Stapleford WI update

Stapleford Women’s Institute

WI February/ March update

Stapleford WI report for March 2018 Messenger


Since our Christmas meeting with a banjo player to entertain members, some members have had a walk round Cambridge, been to several knitting and craft sessions, and the book group has met twice.


We have just had the first of this year’s full meetings, in which we discussed the proposals for this year’s national WI campaign(s). You may remember that the two topics that the WI is presently campaigning on are plastic in the ocean (especially microfibres that are released when we wash our clothes), and reducing loneliness. Members do what they can individually to aid these campaigns, or can work at the Cambridgeshire or national level.


All WI members have the chance to suggest an idea for a campaign (a “resolution”), and the national Campaigns Committee select a number (five this time) that are topical, achievable, and so on according to a set of criteria they have. Each member can then select which of these she would most like to go forward, and from these numbers collected from all over the country one or two are then chosen as resolutions. Members then get another chance to scrutinise the chosen resolutions and vote on whether they want just one or both to be adopted as official WI campaign issues. It sounds complicated and I’ve probably got some of the details wrong, but the idea is to make the process as democratic as possible.


The five resolutions we were looking at for the forthcoming campaign year were the following. All have been discussed in the media and by Parliament but plenty can still be done to keep the issues in the public eye and hopefully effect change.

1.     Positive body image in a digital age

2.     Stop female genital mutilation

3.     Raising awareness of modern slavery in the UK

4.     Mental health matters

5.     Healthier mouth, healthier body


Next month we have our AGM and choose the committee, review our activities, and so on. We already have a range of interesting speakers and activities planned for 2018.

All local women of any age are welcome to come and try us out.


WI December update

What a beautiful sunny day it was on 27th October  for collecting litter from the streets of Stapleford! Eleven Stapleford Women’s Institute members and one granddaughter (who got really enthusiastic) spent a ‘pleasant’ hour picking up litter from around the village, with bags, gloves and litter-picks kindly supplied by South Cambridge District Council. The majority of the litter was plastic bottles and drink cans - what a pity this is necessary.


In addition to cleaning up the village, we have been eating our harvest meal, reading books, crafting and knitting, taking part in a quiz, and look forward to our Christmas evening with a visiting musician. Members have had the opportunity to go on trips with other local groups eg to see William Morris’s Red House, to see Bill Turnbull, and a trip to see 42nd Street in London in the Spring. There is so much a WI member can do if she wishes, from local to national.


We don’t meet in January (sleeping off the mince pies!) so there won’t be a report for a couple of months.  

Helen Hale

WI November report 

This month we welcomed Vanessa Mann, talking about postcards from the Edwardian period. During this period around 6 billion items went through the post, and many of these were postcards – a bit different to today, when the main producer of postcards is going out of business.

Vanessa finds cards at stamp fairs and similar, and always tries to buy ones with a written message and a clear address and so on. She likes to do genealogical research on the recipient and the sender, out of interest and because she endeavours to “rehome” the card to a relative. She will send the card itself with her research to a close relative, or if it’s a more distant relative she’ll send a scan instead. She showed us some of the grateful e mails she’s received in return,  people are pleased to find out a little bit more about their family.

She shared many examples of humorous messages that she’d seen, and also talked about the “codes” people used to employ to be discreet in what was in effect a public message. For instance, words would be written back to front, or letters substituted for others. People would stick stamps at a particular angle to mean eg “I love you” or “You’ll never be mine”.

Vanessa said it’s a very inexpensive hobby, cards are very reasonable prices and the genealogy websites can be consulted free of charge in a local library. She showed us a book she has used called “What the Postman Saw” which has helped her.

Various interesting or poignant stories were shared, eg soldiers writing to their children from WW1, a black-edged mourning envelope, a card to a little girl travelling back to India after visiting family in Jersey, and a German card from a girl at finishing school in Germany.

Members brought along their own old postcards to show others over refreshments.

