneliness!

Although loneliness can affect anyone at any time, the winter months can bring specific challenges. Christmas can be a reminder of loved ones who have passed away and, for those with reduced mobility, poor weather conditions can make it difficult to visit friends and family.

Small acts of kindness, such as visiting a neighbour, can make a big difference to others, which is why we’ve been supporting the Great Get Together since the launch of our Link Together campaign to alleviate loneliness in 2017.

This guest blog has been written by Eleanor Harrison, Partnerships and External Affairs Manager at the Jo Cox Foundation, about this year’s Winter Great Get Together and how WI members can get involved.

Following the incredible success of this summer’s Great Get Together, it’s time to bring our communities together again this winter to tackle loneliness.

Loneliness is an issue that was close to Jo Cox’s heart, expressed in her memorable words: “I will not live in a country where thousands of people are living lonely lives forgotten by the rest of us.” Jo recognised that loneliness is an issue that doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, from the elderly and those with health and mobility issues to new mums, refugees and the recently bereaved. The scale of the issue is huge, with a landmark report from the British Red Cross in 2016 finding that over 9 million people are affected by loneliness in the UK.

At The Jo Cox Foundation, we are committed to continuing Jo’s legacy and building stronger communities where everyone has a sense of belonging. We are so grateful to all of the WI members who participated in the Great Get Together this summer to help make this vision a reality. You were part of an amazing movement of 720,000 people who took part in over 11,000 events over the June weekend!

Our CEO, Catherine Anderson, would like to express her thanks: “The WI has long been at the heart of so many communities, and we are so grateful to have your support. The year on year commitment of WI members to Jo’s legacy and values of kindness and compassion is an inspiration to all of us at the Foundation and our wider community of organisers. We can’t wait to see how you’ll get involved in the Great Get Together again this winter!”

We would love you to take part in the Great Get Together again this December and help to tackle loneliness in your community. There are so many ways to get involved, from hosting a festive feast for elderly people in your area, to rallying a group of carol singers to visit those who are unable to leave their homes, to simply knocking on a neighbour’s door with a mince pie. Whatever you decide to do, you can be sure to make a real difference in the life of someone who might be feeling lonely this winter.

To find more inspiration, ideas and resources, visit our website.

We’d love to hear your stories of how you Get Together this winter! Don’t forget to tag us on social media at @great_together and if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with our team by contacting

Have a Great Get Together this Winter!

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Nutfield Gals WI continues work with Reigate and Banstead Women's Aid

Guest blog written by Jan Cornwell, Nutfield Gals WI Secretary

It’s been a busy couple of months for Nutfield Gals WI, we held our May fundraiser for the women’s refuge. We also invited Emma, the Refuge Manager and Play Therapist to join us for our meeting and update us on what’s been happening over the last year. May brought some amazing news for Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid (RBWA) and all other women’s refuges around the country, but more of that later!

There was as always a good attendance for our fundraiser evening, we had a raffle with some great prizes, we sold cakes (my goodness our girls can bake!), Ruth sold young plants and her homemade jams and pickles, yum! Angie, another of our members makes jewellery and donated her sales, Barbara sold handmade cards and we had a bring and buy stall. In all we raised a magnificent £650 on the night with more money coming in from those that were unable to attend, so proud of our girls their generosity and kindness is heart-warming!

Emma gave us her update and had some shocking statistics to tell us with regards to suicide and murders of women suffering domestic abuse. Three women a week take their own lives and two women a week are murdered by the perpetrator, utterly horrifying!  She also told us they’ve been forced to reduce the hours of one the women’s advocates due to funding issues, it’s a constant and unrelenting battle to find more funding from other sources to top up their budget and pay for all of the vital services they offer the women and their children. Counselling for the women, play therapy for the children, the massive cost involved in running the house, paying their rent, maintenance and replacing furniture etc, this takes a huge chunk of their budget each and every year!

The refuge employs two women’s advocates who help the women through any police, legal, medical, financial and housing issues they may encounter after escaping the perpetrator; they also oversee any counselling the woman may need. There are two play therapists who work with the children who can often be affected mentally and emotionally as a result of the abuse they’ve witnessed or experienced. They have a CEO who oversees everything and has done television and radio interviews to help raise awareness of the work RBWA do. 

Emma, the full time play therapist is also the Services Manager and is involved with seeking additional funding. Very few, if any other refuges offer this level of care and support, RBWA is exceptional in this regard but have a very strong and proven belief that this is the level of care that’s needed and that brings about successful and long-lasting results. On top of this there is an accounts person who also deals with donations, a person who looks after basic maintenance of the rooms and common areas of the house and additionally a number of volunteers. Everyone at the very least doubles up on their actual job and deals with anything that might need dealing with. The roll up your sleeves and get on with it mentality is alive and well here and in spite of what you might think, it’s a joyful and happy place!

