Herefordshire People: The Women's Institute: Making Our Voices Heard

PUBLISHED: 16:16 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013



The Women's Institute is continuing its long tradition of campaigning on issues that matter to us all.

The Women's Institute is continuing its long tradition of campaigning on issues that matter to us all.

Say "WI", and the immediate image is often one of ladies jam-making and singing Jerusalem. Many ladies still do both; I for one wield my jam pan several times a year making marmalades, jams and chutneys, and we all sing "Jerusalem" with great gusto at our national AGM.
But did you know that since the first Women's Institute was formed in 1915, its members have campaigned on a wide variety of issues concerning all aspects of rural life and the environment?
WI mandates have always been relevant to the current situation, and some that were proposed many years ago remain relevant. We fought against the closure of post offices in 1971 and, unfortunately, we still need to protest about this threat..
But if I asked you what do "feathers in hats", "screening for breast cancer", "litter", and "schooling" have in common, you might not realise that the answer to this is also "The WI".
Way back in 1921, WI members thought there was an excessive use of exotic birds' feathers in hats, and encouraged members to support the Plumage Bill that was going through Parliament. "Keep Britain Tidy" was formed in 1955 because of WI campaigning; and it was due to pressure from the WI that in 1975 clinics for breast cancer screening were set up.
In the 1970s the WI "urged Her Majesty's Government and Local Authorities to restrict the closure of small schools after considering the effects not only on the children but on village communities as a whole". So the WI added its voice of protest when, recently, the people of Herefordshire were told of the proposed imminent closure of many schools.
But what are the new issues at the beginning of the 21st century? Environmental awareness and "green" issues are very much in the forefront. Last year the WI set a challenge to all its members to reduce their carbon footprint by signing up to the "WI Carbon Challenge", and to date nearly 10,000 have done so. This includes using locally sourced produce - an easy option in Herefordshire - which will cut transportation costs; reducing one's own travel; and using less power within the home and working environment.
We are concerned about excess packaging of food-stuffs, the overuse of plastic carrier bags, and the amount of rubbish being generated but not recycled. A well-attended information day about all the varied methods of composting was held recently by HFWI.
And last year, the Herefordshire Federation, together with the NFU, held a public meeting to raise awareness of the unfair difference between the retail price of milk and the price paid to the farmer.
Whereas in the 1920s we were concerned about birdlife, this year, at the National AGM, WI members will be discussing the problems of bottom-trawling of the seabeds, which causes catastrophic loss of marine life. Also on the agenda is the inappropriate imprisonment of the severely mentally ill.
So when you think of the WI, don't think just of jam, but also of a campaigning group of ladies who are making their voices heard.

Where does our food come from?

This is the Year of Food and Farming, and what better way to celebrate it than to involve children, which Moccas WI did in March. They invited children from three local toddler groups (Moccas, Madley and Staunton-on-Wye) to an activity morning in the village hall.
The children sowed cress seeds in an eggshell, which they could then take home to watch them grow; they decorated cakes, learning where the ingredients came from; and they made Shaun the Sheep paper plates and made cut-out pictures of farm animals and equipment.
Outside the hall the youngsters were introduced to livestock brought by local farmers. There were free-range hens, ewes and lambs for everybody to see and touch, and to learn how they were being reared in the Herefordshire countryside.
To finish the morning off the children and mums took part in egg and spoon races.
Afterwards Moccas WI President, Julia Whittall, said "These young children were able to have fun as well as try and understand a little more about the food they eat, and where it comes from. I think many of the parents learned something too!"


During the next few months WI members in Herefordshire will be:

Learning about and walking round the market town of Leominster
Visiting the Welsh National Assembly buildings in Cardiff
Appreciating ballet
Travelling to Liverpool for the National AGM
Visiting the historic city of Amsterdam
Walking the Begwyns

For more information about the WI in Herefordshire please visit the WI website at, or contact us at WI House on 01432 272268

( 3 images supplied: Herefordshire WI members with their environmentally friendly bags.

Toddlers at the Year of Food and Farming morning in Moccas.)

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