Guest blog by Laura Wise, President of the Stoke Road Sisters WI
Stoke Road Sisters WI was formed in July 2014 with just a handful of interested ladies who had never been to a WI before yet wanted to make friends, learn new interests, and also contribute their existing skills and talents to others. It was very exciting getting to know each other and talking about what we would like to draw from our new WI. Very quickly a name was chosen, a strong name that would reflect our WI, and then we formed the committee, the back bone of our WI. Soon we had 70 members and we very quickly got organized and started to plan events and socials for our WI. It was amazing- before we knew it speakers were booked, newsletters were being printed, nights out organized and it really felt like this WI had been running for years and not only 4 months.
Our first speaker was a local historian, Andrew Negus, a very humorous and knowledgeable young man who talked to us about the villains and whores of old Portsmouth. It was a great start to our WI. This was followed by a chocolate making demo by a fellow WI advisor who kindly offered her talents at very short notice. We then proceeded to have a quiz night organized by two of our committee members. This was such good fun, and as we mixed people around, lots of new friendships were made. Then we had a craft meeting in which our ladies enjoyed making pin cushions and hanging decorations.
It was after this meeting that one of our committee members, a keen crafter asked if we could make felt poppies for Remembrance Day. The other committee members loved this idea and it was suggested that we could make a wreath. We agreed it would be a wonderful tribute to give this wreath to our community in memory and tribute to our armed forces. This seemed so fitting as Gosport is a military town and has strong connections to the armed forces. Many of our members are military wives, mums, Grandmas or ex-service personnel themselves. One of our ladies even has an MBE for her time in the Royal Navy.
The only problem was that Remembrance Sunday was just over four weeks away and this was going to be a real challenge. I got on to the British legion the very next day as I was determined to get the ball rolling for our ladies who were so passionate and determined to do this project. The British legion was very interested and within two days the Chair of our local British legion, Andy Brown, was in touch. Andy came along to our next meeting and met all our ladies. He was totally overwhelmed with their enthusiasm and admitted after the meeting that he had been expecting to see about 10 ladies with knitting needles not 60+ ladies full of the joys of life with laughter filling the air. Andy asked if we would like to present our Wreath at the Remembrance Service at Northcott House, a residential home set in lovely grounds in Gosport which is a living memorial for war veterans. We felt so honoured and proud to be invited alongside local councillors and local dignitaries to such a special event.
The following month we made the poppy wreath at our November meeting. Lin and Jo, the two committee members who had suggested the idea, cleverly made a template for all of our ladies to draw around and cut out a poppy. These were then stitched by hand. Some of our ladies wrote names on the back of their poppy in memory of loved ones. All our ladies wore something red to the meeting and a local photographer offered her services. We had the Military Wives and similar music playing, and it was a respectful and moving meeting.
A few days later we went to pay tribute and respect at Northcott House. Some ladies came with their partners, some turned up in military uniform. The service was beautiful, the sun shone and we were made to feel very welcome by all those involved. The local councillors were very pleased to see us there, representing not just the WI but our community too. It really was an honour to be a part of the service. We all had big lumps in our throats during the last post; it was very moving. Afterwards we were all invited into Northcott to meet the residents, and for tea and cake. It was so welcoming and lovely to meet not just the residents but the carers too. One resident we met was 99 years young and was actively chatting to us all and proudly displaying some beautiful medals. We agreed that our wreath would stay at Northcott House on display for all to enjoy. We have been invited back to the Remembrance service next year and we have also offered in return to support and help in any future events at Northcott House, from fetes to afternoon tea. We feel so honoured to be affiliated with Northcott.
The Stoke Road Sisters I am sure will grow from strength to strength, the participation in the poppy wreath and service has not only united us as friends with each other, but also with our community. We are so very proud of all that we have achieved so far and this has started the key stones for us to carry on as a strong, committed and passionate WI. We are a very mixed WI of all ages, which makes our group very fresh, fun and current, yet still keeping the traditions and ethos of the WI. We love to make new friends, try different experiences and learn something new.
I think we can proudly say we are the new generation of the WI. We look forward in continuing to make new friendships, support our community and current issues and keeping the WI traditions alive. Not bad for a WI that has only been running for 5 months.