Some great news has been announced that could change the future of refuges and give them at least some of the financial security they so badly need.

The government has set out proposals to place a new legal duty on local authorities to provide support in ‘secure accommodation’ for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, creating a new statutory system for the funding of refuges and other services within the community. 

This is fabulous news and provided everything goes ahead and the money local authorities provide is a reasonable and sensible amount, it will help to make life a little more secure for women and their children who are fleeing domestic abuse, it's not the whole answer but it's a good start!

Further information on these proposals can be found here.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

WI members in Wales take action to preserve, protect and plant urban trees

Since September 2017, NFWI-Wales has been engaging members in taking action to address the decline in urban trees. Currently 200 WIs throughout Wales are involved in activities such as surveying, observing, protecting and planting trees and are spreading the word about the value of trees to the wider public.
Llansaint WI planting trees
Urban trees are among the most versatile natural assets that can be used to effectively raise the quality of Welsh towns and cities. Research shows us that trees in Wales’ towns and cities deliver many social benefits as well as mitigating the effects of climate change. Urban trees make a key contribution to our health and wellbeing by reducing air pollution and creating green spaces as well as reducing the risk of flooding, capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere and helping to mitigate excessive warming. 
Yet urban trees are under continuous threat from factors such as pests and diseases, an ageing tree population, climate change, the demand for new building development and a lack of understanding on the benefits that trees bring to society. Most recent studies show that 73% of urban areas in Wales have lost trees since 2010 and 7,000 trees were lost between 2006 and 2013.

Birds crafted by Sir Gâr/Carmarthenshire Federation members
The WI has a proud and rich history of standing up for the natural environment which has been a key theme for many WI campaigns and projects, with members dedicated to protecting and promoting the countryside, limiting their own environmental footprints and taking action on climate change.
Through this project, WI members have been using their passion for improving the environment to conserve trees for future generations. Many WIs have been involved in local tree planting. Some have been holding woodland walks to identify, measure and survey trees whilst others have been in contact with their local authority about tree issues in their local community. Members have also been inspired to create craft items to promote the value of trees.
Below are some project highlights:
Over 1000 trees have been planted by members from Sir Gâr/Carmarthenshire Federation.  The Federation has held two competitions where members crafted birds and animals. WIs all over the county have engaged in guided walks to identify, measure and survey trees.
Members from WIs in Gwent have been surveying trees in the grounds of Caldicot Castle. 

Powys Radnor Federation blanket
Using the OPAL Tree surveys they have been measuring the height, girth and general condition of the trees. Members have also surveyed trees at Cwmbran Boating Lake. The group will revisit the lake during the summer to record visual changes and wildlife on or near the trees.
In Powys Radnor Federation, members have been surveying and yarn bombing trees in their local community. Some have written to their local authority in relation to tree issues whilst others have been involved in creating a blanket to promote trees.
Ysbyty Ifan WI in Clwyd Denbigh Federation has been involved planting trees in the community in partnership with the National Trust and a local school.

WIs with an interest in getting involved can find out more here. 

To find out about the federation activities taking place across Wales, please visit our website.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

NFWI-Wales Recruitment Award winners share the secrets of their success

To inspire WIs to increase their membership, NFWI-Wales runs an annual Recruitment Award competition. The competition comprises of 2 categories namely ‘WIs with fewer than 25 members’ and ‘WIs with 25 members and over’. The winners are announced each year at the Wales Conference and presented with a certificate and bursary to attend a course at Denman. 

Skewen WI is presented with its award  
Last month Skewen WI, Glamorgan Federation was announced the 2018 Recruitment Award winner of the category for WIs with fewer than 25 members. The WI had increased its membership from 24 to 46 members, an increase of 92%.

The winner of the category for WIs with 25 members and over was announced as Portskewett & Sudbrook WI, Gwent Federation. During 2018, the WI succeeded in increasing its membership from 32 to 52 members, an increase of 62.5%.

Eleanor Griffiths, a member of Skewen WI shares the secrets of the WI’s success in recruiting new members:

Skewen WI were so surprised and delighted to receive the recruitment award for 2018 and of course the bursary award for Denman.

Our journey started in 2013 when Skewen WI was formed with a membership of 23 ladies, but fell to 17 within two years or so. Five years on we have a membership of 70 and it appears to be rising!

So the big question is how?

