President’s Blog Archive


Changing Places

In the USA the first hundred days is a term ‘used to measure the successes and accomplishments of a president during the time their power and influence is at its greatest ‘ 

I don’t think that 100 days covers it…I believe that the whole ‘reign’ is important, beginning, middle, and end as well as the legacy that is left behind. Our former president Joanne’s ‘power’, influence & to be honest pure inspiration is something that will be felt for years if not generations to come. I’m seriously not exaggerating, the ripples of her contributions can be felt all around in the local community, the Daisy Change WI, and even all the way over the UK with the BlueBelles at the epicentre. 

However a leader is not as strong without the rest of the committee, especially our former secretary Laura P & treasurer Fiona, without whom the BlueBelles would not be possible (also who else could keep Joanne’s feet on the ground? Her words – not mine! 😉 ) Thank you so much for your time, effort & dedication thus far ladies, although some of you are stepping down or off the committee you will always have in impact & a place dear to us.

I do apologise to my Belles for the what may have come across as slightly muted response (for me!!!) I was genuinely in shock and for only the 3rd time in my life I was lost for words, I was also trying not to cry or give myself major heartburn. (Thanks to ladies on my table who helped me work out I had done 31,350 stitches so far on my Dr Who Tom Baker scarf to distract me as I rapidly went 50 shades of pale during the whole process) It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet!

I am so so so excited to see what we can achieve this year, and ever so grateful to the wonderful members. I hope to do all you wonderful women of the WI & community proud!  I look forward to being part of the new committee with old & new members alike!

– Laura Petchey AKA Laura P² 

        

6th April 2015

The pages of my golden WI Centenary WI diary are flicking by and I’ve only just managed to have time to sit down and give you the latest scoop on all things WI! To aid, I have added snaps of my adventures with words to accompany to help paint a picture of the fabulous flurry of fun I’ve been up to since last typing to you!

For International Women’s Day, we Belles went along to WoW’s celebrations and stitched bunting made of old knickers to raise awareness of the Menstruation Crusades we were discussing at our last general meeting. Our pledge is to help women on little to no income have access to sanitary products – helping all women with their monthlies! Keep your eyes on our blog for more info as it becomes available on this absolutely BRILLIANT campaign which we are mega proud to be behind!


Belles stitch together bunting from knickers to be donated to local women’s shelters


Members also showed their support for the crusades through a knicker yarn bomb!


Cambridge Federation hosted a GORGEOUS dinner at none other than Girton college to celebrate our Centenary year! 



My fabulous place maker from the Girton college bash
It was fabulous to go along with fellow Belles and Daisy Change WI members too – and a fabulous opportunity to meet new members from the Federation that we’ve not yet had the chance to take tea with including the marvelous Jean and Syvlia from Stapleford WI, as pictured below.

Jean and Sylvia from Stapleford WI enjoyed the Centenary dinner at Girton thoroughly!


Sister WI, Daisy Change, hosted their twin sisters, Tea and Tarts WI, for an Arty Farty Tea Party where we crafted heritage bunting and took fabulous high tea with this AMAZING tea and tarts knitwear – made by an uber talented Daisy Change member!

Our knitted tea & tarts centerpiece by Daisy Change member

 

Tea and Tarts came from Huddersfield to celebrate the day with us!

 

Tea and Tart President, Rebecca, and I posing for the camera!
Tarts setting up the highly memorable day – with Cam City WI President, Jo, too!

A few weeks back I took part in an online speaking event for the Unofficial WI Facebook Group and spoke to members all around the country about the setting up of Daisy Change as the first WI to meet on the grounds of a mental health Trust and one that welcomed members from both inside and outside the Trust’s services. Needless, to say, we have been overjoyed to welcome daisies in ALL shapes and sizes that have been sent through the post or passed to me personally at the various events I’ve attended. We have appealed for the fabulous crafts as a part of our yarn bombing campaign of the hospital grounds where we meet – here are a few fine examples from our sisters at Hebden Bridge WI in west Yorkshire – FABULOUS! Keep them coming, sisters!

Hebden Bridge WI & Tea and Tarts WI made daisies for Daisy Change WI!

Skip ahead a few days and here is me attending the premiere for Mikron theatre’s Raising Agents production. 

Rebecca and I at the gates of the Laurence Bailey Theatre in Huddersfield

Posters hanging on the gate outside the Laurence Bailey Theatre advertising the Raising Agents show!
It was an absolute honor to attend – both as the play’s postergrrrl and a WI member, too. The songs, the scenes and costume, all added to  the BRILLIANT atmosphere and I cannot recommend it higher! It was an especially special evening for Tea and Tarts WI, too, as they decked out the theatre venue with bunting, banners and beauty – with a cocktail themed recipe bake off to boot! 

Tea and Tarts crafted this FAB banner to display at the theatre on the night!

Tarts showing off their banner – featuring daisies in support of Daisy Change WI!

Bunnington Bunnies WI – the stars of the Raising Agents show! Proud to have knitted this banner’s corner!
Cam City WI will be hosting Raising Agents in Cambridge on Friday 29th May – I’ve booked tickets for everyone I know – so make sure you do the same! Click here to buy yours now!




I was also fortunate enough to catch a Brassy Tarts rehearsal on the night, too – a group of Tea and Tart sisters who will be performing on the grass at the Royal Albert Hall as a part of the NFWI AGM in June – keep your eyes and errs out for a special rendition of Jerusalem!



Aisling, Brassy Tart, shows off her sliding trombone! 
Rebecca and her cheeky cornet playing ways!

Another absolutely humbling and fabulous experience was to talk at the 95th Annual Members Meeting of Trumpington WI about my life so far in the WI. Trumpington’s members have been especially supportive of the Blue Belles, so it was a grand opportunity to show them what their brilliant support has helped us to achieve, two years on!

Trumpington WI welcomed a talk on all things Blue Belles at their 95th Annual Members Meeting
Last, but certainly not least, darling readers, I leave you with a bang worthy of a thousand years of fireworks! Somerset WI have asked yours truly to help host their cake stall in the green fields at Glastonbury! Expect vegan cakes a plenty with smiles and teas for all as we celebrate our centenary on Worthy Farm! Hooray!!!

Glastonbury’s Green Fields – here WI come!



22nd February 2015

The weeks are flying by and thus far the 100th year of the WI has been one of unbelievable gorgeousness!

Since we last had a render vous, I’ve completed my debut college hostess gig at Denman on the BRILLIANT Mother & Daughter weekend, met fabulous WI sisters in 3D from the far reaches that had previously been a profile picture and glorious wording, given the very first talk to fellow members of the WI’s unofficial Facebook group to talk all things Daisy Change WI and have been spotted appearing on various posters across the country as the Raising Agents pin up! How very fabulous, I say!

What a way to start your Denman college hosting career! You may recall that I had undertaken my training under the watchful eye of my WI Fairy Godmother, Jean Lane, from Gwynedd Caernarfon Federation in Wales, but the beginning of February saw me going it on my own!
What an honour to be Lady Denman’s College Chairman for the weekend – wonderful!
My uniform – name badge, skeleton key, Federation badge, WI Home & Country badge and Tea & Tents badge to boot!
SO many workshops on offer – and my name on the bottom to boot as College Host!



I really couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people to pay host to! Mother and daughter members fled from all over the country to take part in three of the fabulous workshops in the grounds of the gorgeous Denman. 

Margaret shows off her fantastic flower arranging skills


Natalie from Datchet WI shows off her freshly dyed silk scarf skills !


Cookery School tutor divine, Kelly, shows off some baby shower cupcakes she crafted!


Cactus & flower pot cakes – with edible bourbon & digestive earth were all the baking rage!


Michelle from Holmfirth WI uses a hairdryer to finish her silk scarf off in the teaching block


Michelle and Mum Yvonne thoroughly enjoying fresh water beading with Louise Simmonds
The weekend saw oodles of laughter, fabulous crafting, baking, dancing and silk scarf dyeing skills – and friendships that will attract the same crowd again at the next Mother & Daughter’s weekend – I for one can’t wait to be a part of it all again!



Valentines Day was a fabulous day for a first encounter with HA:WI President, Niamh, at the lovely Drink Shop & Do. It’s always just gorgeous to meet someone you’ve been chatting to online and you instantly feel like you’ve known each other for ever – the wonders of the internet crossed with the WI brought us into each others lives – it was no wonder we spent four hours chatting and drank the pot of tea dry over and over – just delicious!

WI sisters unite in LDN town for a Valentines chin wag!
A very proud member of the WI’s Unofficial group on Facebook, I was absolutely honoured to be asked to participate in a rather pioneering event – as the group’s first virtual speaker, to talk all about my founding of Daisy Change WI, the country’s first WI which meets on the grounds of a Mental Health Trust and whose membership consists of service users from the hospital and the local community. It’s important that the WI is given its dues on this, too, as there were MANY hospital based WIs around at one point, but they were more inner facing for patients only whereas Daisy Change is very much outward facing and embraces the local community to come and join in to this fabulous, dynamic group of women who enjoy a wide variety of speakers, activities and cakes to boot! So online I sat with Cam City WI’s President, Jo, sat beside me, laptops in unison, at 20:00 exactly as a flurry of questions followed my rather detailed description of the setting up of Daisy Change. Jo acted as the BEST Chair one could hope in such a situation – questions popped up by the second and our audience of fellow WI members were actively engaged, interested and most of all, inspired, by the story of Daisy Change. It was an epic first virtual meeting and Daisy Changers were delighted when I told them all about it the following day at their meeting – especially the bit about appealing to everyone to contribute to our yarn bomb of the hospital site where we meet! Do get in touch if you fancy getting involved, too! 

Daisy Changers have yarn bombed the hospital grounds where we meet – only the WI could make an NHS sign look so inviting!
The fabulous poster for the production, Raising Agents, which features a photo of yours truly is doing the rounds up and down the country – I’ve squealed with delight each time someone posts one online and tags me in it – how VERY exciting to be staring out with determination to so many lovely people! Hooray!

Poster spotted at the Marsden Mechanics Hall – taking me places I’ve never been!


….and on pavement of Huddersfield, too! Hooray!





19th January 2015

Welcome to 2015, lovely readers! I can’t believe it’s been an incredible month since we last had a render vous and SO many things have happened – all as fabulous and fantastic as only the WI could bring to one’s door!

Before stepping forward, I wanted to step back to tell you about the FABULOUS time that I had running the Tombola at the Older Person’s Day Centre, Deighton, before Christmas. What a beautiful way to end the year, indeed, to spend the afternoon singing carols, selling Tombola tickets to the delight of all the winners (with lovingly donated prizes) and spending time talking to a generation that remembers first hand a lot of the points of interest that I spend my spare time seeking. In fact, during the wait for parts of the Salvation Army Band to begin their entertainment, I coincidentally sat myself next to a 91 year old WREN – talk about inspiring woman! So many of the women at the party had GREAT memories of the WI and many shared those with myself and another Daisy Change WI member, to our absolute delight. We’ve since pledged to make it an annual tag team that the WI would host the Tombola stall for Deighton – we left feeling uplifted and inspired!

Proudly placed on Deighton’s Tombola stall
Before December became January, I decided to mark the 100 years of the WI in the best way I could think – in beautiful tattoo colours! I had my very own Women’s Land Army tattoo inked on my arm to nod to my favorite NFWI Chairman, Lady Gertrude Denman, who during the war was not only the WI’s chair, but also directed the Land Army, too – so naturally, there were many cross overs and the WI were very supportive of the Women’s Land Army. 

My New Womens Land Army tattoo – done by the tres talented Tracy D


With blood connections to the Land Girls, too, so it was the obvious way to end 2014 by having a permanent reminder of the strong women that both organisations boasted!


Fast forward to a new year (HAPPY 100th TO THE WI), and members of the Blue Belles were invited by our local MP, Julian Huppert, to take a tour of the Houses of Parliament.

Belles visit to Parliament to celebrate the WIs 100 years of campaigning
 We were keen to go along as a part of our Centenary celebrations to remind ourselves of the brilliant campaigns that the WI has gotten behind in the last hundred years. Interestingly enough, too, following our visit, the Guardian have also written a rather thought provoking column to tilt their hats on the same subject – read it here!


Naturally being just up the road from Whitehall, I couldn’t resist visiting the monument for the Women of World War II that is embodied in a statue which depicts all of the uniforms worn by women in WWII. It was magical to show it to many who hadn’t seen it before to highlight the hard and determined work that our WI foresisters who were involved across all of the forces – and indeed Jambusted this country through starvation.

Monument displaying ALL uniforms worn by women in WWII
To end off the week of weeks, I went with to the beloved Denman as a birthday treat to the woman I owe my all to – my Mum! Together we were a part of the Crochet for Beginners given by Yo! Crochet‘s very own founder, Lindy. 



WI members gathering together to learn the art of reading a crochet pattern – one stitch at a time!
WI members from Chavey Down and Somerset Federation, gathering for a tea break

Coming together to set love drenched crochet amongst the masses
With lovely new Borough Belle WI pal & sister, Leona

Next in the goregous WI golden Diary (for the centenary, naturally!), we Belles will be helping our sisters, Trumpington WI, on their cake stall at Transition Cambridge’s yearly seed swap, Seedy Sunday, set to take place this Sunday 25th January at Trumpington Village Hall Bring along some seeds, swap them, and help support Trumpington’s 95 year old Institute! Entry is only £2.00 (adults, children free!), and you can take and leave as much as you please – with a piece of cake and tea to boot!


