When the country went into lockdown, the Swallowtail WI Committee knew that we’d have to adapt if we wanted to continue to provide a WI experience to our members.
One of our main challenges was to keep up the connection between Swallowtails when the majority of the committee was still working full-time. Our priority was our meetings, and we were fortunate that we had some time before our April get together to change our format.
Our speaker, the writer and historian Lucy Santos had been scheduled to give us a talk about the curious history of radium at the Gage Road chapel. Lucy kindly recorded the talk as a private video on YouTube and then joined us on a Zoom call to participate in a Q&A session. Everyone who attended found Lucy’s presentation fascinating and the discussion that followed was equally as engaging.
For our May meeting, we decided to hold a quiz. Our secretary Kate acted as quiz mistress, and there were lots of laughs as we battled for the top spot. The winning Swallowtail was Suzanne, with Nikki coming in second. Both ladies received an Amazon voucher as a reward for their intellectual efforts.
In June, we’re trying something different again – a craft-a-long. Vice President Claire is going to teach the group to make butterfly garlands using a few easy-to-source supplies. Many of our members love crafting – we even have a dedicated craft group – so we’re sure this will be fun for all as we get crafty.
Our meetings are characterised by fun and friendship, so it was vital for us to keep in touch as much as we could. After a suggestion from members, we created the Swallowtail Chit Chat group which meets once a month for a Zoom call and also has a dedicated Facebook group for daily nattering. We know that everybody is having a different experience in lockdown, so being there to show support and provide companionship is vital. So far, it’s been a big success, and we’re looking forward to more of the same.
Claire took the time to write cards to each member to let them know we are all thinking of them and to extend the offer of help and support. We want our members to know that we are there to help and listen if they need it, so those cards were a personal reminder that each Swallowtail is in our thoughts.
Little groups of members have been keeping up on smaller Zoom calls together. One of our committee members works in A&E, so we have been keen to speak to her regularly and find out how she’s coping. Other members have been doing lots of community-spirited crafting, recycling and baking to help their communities. From making scrubs to making batches of cupcakes for the Baking-a-difference initiative, our girls have been working hard during the lockdown.
There are plenty of animal lovers in our group, so it’s no surprise that once lockdown eased, the dog-walking meet recommenced – complying to social distancing, of course. As well as our pet pooches, members have been captivated by the Hog Blog – run by our member Kirsty and her husband. They’ve cultivated a following after playing host to some adorable hedgehogs in their garden and updates from them on Facebook and at meetings have been a real treat.
We miss meeting up face-to-face, and we know it could be a long time until we can go back to our venue. But in the middle of lockdown, the friendship and bonds between the Swallowtails have only become stronger and it’s been incredibly moving to see. We want to thank our members for continuing to e\ngage and be a part of the Swallowtail WI, and we look forward to making new memories together in the summer.
After weeks of preparation, endless present wrapping and hours of cooking, Christmas is finally over. This is the time when everything goes quiet and nobody knows what day it is. Then we ramp up to the New Year and the infamous resolutions.
This Christmas has been rather different for me. Last year I won the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition and my debut novel The Choice was published on Boxing Day. I’ve been working towards this for eight years, so you could say I’ve finally fulfilled a new year’s resolution. The fact that it didn’t happen overnight might be why so many of us fail at keeping our resolutions. The big ones, the ones that matter, take time and a lot of hard work.
If you’ve overindulged at Christmas your resolution might be to start a new exercise plan on 1st January; to cut out fat/sugar/carbs; to eat less and do more. The Choice takes this idea to an extreme and explores what happens when the government gets involved in decisions about our health and diet. It’s set in a world where sugar is illegal and baking is a crime and follows one woman’s desperate fight to protect her children’s future.
Imagine a world where everything you ate was monitored by the government. Every step you took was counted. You had to attend mandatory exercise classes and were weighed every time you went to the supermarket. What if your neighbours informed on you if you made the slightest mistake and no one was safe from judgement? What would you do? Toe the line or fight for freedom?
I drew on the real world for inspiration, there’s even my own version of a very extreme WI, called the Mother’s Institute, whose aim is to control and indoctrinate its members. Fortunately, it’s nothing like the real WI and I can’t wait to celebrate with my fellow members at my Waterstones book launch. It’s going to be so much fun and, of course, there will be cake.
The Choice by Claire Wade is published by Orion, £8.99 and is out now.
Piece first published in the EDP, 28th December
During our last meeting of 2019 we had our annual social with crafting. Nicola Baker came to show us book folding, We took old, battered books, donated by Dawn's New Horizons because they wouldn't sell, and transformed them into Christmas trees, candles and angles,
Everybody was amazed, even those on the committee who didn’t think they had a crafting bone in their bodies were surprised and excited by their results.
Great fun, lovely food, singing and chatter filled the hall as the time passes so quickly. Our table cloth square was produced by Louise Stone and every member bought something for our pot luck.
Merry Christmas everyone and hope your New Years bring you joy and more laughter with Swallowtail WI. Next meeting laughter yoga I can’t wait!