Well the bottom line or cynical answer could be money!
Yes, we have been awarded two lottery grants, but it’s no use having a lot of money if it’s not used wisely and effectively.

We are committed and we have a passion for creating a WI that is fun, informative, educational, interesting and above all sociable. 

A recent edition of WI Life contained an article on the benefits of being a committee member.  It describes the three officer roles of President, Treasurer and Secretary as the Holy Trinity. Well - we are not like that!

We are a large and dynamic committee, who have good ideas, energy and the ability to make things happen. There is no better committee meeting when ideas thrown into the pot are creative, fun and sometimes daring! 

Our main duty is to provide an interesting programme of monthly meetings and we have used questionnaires to seek members’ views on the kind of speakers and events they would like to happen.

This is just a small part of Skewen WI. We run an array of clubs and workshops, as we want to appeal to a range of members. These include a monthly Craft Club where quality work is produced. Our monthly Book Club encourages vigorous debate and extends our love of reading. The IT Club has amazed and excited us, because, at last we learned to use our mobile phones and tablets properly!

In addition we love workshops, from willow weaving, painting, pottery and wreath making. 

Skewen WI crafts
We currently have weekly Walking Netball, we will be learning to sing as a choir in the summer and have a series of Samba Drumming workshop booked for the autumn. 

We travel together on monthly visits, to places such as Denman College, Stratford Upon Avon, Oxford, historic houses near and far and places closer to home such as Penderyn Distillery, Llanelli House and the Gwili Railway, to name but a few.

We never let a good opportunity pass us by, such as the Glamorgan Show. We have entered many classes and achieved gratifying results both as a small and medium WI - in this year’s show we will be classed as a large WI.

Above all we strongly believe that clear lines of communication are essential. All members receive frequent texts and emails, to remind them of meetings, events, or any other useful information. Boy-oh-boy our IT Club has paid dividends in that area!

So it’s not just about having the money to spend on the things mentioned so far- it’s about the leadership of the committee. In other words a committee that constantly looks for ways and means to bring together a community of women to learn share and laugh together. 

We firmly believe that leadership is not about title or designation. It’s all about Impact, Influence and Inspiration:

Impact involves getting results like a healthy membership;
Influence is about spreading the passion you have for achieving a dynamic WI; and
Inspiration is the ability to make people want to be part of our very special organisation. 

Portskewett & Sudbrook WI is presented with its award 
Val Robinson shares the success of Portskewett & Sudbrook WI in increasing its membership:

The WI saw a large increase in our membership over the course of the year. The January 2018 meeting was an adult ballet lesson. One of the members invited others from the class in Chepstow to attend that meeting, so that the teacher had some ladies there who knew a little about ballet and could confidently do some of the positions. Many of the visitors that evening went on to become members of Portskewett & Sudbrook WI.

There were several new ladies who attended our “Dough at Home” evening, having seen posters advertising the meeting in the village, with a local baker, who teaches people to make artisan breads in their own homes. They not only sampled the
bread at that meeting but, having sampled the WI, became members.

Members brought friends along and others came and joined, having heard how interesting, friendly and fun the WI is.

Broadcast your WI proudly, invite any ladies you meet in exercise classes, choirs, at the school gate, on the local bus, to come and try your varied programme for themselves.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Norfolk Federation celebrates 100 years

Guest blog written by Margaret Collingwood, Norfolk Federation Chairman

We're still in a daze from our hundredth Annual Meeting. We filled the Norwich Theatre Royal, with over a thousand WI members. It was an unforgettable occasion. We combined serious business with serious fun.

What did this remind us about the WI and what it is all about? The WI has three key messages.

First message: The WI is here to inspire you.
So, how is the WI inspiring? Our meeting gave one answer - every one of us felt inspired. By the mass singing of Jerusalem (of course!); by the poems, stories and jokes from the incomparable Pam Ayres; by the theatrical atmosphere and feeling of occasion; by the sense of purpose and fellowship; and not least by the important business of the day: work of all those committees, the resolutions considered, the reports of our latest achievements.

Those achievements are nothing new. Already in 1919 the WI was working to take teachers out into the villages and bring education to the women. Women wanted to do more for themselves. The new Women's Institutes were there to help: teaching about food production and preservation, about keeping children healthy and safe, by better nutrition and by hygiene in the home. Soon there were lessons on glove making and toy making, on upholstery and tinkering - the list is fascinating.

Today's WI has the same message, though the activities have subtly changed. Just one example: we now have a Digital Team, running workshops to get WI members comfortable with today’s technology and at home with their laptop, pad and smart phone. We still want to inspire you!

