Crusades in Menstration and Giving an F in Fashion! Tonight, tonight!

Hear ye, hear ye! To celebrate International Women’s day, the Belles will meet to learn and discuss matters close to our hearts and learn all about new things to bring into our campaigning fold, too!
First things first, our crusades in menstruation!
Your period comes when you are not expecting it; you need to clean yourself up and get sorted out. Even if you are out and about you can buy supplies, new pants too if necessary. But what if you don’t have the resources to do that? What if you can’t afford a single tampon? What do you do next? The realities of dealing with a basic bodily function when you are homeless or on a low income hit home for a group of us when one Blue Belle drew our attention to this powerful article. 

It struck a chord with many in Cambridge and around the country at the same time. The wonderful Cambridge Hub started their Essentials Dignity fundraising campaign to raise funds for the purchase of essential feminine hygiene and personal care products to be split between Jimmy’s Cambridge and Wintercomfort. These fantastic organisations operate on tight budgets: often they can only give out one or two tampons at a time. Homeless women make up 16% of the people who have been using Wintercomfort’s services in the past 6 months. A day centre in Cambridge, they provide frontline support for homeless people in the city: food, showers, clean clothes as well as education and support to move on with their lives. The provision of bathroom facilities and sanitary products is essential to ensure the health and dignity of homeless women. Without this basic support we can’t expect people to take on the challenge of escaping the spiral of homelessness.

Keeping on the theme of periods and respectfully helping yourself when its that time of the month, we’ll also be discussing the use of fantastic alternatives to disposable sanitary products including the use of the phenomenal Mooncup.
The Mooncup – easy to use, less waste and healthier for you, too!

Following that raft of fabulous information, the celebrations continue with a captivating talk from the gorgeous model, Rebeeca Pearson, in all things feminism in fashion. Rebecca has been the face of H&M and Marks and Spencers in her time – check out a brief Q&A below to get a flavour of what we can expect!

Rebecca will talk all about feminism on and off the catwalk!
Modelling! Tell us about how you got into it? 

I got scouted outside Topshop in Oxford Circus – not a very interesting one I’m afraid, as most London-based models were found either there or The Clothes Show! After seeing myself as a very gawky teenager with braces, acne and a fondness for wearing my brother’s clothes whilst walking like Richard Ashcroft, it was quite a surprise! 

What is the state of feminism is modeling? Is there a lot of work to be done? 

Interestingly I’ve seen conversation around feminism grow hugely in the last 2 years. In fact, last year I was invited to a discussion chaired by Lorraine Candy of Elle magazine to discuss feminism.  Cosmo, Stylist, Elle – they often relate topics to feminism and ask their interviewees if they identify as feminist. 

Female models far outnumber male models and are generally paid more, and my experience of the industry is that I work with far more women and gay men than straight men, and those I work with hail from many different countries and backgrounds. There’s a real attitude of ‘if you want it, go for it, so we see a lot of new labels and magazines springing up all the time, so I would say that there’s quite an empowering feminist undercurrent to my industry. 
However, there’s always work to be done. Jourdann Dunn is fighting for black models to have more visibility on the catwalk and in magazines, so feminists should help in the fight for a more global representation of models to reflect globalisation and multiculturalism. 
Modelling can still be incredibly disempowering on all levels. Young girls can be taken advantage of for their vulnerability, garnering huge debts with agencies that they have no chance of paying off. They can be given little guidance or support, and encouraged do pose or wear clothes that they are not comfortable with because they are not confident enough to stand up for themselves. And, of course, there is the ever-present pressure on models to be thinner than is healthy, which is concentrated more in high fashion, catwalk and couture. `Some models are just very thin, and we should celebrate that women come in a range of sizes (I always felt very bullied for being naturally skinny when I was younger), but we do need to see more variety on the catwalks, helping promote a healthy body image both within my industry and to the women consuming the images. 

How has feminism in modeling changed since you began!? 

