In accordance with the British Government guidelines, to try to reduce the spread of COVID 19 Coronovirus, all WI activities were cancelled as the national lockdown began on 23rd March 2020. The Heatons WI Committee held their first meeting via Zoom video conferencing in the first week of April. The importance of keeping in touch with and supporting members was highlighted at that meeting. Weekly bulletins were instigated, which were issued to all members providing support for anyone who needed help during the initial weeks of lockdown. The normal newsletter resumed in late April, containing links and useful information.
Then, as we got to grips with technology, exciting things started to emerge:
WhatsApp groups were formed. Our Culture Club already had a WhatsApp group but that soon morphed into our daily chat platform keeping many members connected. It proved to be invaluable when we were seeking out flour and other essentials and has since provided support, a lot of laughs and reminiscences and has helped us to realise that we are not alone in coping with the demands of restrictions and lockdowns.
The Craft Group WhatsApp was set up in March, followed by Ginspiring Women. Since those early days, we now have seven groups including our Themed Thursday group and Book Chat. Some groups are also meeting on a regular basis via Zoom.
A teddy bear tree, using teddies from past yarn storming events, was erected in a member’s garden and a number of members joined the teddy trails that became very popular in the Heatons during the first lockdown. One of our members introduced weekly quizzes, sent out via email, which have continued over the months and have proved very popular. Another member began posting walks on our Facebook page which encouraged members to venture a little further afield for their exercise as and when restrictions allow.
In May, a gift of a geranium pot plant was delivered to the members by the Committee.
Little did we know that the introduction of Themed Thursdays in May would prove so enjoyable and help to highlight that we are a really competitive crowd. Challenges have included creating rainbows, story-telling in under ten words, photographing bees, family recipes, castaway choices, teatime, old wives’ tales, paper crafts, gardens on a tea plate, Olympic Games memories, a virtual arboretum for VJ Day, biscuits, our harvest produce, school prizes and secret talents, pet hates, Haiku poems, autumn colours, bonfire night recipes and childhood treasures and, more recently, what is keeping our moods uplifted during the third lockdown. When challenged to post three statements about ourselves, two true and one false, we learned a lot about each other, not least that some of us are very good fibbers! Our very grateful thanks go to our Planning Team for their inspired themes and challenges. The idea has even been copied by a WI in British Columbia, Canada.
No meetings were held in March, April or May of 2020 but in May the Heatons WI Committee asked members if they would be interested in holding meetings over the internet, using Zoom video conferencing. Over half the membership expressed an interest in this. With the technological expertise of one of our member’s daughters, we held our first Zoom monthly meeting on Thursday, 18th June, to celebrate our 12th birthday. Random breakout rooms at Zoom meetings were introduced at the October meeting to enable us to chat to a few other members. Feedback from this has been very encouraging and members have said how lovely it is to speak to members they hadn’t met before.
Notable speakers have included talks from Murray Jacobs, who took us around the must-sees of Cambridge, David Winnard, who gave an excellent talk about the wildlife of Greater Manchester, Ivan Moss from the Heaton Moor Tai Chi Centre, who encouraged us to join in exercises from the comfort of our own homes, Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and the Sudan at Manchester University and Professor Melanie Tebbutt, an expert in British social and cultural history at Manchester Metropolitan University who spoke about the Returning Home project, in which one of our members is taking part.
Our members have also enjoyed the Zoom talks presented by Cheshire Federation, the NEC Group and other WIs on subjects ranging from gardening, inspirational books, yoga and a talk by a recent Bake-off contestant.
July saw the first of our coffee mornings in the parks. When restrictions allow, we meet in socially distanced groups twice a week at local parks. Poor weather restrictions haven’t deterred members, as is seen in the picture on the left.
The Resolutions Group meets monthly to discuss the campaigns we are supporting and to organise the logistics around being able to vote for the proposed 2021 campaigns.
We were very proud when we learned during the year that our Vice President, Angela, had qualified as a WI Advisor, after many months of studying, attending courses and wrangling with the vagaries of the internet. She will advise other WIs in the NECG but, for us, she’s just our hard-working Committee member.
Two of our members had been especially busy with their sewing machines during the first lockdown. Hundreds of facemasks and much-needed PPE items and accessories vital to the NHS were made.
The 15th August 2020 was the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, marking both the surrender of Japan and the end of the Second World War. Members of the Heatons WI marked the event by attending socially distanced garden parties and posting family memories on WhatsApp. One member was invited to attend the UK’s National VJ Day event held at the National Memorial Arboretum, representing her father who was a Far Eastern Prisoner of War in Sumatra.
News reports on our activities have regularly appeared in the NECG newsletter and we were proud to have two articles published in the Christmas edition of Cheshire News.
Fundraising for our 2020 chosen charity, Henshaws, will be relaunched as soon as we are able to. However, we have been able to support other local charities, such as Handy Ladies, a group who have been preparing and delivering free hot meals to those in need, The Wellspring, a charity for the homeless, a foodbank and our local dementia support group. In September collections were made in lieu of an actual coffee morning for Macmillan Cancer Support. £640 was raised by WI members and friends.
Although we were unable to lay wreaths at official ceremonies at the war memorials on Remembrance Sunday due to the COVID regulations, wreaths were later laid by members at local churches.
By the time of our Christmas Party, we had really got to grips with Zoom meetings and four members organised a Call my Bluff quiz. The Heatons WI Choir performed our WI’s version of The 12 Days of Christmas and wonderful prizes were won in the grand raffle.
Christmas “meetings in a bag” were delivered to members by the Committee, providing the chance of a socially distanced face-to-face chat.
The New Year brought the third lockdown and, with it, new challenges. The short days and bad weather added to the general gloom that was felt by the nation and many members found this period difficult. However, with the first signs of Spring and the launch of the vaccine programme, there is hope for a brighter future. Members of our WI are volunteering at vaccination centres in the region and others have helped in various ways in our local community, which proves that we have a very special group of ladies in our WI.
Despite not being able to meet in person, three new members have joined us during the current year. We know we will lose members at the end of this year as they have moved away from the area but we continue to receive enquiries from those wishing to join our WI.
Sadly, in January, we lost one of our members to the virus and other members have had bereavements over the last twelve months for various reasons but we remain strong and are proud that we can support each other during the difficult times, with the hope that it won’t be too long before we can meet again.
Sally S., Secretary, The Heatons WI 16th February 2021