December 17th

Hot off the presses – the Raising Agents WI stage show trailer has been released by the fabulous Mikron Theatre – I am THRILLED to appear amongst jerusalem and talk of bigger puns!

8th December 2014
Another (raspberry!) jam packed few weeks in the world of the WI! The tail end of November saw Blue Belle Jennie Debenham’s last Liberated Feast for the year which was SO well attended that it sold our St. Paul’s in Cambridge. 
A warm welcome awaited all who came to the Liberated Feast at St.Paul’s in Cambridge

People from far and wide came to hear an array of interesting speakers, indulge on the three course vegan meal that would have otherwise been bound for the bin and most of all, to raise awareness of food waste.

Belles Secretary. Laura P, with Hazel and Suzie from Girton WI 
Cambridge LadyBirds members await their first Liberated Feast!
The WI was there in full force with members from the LadyBirds, Girton, Cherry Hinton, and Daisy Change all showing their support for the FABULOUS charity work that is being done by sister Jennie – we are SO proud!
Following that and a few weeks fast forwards, the Blue Belles hosted their first Craft Fair divine! WI members from all over came to show their crafts and homemade delights to other members and Cambridge city visitors on the day.
Our debut Craft Fair drew crowds from far and wide for homemade goodies galore!
I am VERY proud to say that funds raised on the day have been put towards supporting new business, Arty Farty Tea Party, by purchasing crafting kits which will in the end turn into the Blue Belles Christmas pledge of adopting the S Wards at Addenbrooke’s. A long term project which the Belles are absolutely delighted to be supporting which sees us making Christmas Crafts for the ward which treats people suffering with Eating Disorders or Substance Misuse issues. We look forward to decking the halls of the wards and bringing smiles to those who need a bit of extra love in the festive season. More of that fabulousness soon!
Later that same week, I found myself behind the doors of every WI member’s FAVOURITE blue door! Back at Denman again and this time making hats as a part of an Introduction to Millinery/Felt Hats by the AMAZING tutor, Louise Brooks of Hats from the Halls fame.
Awesome steampunk enthusiast AND amazing tutor, Louise Brooks of Hats from the Hall
 It was fascinating to see what can be done by steaming, stretching, pinning and drying felt into shape! I even added some fabulous feathers to my creation to make it doubly glamorous! Not one to simply stray on the side of all things glitter, I also made my VERY own Women’s Land Army hat – I’ll shortly be adding the finishing ribbon and badges to it for my days out in my jodhpurs on the Dig for Denman plot!
Felt stretched over a block and pinned up before drying to make my fab forties hat!
Et voila – a dry hat blocked and ready for decoration!
Feathers from a pheasant and beyond being set to adorn my new headgear
Sally made a gorgeous hat with delicious feathers on their front – just stunning!

Fellow students model their finished hats – such gorgeous diversity amongst the group!

As ever at Denman, I was beside myself with excitement to meet members from ALL over the country (this time Cumbria, Somerset, Norfolk, Wales), and of course spend time with members who have made this brilliant movement what it is. 

Jean and her pal from Pembrokeshire WI were just delightful to rendez vous with!

Three members in particular struck a chord this time around, two from Pembrokeshire and one, Diana, who at the age of 95 was at Denman enjoying a tour of her home city, London, from an arm chair. I thanked Diana for all of her dedication and work over the years in the WI which meant that newer members like me can enjoy and be a part of it and she and I both shared a moment of teary eyed understanding that made me remember why I love being a part of the WI SO very much – the connections that do not discriminate on age, religion, size or favorite colour for that matter – being one as a community together and learning from each other!

Diana, 95, was attending a course enjoying her native London from the armchair – an absolute legend!

Now, speaking of encounters that really make your heart swell with the beautiful ethos of the WI way, I am absolutely DELIGHTED to announce that the one of a kind traveling theatre (based on a  boat, don’t you know?!), Mikron Theatre, have elected me their poster grrrl for their production, Raising Agents, which is dedicated to showing off the 100 years of the WI to date! 
Visit their website now to see if they are going to be on tour near you from March of next year or why not invite them?! They’d just LOVE to come upstream and show off their FANTASTIC talents! Talk about honoured! 

10th November 2014
Days have turned into WI fueled weeks since I last typed to you, dear reader, and what a time it has been! A glance back into the last five weeks will see that times have certainly not been of the quiet nature – pencils ready for a whistle stop tour!
I had the honour of attending a meeting of the Victim Support group who meet at the Cambridge Magistrates Court to further spread the word of the Care Not Custody Campaign and share my own personal experiences as a recovering addict and how best to support those that the volunteers work alongside in a court room environment. Although awash with nerves before entering into the courts, I was met with great interest and honest questions about how to best help those who are obviously distressed in an already difficult situation. It was really helpful that NFWI had armed me with countless resources of information supplied to them by the Prison Reform Trust and Rethink Mental Illness. I was astounded by the eagerness to learn from all volunteers on how people suffering from mental health illness could best be supported – its volunteers like these that help people in society at their most vulnerable times to feel supported and understood – it truly was an honor to share my story and experience with them all.
Fast forward a day and the Blue Belles hosted the Centenary Baton in Cambridge – the Belles congregated on what is deemed the ‘orgasm (insert canned laughter here) bridge’ by the students of Cambridge, to have our snap with the coveted Centenary Baton that has been making its way around all of the WIs in the country.
Belles gathered with their signature bags in tow to have their photos taken in the sun!
Belles Sec Laura P and I with our upside down Baton selfie

Amongst sisters the LadyBirds and Cam City WI, we had our photo taken to forever be mortalised within the pages of WI history!

Fulbourn WI gathered to celebrate the Baton coming through their village, too – LOVELY snap sisters!
I’ve joined another WI! Yes, really! To celebrate, Belles Secretary, Laura P, and other Belles joined other members of Cherry Hinton WI (my new dual group!), to witness some truly spectacular ‘festive entertainment’, which consisted of a keyboard and pre-programmed percussion, Frank Sinatra covers and five dozen mince pies.

Laura P – glowing from the fabulous festive atmosphere at Cherry Hinton WI’s meeting!

Antonella, Carey and Laura S enjoying the Cherry Hinton WI entertainment

Cherry Hinton Secretary, Sheila and President, Margaret – with my red pinky to boot!

Needless to say, the night was fabulous and I look forward to going along to my local WI monthly to be a part of the community frolics!

If that weren’t enough WI happenings, the next day saw me sporting my best frock to welcome the Centenary Baton for high tea alongside fellow Cambridge Federation members in a ceremony to hand over the lovely Baton to the Norfolk Federation. Blue Belle Kelly, of Palimino Pastimes fame, cycled the Baton into the hall, alongside the lovely Jill from Girton WI, to ensure that the Baton enjoyed Cambridge’s favorite mode of transport ahead of its departure from Cambridge.
Jill Free and Blue Belle Kelly cycled the Baton to its final Baton bash in Cambridge 
Delicious cakes, scones and tea sat between us all and Cam City President, Jo, sat across from Kelly and I as we attempted to sing conversations over the cake stands and jam pots!
Cam City President, Jo Beale, looked absolutely GORGEOUS on the day!


Jump to the next day and there we were at Girton WI’s meeting hearing a fascinating talk on all things bee keeping. 

The Girton WI members are absolutely fantastic and couldn’t have made us feel more welcome – it really was a pleasure to visit them and we look forward to sitting with some of their members at Belle Jennie’s Liberated Feast.

The Liberated Feast – Rescuing delicious food for the benefit of the earth and humankind!
Due to take place on 16th November at St. Paul’s Church. Make sure you grab your tickets soon as the delightful vegan banquet of salvaged from the bin food ALWAYS sells out and this time will be no different, I’m sure!

Girton WI members are always smiling!

Photo with Girton’s FAB President, Margaret!
To top off the WI week, 12 Belles made their way to Cottenham College to take part in the Federation’s yearly quiz divine! Questions as random as you’d expect and flasks of tea cluttered the room as Stapleford WI took the crown as Quiz experts this time around. 
Jane, Laura P2 and Victoria in deep concentration…

Daisy Change WI President, Deborah & Emily smiling on…

Daisy Change WI secretary, Suzanne, and I laughing along to motivate the Belles quiz team!

The winning prize is having to set the questions for the following year’s Quiz – I look forward to the day when the Belles walk away with that honor! Music rounds and questions all things science will prevail!

My last stop on this blog post’s journey saw me go to visit tattooist extrodinaire, Tracy D, to have my final touch put on my gardening sleeve! I am beyond pleased to host the lovely Mulberry Rose hedgehog to my skin, hiding underneath a strawberry bush which is exploding with fruit and blossom! Just beautiful!

My beautiful new tattoo compliments of Tracy D – how I LOVE her! 

One last thing….a new car! Well new to me – a 1956 Morris Minor in light green will soon grace my garden – the next thing is to learn how to drive her – but what better motivation than a gorgeous vintage Moggie?!

Meet Drusilla – my new Morris Minor! 

22nd October 2014
Dear Reader – I have ONE thing to say, and one thing to say only.
PUSSY RIOT ARE COMING TO CAMBRIDGE! Yes, really! REALLY cannot believe how EXCITING this opportunity is for GRRRLS in Cambridge. Our favourite balaclava clad sisters will be speaking to the Cambridge Union Society on 15th November – and I am appealing to ANYONE who can get me into a side door/broom closet on the day!!!
22nd September 2014
Another month and more WI related happenings under the Blue Belles fabulously tilted felt hats!
First things first – we welcomed WI Life to our Dig for Denman allotment where we put on our best land army faces and had our snaps taken. Check out the cheeky sneak peak below taken by the highly talented Dennis Sterne.
Digging for Denman – photo by Dennis Sterne
Speaking of all things WI Life, the latest issue was especially Belle-tastic and I was truly privileged to share pressed between its pages my story of dealing with my own demons and how I have worked my way through active addiction into recovery. My heart has literally swollen from the overwhelming response I’ve had from members all over the country writing me to congratulate me on my story’s publication. I wrote about my own journey thus far to help others gain a voice and understanding of either things they are going through or to help aid in realising that every one and four of us will suffer from an enduring mental health issue (even more likely if you are a woman) – and with our 225,000 + membership in the WI, I was sure that solidarity would rear her beautiful head and alas, I couldn’t feel more supported and valued!
My article covering my battle with addiction & the WI’s help on my recovery!
 Thank you to EVERY single WI member who helps me to stay well and continuing in my journey of recovery – with THE force to be reckoned with at my side and surrounding me, I shall NEVER fail!
So with all of this going on in the background you can imagine how absolutely DELIGHTED I was to receive an email from members at Grendon WI in Warwickshire (whose meeting place I visited in July – scroll down to see more!), to say that they would be most obliged to twin with the Blue Belles! We’re all SO very excited that Grendon WI, established in 1941, share in our enthusiasm for some shared learning and a the start of many return coach journeys, too!
Helen & Laura P refresh with tea & Mary Berry cake after digging on the plot!
Laura P planting bluebelle bulbs on the allotment – spring is going to be gorgeous!
Delight really didn’t stop this month as Belles ALSO got their first puppy mascot! Pipin is a mere 9 weeks old and has already been up on the allotment digging weeds and helping us all to prepare the plot for cooler climates.
Blue Belles mascot, Pipin on his 1st allotment visit!

We had a group dig in weekends past and our smaller, much more quaint shed is also sporting new felt – how very fabulous! We’re ready for the winter and days of standing in the shed, flask in hand!

Historian, author and speaker extraordinaire, Jane Robinson, was welcomed into the Blue Belles realm last week and by goodness, if I wasn’t already a WI member, I would have run out of the Friends Meeting House on the very night and knocked down the door of my closest village hall (in my case Cherry Hinton – LOVE those ladies!), to get myself signed up immediately. Jane spoke about researching for the book A Force to be Reckoned With – a History of the WI, and her quest for challenging stereotypes.


Former Cambridge Federation Chairman, Audrey King, was in attendance at the Jane Robinson Talk

In writing her book, Jane openly wanted to challenge the ‘jam and jerusalem’ image of the WI and showcase us for what are REALLY worth – a strong minded, persistent, forward thinking, empowered and fantastically female organisation that has the resilience of an uphill runner going up Mt Everest, who also happens to have a well rounded understanding of the world around her – and delicious, eco-conscious/homemade lunch in her handbag to boot!


Blue Belle Member Ambassador shows off her love from Denman & array of WI badges from all eras

Cam City WI Secretary Ruth also gifted me with a fabulous crocheted badger – Fergus. The actual pattern was a part of an online campaign, Badger Your MP, which called crocheters to arms to get hooking badgers to send to their local MPS to show their distaste for the badger cull – or take photos of them and send the photos to your badger – here’s Fergus looking ready for an adventure!