Yes, as I said before it is actually discussed whereas when I started, I wasn’t aware of it being part of the lexicon used at all. Models are taking control for themselves, as we see with The Model Alliance based in New York who campaign or the rights of models. 
Do you ever struggle with choosing which projects to work on because of your feminist mantra? 
Yes! But I also think that saying no to projects based on whether it seems to chime with my feminism can be tricky to. An example: I was booked for a lingerie shoot recently: my first ever! I worried ‘did this comply with my feminism? Was I dropping my principles to the side to get a job?’
I chose to do it, because I hate to say no to new experiences. I turned up saying ‘I don’t do see-through, I don’t do small knickers, I won’t do anything too sexy pose-wise.’
The label was owned by a woman, who balanced the business, the design and the PR and the web & advertising for her company, as well as being a mother to two young children and designed lingerie for women that she wanted to empower women. She totally respected that I didn’t want to wear what I wasn’t comfortable with. However, the second I put on the first outfit, I felt incredible, so empowered, and found myself feeling free of many of my own body insecurities. The pictures show me as a confident, powerful woman and i’m happy to have done the job and that other women will see those images. 
It just proves that feminism is about your own personal journey: question everything you do, but don’t limit yourself because Andrea Dworkin might tell you of about it. This wave of feminism is far more inclusive and not as judgemental as it has been in the past, but no less powerful for it. Actually, this inclusiveness has led to a greater sense of unity and purpose. 
Who are some of your icons that inspire you in all things feminism in modeling? 
Kate Bush. She’s so free, so delicate yet powerful (I’m using that word a lot!) and so creative, fearless. Coco Rocha is a supermodel who basically reinvented posing, and is never afraid to express herself, moving freely and dramatically, even making herself grotesque in images. As well as expressing her freedom through her posing, she campaigns for the rights of models and calls out clients, for example Elle Brazil who airbrushed her to look topless despite it being written into her contract that they wouldn’t do this. That’s brave – behaviour like that can tarnish a model’s reputation and damage their career. 
Name dropping aside, who has been the most fabulous and feminist photographer/project you’ve worked on? 
I went to Bangladesh with People Tree, a Fair Trade clothing label who campaign for worker’s rights across the supply chain. I am an ambassador for the brand, founded by Safia Minney MBE who is the most incredible feminist icon: CEO of a groundbreaking company and charity, as well as a wife and a mother. She is truly tireless, passionate and driven. 
She took me to the Fair Trade factory, The Swallows, in Thanapara. This was founded when all the men in the village were shot in the war, and the women were left hopeless and destitute, possessing no vocational skills. This handicrafts factory was started to give them these skills and livelihood. 
It is now independent and produces clothes for companies worldwide. There is healthcare, free childcare and even an organic garden: the women there are paid a fair wage and given support, and their children educated on site. As well as showing the important broader issues such as education and employment, it was heartening to see that my modelling & promoting of these clothes they made before my eyes had a tenable positive consequence enjoyed by them. When my job is often seen as vapid, pointless and even negative, that was very validating for me. 
Words of wisdom to any feminists considering taking modellng up?! 
Yes! Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and say what you’re not comfortable with: you will be respected. My blog,, offers tonnes of very real and heartfelt sisterly advice for anyone needing support. 

Daisy Change WI – Establishing a Pioneering Place for Inspiring Women in Recovery

Following on from an inspirational talk by Ruth Bond, OBE, who as former NFWI Chairman had been instrumental in the setting up of the prison based WI (as a result of the WI’s Care Not Custody Campaign, our President, Joanne, took the idea of replicating the model for the pioneering prison WI to the Chairman of the Mental Health Trust where she was working. As a woman who very openly lives with an enduring mental health issue, Joanne understands first hand the positive impact that the WI can have on any woman’s recovery journey.

The result? The founding of the country’s first WI to meet on the grounds of a Mental Health Trust that has a membership which is compiled of both service user and women from other WIs/in the community. Daisy Change WI held their first meeting at the Chitra Sethia in July 2014 and its members have described it as a phenomenon that is growing from strength to strength! Daisy Change welcome visitors from all surrounding WIs in hopes that when its members leave services they seek out their local WI and feel the connection that they have made with Daisy Change and the WI in its entirety!

Visit Daisy Change’s blog here and go along to a meeting to experience history in the making!

Daisy Change WI – Inspiring Women!

We Host @Womenofthewi

A fabulous and exciting week for us as we take on the hosting of the @Womenofthewi Twitter feed!