Get Comfortable Online - January 2019
Second message: The WI is everything you want it to be.
What do women want from their WI today? Is it so very different from what they wanted in 1919?

Women of all ages and backgrounds need somewhere they can be themselves. Many members join the WI simply to make friends. Maybe the children have started school, or they've moved to a new area, or they've retired and need something to do. The WI is the place where women can find others with shared interests and, at the same time, learn more about themselves.

Throughout these hundred years our members have been given the chance to shine. There's been a continuous WI presence at the Royal Norfolk Show, often with pageants, processions, exhibitions and sales of crafts and produce. Members have joined a choir or theatre group, taken a watercolour course, or discovered the science behind a cream tea. There are book clubs, rambling groups, lunch clubs, cinema clubs. New interests spring up while old ones fade away. Poetry reciting competitions, folk dancing sessions were popular in the 1930s but alas don’t have the same following in 2019.

Keep Fit Medau Rally 1963
Third message: The WI is what you make of it.
What can you make of the WI? That’s completely up to you. Once a month, a couple of hours spent with friends, listening to an interesting speaker and sharing a cup of tea and a piece of cake ... for many members that's all they ask. But the WI can be so much more. We have Denman College, our own residential education centre, with courses on cookery, crafts, lifestyle, history, literature... anything the members show interest in. The WI has a proud history of campaigning. Our resolution process gives every member a chance to express her views and to be heard. We try to change things for the better and to tackle issues that matter to each of us.

All members are encouraged to help run their own WI. Every WI needs its committee, as well practical help such as meeting and greeting and of course making the tea. Our Federation office is always looking for volunteers to work in our committees or help with all those tasks that keep the WI engine running. Truly, the WI is what its members make of it.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Reigate and Banstead Womens Aid: A women’s refuge for women and their children fleeing domestic control, abuse and violence

Guest blog written by Jan Cornwell, Secretary of Nutfield Gals WI

This blog is about the beginning of mine and Nutfield Gals WI’s involvement with Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid (RBWA), the amazing women who run the Women’s Refuge and the women and children who find themselves needing this massively underfunded and at risk resource.

By pure chance in late 2017 I became involved with my local Women’s Refuge firstly by just donating mine, my sister and daughter’s unwanted clothes and kid’s clothes and then quite soon afterwards as a volunteer.

In 2018 I spoke to my fellow committee members to see if we could invite Emma who manages the refuge to come and speak about what the refuge does at one of our meetings, they liked the idea.  Thankfully she agreed to come and talk about, the challenges involved and also spoke generally about the kinds of cases they have to deal with.  She also for the very first time in public, agreed to tell her own personal story of escaping an abusive and dangerous relationship. 

To say the story she told of her own experience was powerful, shocking, heart breaking and utterly appalling is a massive understatement, the emotion and empathy in the room was tangible, we were stunned into silence by what this 29 year-old woman had endured and survived. She was and continues to be, an inspiration to me. 

The financial challenges of running the refuge are constant and unrelenting, the CEO and staff spend far too much of their precious time trying to find ways of saving money and securing funding. The Nutfield Gals decided they wanted to help, so we do!

We regularly make donations of female toiletries and baby/toddler items such as nappies and wipes. We also make donations of non-perishable foodstuffs. The refuge provide a welcome box for all new clients which contains toiletries and some starter foodstuffs - pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, beans etc., which helps the women have a measure of independence to feed their family until such time as they have money to shop for themselves. They also have new bedding and towels in their room and if they have children, a toy and book, however, all of this has to be donated or funds raised to finance it.

All these things are desperately needed by the women and their children, as they usually arrive at the refuge with nothing, just the clothes they stand up in. Can you imagine being so afraid for your life that you have to leave your home, your friends and family, your belongings, your children’s toys and clothes and flee hundreds of miles away from everything that’s familiar in order to be safe, not a comfortable thought is it?

I’m going to be blogging regularly about mine and Nutfield Gals experiences of being involved with such an incredibly worthwhile and vital resource. I hope you find it interesting and informative and that it stirs something in you to make you and your WI want to get involved with your local women’s refuge. I really hope so, because this hideous abuse and control is going on everywhere, in your town, your village, your street, maybe in your WI or worse still, in your own family! 

Did you know your WI can support your local women's refuge under the NFWI's violence against women mandate? 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

#AskHerToStand: Report on 50:50 Parliament event

Bucks Federation member Deb Sanders was fortunate enough to receive an invitation from her MP to attend the 21st November 2018 #AskHerToStand event organised with the Fawcett Society, 50:50 Parliament in partnership with the Jo Cox Foundation, and the Centenary Action Group. The reception, exhibition and panel discussion was to mark the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 when women were first able to stand for Parliament.

