My report to members in October last year ended with this paragraph,
“we have big plans for 2020, which marks our fifth anniversary as a W.I. in Bretherton, and a hundred years of W.I.s in Lancashire. I am not sure exactly which of the many ideas the committee have come up with will be pursued, but I am certain that whatever we do will make a splash, and will involve our members enjoying new challenges and social opportunities, while raising money for good causes”.
And that now seems like another life entirely. The Annual Meeting at which that report was presented saw a good number of members enjoying a shared “Jacob’s Join”, chatting with friends, selecting two charities to support, and approving some of the early celebration plans for our fifth birthday including awarding bursaries, a possible trip to Denman, a “Bretherton Big Bash” fundraiser, and various ideas for speakers and trips out. In December we held another successful Christmas party and a very enjoyable pre-Christmas trip to Chatsworth House, and in the early New Year the monthly soup lunches co-ordinated by Liz Ellis and Linda Bennett were extremely popular and really taking off as another contribution to village life. Enthused by our February speaker, members collected newspapers and other items for Chorley Hedgehog Rescue, and enjoyed meetings of the craft and dining groups.
That was normal for us all then – a busy W.I. enjoying ourselves, learning new things and contributing to our community. But by March, with Covid 19 spreading wildly all around us, those of us who still attended the Centenary Annual Meeting for LFWI in Southport nervously passed hand sanitiser down the row and wondered how much longer we could continue as we were. That evening, Bretherton was again at the cutting edge, since our speakers were talking about personal finance on the day the stock market fall broke all records – but I have to concede that was not really a coincidence to celebrate.
Sadly, that was to be our last meeting “in real life” this year, and as I write this report it seems unlikely that we will be able to meet all together again until about March 2021, a whole year later. Unthinkable in 2019, that our W.I. would shut down for an entire year – and, thank goodness, unthinkable in 2020, because although we have had to change ways of doing almost everything we have still been very much a busy W.I. enjoying ourselves, learning a great deal and contributing to village life.
Before lockdown even started, Barbara Farbon was instrumental in setting up a “Covid support” What’s App group with others across the village, offering practical help to residents in need of shopping, company and support while shielding. We were then approached by an anonymous donor who entrusted the W.I. with a sum of money hoping no-one in Bretherton would go hungry as a result of the pandemic. We used our local contacts to identify village residents in need, and provided help in the form of grocery vouchers. Based on the same model, we have since been able to secure further funding from the local authority Covid support fund, which has enabled us to extend the support, and we are currently waiting to hear whether our application for Lottery Funding has been successful. This scheme has been administered through our W.I funds (ring fenced) with complete confidentiality and has involved extra work in particular for our Treasurer Toni Davies, Cath Marchbank (Vice President) and Secretary Barbara Farbon. It has been very greatly appreciated by recipients, many of whom have sent moving expressions of thanks. With the impact of redundancy, furloughing nearing the end, and enormous problems for self-employed people, it has been so good to be able to help just a little and to make people’s days brighter.
I think that, like most people, I would have described “Zoom” as something to do with a camera lens if I had been asked earlier this year, and I wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about learning more technology. However, it soon became apparent that our W.I. was going to have to adapt if we were going to continue meeting as a committee and trying to plan some events for members. Thankfully, we were able to benefit from Barbara Farbon’s IT skills, and she soon got the committee up and running with remote meetings, trying various options until we got something that accommodated everybody.
Since April, the entire committee have been absolutely fantastic. Some were shielding, some trying to continue working, and all no doubt anxious for their families and continuing with commitments elsewhere. Despite this, everybody attended more frequent committee meetings, and came up with ideas to try. Early on, we decided to set up a “buddy” system and each committee member became responsible for maintaining contact with a small group of members, with the aim of ensuring all our members had somebody to call and hopefully also enjoying a chat every so often. We also arranged a “scone drop” for our shielding members in June, with everybody on the committee contributing scones, time, jam or delivery and Liz Ellis making all the plates look wonderful. Gwenifer Jackson has efficiently continued her role as pastoral co-ordinator, sending much appreciated cards and messages to members. In June, we held our first monthly meeting for members on Zoom, with a speaker, general chat, and even an attempt at singing Jerusalem – although it turned out that really wasn’t something to repeat! Encouraged by their success, several committee members stepped up to present a “Cocktails, Mocktails and Canapes” session from our own kitchens for the July meeting, with several members joining in with drinks at home. In August we arranged a socially distanced visit to Jacky Iddon’s lovely garden, where members admired the flowers and enjoyed a chat in glorious sunshine. In order to make these and future meetings work, the committee have had to contact quite a range of people to enquire whether they have presentations available to run on Zoom. Several are adapting now, and Linda Bennett was successful in persuading Elizabeth Sibbering to speak again about Victorian life in the North West - her presentation on “Cottonopolis” was very enjoyable in September.
Meanwhile our groups have been providing members with additional options to get together. It has been frustrating at times, with government guidelines hard to interpret and then changing just as we had cracked them! Undaunted, many members were involved in making scrubs and ear bands for the NHS, knitting rainbows to show our support and to assist the food bank, and making items for families of children in hospital. These were all co-ordinated by our craft groups led by Barbra Bertram and Barbara Farbon. As soon as she could, Rosie Stanfield got us all out walking again, socially distanced and in groups of six throughout the summer. It has been wonderful to exercise, chat and enjoy the wildlife and discover more about our local area. Recently, a small group of us have started “slow running”, again under Rosie’s expert guidance, and I think we are enjoying it far more than we thought we would!
In July, we went ahead with a scarecrow festival that had originally been planned as part of a much bigger “Bretherton Big Bash” event. Cath Marchbank, Barbara Farbon and Toni Davies got publicity underway, arranged prizes, distributed entry forms and printed maps, and we were amazed by the amount of entries and interest we received. A lot of our members made scarecrows or walked round the village admiring other people’s and it was great to see the village enjoying a community event, despite us choosing one of the few bad weather weeks of the summer!
We haven’t been able to hold a fund raiser event this year, and members have agreed that our chosen charities, Leyland Women’s Refuge and Galloways, will also be our charities next year, when hopefully we can get out and about again a bit more. However, unfortunately lockdown precipitated a massive increase in work for the Refuge, and they needed urgent help for women moving on into their own new homes. Many of our members have donated generous amounts of bedding, kitchenware, crockery etc, and as co-ordinator it has been nice for me to chat on the front path as members deliver items to my porch! We have had heartfelt thanks from the Refuge, and appreciation for the cards and notes of encouragement which some members added.
In August, we learnt that Bretherton Parish Council has nominated the W.I. for a Sheriff’s Award in recognition of our community contribution during the pandemic. Even if we don’t win, it is a fantastic endorsement of the efforts of our members just to be nominated.
We will be holding our Annual Meeting as usual in October, via Zoom and also contacting members by email and phone to make sure everyone has the chance to vote and express her views. I would like to record my heartfelt thanks to everybody on the committee for stepping up to the challenge of keeping Bretherton W.I going during a pandemic, for learning new skills to enable them to do so, and for their energy, enthusiasm and good humour. I am delighted to say that most of the committee are willing to remain, but it is sadly time to say goodbye for now to Chris Moor and Gemma Ainscough. Chris has unfortunately been suffering from significant health problems throughout the year, and surgery that will hopefully assist her has been postponed twice due to CoVid. Chris feels this is not the time for her to remain on the committee, but I am delighted to say that, having built up the role of ACWW representative, Chris will retain this responsibility and very much hopes to take a more active part in the W.I. again in the future. Gemma has brought a breath of fresh air and abundant enthusiasm to our committee, and her deliveries to the lucky recipients of our flower raffle, always with a smile, have been greatly appreciated. Gemma has stepped up for every challenge over the last few months, and even found herself demonstrating mocktail making online, much to her surprise and our appreciation. Gemma feels she must now prioritise her work commitments, after struggling like so many others during lockdown, and of course we wish her well. I’m delighted to add that she will keep up the flower deliveries until the end of the year, and is now a keen slow-runner!
We know we will need to keep adapting, thinking creatively and trying not to get too frustrated when – for example – the “rule of six” disappears just as Elaine Dean was trying to get the dining group up and running again. Our recent poll of members shows that over half of you would love to meet up again in person, which of course we cannot now arrange, but it is so good to know that our members are turning to the W.I. to provide some respite in these difficult times. We may have had everything turned upside down this year, but actually I think we can say we have made a splash, developed new skills, had some fun, and contributed to village life despite it all, and we can be proud of that as a fifth birthday celebration!
Jane Elphick. President.
Well what a year we have had! Who could have imagined what has happened in the last ten months.It has been very strange indeed. In January we began enthusiastically and by February we had 55 Active members on our books, 51 of these being Full members and 4 Dual. We welcomed new members and had a few visitors who were keen to join. Then CoVid struck and the March meeting was much depleted because fears of mixing in groups were already on everyone’s minds. I was away on holiday as March was unfolding and I returned on 13th March to a very different country than the one I had left on the 4th.
Nevertheless, we soldiered on, as a group we continue to be more informal than most and I now know that we are also very resilient and able to cope with changes. We were one of the first branches in the federation to embrace electronic meetings and we also were one of the most active groups in relation to our community. We should all be very proud of the group for what has been done to help our members and village residents during the pandemic and it is not over yet. We must be one of the most friendly and welcoming groups around.
We ended 2019 with 52 members on the books. We lost one member, Tilly Dagnall who moved house and was also very busy with her developing business but we hope she may come back at some time in the future. We were joined by Alison Ryan, Julie Rogers, Theresa Milton and Jean Roberts to give us the new total of 55. Jean is a dual member and has been in Croston WI for some time. Theresa is a friend of Esther, Alison was new to the village last year and Julie joined us in January after much research which led her to decide that we were the sort of WI she wanted to be part of, our reputation goes ahead of us!
Taking a look at attendance since we started to collect data, the figures this year cannot really be compared! In previous years our meetings have had an attendance of between 30 and 40. This year of course we suspended meetings in April and May while we considered the options available and after gaining confidence in using Zoom for our committee meetings we ventured into the world of online gatherings, firstly with a walking group chat and then with a craft group chat. These went well and so in June we invited Dr Kate Vigurs to talk to us about the History of Gin. 28 members signed in that evening which made us extremely proud! There was then the Cocktails Mocktails and Nibbles that was led by several committee members in July and was attended by 22 members. In August we organised an afternoon visit to Jacky Dagnall’s garden and offered time tabled slots. Our most recent meeting in September brought 21 members to the screen and we enjoyed an excellent talk by Sibby on ‘Cottonopolis’ The online meeting seems to be the way forward at the moment and we have several ideas planned for the next few months.
Looking at the figures, it is very reassuring to see that our average attendance is only down by 2 over the period. We were boosted considerably by the January figures which must represent a record for us. We usually have high attendance in December but at the last minute in 2019 there were a few people who sent apologies because of illness.
More than ever, we have realised over the past few months how important it is to communicate!! We have tried our best with the ‘buddy’ system and the introduction of What’s App groups for Walking, Slow Running and Craft and also for ‘FUN’. What fun we have had in the FUN group, reading some of the witty (no pun intended) video clips and songs and jokes, many sourced by Sue Banks. If you are not in any of those groups but want to be please let me know and I will add you to the lists. Last year I commented that the web site was in need of an overhaul, so at the beginning of lockdown I updated it and have tried to keep it more up to date than previously. We also have the face book page which many of you view regularly. The new templates on the web site make it much easier to upload photographs so please continue to send me any pictures of things you have done in lockdown and I will do my best to give you a space. We continue to use e mail too and the regular e mails seem to be popular with members.
Federation events and courses
All Federation activities came to a halt during lockdown which was so sad as like us with our 5th they had an even bigger birthday this year with their centenary. We hope that retrospective celebrations will happen for us and for the federation.
Barbara Farbon Secretary
Committee for 2020-21
All the officers were re-elected for another year. Two committree members resigned - Gemma Ainscough and Chris Moor and they were replaced by Alison Ryan and Cath Kershaw.
This year has been difficult for everybody but we have managed to get through it without too much damage to our finances.
Total income for the year was £6905.88 compared to £8882.54 for the previous year. The difference being reduced activities and meetings from which we would derive funds. The total also includes £4000, a community grant from Chorley Council which we are distributing to the local community in the form of Morrisons shopping vouchers at £50 per recipient. We have distributed £2000 so far, leaving a further £2000 to process. Also in the year’s receipts is £211.88 which has been collected for the WI’s chosen charity ACWW and this will be paid shortly.
Total outgoings for the year were £5455.19 compared to £6,665.53 last year, again down due, mainly, because of reduced activities and opportunities to raise funds.
For the year we have a cash surplus of £7212.14 which given the above community grant distribution and ACWW payment means we have £5000 free cash for the coming year, compared with £5455 for the previous. Given it is likely that we will not be having collective meetings and not be able to organise fund raising events, then we should consider how to use funds this coming year.
Ode to Bretherton WI 5th Birthday
Id o began ad buk club on a winters neet
Evin a chat, a glass o wine an cake t’eat
A retire soon, wod am a bahnd ta do, Jane said wi a sigh
Da ya think we cud sturt a Bretherton W.I.?
Wi o set an pondurd a bit thunderstruck.
Well id wud mek a change frum readin a buk.
Wi ed sum meetins ad Janes an Ruth steered us thru
Leddus know wod wi cud an cuddund do.
September 2015 fost meetin wur set up an seed wur sowed
Id wer awesum seet o them folk flockin dahn road
Skoo room wur full an lots of ideas wur brought
Events an speakers, an charities ta support.
New groups ev bin formed wi walkers an keepfitters
Theatre an trips aht, sewers and knitters.
Thurs allis summat different ta do
Av even dun sewing an na thanks ta Rosie am a dab hand wi sum glue
Soup kitchen wur set up fur a munda lunch
A grand success thanks ta thad happy bunch
2020 cum along time fur wur big birthday bash
Then Covid struck an o wur plans wur dashed
Bud W.I. didund sit back an wait
Thi organised buddies, delivered food t’gate.
Wiv o getten I.T. savvy, na wi con zoom,
Ids nearly like bein int same room
So Many thanks ta o committee members past and present
Bud especially Jane, you’re a fost class president
So cheers everyone, Pretend it’s a ball
Happy Birthday One and All.
Written and performed in Lancashire dialect by Joan Bullen on Thursday 8th October 2020