The genius brainchild of Spa Sweethearts WI President, Becky Warburton, each week a new WI takes the reigns and shows the world their fabulous sisterhood – and this week, its our turn! Expect stories fit to showcase the Blue Belles in their diverse beauty and a live feed from our meeting on Wednesday too, which celebrates International Women’s Day with a talk from Wintercomfort to tell us all about the Essentials Dignity fundraising campaign which is raising funds for sanitary products to homeless women and an interactive session with models Rebecca Pearson and Namalee Bolle on Feminism in Fashion!

@womenofthewi a twitter stream of inspiring women!

Celebrating LGBT History Month with a Do & Dabble!

The Blue Belles met this month to help celebrate the raised rainbow flag at Cambridge’s Guildhall, marking LGBT History Month, with a do and dabble evening of skills swapping of huge proportions!

From Flickr – the rainbow pride flag flies high about the Guildhall in Cambridge every February

Greg from the Encompass Network came along to tell us all about the fabulous work that the non-profit group do to support and bring together the LGBTQI community in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. From films to information sessions and gatherings, this month sees a wide variety of events happening to celebrate all of those who identity with this very diverse and gorgeous group of people – check out the complete Programme here – we’ll be going along to the Women Composer’s Night at Hot Numbers Cafe on 21st Feb – come along and celebrate fellow inspiring women musicians!

Once we’d all had a try of the fabulous homemade cake delights baked by fellow Belles (including Jane’s delicious modern chocolate and peppermint cake – a recipe from the latest WI Life!), we all got stuck in to three fabulous workstations all hosting the chance for us to try to tap into different craft/cookery skills.

The Sushi Rolling station was alive with laughs & giggles as we learned it wasn’t as tricky as we’d once thought!
Sophie & Helen show off their first attempt at sushi rolling – tres profesional!

Lucy cuts her first sushi roll – complete with tofu, cucumber & pickled turnips 
Kara carefully placing her sushi out after its first wrap and chop!

Each Belle was allotted 20 minutes to give printmaking, sushi rolling and clay broach/badge/button making a go.

New member Anyesa and Mel, Sophie & Jo draw out their printmaking preference
Jane takes on printing something Liberty inspired

Helen printed a unicorn and top hatted dancing banana
As colourful as the Belles themselves, all prints were just perfect!

Our meeting venue was aglow with enthusiasm and laughter – and each Belle took something fabulous away from the night in the form of delicious food, somewhere to wear and a delightful print to hang proudly on their wall!

Abi who works at the Rowan Trust, hosted the clay button/badge/broach workshop
Gorgeous heart shaped buttons – loving made by a Belle!

A special thank you to members Emily for the sharing of her FAB printmaking skills and Abigail, who works at the Rowan Trust, the charity that ‘brings artists and learning-disabled people together in the production of fine artwork and crafts; while providing opportunities for self-expression and creative exploration’ – we couldn’t be more thankful for all they do in the community and with us Belles, too!

Mindfulness and The Dawn Project.

It was our first meeting of 2015!

We started off by welcoming our visitors from Orwell and revealing that as part of our Grendon Twinning we will be hosting their archive on the blog – so watch this space! We also revealed that as part of the Women of the WI we will be creating content for & guest editing in March, it’s already already kicked off here and here! We are VERY excited!

Orwell popped over for a visit!

We’ve already got a date for the diaries! – Craft Fair 2015, Saturday 28th November! More info to come throughout the year!

We then kicked off January in a peaceful manor, with – An Introduction to Mindfulness with Simone from the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. Mindfulness is:

“a way of paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to what goes on in the present moment in your body, mind, and the world around you. Mindfulness can enable you to see things differently, undoing mental and physical knots and tensions. It can increase your sense of personal confidence, of having more options and more strength to face the different challenges in your life. 

There is a rapidly-growing body of research evidence for the benefits of mindfulness practice, such as:
– more energy and enthusiasm
– a greater capacity for relaxation
– more self-confidence
– an increased ability to handle stressful situations”*

It was a very interesting experience and I think we came away from it feeling rather refreshed, I for one have never heard the BlueBelles so quiet! (pot, kettle… 😉 )

After a break full of amazing treats including Lemon Drizzle (that according to the ingredients contained Lemon & Drizzle 😉 ) 

time for tea?

