Plenty of belly laughs at latest WI meeting

December 02 2013

WITH a pile of national and local press cuttings under their belt, the pressure was on to make the first meeting of the Bromley Heath WI a huge success.

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WITH a pile of national and local press cuttings under their belt, the pressure was on to make the first meeting of the Bromley Heath WI a huge success.

And was it?

It certainly was! An impressive 180 members turned up at the meeting held recently at Bromley Heath Junior School.

Professional belly dancers took the ladies through strategic moves as they shimmied the night away.

After all that exercise, they tucked into cake and drank tea as they discussed plans for the future.

The women captured the imaginations of the nation’s media when it was reported in publications like the Daily Mail and the Express how an amazing 350 ladies queued to join the new organisation back in October.

President Sam Burch, who started the ball rolling with a message on Facebook saying ‘A Bromley Heath WI. Anybody up for it?’, was even interviewed by BBC Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans on his popular breakfast show.

Already it has been confirmed the group is the largest in the Avon federation area and members are waiting to find out if it is the biggest in the country.

A total of 224 women signed up and the group has now reached capacity.

However members have been encouraging other women to set up further branches and already there is talk of a Downend WI.

Sam, 41, a mum-of-two, said there was a great spirit of camaraderie at the first meeting.

“It went really well. We were incredibly pleased with the turnout. We worked out a plan to get everyone in as we didn’t want a queue like last time. We had enough cake – which was really important!

“We split the group in two and everyone had a go at belly dancing and learnt a routine. Everyone had sticky labels with their names on which made it a lot easier for people to get to know each other.”

Already sub groups have been formed to cater for different interests.

Sam, a civil servant, said:  “We are one of the biggest groups in the country, and may be the biggest but the National Federation of Women’s Institutes hasn’t been able to tell me that yet, so we are well aware that it may be a little tricky get people together as easily as a smaller group. 

We have set up sub groups like In Stitches so anyone who is into sewing, crochet or cross stitch can get together. There’s also a book group and gardening club.”

Additional workshops will be held throughout the year so women can learn skills like cupcake decorating, Christmas wreath design and cocktail making.

Other possibilities include a theatre group, lamp-shade making, car mechanics and how to recycle old furniture.

Sweet Lavender Blue florist and WI member Victoria Veasey will pass on some of her Christmas floristry skills at the group’s second meeting, which will be held on December 5. 

Using a projector screen so everyone can see, Victoria will show the ladies how to make a festive centrepiece for the table from foliage and flowers and talk them through the art of gift wrapping.

Did Sam expect the nation’s media would be interested in Bromley Heath WI?

“Goodness me, no! We were in the Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Express and the Mirror and I was the surprise guest on Chris Evans the following Thursday.

“He was very nice but it was quite nerve racking. I spoke to the National Federation and they said they had been inundated with press and media queries.

“I think the WI has had a reputation of being a bit old-fashioned even though they’ve always done very strong campaign work but people are starting to realise that, yes they may do things like crafts and knitting, but also people are learning new skills and getting to know new people.

“We always wanted the group to be community based and to improve our community. The more we get to know each other, the more we can try to work on things to improve our area.”

Future plans including forming a choir and the group is now looking for a choirmaster. If you can help, contact Bromley Heath via their Facebook page.