From the moment girls are old enough to go out on their own, they’re given the same advice: be careful where you go, what you do, how you dress and who you go out with. Never park in an unlit spot, keep your keys handy, don’t get distracted by your mobile phone, walk with a friend, stick to crowded places. Stay together, stay safe.
It’s drummed into us that our safety is our responsibility. We know that avoidance is the best form of defence, which of course it is, but sometimes there are situations, places and people that you can’t avoid, no matter how hard you try.
Not many of us are taught what to do if the worst ever happens. That’s why Swallowtail WI channelled our inner ninjas and learnt some self-defence at our last meeting. Glen and Tony, two Tae Kwon Do experts came to show us some basic moves we could use if we’re ever caught in a difficult situation.
Our members range in age from their twenties to their seventies and several have health restrictions, but we all had a go and discovered that you don’t have to be strong or super fit to be able to protect yourself. There are some really easy moves you can do to break away from someone who has grabbed hold of you. A simple twist of your wrist or a change of direction can give you enough momentum to pull free, allowing you to put distance between you and your attacker. The goal is always to break away and run for safety.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, we’re all aware that no matter how careful you are, you can still find yourself under threat. Feeling powerless is the worst part and having no idea what to do if you’re attacked makes the world seem much scarier. Everyone went home from the meeting feeling safer and more prepared, knowing what we could do in an emergency. I’m glad that the Swallowtail members now have some tools to protect themselves; I pray they never have to use them.
First appeared in the EDP, Saturday 2nd November .
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash
Swallowtail WI have voted in their new programme for 2020. We've got a couple of people still to confirm but we've got lots to look forward to next year.
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“The WI is...?” That was the question members across the country were recently asked, as part of the WI’s 104th birthday celebrations. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect on why each of us joined the Women’s Institute and what it means to be a member.
I’ve been in the WI since 2012; I joined because I wanted to meet people and make
new friends. I’d been bed bound, then house bound with ME for a long time and I was lonely; I wanted to get out and spend time with other young women. All I expected was a fun social evening once month, but it quickly became much more. I joined the committee, then went on to set up Swallowtail WI. For me, the WI is where I met my closest friends.
During Swallowtail’s own special birthday meeting, we asked everyone to write down their experience of what “The WI is...?”. In just a single sentence people expressed the essence of what the WI is and there were three recurring themes: friendship, cake and chat. I’m not surprised at their answers, we have lovely members, excellent cakes and great conversations at our WI.
People also shared how much they enjoyed learning new things. We have had some brilliant speakers and the topics are always very diverse. You never know what you’re going to learn from one month to the next. At the last meeting Kim from Romeo and Succulent gave us a talk on how to set up a terrarium, a small, self-contained garden in a glass jar or container. She made it fun and accessible, and I was inspired to go away and have a go.
Autumn has a back-to-school feel about it, it’s the time we start thinking about joining clubs and exploring new ventures. It’s no surprise that we always see a surge in visitors around this time, the WI has so much to offers.
I’m looking forward to getting to know the new members. Even now, eight years after I first joined the WI, it’s still helping me meet people and make new friends.
Cake is an essential part of the WI. We’re known for our Victoria sponges and on Norfolk Day we showed that we’re capable of baking much more: WIs across the county made cakes to share with their local communities. It was a great way to meet new people and help reduce isolation and loneliness, one of the WI’s resolutions.
I think cakes are a little bit of magic. Not just the way basic ingredients become delicious food, but in the way they bring people together and get them talking. The coffee break is one of the best parts of the Swallowtail meetings; it’s the perfect opportunity to get to know other members and I love taking time out from all the committee work to have a chat. Over the past four years, familiar faces have become good friends.
During our August meeting we had our annual summer social and potluck. If sharing cake helps start a conversation, having a whole meal together helps deepen the connections and friendships.
It felt a lot like a harvest festival and it reminded us of how much we have to be grateful for. We wanted to find a way to pay forward our abundance, so we decided to spend the rest of the meeting upcycling old t-shirts and turning them into shopping bags as part of an initiative between Norfolk WI and the Norwich and Kings Lynn Foodbanks.
The aim is to help reduce plastic waste, by making fabric bags for the Foodbanks to use instead of carrier bags.
If you would like to make a bag too, we’d love for you to get involved. The bags can be any design or material, but they must be a minimum 45cm (18”) square, with long handles to go over the shoulder. It’s a great way to use up stashes of fabric or repurpose old garments, like we did with the no-sew t-shirt bags.
By the end of the evening we had enjoyed good food, good fun and good conversation. Hopefully the bags we made will be infused with our joy and will bring those same experiences to others.
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In July we had a rubbish meeting but I really enjoyed it. By rubbish, I’m not talking about the evening or the speaker, I’m referring to the subject: we were discussing recycling with councillor John Fisher. David Attenborough’s documentary on plastic pollution showed we have a rapidly escalating problem and Swallowtail WI wanted to learn how we could lessen our impact on the environment.
We learnt that our recycling goes to the Materials Recovery Facility at Costessey and from there 90% of household recycling is sent to reprocessing plants in the UK and 10% is sent abroad. Cardboard is currently the only material sent to other countries, because no recycling facilities in the UK have enough capacity to deal with the amount we throw away. Plastic milk bottles and drinks bottles are sent on to Lancashire and mixed plastic pots, tubs and trays are sent to Kent.