…and a Fruit Cake that may have been produced by ‘Bezzer’ herself we got an insight from Anna from Women’s Resource Center about the Dawn Project – “A one stop service for women who are or were at one time in the criminal justice system and those who are at risk of offending. This project spans Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with offices in both cities.

Anna talks to us about the work the Dawn Project does.
Showing us the amazing outcomes

It is truly fantastic, they cover a vast range of issues, the project offers women information, support from:

– Finding suitable accommodation
– Accessing education, training or work
– Coping with health issues; including anxiety, stress, low self esteem or anger
– Drug or alcohol problems
– Managing finances, benefits or debt
– Coping with relationships or being a parent
– Understanding how to manage feelings
– Violent relationships or sexual abuse
– Issues around prostitution

We also heard some amazing stories of Ladies who have managed to turn their lives around thanks to this great community project.

A fantastic start to 2015.

Next meeting: 11th February – Do and Dabble

*Description taken from Cambridge Buddhist Centre website.

Arty Farty Christmas Crafts, 1st Belle Digs for Denman & Love from Tea Pigs

Blue Belles gathered for their December meeting to celebrate all things giving and gorgeous in the holiday season.
Laura P 2 & Deborah crack open their Arty Farty craft kits

Our sisters from Cam City WI, Jo and Ruth, helped to guide our hands and hearts via their new business, Arty Farty Tea Party, to craft wreaths and decorations to help brighten up the S wards of Addenbrooke’s, which helps support those suffering with eating disorders or substance misuse issues.

Deborah & Laura S examine their Arty Farty craft kits further

The first of many collaborations for the ward, the Blue Belles have proudly adopted the S Wards and look forward to bringing colour and magic to the likes of all of the service users that spend time between their walls.

The Belles in the full throws of crafting bliss!
Abi and her beautiful wreath with a lovely cardinal detail 
Aoife’s had a lovely robin red breast as a feature!
Kathy’s was a crocheters dream!
Up close wreaths with pom poms and flowers
The array of colours and wreaths was astounding and beautiful! 
Laura P and her paisley pattern stockings!
This year has been one of great achievement and fun for the Belles and the night was no exception! We were SO very proud to host the first draw for a Dig for Denman bursary, composed of cash we’ve made from selling our allotment produce (in wholefood AND jam/preserve form), to raise the cash to send a Belle to our very own Denman College. Lucky lady on the night, Kelly, was absolutely THRILLED to have been chosen and we look forward to hearing back of her time at our favourite WI learning establishment!
Cam City’s Secretary, Ruth, choosing the first Belle to Dig for Denman!
Last but certainly not least, we Belles were gifted a HUGE selection of delicious teas from the fabulous Tea Pigs
Katie revels in the Tea Pig goodness!
As a thank you for the kind gifting, we snapped photos of ourselves with the delightful brews and plastered them all over our Twitter – Tea Pigs retweeted and were much obliged for the opportunity to wet our whistles!
Laura P2 hearts the chai 
Secretary Laura P enjoys something fruity 
President Joanne found delight in chamomile flower – simply fabulous!
A HUGE THANK YOU to all who came along to be a part of the Blue Belle buzz in 2014 – we have had such a FANTASTIC year and look forward to taking part in all of the exciting times ahead in the WI’s centenary year!

Organ-ising Time to Talk and Branching out into Plant Science!

Well what an educational meeting November was! I felt I learnt so much from both of our wonderful speakers.

We started by hearing good news from our fellow Belles, the Dig for Denman produce & jam/dessert sauce for sale (on ice cream it is luuusssh)

We had a report from Denman, by our Vice President Victoria – and let it be known that the exotic shortbread biscuits were VERY well appreciated in Social Time 😀

We discussed our Christmas meeting of ‘Bring your Traditions’, I personally can’t wait to see what everyone else gets up to.

Our craft pledge to support the S Wards at Addebrooke’s is underway, an update on that soon.

Our first speaker was Stephen Bond, Renal Transplant Coordinator at Addenbrookes, We invited him over to discuss Organ donation in relation to our National WI Time to Talk campaign (#TimetoTalk). We found out some very interesting facts (such as even if you cannot donate blood you can still donate organs) and Stephen was brilliant at answering our questions and leading an open discussion on how to inform our families, ways to do it and opened a very interesting discussion.

More Info regarding both National’s input and FAQ’s on Organ donation can be found HERE and HERE.