WI members also continue to knit and craft (together and independently), walk and eat, and read and discuss books – our next is “The Essex Serpent” by Sarah Perry, and we have recently read “The Children Act” by Ian McEwan and “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang, a Korean writer. We are doing another litter pick around the village at the end of October.

Nationally the WI campaigns on various important topics, often environmental – eg food waste particularly by supermarkets, and plastic in the ocean, for example that produced by washing clothes made of synthetic fibres. You may have heard Prince Charles raising the latter issue last week. It is a big enough organisation that it is listened to and can sometimes affect Government policies. I have more information about these campaigns if you’re interested.

Helen Hale                                                                


Membership enquiries to Sallie Dixon on 843847.

Stapleford WI August report


At our August meeting Stephen Poyser, a local beekeeper, spoke about keeping bees.


As gardeners we can help bumble bees by checking what they feed on in the spring and planting more of it, also by providing housing for them via an upturned terracotta plant pot with moss or fibreglass in it. Early in the year the only bumblebee you will see is a queen, so providing housing will protect a whole future colony.


Coming on to honeybees  - most beekeepers keep their bees in a type of tea chest, unlike the chocolate-box image of a traditional beehive. Bees have been around for 150 million years and have been kept by Man for the last 4,000 years . The cells that the beekeeper takes honey from are behind a barrier that the workers but not the queen can pass through, so there will be no larvae or eggs in this section. There can be up to 80,000 worker bees (sterile females) in a hive at the height of summer.

Once a worker has hatched, it cleans out its cell with an antiseptic called propolis, produced from the sap of needle-leaved trees or evergreens.  The queen will then lay a new egg in the cell, and can lay more than her own bodyweight of eggs in one day.

The bee will make royal jelly to feed new larvae. A queen is fed it for longer than an ordinary worker. The worker also collects nectar, helps to turn the nectar to honey, and makes wax to make new cells, either small ones for workers or bigger ones for drones, the fertile males. In the hive there will be 2 or 3 queen cells made. The hive needs to be kept at a constant temperature all year round, so workers fan their wings to make draughts, or fetch water to evaporate. In winter the beekeeper helps his bees survive by giving them sugar.

Drones lead a rather lazy life for about 3 weeks, but their moment of glory comes when the new virgin queens fly out to mate. There are certain favourite sites where drones all congregate (for instance there is one in Wandlebury) and the new queen will fly through the crowd. She will mate several times over a few days, and the sperm will last her for her lifetime. She will lay fertilized eggs for drones, and unfertilized ones for workers. Once the drones have mated they die.

Bees travel in a three-mile radius from the hive to collect nectar and pollen, and pass on details about good sites to each other by “dancing”. A side-effect of collecting nectar is of course fertilization of the flowers visited by picking up pollen. From looking at the pollen in honey we can see what flowers the bee has visited. To be eg clover honey, 95% of the pollen in the honey has to be clover pollen. Worker honeybees only live for six weeks and have a working life of three weeks. During this period they will fly approximately 400 miles.

At the end of his talk Stephen touched on a few topics eg honeymoons, honeydew, bee stings, allergies, and manuka honey. All honey has some antiseptic properties (peroxide) but manuka honey will kill bacteria. He thought it was a clever ploy on the part of the NZ government to market this honey, made from a plant that is very common, invasive, and scrubby.  And if you have old set honey, warm it in the microwave to soften it again. Don’t put it in landfill, as bees will feed on it, and if it’s foreign honey it could be carrying viruses etc that are harmful to our bees.

What a fascinating thing a bee colony is!

Other things the WI has been up to include a barbecue, craft evenings, knitting Twiddlemuffs for local dementia patients, and the book group. Upcoming we have a walk, a safari supper, and talks on the Titanic, and Edwardian postcards.

Membership enquiries to Sallie Dixon on 843847.