Swallowtail WI attracts members from four different council boroughs and once we got past the conversation about why we all have different colour wheelie bins, we got down to a surprisingly interesting and engaging discussion on what we can and can’t put in our bins.
I didn’t know that it’s okay to put black plastic in the recycling, that you can leave metal caps and lids on glass jars and bottles, and little pieces of foil need to be scrunched up together to form a fist-sized ball, so they can be easily separated from paper.
It can sometimes be hard to decide which bin something goes in, but it’s important to avoid putting anything in the recycling that you’re unsure of, because around 14% of Norwich’s recycling is rejected due to contamination. Everything must be clean, dry & not in a bin bag. Dirty rubbish is another source of contamination and can spoil tonnes of perfectly recyclable waste.
There’s a helpful list on the Norfolk Recycles website that explains what you can and can’t recycle. I left feeling inspired and encouraged that steps are being taken to responsibly deal with our waste, but I think there’s room for us all to do more.
At our meeting, we also welcomed Earth Glade, an eco business run by Swallowtail Szara. She and her partner Dave gave us the chance to discover some of the eco-friendly products we can buy to help us become more environmentally friendly.
It was a great night with lively discussion on how to be better at helping the planet. One thing we could all agree on is that we want to do our bit to be more sustainable, and with the power of WI members all over the UK, we can make an impact.
One of the most wonderful things about the WI is how resilient our members are. When our speaker for June fell ill unexpectedly on the day of our meeting, it didn't take long for us to rally and find a replacement.
Fortunately, fire protection expert David Woodward of Tas Valley Fire came to the rescue to give us an incredibly informative and eye-opening talk about fire safety. As well as taking us through some of the common misconceptions about fire protection in the home, David also gave us an insight into the latest smoke detector tech. Having spent over three decades working for Norfolk Fire Service, David had plenty of fascinating stories about his career and the incidents he attended. We'll be recommending his services to other WIs, who may be interested in learning how to keep fire safe in their homes and workplaces.
Elsewhere, although 2020 feels like a long way away, WI committees are already planning their programme. It can be quite a daunting process to begin; with over forty members in Swallowtail WI, our challenge is to find something that everyone will enjoy. This year, we decided to hand our programme planning over to our members, by equipping everyone with a pen and Post-It note and asking them what or who they would like to see at our upcoming meetings.
As expected, we got a lot of different suggestions, from cookery demonstrations and crafting sessions, to meditation and bee keeping. One request was for creative writing, so I’m going to lead a workshop and also share my experience of winning the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and what it’s like to have my debut novel The Choice published by Orion.
That’s one month solved: how do we fill the rest of the year? Fortunately, the WI has a handy book of approved speakers, who have all been through the official audition process.
There are regular audition days throughout the year, when potential speakers have the chance to give their presentation in front of WI members. While friendlier than some of the Britain’s Got Talent judges, the ladies from the WI want to ensure that speakers are confident and their talks are interesting and entertaining.
You don’t need to be a professional speaker but you do need a good knowledge of your subject and be able to engage the audience. Visual aids are great, although not too long a slideshow and anything interactive is always popular. My favourites talks are the ones when everybody gets involved in the discussion.
At the end of the audition day, there’s a vote on whether the speakers will get Norfolk Federation’s official approval and make it into the hallowed Speakers Book. At the moment there are over one hundred and thirty speakers to choose from, covering subjects from local history, to forensic science, Bollywood dancing to a murder mystery game.
With so much to choose from, Swallowtail WI’s 2020 programme is going to be a lot of fun.
If you think the WI is just tea, cake and polite small talk, you haven’t sat through a resolutions meeting. You can expect a passionate debate.
The resolutions raise issues that are important to WI members and if voted in, the power of the WI is unleashed to bring about change for the better.
Last year we focused on the resolution “mental health matters as much as physical health”. This year we had two to consider.
“Call against the decline in rural bus services” focuses on the fact that over the last decade there has been a massive decline in the number of bus services. The WI has focused on alleviating loneliness and improving health and wellbeing, so the bus campaign is a natural extension. The resolution raised a lot of debate within my WI as to how we could meet the proposed objective. We agreed there needs to be a better partnership between the bus companies and community transport operators, but there was differing opinions on how this could be achieved.
The second resolution, “Don't Fear the Smear”, aims to encourage people to attend routine screening. We learnt that cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives a year, yet attendance is currently at its lowest for a decade.
The Swallowtail members debated that lots is already being done to raise awareness, from posters to media campaigns. We discussed the barriers people face in getting screened, from embarrassment and fear, to physically being able to get to an appointment.
A member told us about iCASH Norfolk, the modern version of a Family Planning clinic. Most of us had no idea of this service, so we realised that there are ways we could implement the resolution, just by making people aware of pre-existing services available across the county.
The discussion brought out lots of strong opinions, but this is what makes the WI so successful in its campaigns. The members truly care and when we get behind an issue, we’re determined to bring about change. If the resolutions pass, I’m sure this year we’ll do just that.
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