Our Second Speaker Dr Siobhan Braybrook- from Sainsbury Laboratory, colleague at of fellow Belle, Laura B (she’s a scientist don’t ya know) came to talk to us about Plant Developmental Sciences. She started by giving us an insight in how she got into Science showing us the places science had taken her and all the places that people she worked with were from, showing us that science even in a small part of Cambridge is part of a massive global network, Women and Men alike. She then went on to demonstrate how plants look, react to their environment, why this is important and how we have helped nature a long a bit.

A very amusing and informative talk, and not intimidatingly over academic for us in the group who aren’t familiar with Plant Biology past O Level/GCSE 😉 I will never forget that a Sunflower isn’t actually a singular flower, it’s a collective! (Quiz winning answer for sure! – *hint hint Stapleford WI ;-)*)
Last and by no means least our Pres Joanne put down Purple Poppies for Remembrance Day. For those animals who had no choice. Knitted by her own (& freshly tattooed ;-P ) fair self.

(By the way – Let me know when yew guys will be sycamore puns because I’d hate for them to be unpoplar – LP 2.0)

Apple Pressing & Sage Advice…

So this month due to Denman fun LP 2.0 lead the charge into apple pressing. We also looked at how we can help our local community, the wonderful Aofie & Abigail facilitated the Toiletries Amnesty giving homeless people access to things that we would normally take for granted such as body wash, toothpaste and shampoo. There was loooaaddds donated so well done Every Belle & our two superstars. We then had social time and found we had some more pressing matters to attend to…;)

Our wonderful speaker Katrina showed us the apple press and informed us of the roles that would be required, she also talked to us about the ratio of apples and that too many eating apples can really make it taste far too sweet & that cooking apples can be used!

Below are some photo’s of the evening and all the mega-fun that was had! Including learning an alternative for sage.

We all really enjoyed the fruit (juices) of our labour and received some some sage advice regarding stopping acid damage to our teeth…

#IamWI & Proud

This week saw a fantastic phenomenon happen on social network that would make our own Lady Denman stand up and take notice!

WI members from all over the globe took to cameras to snap themselves with an ‘I AM WI’ sign in the shot, posting #IamWI, to gather in numbers and show the world the variety of fantastic females who make this movement what it is.

The Blue Belles were delighted to be a part of this massive selfie bombing campaign, and responded en masse with photos below as posted by its members.

We were even MORE touched that campaign brainchild, Jo Beale, of Cam City WI President fame, was inspired to get the world snapping following hearing historian Jane Robinson talk at a recent special event we had hosted – sisterhood working together!

Check out a few of the places online where we hit the news with the campaign via Cambridge News and the Yorkshire Post.

#IamW & Couldn’t. Be. More. Proud

An Audience With Members of THE Force to Be Reckoned With

The Blue Belles were overjoyed to welcome author and historian, Jane Robinson, to a special event hosted by us recently as a fundraiser for the Belles.
WIs from Bedfordshire, Suffolk and of course, all over Cambridgeshire, took audience with us to hear the stories behind the writing of Jane Robinson’s book, A Force to be Reckoned With – a History of the WI. 
Jane’s book, A Force to be Reckoned With is a MUST READ!
We were all intrigued by the facts that Jane had picked up along the way and were inspired by all of the fantastic events that the WI had helped to shape in years gone by.
L-R Laura P, Secretary, Joanne, President, Jane Robinson, Historian
All present felt privileged to be amongst the ranks of fellow women and those who were guests and not yet a fully fledged WI member, were compelled to go to their nearest village hall/place of gathering and give the door a knock to enquire if their local WI was meeting behind it!
Members from Trumpington WI, Cam City and LadyBirds mingling amongst the home made cakes
Guests enjoyed homemade cakes lovingly baked by Blue Belles, and the raffle was a huge success – boasting prizes from friends Afternoon Tease, The Fudge Kitchen and The Cambridge Cheese Company.
Our next glorious gathering of WI sisterhood from all stretches of the country will be in the form of a Craft Fair on Saturday 29th November, 10:30 – 15:30 at the St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church. Fellow WI members are warmly encouraged to participate and hire a stall at the fair. Click here for further info and be sure to drop by for some fabulous home made delights a plenty!