WI July report


 The WI prepared and served the supper to end the Village Weekend, and it was a very enjoyable time for everyone from the feedback we’ve received. We were all decked out in our (mainly) pink aprons to look the part as we served the salads and gorgeous home-made desserts. Djangophonix provided the lovely music which even got a few people dancing.



Our main meeting this month was on the theme of Street Art, at which our very own Steve Jones talked to us and showed hundreds of brilliant pictures from around the world. From basic tagging on a utility box by the side of a building to beautiful examples of public art, the best examples communicate “I’m here” and make the observer think or smile as they pass by. Our very own church has examples, one dated 1697!

Street art is found all over the world, and some of the oldest examples are handprints in caves in prehistoric times, inscriptions dating from the crusades, and in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul in the 9th Century.

Steve showed us examples of political art with slogans such as a banker with a placard round his neck saying “0% interest in people”; another from the time of the Olympics in London showed a child crouching down making a Union Jack flag. Art is often transient but the message gets across. The best example of this was a beautiful mosaic in a road spelling the word “pothole”, another hole had been planted with flowers and a little seat! Needless to say the potholes soon got fixed – any local creative people fancy marking up the ones round the village?

Artists often see things differently from the rest of us eg a bent bollard can become the Leaning Tower of Pisa; a crack in the rendering on the side of a house can be embellished to look like a leaf; a drain in the gutter can suddenly sprout a little man climbing out of it. Some art can be really small, for example one artist paints on the blobs of chewing gum on pavements and paints snails as they crawl along! Other street art can be huge in scale eg along a whole street to make it appear flooded; or a favela in Mexico where all the houses stacked up a hill were painted beautiful colours, making the area a tourist attraction rather than a slum.

Steve’s talk and pictures were absolutely fascinating, one of the best WI evenings I’ve attended. He concluded by reminding us that spray paints are available in many colours from B & Q!

Helen Hale

Membership enquiries to Sallie Dixon on 843847

WI June report e


Our last meeting was open to non-members as well as members, so there over 40 people there, including 17 non-members. We enjoyed a hilarious and interesting talk by Alan Gray, who was an umpire for many years at Wimbledon. In fact his connection with the tournament covers 60 years, as a spectator, player, linesman, trainer of ball boys, and so on. He retired in 2012 and now plays golf!

He told us plenty of little-known facts about Wimbledon, for example it is on live TV in 180 countries around the world. 19 courts are used, 662 matches are played, 230,000 glasses of Pimms are drunk each year. Did you know there is a Poet Laureate for the year, who writes a poem for each of the 13 days of play?

Alan was the umpire to whom John McEnroe said the famous “You cannot be serious…..” comments, following which the code of conduct for players was set up. He also witnessed Boris Becker trying to sneak in a bit of physiotherapy during a toilet break! He has known the Murrays for years, and remembers Andy as a very hyperactive fidgety kid.

Other topics touched on included the grunting of some players (how many decibels is acceptable?), drugs, illegal betting, the Queen, cocktail parties, whether “Hawkeye” will mean there will be no need for line judges in the future, and Fiona Walker, the girl whose well-known picture of her rear view made a lot of money for the photographer, her then-boyfriend, but none for her.

Alan is a very “people person”. He talked about the importance of reassuring the loser of a point, so he/she doesn’t feel unfairly treated, and meeting Ian Hislop and joking with him. His ideal job would be being in charge of the strawberries and cream!

We kept in the spirit of the evening by having these for refreshments, with a glass of prosecco. There was also a flower-arranging competition (in white flowers, what else?) for the Janet Smith cup, which was won by Pat Hughes.

All in all, a very enjoyable time in the Pavilion on a beautiful sunny evening!

Helen Hale

All enquiries about membership, please ring Sallie Dixon 01223 843847

Women’s Institute


We didn’t have a speaker in April, but held a Desert Island Odyssey evening. Members had been invited to send in details of their favourite music, books, what they would miss, and to say what food they would eat as soon as they got back to civilisation. On the evening around 12 members were interviewed, so we found out a bit more about our fellow members. Some examples - one lady would take the music to Swan Lake, as despite being a tomboy as a child and refusing to learn ballet, her aunt took her to watch Swan Lake and she’s loved watching ballet ever since. Another member had been working in an Outward Bound school in Devon as a young girl, and the only record they had was Annie Get Your Gun – so that music always brings back fond memories to her. Favourite books included Cider With Rosie, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and a huge variety of other titles. We were a practical bunch, as we’d quickly look to build a shelter and find water and food, only one or two of us thought trying to escape was more important. We nearly all preferred a hot desert island to a cold one! The thing most of us would miss was communication with the outside world – the human voice, in person, on the phone or on Radio 4. Several members would miss a roast dinner the most, others would miss various cakes, sausages, and in one case marmite and lettuce sandwiches! Samples of these various foods (excepting the roast dinners) were passed around to share. All in all a really enjoyable evening, and lovely to find out more about each other.


At our next meeting (4th May) we will be discussing the Resolutions that the WI is proposing to take up as national campaigns this coming year.  This year the proposals are Alleviating Loneliness and the environmental hazard of Microplastic Fibres from our clothing (not plastic bags, but synthetic textiles).


The meeting after that, on 31st May, is a public meeting so partners and friends will be welcome. You can find out about life as a Wimbledon umpire!


In addition to our monthly meetings we have a lively book club, a walking group, and have craft and knitting afternoons.

Enquiries about membership should be made to Sallie Dixon on 843847.

Helen Hale

The speaker at our October meeting was Sarah Harrison, president of Morden and District Writers' Circle and a member of the Morden Players drama group, both based in Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire. Born into a military family, Sarah had little stability in her early years being moved between the UK, Germany and the Far East before settling, at age nine, in an English boarding school. As a child, Sarah described herself as a daydreaming, scribbling child who entertained her chums by writing stories. After reading English at London University, she spent four years working on Woman’s Own for IPC Magazines before going freelance to follow her dream of becoming a fictional author.

Her first two books were turned down at the time but have since been published.  Later, she was commissioned to write a book set in the First World War but with a women’s angle. Sarah was well placed to do this because she came from a military background. That book turned out to be The Flowers of the Field, her best seller.

Contrary to what you may expect, Sarah did not dwell on her literary achievements but entertained us with nostalgic episodes of life. She grabbed our attention by asking how many remembered various household products such as chemico, flit and thorpic and we all began to reminisce with amusement about the differences between life today and times past. One of her pastimes is reading signs as she travels around the countryside and she provoked much laughter as she described signs for ‘Nunnery Stud’ and ‘Emergency WC 20 miles ahead’!

The walking group recently endured a very wet walk around Trumpington Meadows and we all agreed that it is taking shape nicely so we would like to return in a few months’ time to appreciate it in better weather.

The next meeting will be on Thursday 3rd November 2016 at 7:45pm in the Johnson Hall. This is our Harvest Supper for which the committee will prepare and serve a sausage casserole. The competition will be for a ‘cheesecake’ so we hope to receive lots of entries which will be cut up for our dessert course.

TWIDDLEMUFFS - A Twiddlemuff is a double thickness hand muff with bits and bobs attached inside and out. It is designed for sufferers of Alzheimer's, arthritis and dementia. People with these conditions often have restless hands and like to have something to keep their hands occupied. It provides a wonderful source of visual, tactile and sensory stimulation whilst keeping hands snug and warm.

Stapleford WI have, so far, knitted in excess of 150 muffs for Addenbrookes Hospital and would welcome requests from readers who have a friend or relative who might benefit from using a Twiddlemuff (free of charge). Requests to

                                                                                                Pat Hughes  

New members are always welcome.....enquiries please contact Sallie Dixon 01223 843847