Two days following that and I found myself surrounded by strawberry fields (forever!), corn by the rows, woods as far as the eye can see and throwing axes! Yes indeed, you read the last bit right!
A vegan, axe throwing sister in arms – hooray!
Mutual HUGE fan and friend of the WI, Cerys Matthews, personally invited members of the Cambridge Blue Belles, Tea and Tarts, Seven Hills and other Tea & Tents sisters to attend her one-day-festival extravaganza, The Good Life Experience in Wales. What an absolutely unforgettable time we had, too.
What a joy to meet Bagillt WI’s President, Adrienne Morgan
Tea and Tents reunion amongst bubbles and victoria sponge!
Highlights DEFINITELY included meeting gorgeous President Adrienne Morgan from Baglit WI and Debbie Heath, Secretary from Llanilar WI (Ceredigon Federation), being on stage to be handed a birthday cake and sung Happy Birthday to (the WI was celebrating its 99th year last week!) by Cerys and her band, encountering the awesome lumberjill skills of Hatchet + Bear (including handcarved spoons!), and many many more good life experiences (archery, building fires from scratch, baking bread on a campfire 101!). We’ll be back next year, knitting and crochet in arms, so watch this space!
Bear + Hatchet teaching herself an awesome spoon carving class!
Rebecca of Tea & Tarts fame plays the marrow-a-phone picked from the Dig for Denman plot
Couldn’t be happier in a field surrounded by heroines a plenty!
Last but certainly not least, I bought some amazing brogues that I wanted to tell the world about – not just because they are mega gorgeous and a  steal compared to the same flimsy high street product but because they are entirely VEGAN! HOORAY! Finally no more feeling guilty each time I lace up and look down at my hypocrisy in action feet when I claim to love animals. 
I’m a big believer in respecting others for their beliefs, don’t get me wrong, and appreciate the same, but for me this is an absolute breakthrough and I wanted to shine a light over to Wills vegan shoes – who are based in the UK and shoes are made within Europe – couldn’t’ get much more like something I want to have my toe into! Check out Will’s website here.
…and finally – a brilliant event that will be featuring in the Cambridgeshire area in the coming weeks. Put on by The Carers Trust on 17th October, 09:00 – 10:30 –  Britain’s Best Breakfast will serve breakfast up for all of the carers as a fundraiser in the county who are doing such a grand job at keeping support up for their loved ones or those close to them. 
Come along to salute them with a breakfast and help raise funds for Britain’s 7 million unpaid carers at the Orchard Close Community Centre in Girton.
17th August 2014
August has thus far been a month of chelsa buns, sweet peas a plenty, shed painting (with Blue Belles paint none the less!), cooking a proper Indian curry, Denman College hosting and last but not least, a rendez vous with fellow members at Ramsey’s forties weekend – working hard in a canteen kitted out for an air raid!
Nine Blue Belles spent 24 hours of pure, freshly baked bread smelling glory at Denman on a Bread Day School with tutor, Alison Haigh (a nutritional advisor for Waitrose and colleagues of Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood too – what a CV!), 
Belles show off their homebaked wares following Bread Making for one Day at Denman!
We learned the (easy!) art of a plain white loaf, soda bread with fried fruit & nuts, a focaccia of the rosemary and potato variety and of course, chelsea buns! Alison adapted all recipes to be animal free for those that way inclined. 
Belles awaiting instruction from tutor, Alison
Divine! It was with great pleasure that Belles tore bread together at our allotment later that weekend and many a Belle had buns for breakfast!
Alice H & Jane team up to wash up their bread basics in the WI Cookery School kitchen

Posing with CFWI Denman Ambassador, Jan Chessum & Soda Bread!
Tutor Alison & I share a laugh at the demonstration table in the Cookery School

 

Belle Michelle shows all her delicious soda bread in its brown beauty!
Laura S & Kara further their industriousness in the WI Cookery School!

Our Dig for Denman Campaign has been going from strength to strength – one blooming sweet pea and courgette at a time. We’ve had jams (whipped together by secretary/jam jedi, Laura P), beetroot, runner/broad beans and marrows to name a few, with length after length of drying shallots hanging in the shed, and ready to be prepared into delicious delicacies – all whilst helping to raise funds to fund a bursary to send a Belle to Denman! We recently hosted a grand day of shed painting (using paints lovingly mixed by Belle, Kathy, who owns the grand shop, Providence)- in the brightest blue a shed has ever dawned! In fact, the paint itself was purposely mixed and officially named after the Blue Belles in our honour – which lead us to wonder if we were the first WI to have our own paint hue?! Amongst a BBQ, the allotment inspired salads and we listened to the Cambridge Folk Festival through the trees which divide the plot from its venue. The Belles look forward to welcoming the likes of WI Life to the plot in the coming weeks to snap photos of the Belles in action, Digging for Denman, to feature amongst the magazines pages. Keep your eyes peeled (like a potato!), for that coming soon!

A week later and there I was, back at Denman! This time, with my Mum (a member of Balsham WI) and other half to the WI Cookery School where we learned the real deal behind Indian Vegetarian Cooking. YUM! 

Lemon Rice, Kootu and Lemon & Aubergine Rice galore – all cooked from scratch!

We cooked curries, onion bajias, ground our very own garam masala (have you smelled how divine it is when you take the lid from the grinder – wooooow!), coconut rice (without milk!), lemon rice, and a tamarind and date chutney that would rival Branston’s any day! 

Karen Thomas, President of Amersham Angels WI – sampling her tamarind chutney!
I was lucky enough to share my cooking space with the adorable and awesome President of Amersham Angels, Karen Thomas -what a legend! I do hope our paths cross again at next year’s Tea and Tents! Our teacher was Rama Santha Ram who has many cookbooks and has been teaching a Denman for over 25 + years. She’ll be back at Denman in February and we are tempted to book our places now! 
Rama dressed we students in saris from across the country of India – I wore mine styled to the North
Whilst in our course, I had the pleasure to snoop around other studios to meet other members and see what creative craftiness was on the go – what inspiring projects I saw!
Chris Watkins, Avon Federation Associate, enjoyed a lesson in Goldmarking
Murial Mace from Morley WI, Derbyshire, was busy in the Patisserie school – look at those tarts! 
Jane Lockyer owner of Roseland Mews Studios and member of Menheniot WI, Cornwall, made eclairs! YUM!
The Denman Cookery School is up for the People’s Choice category of the British Cookery School Awards – we Belles will be voting in their favor following all of the fabulous experiences we’ve had there as of late! To do the same, email ‘The WI Cookery School should win’ to peopleschoice@britishcookeryschoolawards.co.uk.
On 11th August (my birthday in fact!), I opened Denman’s front door once more with a different intention altogether. I was to shadow my WI Fairy Godmother, Jean Lane of North Wales Federation, to the league of College Host. The week was full to the brim with laughs, dramas, tea and most of all, chatter with members from up and down the country. It is with absolute pride that I walked away from the grounds of our very own College at the end of that intense week, a fully fledged College host! How fabulous! I look forward to returning to Denman early next year with my red College Host lanyard in place to meet and greet members through the doors of our very special learning environment.
My Trainee Host access all areas lanyard & CFWI Badge – my armor for my busy week!
Last, but certainly not least, it was a great surprise to encounter members of the St. Mary Ramsey WI amongst others from the Huntingdon and Peterborough Federation at this weekends Ramsey’s 1940’s festival. 
Ramsey St. Mary’s WI had an informative stand at the ready for those queuing for tea
Members of Hunts & Pborough WIs gathered together to host a forties cafe divine!
In a cafe kitted out for an air raid, members dressed in head scarves and pinnies to welcome in crowds amongst tea, sandwiches and bread pudding. I even managed to share a snap with Federation Chairman, Salley Dalley!
Hunts & Peterborough Chair, Sally Dalley, looked GORGEOUS with her headscarf  in tact!
What’s next I wonder in my WI adventures?!
19th July 2014
A mere 20 days since my last post and I have lived and loved the following (listed below in no particular order!):
1. A visit to our sisters, Cam City WI – a night of alternative baking saw us all tucking into ingredients for wartime favourites (naturally my taste!), savory bakes, depression influenced recipes and more. 
Cam City’s lovely paper cut art logo
A brilliant time was had by all and the hyper talented Verity of By the Brook Cakes showed us all how to make effortless sugar craft frosting delights!
Verity from By the Brook Cakes showing us all how to pipe in stripes! Divine!
2. Our first bunch of sweet peas and a rogue poppy on the Dig for Denman allotment has meant beautiful colours galore and sweet smells of summer.
Absolutely most FAB feeling to have Belles’ first sweet pea bunch before my very eyes!
Rogue shaggy poppy sitting pretty alongside the runner beans and leeks
3. A visit to Grendon WI, Northamptonshire, to see their beautiful cross stitch dedicated to their village’s mining background. 
Handstiched in 2000, Grendon WI’s fabulous photos depicting their beloved village and mining history
Grendon WI – established on 26th May, 1941!
Talk about a grand reception from a WI established in 1941! Looking forward to more exciting encounters with this group of inspiring women.
4. A trip to Brighton to see a pal and a chance encounter with Infinity Food shop showing its support for keeping bees alive as a part of its Keep Bees Buzzing Campaign on this fabulous island of ours – and window shopping a BEAUTIFUL Suffragettes pendant necklace! 
Infinity Foods shop window adorned with beautiful honey bees! 
The pendant in the center is what my heart desires – to show subtle solidarity with our foresisters, the Suffragettes!
Look at the beautiful white, green and purple stones – how I wish it would float into my paws!
5. Attendance of a reception in London hosting Theresa May MP under the banner of NFWI’s Care Not Custody campaign. This was an absolute PLEASURE as it meant hearing great speeches from the likes of courageous prison service users, a speech from Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Christopher Bourlet explaining the newly tried liaison services where mental health specialists are literally on the beat with police persons, a talk by Sean Duggan, CEO of the Centre for Mental Health regarding The Bradley Report, five years on, comments from Juliet Lyon Director of the Prison Reform Trust,  and of course, Theresa May discussing the Government sitting together with the police and mental health professionals to work together to help those most vulnerable in society. It was of course an added bonus to spend time with the fabulous NFWI Trustees – including our chair, Janice Langley.
Belles meeting and greeting with NFWI Chairman, Janice Langley
..and what a thrill to sit atop NFWI’s Twitter page with Theresa May!
6. Last and certainly not least, an encounter with BBC Cambridgeshire presenter, Sue Dougan, as a part of her afternoon radio show panel on Tuesday 15th July to represent the WI and generally have a good chin wag. Sat alongside Sing Choirs Musical Director, Kathryn Rowland, the hour long show as a real pleasure to be a part of and I think I’ve managed to recruit both ladies coming to visit the WI (fingers crossed!)..did I mention my Mum has also just joined her local WI?!?!?…
…all of that in 20 days! 
What’s next on the horizon? Finishing off of my gardening themed tattoo sleeve, the startings of new friendships, being resident on the grounds of Denman on and off for nearly three weeks (yes, really!), to learn how to make bread in 24HR, veggie indian delights and what it is to be a College Host – 101! More soon darlings….!!
Happy Mandela Day to you, too for 18th July – I snapped the photo below as collaged by some lovely children from a centre where I work – talent in line with the ever inspiring, Madiba.
Nelson Mandela – a gentle, and fantastic force which will live on!
30th June 2014
Well, dear readers – as I write, I am attempting to come back down to earth following another gloriously gorgeous few weeks of all things WI!
My first venture was out to visit the lovely Fulbourn WI which meets on the third Wednesdays in the picturesque village of Fulbourn. 
Made to feel welcome instantly, President Thelma and her fellows hosted me for a night of strawberries and cream teamed, elderflower cordial and poetry a go go. It was really inspiring to be amongst so many active WI members who discussed their recent activities selling cakes at their local events and taking an active interest in the local community by volunteering to run the Fulbourn Village Library – which was originally the victim of a fund culling exercise – but that didn’t get this WI down! Members came forward and run the library on a day-to-day basis, as well as all of the other strings to their bows! We look forward to giving Fulbourn members the same warm welcome when they visit us Blue Belles very soon!
Photo with the lovely Fulbourn President, Thelma
Amidst all of this, I had the pleasure of delivering the now infamous knitted Tour de France jersey bunting to various central Cambridge based locations. Each shop/business I delivered to was absolutely elated with their jerseys and had huge compliments to pay both the Blue Belles and other WIs that have stepped up their knitting needles to get involved. The streets of Cambridge have since come ALIVE with the divine bunting de jour, cooked up by Rad Wagon of Outspoken! Delivery. Yarn bombing gone ballistic to say the least, even the Guildhall is sporting the lovely yarned yummies!
Knitted Tour de France jersey bunting hanging on the balcony of Cambridge’s Guildhall
Following on from that and a flurry of baking countless batches of vegan chocolate chip cookies, and a vat of roasted sweet potato houmous later (much loved by sisters at Sheffield Seven Hills WI), I packed away my camping gear to climb into the carriage of Cam City‘s President, Jo, teamed with Secretary, Ruth, to motor our way up to the rolling hills of Derbyshire to attend Tea and Tents – the WI’s first unofficial camp out! Amongst 260 women, we collectively raised the joy levels radiating from the hills and valleys at the Bank House Farm camping spot.

The days away have had it ALL – the breaking of breads with sisters from up and down the country (especially with lovelies from Tea and Tarts), a bring and share that rivals all Great British Bakes Offs to date, a speaker’s corner that invigorated the heart, body and soul, an encounter with the legendary Zippy Nomad via energy healing therapy, craft markets where I proudly coughed up cash for AMAZING crafts a plenty (each stall holder had talents to rival even the most clever of Ms Westwood!), walks, yarn discos – and SO much more! Ladies singing Jerusalem whilst doing handmade poi, ladies papercutting Tea and Tent scenery (compliments of Mrs Papercut herself!), and laughs, laughs laughs!

A sample of the fab Tea & Tents paper cutting!

We were serious when we told BBC6 Music that we were going to rival Glastonbury with our noise, and both Jo Whiley and Chris Evans gave us their shout outs and respect, too – AMAZING! 
Fashioning a handmade corsage – with flowers foraged on site – by moi!

Cambridge – Blue Belles, Cam City, LadyBirds and Mill Rd WIs were all there in 2014!

Tea kettle in one hand, sleeping bag in other – festival ready!
The Alice in Wonderland themed yarn bomb topped off the weekend, seeing a crocheted cheshire cat, hookah smoking caterpillar atop a huge mushroom and life size Alice all adorning the fallen tree on the camp ground’s green. 
The fallen tree hosted the Alice Gets Bombed! yarn bomb!

Flamingo and the Queen of Heart’s Men – all yarn!

The grinning cheshire (crochet!) cat – made by Cam City’s Secretary, Ruth

AMAZING Hookah smoking caterpillar – crocheted compliments of Clare of Cam City WI
Incredible. My Blue Belle bonnet really does go off to the Committee of five who put it all together, too – you inspiring women you!
The divine Tea & Tents Committee 2014
Tea and Tents 2015 – here we come!

Whilst making my way through the fair city of Cambridge today, I stumbled across a FANTASTIC sculpture by multi-media artist, Daisy Botha. Daisy’s piece was a painted yellow which was entitled ‘Freedom Machine’ and featured an array of thought provoking phrases written all over the body’s frame and wheels, commenting on how life was for women when we were first able to ride bikes or Freedom Machines. 

Daisy’s sculpture is currently hosted on Mill Rd, Cambridge

This was the first time women were able to travel without their husbands, and as one can imagine, caused a stir. Daisy’s sculpture detailed phrases such as ‘Women in bloomers complained of being ridiculed, fines and even treated like prostitutes by local authorities’ and ‘in the 1890’s, it was not acceptable for a lady to venture out alone on a bicycle’ – thought provoking, to say the least, the piece is a part of the Cambridge Bicycle Sculpture Trust Recycle le Velo as a part of the city-wide Velo Festival which coincides with the Tour de France flying through our streets. 

Catching a glimpse of Daisy’s work today certainly humbled me to the power of all of our foresisters who faced harshness for their will to ride a bike – and I shall nod to them each time I’m riding my very own freedom machine of joy. Viva la Bicyclette!

‘Women should be protected from the danger of over exertion’…… apparently!

9th June 2014
Fresh off the coach from the NFWI AGM in Leeds, I wanted to give you an update on all that has been going down underneath my Blue Belle bonnet as of late!
On the eve of D-Day I went to visit our lovely sisters at Trumpington WI to hear a GREAT talk about the American Cemetery at Madingley
The lovely cross-stitched tablecloth of the Trumpington WI
It was really interestng to hear the accounts of all that lay to rest there and of course, spending time with ladies whose parents had been directly involved was an extra layer to the delicious cake for the evening! In exchange for the kind hosting, I offered to take knitted Cambunting Tour de France jerseys from those who had made them with love and care, on to the Sheep Shop via our Member Ambassador, lovely Lucy Gonzalez! Check out Irene and Val with their crafting creations that will soon be lining the streets of Cambridge to celebrate Le Tour!
Irene and Val show off their Tour de France knitted jerseys!
A sleep later and a I found myself on a coach with about 35 other Cambridge Federation members as we collectively made our way to the AGM in Leeds! It was an absolute delight meeting people like Rosemary from Bottisham WI, Sue from Newnham WI and also Cynthia from Willingham! In fact, it was Cynthia who I had the pleasure of sitting next to at the AGM! 
Me and the lovely Rosemary from neighbouring Bottisham WI
Upon arrival to Leeds I lugged my suitcase across town and got my fab forties glad rags on, victory rolls in tact, to make my way to meet with the lovely, and absolutely inspiring, Rebecca Cobb-Kilner – founding member of Tea and Tarts WI, as she was set to make a debut on BBC Look North to talk all things WI! 
In the BBC Look North Green Room!
Back peddling slightly, I first heard Rebecca’s lovely Huddersfield tones via BBC 6 Music when she appeared on Cerys Matthews’ show to spread the news of the Tarts and through the wonders of the internet, we finally met in real life 3D!!!! Rebecca is an absolute soul sister and our energies colliding made the earth move, I’m sure! 
Fast forward again, and this time round Rebecca was joined by Marylyn Haines-Evans, NFWI’s Chair of Public Affair’s Committee, on the sofa of Look North and both talked about the diverse range on offer by the WI – from axe throwing with the Tarts to Marylyn’s WI with ages ranging from 21 to 90! 
Following the tele appearance, Rebecca and I high tailed it back to Huddersfield to meet with some fellow Tea and Tarts (whose ranks I have now joined, despite the miles that keep me from attending each meeting!), for a nice evening brew and meeting of minds. 
Grouped with fellow Tea and Tarts from Huddersfield!
Those women truly are inspirational and I look forward to spending more time with them all! I also inherited one of Rebecca’s pictures as displayed in an exhibition at a cool coffee shop – and had it signed by her, to boot!
Lovely Brew – for me and you – by Mrs Cutpaper – aka Rebecca
The next morning I was ready and in the reception of our hotel for a 09:00 trip on the coach to the AGM! Literally, as soon as I stepped off the bus, I was swarmed amongst 5000 other WI members – and the love was IMMENSE! I quickly visited the NFWI stall, spent far too much cash on even more WI China (this time with our centenary rose on its face!), and met many a cool fellow member amongst the sea of signature suffragette purple and green lights that illuminated the stage.
The AGM stage – photo by talented Seven Hills WI member, Laura Florence Bainbridge
As we all stood to sing Jerusalem I reached for a hanky as it was well and truly breathtaking! The meeting went on to pass the resolution of increasing awareness around Organ Donation and all the time the speakers were at the at the pew I was tweeting to arrange a lunchtime meet up with members of Seven Hills, Gothic Valley, Stroud Green, Valley Girls, Holmfirth, Cookridge Crumpets, and Broseley WIs! INCREDIBLE!
All WI Members meeting under the same banner – TO INSPIRE!
Following that, we paid host to poet and fab top hat wearing, Sir Andrew Motion, Dr George McGavin, on all things that slither and jump, and of course Bill Turnbull of BBC/Strictly/Bee charming fame – in fact, he thanked us WI members for our stance on saving the Bees! The meeting went on to talk all about the Centenary Baton and the GREAT news that english historian, Lucy Worsely, has made a 100 year celebration documentary celebrating 100 years of the WI, due to be shown on BBC2 in spring of next year!
After one more singing of Jerusalem, and a ta ta to all our new WI friends, and back on the coach with all those mentioned above and a pipe dream away from all the going ons in Leeds and it was back to Cambridge!
But wait – the story doesn’t end there! On Sunday, Rebecca was interviewed by the marvelous Cerys Matthews once more on BBC 6 Music and this time saw Cerys describe the WI as ‘radical wolves in sheep’s clothing’ – a phrase which I wear as a badge of honour! After a long twitter conversation the Blue Belles are now proud hosts of Cerys amongst our Twitter followers! 
..and can you believe that NONE of this was a DREAM?!?!?!?!
26th May 2014

Being a part of the WI really is a full-time hobby that I take much joy in counting as the top of my list of favorites! This month has again seen abundance of experiences and opportunities with thanks to the WI movement and for those, I feel truly blessed! The first, in attending the meeting of our WI sisters over at Church End Cherry Hinton. Belles Secretary, Laura P, and I attended the meeting with speaker Christopher Knowles, Interpretation Officer at Shepworth Wildlife Park who shared his knowledge and passion with us for all things Wildlife Conservation.

Belles Secretary, Laura P, with Cherry Hinton’s equivalent, Rosemary!
Christopher even brought some live animals with him – an african snail (which was HUGE!), a pygmy hedgehog (which I caught a sniff of as Christopher had mentioned that the main reason that pet owners abandon them is their odour – little Pickles the Hedgehog didn’t smell THAT bad!), a snake (which Laura P held!), a lovely rat called Princess Katie, a Tarantula and more.
Laura P holding a corn snake, native to North American
Cherry Hinton President, Margaret, taking hold of the corn snake, too!
There’s Pickles – the fabulous Pygmy Hedgehog who was just delightful to hold!
The evening was fantastic and it was great to see how a night at Belles does relate to others. Laura P and I were entirely envious of the beautiful tapestry that Cherry Hinton hang from their President’s table and also the fantastic wooden mallet that their President, Margaret, calls the meeting to order with – which was made for the first Cherry Hinton WI in 1925! We look forward to offering the same hospitality to the ladies of Cherry Hinton WI at a Belles meeting soon!
The beautiful Cherry Hinton WI Cross Stitched Tapestry that is nothing short of delightful!
Cherry Hinton’s very own mallet used to call meetings to order – since 1925!

Fast forward a few weeks and the Belles meeting which was to help raise awareness around Mental Health Week was absolutely brilliant. Our speakers that evening were our own Belles, Deborah and Laura P2 followed by Dr Chess Denman, who gave us all a light hearted low down on the range of mental health issues women could experience from infancy right through to final years. We were all very well informed and gained new respect for those who suffer from the various symptoms that were so well described by our speakers. I also hosted a Knit and Natter at work as a part of the celebrations to help highlight how crafting is good for your mental wellbeing – how fulfilling is it to say ‘I made this’!?

I’ve recently been rubbing shoulders with other women whom, outside of the WI, have been helping to make women’s in their specific community feel valued and more connected. The Khidmat Sisters are a working group that receiving guidance from the Care Network Cambridgeshire (CNC), who have a number of aims as Muslim women visiting (purely as companions, no cash trades hands), other Muslim women in need. An example of such needs could be Muslim women who are housebound due to disabilities, age, loneliness, you name it – the Khidmat Sisters are there to support. The group also aim to act as a liaison service for their fellow Muslim women whom require help in all sorts of practical ways, too – for example, by helping to refer home cleaning services or even home help to those who need it in their community via the Care Network. In short, the work the Kidmat Sisters do is no short of fantastic and I certainly tip my hat to them for all of their volunteer-run work. The Cambrige City Council have also been helping them to gain training and other skills that will help in their mission and I look forward to welcoming some of their volunteers to a Belles meeting in future in order to help them celebrate their success.

Another great happening that I HAVE to share because of its involvement of all things furry is the Festival of Fur and Feathers that is happening on June 21st, 12:00 – 18:00 at Cherry Hinton Hall.


The day boasts any array of wildlife and animal stalls, pet photographers and not to mention, lots and lots of dogs! As a local of the beautiful Cherry Hinton Hall, I will be attending to ooze over the cute furry friends and help support the local community, too! Please do join if you fancy bit of a tail wag!
Last but certainly not least, the countdown to the AGM commences! I am SO excited to be attending the NFWI AGM in Leeds on 7th June – where I’ll FINALLY get to meet many of our sister WIs such as the lovely Tea and Tarts WI, catch up with friends made at Denman AND get to sing Jerusalem with all of my fellow WI members. I am also looking forward to spending time with fellow Cambridge Federation WI members as we all convene to get the coach to Leeds together. Watch for my flurry of tweets and photos from the day – I can barely sleep with all of anticipation! 11th May 2014 It’s been non-stop since taking up the reigns are President again for the glorious Blue Belles, but wanted to check in to share some of the GREAT events I’ve been attending on our behalf, some photos of a new and inspirational fellow WI member that I have befriended and give a well deserved nod of birthday greetings to someone very close to my heart, too. First off, was the Cambridge Annual Council Meeting in Comberton. I was delighted to mingle amongst so many other WI members in our Federation and to have the chance to spend time with Belles’ sister WI, Trumpington. 

Members of the Cambridge Federation WIs all sit amongst the piano to sing Jerusalem!

The meeting was opened with a piano lead version of Jerusalem (which suited me RIGHT to the floor seeing as its a tune we don’t make enough of, I feel!). To know that the song was seen as a beacon of hope and inspiration to our foresisters, the Suffragettes, and the lyrics remind me of great women before me who have called England their home – especially my two Nans who have recently left my life. Our Federation Chairman, Sally Kingman gave her report for the year and our accounts were all read out, too. Also in attendance for a GRAND talk was Bunny Campione, of Antiques Roadshow fame who actually had us roaring with laughter for most of her talk. There is certainly much more to the Roadshow than meets the eye and it was inspiring to hear how Bunny had worked her way up to the BBC Programme we see her on these days. The evening concluded with the National Anthem – yet another song that doesn’t get enough airplay, in my eyes! It was an absolute pleasure to attend with the Trumpington WI, who will be shortly celebrating their 95th year, as I just LOVE hearing their stories and learning from them many useful experiences that we as the Blue Belles can take forward and be that more the wiser.

Sitting with the Trumpington WI Members was a laugh – Bunny had us all in stitches!

It was indeed that much more special to attend the meeting with my new WI friend, Audrey King, whom at 90 was the most determined to take her front row seat at the meeting, amongst other Federation Chairs passed. Audrey served as Chairman of the Cambridge Federation and is well and truly an inspiriting lady! Recently when taking tea at her home to be shown through the history of Trumpington WI, and after nearly four hours of chatting, we only got to the third page of the group’s scrap book, which Audrey keeps up to date – check out the cover photo of the group dated 1925!

Trumpington WI’s members at the Cambridgeshire Festival of Music, 1925!

Membership card for Trumpington members, date of issue unknown

 I’ll be sitting down with Audrey again soon so plan to share more snaps straight from Trumpington’s scrapbook which will, I am sure, inspire us Belles to start gathering our own momentums to share with our next generation of WI fellows!

Audrey King when she was serving as Federation Chairman

 The following days saw a gathering of the Dig for Denman group at the allotment for a weeding session divine. Our honorary Belle, Caitlyn (whose Mum, Fiona, is the Belles Treasurer), worked really hard to prepare soil for the beetroot and parsnips which were sown on the day. The allotment is REALLY starting to take shape and we’ve got beans a plenty growing already of the Broad Dwarf variety. 

Caitlyn, honourary Belle, Digging for Denman!
Emily, Events Officer and Belles Treasurer, weeding rhubarb corner
MCS/Fundraising Officer, Laura S, forking over yet unplanted ground

I’ve also been saving up jars with inspirations to make chutneys and other preserves – with all proceeds going to funding Denman bursaries for the Belles!

Our first crop of dwarf broad beans are well on their way in their growing phase

To close my post, dear reader, I feel its my duty to tip my felt hat to a very inspirational woman who would have celebrated her Birthday this last week gone. Sophie Scholl was born in Forctenberg in German in 1921. 

Sophie Scholl

Reaching the end of her teens coincided with the Nazi uprising and the conquer of the German people by a party which Sophie, and brother Hans, felt were blackmailing the masses and upon hearing about the massive murder of jews in an anti-Nazi sermon given by Clemens August Graft von Galen, were spurred into the founding of the White Rose Movement. Set amongst the backdrop of Munich University, the pair grouped with many other like-minded students and began writing anti-nazi propaganda leaflets telling of the disturbing realities of what was happening on the eastern front and distributing them in the evenings. Sophie and Hans were caught and handed over to the nazi authorities and put on trial for the publishing of five anti-Nazi leaflets. Sophie’s reaction in the courtroom was ‘ Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.’ Sophie was executed on 22nd February, 1943, after having been found guilty of treason. Rather than opt out of her responsibilities, trying to make herself seem less at fault in the eyes of the Nazi enforcers, Sophie owned her involvement in its entirety and had no regrets in her actions as a part of the White Rose Movement. Hours before her execution. Sophie is quoted to have said ‘ How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?’.

Following Sophie’s death, a copy of the White Rose’s sixth leaflet was smuggled from Germany through Scandanavia where it was used by the Allied Forces. In a tribute to the White Rose, allies dropped millions of copies of the leaflet, now retitled, The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.
Happy birthday, Sophie, and thank you for your courage in your conviction. Sophie sacrificed her life for what she believed in and for that, she deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest freedom fighters.

23rd April 2014 Times as of late have been brimming with excitement as all things Blue Belles and WI related have featured heavily on the pages of my Filofax. Since last writing, I have paid witness to the powerful and moving Vagina Monologues live on stage here in Cambridge, been to Denman to enjoy my Spring Fling Bursary by practicing the foundations of Tai Chi (whilst rubbing shoulders with John Whaite, winner of 2012’s Great British Bake Off!), celebrated all the glory a three course vegantastic meal which consisted of food that would have otherwise seen the bin had Liberated Feast founder and fellow Blue Belle, Jennie Debenham, not taken charge of all things wastage, participated in one of the ‘most humorous Annual Members Meetings on Record’ (WI Advisor’s words, not mine!), and been re-elected to lead the Cambridge Blue Belles into a new year of all things beautiful and (Cambridge!), blue!  As I mentioned, I ticked a HUGE box on my list of life when attending the Vagina Monologues on stage with a few of my fellow Belles all those weeks ago.

 I had no idea that the piece was going to be quite so moving and hearing stories of oppressed women from far off places such as Japan, in the Comfort Women, who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during the second world war. It is appropriate to say that hearing the stories of the denial of the nation around them brought the audience to tears and made me even that much more proud to be a part of something as powerful as the WI to ensure that we can band together to help women the world over to stop suffering in silence. More needs to be known about such sacrifices made during the war and I think it’s very apt that people hear the stories of those brave women before they are no longer in this world. 

A photograph of a number of the Comfort Women of Japan looking solemnly on during World War II

The Comfort Women are still to this day fighting to have some kind of recognition from the Japanese Government to recognise their toil during the war so it is more important than ever to show your solidarity with them by educating all  to highlight their plight.

To this day, Comfort Women are not acknowledged by the Japanese Government for their suffering

In fact, every Wednesday, living comfort women, teamed beside women’s organizations, socio-civic groups, religious groups and a number of other individuals participate in ‘Wednesday Demonstrations’ in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. I would love one day to stand amongst those ladies and dedicate time to their appeal!

Wednesday Demonstrations as the Comfort Women appeal for an apology from the Japanese Government

It was with GREAT delight that I was able to attend Denman on a bursary awarded to me by them to learn the basics of Tai Chi. I learned a lot about the theory behind the practice, including a need to dedicate your entire thinking and life into its philosophy. One day when I have got more time, I would love to partake in some outdoor sessions (don’t they always look SO peaceful in the park?!), and of course to take on more of the relaxing and calming elements that come part and parcel, too. My excellent teacher, Alan Baker, has been practicing for over twenty years and still to this day doesn’t consider himself a master!As if my Denman trip wasn’t enlightening enough, I also met John Whaite, winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012!!! What an absolutely top banana he was to meet and thrilled audiences at Denman by conducting a course on making delectable deserts all whilst answering questions about his experience in the big tent with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood! 

John Whaite Bakes at Home – John’s new book is rammed with fab baking ideas for all the family!

Never one to be much of a celebrity spotter, I was absolutely beside myself with happiness to have his new book signed and photo taken all in the space of a few short minutes – in fact, I’ll shamelessly plug his John’s new book, John Whaite Bakes at Home, as it truly is full of DIVINE baking ideas – all of which John has tried and tested on all of those nearest and dearest to him! 

A snap with John wearing his well deserved Cordon Bleu Chef’s shirt

The Liberated Feast, which I’ve mentioned before amongst my entries, took place on April 6th and was very pleased to welcome along WI Life Staff Writer, Lucy Collins, with her fabulous photographer to get some coverage of the event. A three course meal of vegan delights was followed by a grand raffle (with well over 50 prizes!), with all proceeds going to The Milimani Academy Feeding Academy in Kenya. It was a night to remember and was well attended by Belles alike. Keep your eyes out for Liberated Feast’s brainchild, Jennie Debenham, as she graces the pages of the next WI Life Magazine!

Helping to pull the raffle tickets on stage at the Liberated Feast

And of course, to top the icing on the cake, our Annual Members Meeting/Birthday Pary which hosted a year in reflection for the Blue Belles with a witty, but highly attentive, Buzz Word Bingo game as Secretary, Laura P, and I gave our reports for the year. I was absolutely thrilled to be re-elected as President of the Cambridge Blue Belles and wait with baited berated to reveal all of the exciting happenings we currently have on the Blue Belle boil for the year ahead – one being ANOTHER trip to Denman, naturally, and many more exciting interactions with the wide community including our pledge to help knit miniature jerseys for the Tour de France and lending a green thumbed hand at CPFT’s Chitra Sethia Autism Centre to support our new sister WI who will be based there – details of which will be making themselves known soon, too. Planting and major work is happening as a part of our Dig for Denman campaign, with more exciting updates blooming as we speak! More to be revealed here in the coming months – especially once the risk of frost has passed by! 7th March 2014

Happy Women’s History Month! Being an advocate of all things empowering to both myself and other like minded women, I wanted to post a few inspirational ladies’ stories and snaps whom I look up to in my life – both those still with us on this earth and others making their afterworlds a better place, too. If you scroll through my posts, however, you will see that I am constantly name dropping ladies that are making a lasting impression – so those I mention below are in NO way the exhaustive list! This list grows with every woman/grrrl I meet as I find every kind creature has a special something that makes them shine.
First off, my Nan – Barbara Doreen Elizabeth Wilson. An absolute legend in EVERY which way you can imagine. My Nan was born in the 1920’s and was a teenager at the beginning of the second world war – but just that bit too young to be called up to serve officially, she drove a horse lead milk cart at the age of 17 (!!), every morning and later went on to work with German prisoners of war at a poultry farm in her Hertfordshire village. Following this, she went on to mother four children, took over the running of a farm when she was widowed at a very young age (and never remarried), played nurse to her ill parents and twin brother who came back from serving at Belsen Concentration Camp a very scarred man and did all of this with the brightest of sunny dispositions. Her favourite tagline, ‘Don’t give up, it’s tragic’ is a testament to the force to be reckoned with that was, Barbara Doreen. We lost my Nan nearly a year ago and not one day goes by that I don’t think about her and how much she gave back selflessly to make this world a better place. 

‘Don’t Give Up – It’s Tragic’ – My Nan’s words to live by!
My Great Auntie Audrey – in her Land Army Uniform

Above is a photo of my Nan’s sister, Audrey, another lady of inspiration, whom in her 90’s, is still working hard like the Land Army girl that she once was and will forever remain!

Second of all, the Trümmerfrauen of Germany.
Trümmerfrauen hard at work, re-modelling Berlin post WWII

Not a lot is said in the world about these ladies and I make a point of mentioning them to as many people as I can. The Trümmerfrauen (or rubble women) were the ladies that were left behind in Germany following the second world war. As one might imagine, the buildings, communities and cities were all a shell of their former selves following year upon year of bombing and destruction. The women who were still in the country (as the men were either sadly no longer alive and children were missing or coming back from serving themselves), bound together and at a time when the country was said to be at it’s 00:00 (Stunde Null), picked up every single brick, cleaned/remoulded them and rebuilt the country. Amongst the Trümmer these women planted vegetable gardens, removed debris from roads/transportation systems and created an eco-system that could sustain life once more and well and truly, put the war torn country back together again.

Forming a human chain to carry rubble from a bombed out building

Naturally, I am also grateful to EVERY woman who served both officially and unofficially throughout each war  – from the ladies in the SOE, those serving at Bletchley Park, the WVS (later the WRVS), Land Army ladies, home front house wives, the NAAFI, WRENS, etc etc – I salute you all and thank you for all of your hard work!

I salute all of the ladies who sacrificed their time for our safety!

In true WI style, though, I wanted to insert a short line about our lovely, Lady Denman, who was the longest serving Chairman at NFWI, was a proud Suffragette (you knew I would mention them here somewhere!), and of course, the Director of the Women’s Land Army during the second world war. At a conference I attended recently which was hosted by NFWI, Diana Birch, who is the Chair of WI Enterprises and NFWI Vice Chair said that she would consider re-issuing the book telling Lady Denman’s story if enough people contacted her showing interest – jump to the NFWI website here to do just that!

Lady Denman – this portrait hangs proudly in the grounds of Denman College!

The last bit of hat tipping from me is in the form of the Riot Grrrl movement which happened in the early 90’s. This movement in music provided a platform for Grrrls who were fiercely empowered with DIY tactics such as making their own fanzines, craft making with political motivations. performing in bands or as part of a collective and not allowing anything to get in their ways! People such as Poly Styrene, Kathleen Hannah, L7, Babes in Toyland and Sleater Kinney helped to form and thrust me into a world of powerful females who had no hang ups on their size, colour, talent or social status. Formative and free willed, these ladies helped to create the me that I am today – THANK YOU, GRRRLS!

Riot Grrrl used craft to protest for its pretty power!
Riot Grrrls do not diet, they riot!

I mentioned that I attended the NFWI’s Inspiring Women Conference this week, and it certainly was an excellent learning experience. The day was intended for Presidents and Institute Reps to get to know the Board of Trustees that sit at NFWI. I attended the gathering with Trumpington WI’s President, Maureen Harris (who might I add, is becoming a WI mentor to me!), and it was both informative and had the air of spending a day at Denman – but with less emphasis on out-of-this-world shortbread and more on getting to know people like our Chairman, Janice Langley. 

A photo with the lovely Maureen Harris, Trumpington WI President

I grabbed the microphone when given the chance and thanked the Board for putting me in the room with so many inspiring ladies – not to mention sitting next to Maureen whose WI is celebrating its 94th year! If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is!

Janice Langley, NFWI Chairman, addresses the Inspiring Women Conference

Last but certainly NOT least, and slightly ahead of the game to allow you to pull out your purses, Blue Belle, Jennie Debenham is hosting the third Liberated Feast. The event is a chance to raise awareness of global food waste in that it is a beautiful three-course vegan banquet which is sourced from local surplus produce that would otherwise be thrown away! 

The Liberated Feast – April 6th – to raise awareness of global waste!
The event will take place on Sunday 6th April, 19:30 at The Centre at St. Pauls, Hills Road, Cambridge, and tickets, at a cost of only £10.00 per person are available from Eventbrite with all proceeds going to support a feeding project for the Milimani School in Kenya! I look forward to seeing you all there – fork at the ready, to help munch away the growing problem of unnecessary food wastage!

3rd February 2014

The lovely month of February marks LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender), History Month and Cambridgeshire hosts a long list of fantastic events for all within the city to embrace and celebrate the diverse and colourful community that waves its beautiful rainbow colored flag with pride to commemorate its challenges and triumphs throughout the ages. 
Check out some of the brilliant events on in Cambridgeshire to mark LGBT History Month

The first of these was the raising of the rainbow colored flag at the Guildhall on February 1st, followed by countless musical events at places such as Hot Numbers Cafe, an African Drumming workshop, and Ping Pong Disco. 

Mayor Paul Saunders fronting celebrations at the flag raising ceremony, Feb 1st – Photo by Keith Heppell

Both Universities in the city will be hosting a variety of discussions and lectures. Valentine’s weekend sees the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, attending Encompass Network’s Inter Faith Event on February 14th to contribute a ‘thought for the day’ in related to the month’s purpose ahead of the Fitzwilliam Museum opening its doors for an exclusive slide show presentation on the representations of hermaphrodites in antiquity on February 15th from 14:00-15:30. For full information and event details, visit the Encompass Network’s website.

Another event on the horizon which guarantees to fly its flag high is the 20th Cambridge Science Festival which runs from 10-23 March. 
The festival’s Programme of events is as diverse in nature as the subject of Science itself with many of its events being free of charge. There are literally dozens of worthy lectures, events and happenings, so download the event Programme in PDF form now or get the App to get in the know. Bookings for the event start today (!!!), so, if you are like me, and the list of what’s going on looks like a menu of all things delicious and decadent for your grey matter, get your orders in now as each event is sure to reach capacity! There are still opportunities to roll your lab coat sleeves up and volunteer, too, so do get involved if time travel is on your side!
Last but certainly not least, I wanted to shine some light on a hero whose book I will be dipping into shortly – Ken Hall. An absolute inspiration to all, Ken took up running at 60, participated in six (!!!) marathons, was awarded special recognition by his local newspaper, the Sunderland Echo, for all of his fundraising efforts for charity and enrolled in College at the age of 78 to walk away with the know-how of all things word processing. 
Ken started writing books at the age of 80 – one specifically that has caught my interest, and I proudly display in my own library, The Fairest Rose, which details the plight of an English student caught in Germany during the second world war as she becomes a spy siding with the British/American forces. The book itself is available in hardcopy with a Kindle version in the pipeline, too. If you fancy a copy, or to chat with the man himself, he’s a Twitter user (@KenHallBooks), and he’s got his own website – talk about legend!
Ken Hall’s The Fairest Rose – will soon be gracing a Kindle near you!

12th January 2014 Welcome to 2014, dear readers! My hopes and dreams for this lovely opportunity of laughter, light and above all, love, see my focus turning to getting involved at a grassroots level in my local community – digging down deeper to plant roots in Cambridge (whilst growing delicious produce as a part of the Dig for Denman campaign), making connections with other women who are taking active steps forward to empower themselves/others and helping to give voices to those whom otherwise are unable to speak/sign/send smoke signals.

To start this, alongside Vice President, Emily P, I attended the Blue Belle allotment AGM. The Belles were mentioned and formally welcomed to the plot and we were given the firm advice to never plant carrots as carrot fly would surely shorten our chances of ever having crop! Have a 5 pole plot at the Blackland Allotments is going to bring the Belles the opportunity to learn and work together – and not to mention a great venue for fundraising and BBQ’s in the summer months! We’ve currently got some broad beans and strawberries roosting on the allotment, and our proud shed (thank you, freecycle!) beams amongst the freshly dug soil. I look forward to spending many hours with fellow Belles enjoying all that mother nature has to offer – and not to mention, selling our wares for Denman bursaries to send the Belles to WI College!
Empowering and inspiring women to be all that they can be is always high on my agenda, as you’ll know (and I’ve already mentioned at least once in this blog post alone!). Whilst at the Winter Fair on Mill Road last year, the wonderful Cambridge Rollerbillies rolled into my life and from then on I was determined to see them in the flesh. 

The fact that they were also selling cakes in return for donations for the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre also hinted they might be the kind of grrrls that we Belles would happily sit and take tea with!

Little did I know that an innocent intro message via Facebook would see me invited to one of their Fresh Meat gatherings where those who are looking to get into the amazing world of roller derby should attend and get ready to get rowdy! It was an absolute pleasure to watch the already established team scrum for an hour together to give us all a taste of what its like to be wearing the group’s signature fluro green leopard print and totally suited matching team shirts – each with befitted personalised nicknames – Grace Under Pressure, Dusti Knuckles, RII Arrange Your Face and Victory Slap were amongst my favourites! Roller Derby started in 1930’s America and is enjoyed by countless groups of empowered ladies (there’s the phrase again!), across the globe as they get into their tiny, tight and toned uniforms and push, shove and pulverize their way into pleasure. When you enter a roller derby your age, size, race, and favorite colour of jelly bean are all left at the door as you step into one of the most accepting and all-inclusive love fests you could ever hope for. The ladies of Cambridge Rollerbillies have certainly gained a new fan in me and I for one will be shouting their support at the next roller derby happening! 

The Cambridge Rollerbillies – grrrls that know how to have fun!

Whilst hanging out in the bleacher seats, I met the fabulous Katie, the impressive entrepreneur behind hand made delights label, Lula Handmade. Katie’s creations come completely from her own two hands, all whilst juggling kids AND Rollerbillies practice – helmets off to her!
A lovely hand made pillow from Lula handmade
…and lovely doll to match, too!
Keeping in the entirely self-sufficient vein of empowerment, next Sunday, January 19th, sees the volunteer run, Transition Cambridge working together with the Trumpington Allotment Society, hosting their Seedy Sunday at Trumpington Village Hall. Transition’s ethos of transitioning to ways of life that are more resilient in the face of rising energy prices and a changing climate, will be at the forefront of this fantastic event where members of the public are invited to bring any excess seeds they may have and swap them with others who have the same earthly dilemma. 

Due to take place from 13:30 – 16:00, entry on the day is £1.50 per adult (children free), the time will be filled with speakers sharing their love and knowledge of all things seeds, a student networking session on growing your own (we Belles will be attending that for sure!), a raffle, and fellow WI members from Trumpington supplying the refreshments. I’m very much looking forward to helping the crew set up on the day, and urge anyone else with free time to volunteer to help make the event the huge success it deserves to be. For more info, visit the Transition Cambridge website here.

8th December 2013 Last weekend I accompanied 11 of my fellow Belles to be a part of the New Wave Weekend at our wondrous Denman College. It was a weekend filled with laughter, accomplishment after trying (and conquering!) a new craft, dancing to the likes of Tina Turner with Bollywood vibes, decorating vegan cupcakes in true punk DIY style and most of all, making the most of every single minute of Denman induced magic! It all started with Laura Brown collecting me from my Cambridge abode before being at the mercy of a SAT NAV that kept trying to send us to Kettering – but its a good thing we didn’t oblige. After 2.5 hours of cross country driving, we approached the gates of Denman College – and the excitement overcame any ill wishes on the SAT NAV. As we were checking in, we were met by College host, Chris, whom when we announced ourselves as being from Cambridge remarked, ‘Ah yes – I’ve heard all about you all’. 

Chris, our College Host

Now that is a way to arrive! We all put our bags into our respective rooms (mine being a shared space with Jennie and Laura P), and I stood to marvel at the tapestry draping the walls crafted by the Worcester Federation – our home for the weekend. A rich blanket of colours, creative shapes and sizes (I especially loved the ones with vegetables for obvious Dig for Denman reasons!), Laura P’s reaction when walking into our room was one of awe and absolute wonder. 

The gorgeous tapestry that hangs in the wonderful Worcester Federation room at Denman

We all congregated in the bar area for our welcome tea and cake (the first round of a very long term of feedings from the Denman kitchens!), and the buzz of anticipation before stepping into something completely new hung in the air. Lucy, a fellow WI history lover, was enthralled to be shown through the rooms of the Denman building and that early on in the stay had already vowed to visit its charming walls again. Promptly at 18:30 we congregated in the lovely Ferris Room to be welcomed by Jane Dixon, Head of Denman. Jane always poses the question at such welcomes as to how many people had never been to Denman before. I was blown away when well over 80% of those in the room raised their hand – how delightful to be with so many fellow WI members for their first Denman experience! Then suddenly, Jane called upon me to introduce the Dig for Denman Campaign to the wider group – and as I was completely caught unawares (and feeling particularly emotional after having being asked to speak!), for the first time in my life I was positively speechless so luckily went into auto-pilot to claim our cause. The speech I gave resulted in further enquiries from others over the weekend, so it must have been clear and cohesive! Later that evening, we were all fed to the hills, witnessed a cookery demonstration from award-winning tutor, Peter Lien, and were all in bed by 11:00 (although I hear some of the Belles in our group were the last ones in the bar – way to represent, ladies!). Saturday saw us all up and raring to go from breakfast onwards to our first of three workshops. After a quick walk to the nearby village shop in Marcham, I prepared myself for my ‘Making a Christmas Fascinator’ course in the beautiful Livingstone Room – which was used by the RAF to map read during the second world war, don’t you know?! Our tutor, Louise Brookes (of Hats from the Halls), was a well studied milliner who had brought along some divine felt hats to display to the class and I decided I would look out to take one of her courses at Denman (that wish is a part of a list gets longer all the time!). I decided that rather than making a fascinator, I would chose the alternative of making a felt poinsettia broach – the kind that would have been fashioned in the forties around the festive season, naturally! I was thrilled when Louise assigned me with my felt, various utensils and patterns. Three hours later and I had surprised myself by completing what was to be the first craft I’ve successfully seen to completion in years! Check out the photo below of me and fellow WI Member, Ann Roche (of the Denmead Belles WI), as we show off our new broaches – Ann’s in a lovely shade of purple!

Ann Roche of the Denmead Belles WI, and I show off our felt pointsettia broaches

Following a delicious lunch with a four mile long salad bar queue (only at a WI gathering!), I wandered back to the Ferris room to be met with what I can only describe as a force of nature that is all things positivity and fun! Elaine Bywater of Bizzy Bodiez was our teacher of Pick N’ Mix Dance – ranging from dance moves a la Tina Turner, line dancing and into Bollywood and a lovely Charleston! Our adrenaline had well and truly kicked in and we all sat down to a well deserved break – and I snuck over to peek in on Kara and other Belles in their respective classes. Check out the photos below of Victoria and Fiona getting down!

Victoria and Fiona in mid Tina-Turner swing!
Kara working intensely to make a beaded snowflake

Following our dancing ditties, we all scrubbed up for dinner and went for another three course food fest before moving back to the Ferris room which was transformed into a bar and dancing space for us. Christmas inspired serenades were on the cards and our entertainment for the night was indeed interesting. It was there which the Belles gathered to thank me for organising their weekend – something that I would happily do again and again, if it meant such smiles and joy around the Belles table! I was gifted with a copy of Zippy Nomad’s book, Whizzing Around Britain, Celebrating Fellowship Amid Jam & Jerusalem, an I HEART Denman canvas bag and a jar of WI branded Plum Jam – of course! Thank you Belles for the wonderful gifts!! On our last day of Denman (sigh), I made my way to the WI Cookery School for my last workshop with Natalie Green – Decorating Festive Cupcakes. I had been drooling over the Cookery School’s facilities from afar and was SOOOO excited about being let loose in a Great British Bake Off style kitchen set up (so much so that I’ve already booked myself in for a course in Veggie/Vegan Indian cooking in the same venue! Horrah!). This class was to be ultra special as it hosted four Belles in total and as Jennie and I were the vegans, we got to work together to interpret our own version of Natalie’s tutorial – and it was BRILLIANT! Our collective Suffragette inspired cupcakes were my fav and look how brilliant Fiona’s bows came out on her cupcakes?! Divine! 

Fiona, Blue Belles Treasurer, shows off her beautiful bowed festive cupcakes!
Lucy and her lovely Christmas Pudding cupcakes!
Jennie and I were the vegans that strayed from the conventional tutorial and had DIY decorated cupcakes
Blue Belles Secretary, Laura P, was also a fan of the Christmas Pudding cupcakes – they were in fact her fav of the lot!


After one last visit to the Denman shop (where I purchased all of my WI themed Christmas goodies!), we all piled back into our car shares, laden with fascinators, cupcakes, sewn up specials and beaded Christmas decorations from the outside, but beaming with happiness, an accomplished sense of adventure and a thirst for all things Denman has on offer! Since coming home, I have had a letter through from Denman congratulating me on being a recipient of the ‘Spring Fling’ bursary which I had applied for! In April I will be making my way back to the college to take my place on a beginners intro to Tai Chi! Then, in August, as preciously mentioned, I’ll be visiting the cookery school to cook all things veggie/vegan from India!
Not short of motivation to keep on moving forward, my love and passion for all things Denman (including our Dig for Denman Campaign), is set to charge forward with many Belles now being able to fathom and understand the necessity to have such a bursary option to fund other Belles to get themselves to experience the magic that is, Denman College.
Pick n Mix Dance crew – Three Blue Belles Included!
25th November 2013

In and around my neighborhood in Cambridge, there are a number of older people who spend their time walking though Cherry Hinton Hall, meeting each other daily to take their lovely colorful dogs for walks and those who delight in spending time by the pond feeding the ducks and talking to all of the park goers who, like them, wanted to get out and make the most of the fresh crisp winter air. Unfortunately, there are increasing amounts of older people who for one reason or another are left without family, social connection or any kind of contact with society. This is where newly founded helpline, The Silver Line, comes in to provide information, friendship and advice to older people 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. As we come closer to Christmas its important that we remember those in our lives who may be especially vulnerable and The Silver Line help to gently support those who may be in need of a chat, someone to give practical advice or a simply friendly voice down the phone. Visit their website for more information on the service and also to support them through donation. Fancy a chat? Ring them on 0800 4 70 80 90.
The Silver Line is a great source of comfort for older people in need of a chat, some advice of a friend!

Its coming to be that time of year in the WI Calendar when each member is to put forward their chosen resolution. Each year members have the chance to put forward issues as ‘resolutions’ that they want to see the national body of WI’s campaign on. This year, the list is rich in possibilities and includes increasing organ donation, campaigning against female genital mutilation, provision of non-acute hospital beds and the funding for women’s centres to cater for the specific needs of vulnerable women at risk of offending. I am putting my X beside the last resolution as for me, personally, the need in local areas to establish centers of rehabilitation for women whom need assistance will help to prevent the population of women in prison in growing and also help build the confidence of those locally to feel a part of their local communities – a commitment that we too share at the WI to each and every one of our lucky members. 
Women’s Breakout offer – A proposed system’s redesign detailing how to break out of the cycle women offending 
Groups who are already active in promoting the protection and creating positive environments for women are Women’s Breakout and the Prison Reform Trust. 

When considering your resolution this year, fellow WI member, please help to keep women, who already feel as if they have nothing to give, away from the confines of a prison cell where they will be left to feel even less worthy of the love and respect every woman deserves – cast your vote and show solidarity with this VERY worthwhile resolution!
And last but certainly not least, dear reader – this weekend marks the arrival of 12 Blue Belles at Denman College to take part in the New Wave Weekend! With taster courses ranging from the singing of festive modern music, pick n’ mix dance, still life drawing, beading decorations and so much more, I am thrilled that there are only FOUR MORE SLEEPS TIL DENMAN!!!!! 

8th November, 2013

Every November 11th we salute those whom have and will serve to defend their country. People wear the red poppy (with thanks to the Royal Legion’s Poppy Appeal), to commemorate the fallen and not forget human sacrifices. 
I write today, dear reader, to raise awareness to the Purple Poppy campaign. Brought to light by Animal Aid  here in the UK, the purple poppy is worn alongside the red poppy to commemorate all of the animals that have fallen as a result of wars across the world. 
The Purple Poppy remembers the animals who were involved  (without a choice in the matter) in the war
Whether used to send messages behind enemy lines (check out the amazing pigeons that were awarded fantastic medals for their efforts!), as a keen nose to help rescue Blitz survivors from their fallen homes (thank you dogs!), and not to forget the companionship offered in the trenches, either. To find out how to get your own purple poppy, please visit the Animal Aid website. For further stories about how the animals helped the war efforts, check out the Animals in War Memorial website, too.
Dogs like these were sent in to sniff out victims that were trapped under rubble in the Blitz
As a part of our current SOS the High Streets and Town Centre’s Campaign, I have pledged to buy all my Christmas gifts from local sources – whether that be handmade cards from the local charity shop or indeed, a jazzed up cardigan with some beautiful embroidery added. Not only does this help to support the local community, cut down the traffic/packaging that is result to online shopping from the far reaches of tax exempt paradise, you guarantee your pressies are as unique as their receiver. One online shop where I will be looking to spend my Christmas coffers is Cambridge based lauralaura.net. Each piece is totally individual, nods to both the old and the new in its inception AND come in gorgeous colours, too. Not to mention the pieces have graced the pages of a many glossy mags! Check out lauralaura.net for a peek!
lauralaura.net  – the button earrings and broaches are a must have!
Last but certainly not least, to mention my sheer excitement of the Blue Belles hosting their very own jumble sale! As a jumble table junkie (usually waiting outside a jumble venue well before the doors open!), I am pleased to announce that we will be hosting out very own sale on Saturday November 23rd – 10:00 – 13:00 at the Friends Meeting Place, Jesus Lane, Camridge. Entrance is £1 and you can expect to find something old, something new (compliments of the many talented Belles in our group), something pretty and delicious, too! Tea and cakes will be there to purchase and all proceeds go to our Dig for Denman allotment fund.

I, like this dog, LOVE a good jumble sale! Come to ours – Sat Nov 23 – 10 – 1, Friends Meeting Place, Jesus Lane, Cambridge

14th October, 2013

Today saw the very talented Charlotte Church, present the 2013 Peel Lecture in Salford on the very apt theme of women and their representation in music. This is, as anyone who knows me well, an amalgamation of two of my most favourite things coming together on the wireless. Not only are BBC 6 Music accountable for recently hosting a slot on Cerys Matthews’ show purely dedicated to the WI and its revival, they have also proven time and time again that they are listening to the wider world around them – especially in a time where certain media outlets support anything but freedom of speech! Previous presenters of the Peel Lecture include Pete Townsend (discussing the implications of digital marketing in music) and Billy Bragg (who outlined why music and radio need mavericks to keep moving forward). To hear the lecture, visit the 6 Music website tonight at midnight for a broadcast, or download it for free following that.

Charlotte Church presents the 2013 Peel Lecture to discuss women in the music industry

Now, to show some absolute admiration and solidarity for another very strong and inspirational grrrl in the form of Malala Yousafzai who recently released a book detailing her life and dreams of education in her native of Pakistan – where certain right extreme groups deem it unacceptable for women to have access to education. 


The very brave 16 year old Malala was shot on her way to school following her years of undercover anonymous blogging for the BBC and a New York Times documentary which highlighted Malala’s family’s struggle in her native of Mingora. Check out the Guardian’s website for further information about Malala’s book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban and get it now from the Guardian book shop in hardback with free UK delivery.


This coming weekend at the Cambridge Guildhall offers you the chance to buy some lovely DIY craft goodies – all made From Cambridge With Love.  With is vintage tea room (that’s where you’ll find me!), sourdough demonstrations, crochet workshops and an absolutely gorgeous how-to-make vintage broaches lesson, too, there will be something for everyone who loves all things make do and mend! Oh and our lovely secretary, Laura P, will also be there selling her wares – be sure to stop by for a dainty brew! Check out the From Cambridge With Love Facebook for details on how to book crafting courses on the day and all of the latest ahead of the show!




30th September, 2013

I was thrilled this morning to receive a postcard from Denman College host, Jean Lane, who you will remember was on duty at Denman when I was there this summer for my debut tour. In fact, it is the lovely Jean that has inspired me to take up College Host duties for next year. Jean is an absolute legend in her own right and anyone who is lucky enough to have her as their host, will echo my praise! Thank you for the postcard, lovely Jean, I shall be in touch with a Dig for Denman update shortly!
Meanwhile in Russia, the plot thickens as grrrl revolutionary (and a personal heroine of mine), Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – leader of punk protestors, Pussy Riot – has been hospitalised following Nadezhda commencing a hunger strike to protest against the issues she brought to the media about her ill treatment behind bars at Russia’s notoriously vicious prison, Mordovia. 
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova behind bars at Russia’s notorious Mordovia prison
You wili recall that Pussy Riot’s initial act which saw them go to jail in the first instance was for mock performing one of their tracks, A Punk Prayer, in a Moscow cathedral. Considered blasphemous by most Russians, Nadezhda and her fellow rioters were jailed and trialed gaining international media attention. My thoughts are with Nadezhda as she continues her fight through the difficult Russian system, using her wits and body to their full potential. I can’t help but feel a slight deja vu with all of this which tips its hat to the suffering of the Sufragettes to get the vote in this fine country – is that a reflection of the way that women’s rights are currently viewed in Russia? Keeping in mind the Suffrage ended how many years ago!? Please get involved and inform yourself over the massive political injustices witnessed by the band via the Free Pussy Riot website.
Pussy Riot – my heroines!
The ever pioneering WI, Shoreditch Sisters have started their own radio station via community based, Shoreditch Radio, in their show, Longwave Ladies. Broadcast every first Wednesday of the month at 1pm, the show is a very first for any WI across the wireless! Each chapter always includes an interview with another WI (oh how I would LOVE to be invited to contribute on behalf of the Belles!), interesting interviews (including one with Jane Robinson, the lovely writer of the book, A Force to be Reckoned With, which portrays the WI story to date) and details about campaigns and issues that the ‘Sisters hold close to their hearts. Tune in online or check out shows that have already been and gone by visiting the Longwave Ladies Radio website

15th September, 2013

Choosing to work alongside mother nature’s recent season changing, it is with greet anticipation that the Dig for Denman campaign committee meets this coming week to discuss seeds, equipment and all things gardening. Finding myself tuning in to the Gardeners’ World on the BBC this Friday evening past, in a hope to gain some further green thumbed tips, it struck me how absolutely excited I am to sow the seeds (literally) that will in the future provide cash sponsorship opportunities for fellow Blue Belles to attend our very own Denman College. Thanks again, mother nature, for allowing this phenomenon to help educate our Belles! 
Moving completely away from the world of all things allotment, but certainly staying with one of my favorite themes, I was thrilled to commence my second term of lindyhopping this week at Grantchester’s very own quaint and cute village hall. For those of you yet to experience the wonders of all things 1940’s dancing, lindyhop was a style of dancing that started on the dancefloors of Harlem in the 1920’s/30’s which saw its earliest introductions here in Blighty during the second world war – packaged with lipstick and stockings – compliments of the GI’s who joined the war effort in 1941. Lindyhop to me is a lifestyle in its own and who better to bring that lifestyle to us than the Cambs and Bedford Lindyhop Experience (collectively known as C&BLE), who not only dance the steps, but also take part in numerous re-enactment events seeing them travel globally to further the knowledge of all things 40’s. I couldn’t recommend a better gate to access the 40’s scene in and around the UK. In fact, I’ll be joining the C&BLE crew next weekend at the Wimpole Farm 1940’s event, Wimplole at War, which promises to be an event not to be missed in the 40’s calendar. If you are interested in Lindyhopping and fancy coming to a lesson with C&BLE, please do visit their website for full details on their classes which welcome both single and pairs to their floors.
C&BLE – the only destination for Lindyhoppers in Cambs & Beds
The brilliant C&BLE – teaching all things 40’s to the adoring public!
Keeping in theme with all things vintage, can you imagine how absolutely elated I was to receive 5 sets of vintage WI tea cups and saucers this week?! Thank you to one of our fellow Belles, who very generously shelled out mega cash to procure a MASSIVE lot of said china on a popular auction site, I am now the proud owner of some absolutely delightful WI memorabilia! There are still a few bits of china left, so if you are as charmed as I by the beauty of a brew straight from the WI’s history books, do get in touch and we’ll make sure you too are a part of the WI vintage tea set family.
One of my fabulous WI Home and Country tea sets – darling or what?!


Last, but certainly not least, I was perusing the Guardian this morning and stumbled across a truly fantastic article detailing a new independent magazine that is geared towards celebrating the lives of LGBT parents and families in a wonderfully presented glossy called We Are Family magazine. The publication is written by a member of the LGBT community that found herself without a resource for what is termed the alternative family and set upon the task of creating the pioneering magazine. Visit the We Are Family website for more and please spread the word about this breakthrough media on behalf of the LGBT community.
We Are Family Magazine – a welcome resource for the LGBT community

2nd September, 2013

It was a day for fit lady Denman herself when the Dig for Denman Committee officially united last bank Holiday Monday to take a first tour of the Blue Belle allotment space that would see us all working hard to produce delicious fruit/veg to raise cash to send our fellow Belles to our very own, Denman College.

Cambridge Federation Chair, Sally Kingman, joined us to show her support and offered up contacts within the Country Markets network where we can in the future, become independent traders and sell our wares. Following a vegan spelt scone with home made jam (naturally!), we made our way over to the Cherry Hinton allotment space, where we now hold our very own land.

Dig for Denman with Cambridge Federation Chair, Sally Kingman
Blue Belles MCS Rep, Kelly, bought her fork and wellies strapped to her bike

Having previously met the allotment secretary (who was very clued up on Denman needing support), we were also greeted by many of our fellow gardening neighbours who were more than happy to share a tip or two and remind us to be creative with the spot – rather than follow any conventional allotment recipe! We have already had offers to buy a shed and rain container from fellow allotment owners and many other generous Belles have donated a great few tool, too.

Blue Belles Secretary, Laura Pryke, gets involved by digging in our borrowed wheel barrel
My first dig in the Blue Belle allotment

Following our bank holiday debut, a selection of Dig For Denman ready Belles spent a solid 3 hours busying ourselves working to dig the soil in our allotment, with visits and welcome refreshments from a few of our loving supporters.
Dig for Denman Landgirls Unite!

The next step will see us all gather to plan out our strategy to approach garden centres, make the best use of free cycle, and discuss our planting/watering rota for the year ahead. I am definitely tempted to being along a Ministry of Agriculture pamphlet that was released during second world war which details exactly which crops to plant/harvest and when – after all, if it helped to feed Britain through the war, there’s NO reason it can’t do the same to get some funds for Denman course fees!
This is how Britain Dug for Victory – a pamphlet from the Ministry of Agriculture promises its reader their own vegetables all year round, if followed to the last letter.

On an entirely different note, I wanted to rally some support for our fellow WI members, the Shoreditch Sisters, who are revamping the WI Fast Fashion campaign. Born to highlight society’s hunger for consumption of guilt-free clothing, usually made by those in third world countries that work under terrible conditions and even worse pay packages, the Shoreditch Sisters are inviting members to cross-stitch or embroider mini protest banners. Their thinking behind the revisit is inspired by the recent catastrophic events in a Bangladeshi sweat shop which collapsed and killed over 1,000 women and children. The sisters are ‘calling on the fashion industry to respect garment workers’ rights and on the UK Government to regulate the actives of companies’. Do your best to GET INVOLVED! Email the sisters on shoreditchsisterscampaigns@gmail.com for more info and visit the NFWI website for more info on the Fast Fashion campaign.

The Sisters have called others to arms before by inviting people to stitch together vulvas for their quilt which was a part of the campaign to draw attention to the issue of genitalia mutilation. Listen to the report all about it on BBC Channel 4’s women’s hour and check out the photo of it below, too.

Shoreditch Sisters finished vulva tapestry to raise awareness of  female genitala mutilation

19th August 2013 Well, since my return from the magical Denman College, I’ve been lapping up the love from the garden goddesses who have shone down upon the Belles to award us our very own allotment! Hooray! Strategically planted in the heart of the Cambridgeshire black soil belt (which has rumored to have been a main source of food for the local area the second world war), our lovely gardening mecca will help to regenerate something that is not only near to my heart, but nods back to Lady Denman who helped not only act as the first Chairman of our fine movement, but ALSO the Director of the Women’s Land Army. All produce gifted from our lovely space will be sold and the proceeds will send a fellow Blue Belle to Denman college! Alas – the Dig for Denman Campaign is born! Currently, the allotment is in a state of sleep as it hasn’t been used for a year, but with a little bit of love (and a whole lot of leg work!), we’ll have it churning out carrots, beans and anything mother nature’s heart desires! The sheer act of helping to further the Denman name through being a self appointed Land Girl, is an honour that I look forward to sharing amongst my fellow Belles. Watch this (allotment) space for photos, updates and reports from our very own homefront!

Lady Denman was Director of the Women’s Land Army – who were instrumental in helping to feed wartime Britain
I LOVE tea. To the point where I can’t even imagine life without the beautiful, soothing and absolutely delicious syrup that coats my throat every time I douce leaves with boiling water, stir in some soy milk (or not, if of the herbal/green variety!), and lift my cup to my lips. One could almost argue that tea runs through my veins – seeing as it was the binding solution that helped my family do everything   from successfully running bus companies and keeping farms afloat – one teaspoon at a time! So, what better way to tip my tea cup to the delicious brew than permanent ink on my skin?! Through the help of the best tattooist EVER, Tracy D, this weekend marked the finale of my tea set themed tattoo session – with the war slogan ‘Where There is Tea – There is Hope’ forever inked across my back – I’ll be a hard push to forget what the delicious assam/english breakfast/rooibosch blended oil is that gets me through thick and thin! 
My chest piece has a tea pot with tea cups to boot!
…Where There is Tea – There is Hope!

Last, but certainly not least, a well desired bit of exposure to a worthwhile running event happening in Cambridge this Sunday 22nd September. The Chariots of Fire event, sees runners from EVERY background come together to raise funds towards urgently needed repairs and renovations at Papworth Trust’s Day Centre on Hawthorn Way in Cambridge. A run that recreates the contest that took place in the Great Court at Trinity College (as made famous by the film by the same name!), starts and finishes at Queens’ Green and covers the city centre, Trinity College, Clare College, King’s College and cross the river Cam. I urge you to get involved and help to aid in raising funds for the Day Centre which strives to provide a venue for disabled people to make new friends, learn important life and work skills and most of all – have FUN! Sign up to do a stint of marshaling, helping runners with registrations, fundraising and help in the distributing of bottled water and medals! For full info, visit the Chariots of Fire Website and do your bit to keep this great local resource on its feet.


Visit the Chariot of Fire website on:  www.chariots-of-fire.co.uk

10th August 2013 Bitten& Smitten – Denman’s Bug Prevails!

The original WI logo as I found it on a tapestry at Denman

As the head of Denman, Jane Dixon, commented within an official welcome to Denman, ‘once the Denman bug has got you, you’ll be back’. Never one to shoe away any insects (especially the black and yellow stripy, bee making variety!), I thought that said Denman bug would be like any other that I could deal with on a ‘capture in a glass before depositing outside’ basis. However, this one is a different winged wonder altogether. After five days fully engrossed in all Denman had to offer, I have met inspirational women from WI’s up and down the country, shared their laughter at learning new skills to take home, twinned with their tears when a seam had to be unpicked yet again thanks to oversized dress/skirt patterns not being considered and have come away with an address book brimming with new friends whom of which have already volunteered their spare rooms for my comfort – often only after a short encounter over a cup of tea.

Ruth, from Bristol’s Gloucester Road WI,  posing with her freshly made skirt – thanks to the fabulous tutoring of The Great British Sewing Bee’s, May Martin!
Jean, our College Host, from the Gwynedd Caernarfon Federation, provided, laughter, advice and endless support to all staying at Denman
The Queen Mum enjoying signing Denman’s guestbook

Denman truly is a special place where like minded ladies come together to enrich themselves, their homes and their country. From the moment you drive up the long stoney lane to catch the first glimpse of its enchanting surroundings, you are well and truly hooked. So much, in fact, that I have volunteered myself as a College Host, which will see me working to welcome alongside other volunteers to act as Denman’s very own ambassador – welcoming other WI members from far and wide to pass on the Denman bug to those who steps over its threshold. I’ll be back, darling Denman – and I’ll be sure to bring all my fellow Belles with me to happily spread the fabulous bug that you’ve bestowed upon me! Be sure to visit the Denman website for its full courses Programme. Within which, I am convinced, you’ll find something for everyone! Not a WI Member? No bother – Denman welcomes you regardless (but doesn’t guarantee you won’t leave wanting to be a member!).

May Martin passes her torch to the next wave of Great British Sewers – with their finished garments!

7 August 2013 Great British Sewing Bees & Willow Hedgehogs – Denman’s Got It All!

The WI – ALL KINDS of opportunities for ALL KINDS of women!

As a self-appointed Denman College Ambassador, I have the privilege of weaving in and out of classrooms, attending taster lectures and eating all of the delicious food on offer in Lady Denman’s Cafe. Today saw me spending time with some of my fellow members, as they brought their projects closer to completion – or indeed using their new found skills to flog their wares on Ebay! First up was Tambour Embroidery and Beading – which is the kind of decorating you see on the likes of the red carpet these days. It sounds like a doddle, but as member Brenda from the Ceredigion Federation (thats in west wales Wales!), pointed out, its easier when you’ve got use of your digits to the nth degree! Beadery is not for the faint hearted, especially Tambour Beading, as its Tutors, Diana Vernon and Lesley Coidon, both know having recently completed show costumes for Lion King on stage in London – because that is the circles we in the WI move in – don’t you know!

Brenda from the Ceredigion Federation shows off her Tambour beautiful beading in action!

What do you get when you mix willow trees, hedgehogs and pigs? Other than a book penned by Beatrix Potter, that is? As Kate and Linda from the Sutton on Trent Institute clearly demonstrated to me via their creatures below, there’s a lot more to willow than wind! Each sculptor from the Willow Creatures course, single handedly walked away with their own version of animal farm – hand woven in willow! Check out the beautiful hedgehog and piggy, too!

Linda from Sutton on Trent WI formulates a willow sphere

A hedgehog crafted out of willow – how prickly and perfect!

This pig is pretty in its willow whisps!

Chicken and hen a la willow roosted in the grounds of Denman

My next educational hive was to the simple dressmaking course where Great British Sewing Bee frontwoman and adviser  May Martin, was working closely with her 8 strong class (now THAT is one-on-one tuition!), to create either a dress or a skirt – in 3 days of hands on learning! As you can see by the photos, May gives her undivided attention to them all and each member will walk away with a new frock/skirt – fit for a queen (sewing!) bee! I especially loved the skirt being created by Ruth, also from a newly established WI in Bristol, with its beautiful cherries followed closely by Sarah and her cute pink (and ultra difficult-in-my-eyes!) dress with fabulous waistline and pleats. Sweet and sensical! 

May Martin explains the advantages of wider arm holes to a WI student



May cutting the fineries from Sarah’s fabric before she darts her dresses’ bodice

Ruth marks out the bottom of the zipper to her fabulous cherry themed skirt

Sarah smiles thanks to the sucess of her darting experiment

Last but certainly not least, was the course that gave you the tools to learn how to use the great auction site that helps you turn your want-nots into wonga – How to Use E-Bay, 101. What struck me the most by tutor Cherry Nixon’s demeanour and passion for what she taught was the way in which her students were enthused and getting on with the job at hand. Checkout the photos of my new found pen friend Sylvia from the Buckinghamshire Federation, who before this course, had only just learned how to turn a computer on! Talk about inspirational stuff!

Sylvia came to Denman a woman who had only flicked a computer switch – she left an Ebay whiz!

The most instrumental thing that I’ve learned in my time here, so far at Denman, is using your age as an excuse to prevent you trying things is an absolute illusion! Especially when seeing women as young as 13 enriching themselves with new skills to make their own clothes and others well into their seventies accquanting themselves with modern technology to gain an understanding of the mechanics of the internet and how to use it to their advantage. This is self-sufficiency in action, dear readers, and a great collision of a positive learning environment and fantastic afternoon tea to boot! Long live Denman! Stay tuned for my Denman reflections and swan song as I wave goodbye on Friday. ________________________________________________________ 6 August 2013 WI College 101

Joanne Croxford, President, Cambridge Blue Belles WI
Joanne Croxford, President

Hello there lovely readers and welcome to my blog – a space that I promise to fill with my passion and love for one of the most essential women’s movements in the UK, the Women’s Institute. You’re also likely to read within its lines, words pertaining to my enthusiastic musing, mixed with matters that are close to my heart that I feel need to be shared for the benefit of the world.
It’s truly fantastic of you to join me here where I have the honour to represent the newest Women’s Institute in Cambridge, The Cambridge Blue Belles, as their President. 

Denman College sign
The official welcome sign to the
WI’s college, Denman

It is my personal pledge to demystify the stigma surrounding the WI, which rears its head everytime I mention my membership to a new enquirer ‘the WI? But aren’t you a bit too young to be in the WI?’. My reaction to this has somewhat tamed and I accept my pledge even further to prove the diversity behind this movement and its, in fact, all inclusive nature. Yes – jam and Jerusalem are indeed the seeds that our foresisters did sow, but you watch dear, nay sayer, because from those strong foundations, a force to be reckoned with has emerged! Determined to tip our hats to those great women who have come before us to make this all possible, we are all moving forward to empower the younger women of today – one jam jar at a time!

Local signpost to Denman College
Denman College shares
signage with local church

So what better way to start, and me being my all or nothing usual self, than go to the source of the educational backbone that makes the WI what it is? Denman College. A beautiful country  estate tucked into the green fields of Oxfordshire, Denman is the WI’s very own college. Originally established following the second World War, courses at Denman are as diverse as the members of the WI themselves! In a matter of days, you can expect to learn anything from an introduction to another language, how to conquer your fears in the kitchen, how to relax a-la-mode of the far east thanks to Thi Chi or simple dressmaking. All courses have one intention at heart – to build your confidence in the chosen discipline whilst mingling with members from all over the country. An absolutely unique experience of self-enriching networking!

Plaque at Denman
This plaque sits on the stone wall
which lines Denman College

In the current chaotic climate where women are marketed to so heavily that they aren’t given a chance to open their eyes to realise that the greatest powers come from within (and not from a fad diet or tin of spray tan!), it was with much excitement that I stood at the great main door to Denman and turned the handle to be met with ear to ear smiles and what can only be defined as a parallel universe of positivity, openness and gluten-free vegan scones! I set foot in my beautiful room (as decorated by the Durham Federation, as per all other Denman rooms that are open to be kitted out by each Federation), with a great guide from one of Denman’s plethora of helpful staff, who took it on himself to show me each of my neighbours’ rooms. Each area again, is as unique as the Federation that dresses them. Some are hung with massive tapestries depicting certain points in each Federation’s timeline, or draped with home made quilts – all showing off the talent of the group of WI’s they represent.

First Denman sub-committee
First Denman sub-committe, Lady
Denman, second left

From there, I sat myself down for lunch, to join fellow members whom were here to enjoy a day’s tour of the College grounds and resources. As I tucked into my specially crafted vegan lunch, I met one of the most inspirational ladies I could hope to meet! The College Host, Jean Lane from the Gwynedd Caernarfon Federation. Jean listened with great interest as I told her of my mission to come here on behalf of the Belles to return and carry the Denman message. She was so very complimentary of our ethics and ideals (which in itself was very flattering – how very proud I am of us all, Belles!). Jean herself has been in the WI for 29 years and has stories to share about she and her fellow Welsh members that would make even the most experienced certain Soho shop holders blush! Following lunch, I was encouraged to join a tour of the College and its grounds with two groups of ladies who had come from Berkshire and Pembrokeshire. Again, our tour leader introduced me to the groups as being, a President of a WI in its infancy and everyone was amazed by our involvement and had nothing but words of encouragement and thanks to offer. 

The Queen visiting Denman
The Queen visiting Denman


Just as my tour finished, I climbed the stairs of the original Denman house, thinking I would have a few minutes of R&R to gather my thoughts, I nestled in to read information about the various paintings that live on the landing. No less than five minutes later, I found myself shaking hands with the Head of Denman, Jane Dixon,  who very kindly allowed me unlimited access to the archives of the college, where I have since been digging through everything from the slides from the very FIRST WI presentation to MPs (that was at a time when we were still grouped as being an agricultural-based education group as the Government just didn’t quite know in which pigeon hole to place us!) right the way through to pictures of the Queen on her many visits to the college (she has been a WI member since she was 14!) and various photo collages of how Denman has shifted and changed over the years. One constant, however dear reader, is a garden that is comparable to Eden. It still boggles my mind that its sole caretaker has only one other set of hands to keep it looking as magnificent as it does!The following days I plan to visit each of the courses that are happening and will be reporting back on my findings. Yours in Fellowship,x Joannehttp://www.guardianbookshop.co.uk/BerteShopWeb/viewProduct.do?ISBN=9780297870920