I love the WI. Absolutely love it. Ever since I joined about three years ago I feel like I’m with kindred spirits and the friends I’ve made there are second to none. Through my involvement I’ve also been able to try my hand at so many new things – everything from burlesque keep fit to decorating biscuits. I’ve also been involved in some amazing ventures from serving tea to 500 pensioners to helping to renovate a caravan that went to a family in need in the Calais Jungle. As I say, I love the WI.
It was therefore with great excitement that I joined 13 other members of the Herts Belles this morning to go to London to the WI Fair at Alexandra Palace. Described as “celebrating everything about the great British institution that is the WI” it sounded like it was going to be right up my street. I love a spot of crafting, baking and various other things that fit into the WI remit so to speak. I was also looking forward to a good day out wth some of my WI friends, and from what I’d read online from people who had already attended it sounded like there was going to be a spot of gin to be sampled too – something I always enjoy.
I’m now collapsed on the sofa having had a fantastic day out. I’m shattered, feel like I have walked miles and may be showing some effects of all the gin I’ve tried, but more than anything I’ve had a brilliant day out with some wonderful women. I went to a couple of really good talks (on gin cocktails and from ActionAid about the support they are giving to women through their work overseas) and have also exercised the credit card a fair bit at the many wonderful food and drink stalls. There’s one thing missing though – and that’s the buzzing feeling that I came home from Tea and Tents with. I was so inspired by everything I’d done, seen and heard there that I agreed to join the Belles committee as soon as I came home. I thought I’d have the same buzz when I came home from the WI Fair. But I didn’t.
Whilst it has been a great day out, it just didn’t really feel like a WI event at all. There was a NFWI stand where I was finally able to get my hands on a WI sew on badge and a tea towel and I even found that they’d use the picture of us all power hooping on a big display, which was quite a thrill. But other than that there wasn’t that much else around to mark it out as a WI event and I feel that the WI may have actually missed out on quite an opportunity.
We were talking about it in the car on the way home, and there were just a few simple things that we were surprised they didn’t do. For starters, the huge campaign at the moment to save Denman. Now I’ve not been to Denman yet, so buying a tote bag saying “I ❤️ Denman” didn’t seem that appropriate. Nor did the similar car sticker, yet I’d totally get a WI car sticker if they made one. But why did they not have having anything else to raise money for Denman? Even if it was just a big collection box on the way in and out. Or even have some short sample courses from there as workshops. Half hour tasters of what you might get on a Denman course.
Whilst it was wonderful to hear from ActionAid about the work they are doing, I wondered if the Fair could have been an opportunity to hear speakers talk about ways in which we could at a local level support the WI resolutions. Someone like FoodCycle could have come along to talk to us alleviating food waste and the work they are already doing towards it. There could have been speakers on the two resolutions that we’re going to vote on at the 2017 Annual Meeting – alleviating loneliness and plastic soup – to help members be informed about these issues prior to the vote.
WIs have also got involved in loads of things at local level to support charities. Not just in terms of raising money, but also doing practical things like making twiddle muffs or collecting sanitary products for homeless women. Why not have some of the charities at the Fair explaining to members what their WIs could do to the help.
Then there was the shopping. I always expected shopping at the Fair, after all it’s a way these people make money; by selling their wares. The food and drink section was fantastic, with lots of lovely samples, and I seem to have come home with a bag of delights. Gin featured prominently, and whilst as a gin fan I’m not complaining about this, gin is a high price item and not affordable to everyone.
The craft section was not at all what I expected though. I was really hoping for stalls selling the things you need and use for crafts that so many of us in the WI love. I was expecting people selling yarn, haberdashery bits and pieces, cake decorating stuff, preserving apparatus and the like. Instead there were some beautiful items and lots of jewellery and clothing, but everything had very high price points. Why not have a companies there selling items at lower prices? Someone like HobbyCraft (who let’s remember have a WI yarn range!) could have made an absolute killing there today, even if they just brought along their WI yarn. Lakeland would have also been fantastic for all the baking and preserving stuff that they sell. And what about gardening? Surely a stand selling packets of seeds and bulbs would have been perfect, especially at this time of year. I was just really puzzled that people selling that kind of thing weren’t there.
There was also so much more WI related stuff that I would have liked to have opportunity to buy. There are various WI books that have been released over the years, and other books that cover the role of women in history, especially during the war years, yet I didn’t see anyone selling anything like that. The NFWI stand had a few bits and bobs, but again not as much as I would have liked or expected. Having lost my brolly last week I nearly bought one there, but again it talked about Denman, which just didn’t quite seem appropriate having never been there. Had there been a standard WI one then I would have snapped it up.
In terms of helping WIs at local level what I would have loved was an opportunity to hear about what other WIs are doing. Maybe a room or area where every half an hour another WI or prominent WI member talks about something that they have done at local level. Ideas sharing to inspire and help others. There must have been a wealth of WI knowledge in that hall today, but I just didn’t hear enough of it.
It may feel like I’m being a tad harsh about the fair, but I will say again that I had a fantastic day today. I really enjoyed myself, as I think did the rest of our group. And there were some points of the organisation that were brilliant – in particular there being a large room for people to eat their refreshments in, the “meeting point”, and the excellent use of social media during the fair to tell people about what was going on. But I just feel that the WI can do so much more with the opportunity that the Fair gives them having so many members coming together. I hope that by speaking out I can find out if others think the same, and if so how the NFWI can make that happen. If no one else agrees then I’ll just shut up!
Just in case anyone’s in any doubt, these are my personal views as a WI member, not any formal views of the Herts Belles or any other part of the WI.