Photo credit: Deb Sanders
Here she recounts her experiences during her day at Westminster.

It’s amazing where your WI membership can lead you! I’d never have thought I’d be going to a conference aiming for 50/50 gender representation in Parliament. After asking my MP, Dominic Grieve, for a formal invitation, within 48hrs I had an appointment to have coffee with him in Portcullis House, Westminster, even though I was a non-political delegate.

As I only found out about the opportunity to go on the event late in the day I missed applying for tickets for Prime Minister’s Question Time and the Women’s Equality Select committee but nonetheless my day was really interesting. I did make a complaint, as I had climbed up the two flights of stairs to register at the start of the day, and there was no provision for people with mobility issues.

In the exhibition all the political parties had a stand including the Women’s Equality Party.  The Fawcett Society was advertising itself as “the largest women’s campaigning organisation in the UK” so I reminded them of the nearly quarter million WI members nationwide!

The next port of call was Portcullis House by Westminster station. 213 MPs have their offices in this impressive building so security is key. Once inside I waited in a communal area to be allowed in by my MP. We passed Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC holding a media interview. The meeting with Dominic Grieve was around thirty minutes – definitely not long enough to discuss either local or national politics but it was a good opportunity to ‘flag wave’ for the WI. We had an interesting discussion about the intense workload of MPs and how this can be so disruptive to family life.

Mr Grieve then escorted me through the tunnel that links Portcullis House to the Palace of Westminster and into Westminster Hall. What an impressive building, you could feel the years of history around you.  A full size Lego model of Emily Pankhurst is currently on display (see photo). After thirty minutes to take in the splendour of this building, all participants gathered for a group photo with many female MPs including Harriet Harman, Penny Mordaunt and Amber Rudd.

Then back to Portcullis House and the dreaded security checks. This took so long that I missed a buffet lunch!  However I made it in time for the keynote conference: ‘Ask Her to Stand’.  The Rt.Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Mother of the House, was the keynote speaker.  Other women MP speakers included Vicky Ford, MP - Chair of the APPG on Women in Parliament, Layla Moran, Rosena Allin-Khan, Mhairi Black, Penny Mordaunt, Maria Miller and Helen Whately.  The Q&A session was much more positive and friendly than BBC Question Time.

All spoke passionately about the rewards of being in Parliament and having the opportunity to make a difference. Despite the pressures and long hours, the job is rewarding was the unanimous thread.  There are a few disadvantages: Penny Mordaunt had to turn down an evening with Hugh Grant so that a committee of which she was a member was quorate! Other threads were that women take years to make the decision to stand for Parliament and often lack the confidence to do so but that the collaborative nature of working together in Parliament was rewarding, and women seem to be more compassionate. ‘Women network together to communicate, men work together to gain information and power’ was another statement. ‘The dynamics of Westminster, and all other levels of local government change when there is a fairer representation of women’ was another thought. This was a powerful and uplifting session which left me with much to think about.

The final part of the day was a seminar event back in Church House where we’d registered.  Delegates were looking at the problems of ‘hard to reach’ women in the community. It was suggested that the term used should be ‘Easy to Ignore Women’. I sat at a table with a group of women from a variety of backgrounds which included councillors from a very deprived area of the country. We all faced similar problems but I was impressed with the energy and compassion of these councillors who really understood their area and were so committed to action. Discussions ranged around measures that government can take and practical local solutions for these women with no ‘voice’. We all agreed that austerity has made social isolation a bigger issue and especially in adult education.

This was a fascinating day and I returned home with more questions than answers. Why was I there as a WI representative and what can we do to improve 50/50 representation at all levels of public life? The political parties are making great efforts to train and support women who wish to stand for election. This, however, creates a body of women who owe their allegiance to a party and less to a community.

I joined the WI thirty years ago. With the mentoring and friendship I received from local members I have chaired a number of committees, been a school governor, been a town councillor, and gained a Diploma in Stitched Textiles. The founding members of the WI were not afraid to campaign in public. The WI is in a unique position to encourage and train women to get involved in all levels of public life without the mantra of party politics. Are we doing enough? Have we got a little fluffy at the edges and concentrate too much on the craft and baking skills? It’s really hard to get local members inspired to campaign for our resolutions, should we be doing more to boost the confidence of members to speak in public and thus have the tools to be able to campaign?

It is time we had equal representation in all levels of local and national government but this requires giving women confidence and the tools to do the job. What can we as WI members do to facilitate this?

Further reading: