Inspiring women to learn new skills in a fun environment

Inspiring women to learn new skills in a fun environment

Behind The Scenes (or How We’re Learning Not To Panic) PDF Print E-mail


By Liz Hughes - President


As we are now in our third year I think the time has come to say we have finally learnt Not To Panic!  Yes, things continue to go wrong, but we rectify it - or more often just muddle through - and inevitably it is alright on the night.  So this piece of the website is having a lie down for the moment.  To be resurrected when something momentous happens and I am prepared to let you in on the ensuing nightmare. (running a WI a complete doddle? Of course it is!)

October 2013:

This month we have a speaker, always a bit of a relief as it is so much easier to organise!  But as we were wrestling with the organisation of the Barn Dance at the same time it was nice to have a quiet month meeting-wise.  We were given an introduction to Major Claire who was very obliging - she said her mother was ina WI and she had spoken to them at one point, though when she saw our numbers she did say her mother's WI was nothing like ours!  The only fly in the ointment on the night was that when we walked in that evening the powers that be at the theatre suddenly announced we could no longer use the kitchen! With their excitement at opening their new cafe they had completely forgotten about the WI being unable to function without tea and cakes.  There were some rushed and hushed 'conversations' and we cobbled something together for the night, but further discussions will be taking place....!

September 2013:

Our main area of worry this month was that the Ian Goodchild Centre was in total disarray due to new flooring being laid.  The day before we were told we couldn't use our hall but could use the auditorium in the theatre.  That seemed fine, we would have a nice wooden floor for all that Bollywood dancing, and, as it turned out, a lot more space.  Only problem was there was no kitchen, so we had to lug flasks for the hot drinks, the urn and various other things we needed from a disused kitchen that was covered in dust.  We couldn't get into our own cupboard in our own kitchen.  But still...worse things happen at sea!  And the change of scenery did us all good.  Can't wait to see the improvements in 'our' room now.


July 2013:

We were concerned people weren't going to bring antiques and they would get bored hanging around, so we got in our Records Man (my husband) as well to give something else to look at.  As it happens everyone came laden with goodies so we needn't have worried. We had planned for the antique dealers to sit one at each of three tables to help with the queuing situation, but they had other plans and wanted to sit together so they could confer.  A bit of lateral thinking with raffle tickets provided a good solution.  Due to a variety of reasons only four of the nine strong committee members were available that night so we all had umpteen jobs.  Also only two of the "kitchen staff' turned up and none of us really knew how many teabags to put in the catering kettle!  As usual, we muddled through and everyone got a drink!

June 2013:

Very little to report for this night.  We borrowed a Racing Video (two of us having vetted it first and chose the races that we thought would hold interest) and Jackie's husband was going to do the technical bits to make sure it worked. Inevitably he and Jackie couldn't come on the night, but we carried on and amazingly the technology didn't get the better of us!  Our main problem was with the commentator! I nominated Cara to whip up some excitement with a running commentary, but having not seen the races she was at a bit of a disadvantage as to what was going on.  No matter, she made a valiant effort.  My biggest surprise was the milliner who came to judge the Hat Competition.  Turned out that some time ago she lived next door to me for a couple of years, she wasn't a milliner then!

May 2013:

Our plans for a DIY night started earlier in the year when we found that local tradesmen weren't prepared to speak to a bunch of formidable ladies (that's us!) so we changed our plans to a more ladylike Sugarcraft. But we still wanted to do DIY so we approached B&Q to see if they could help.  They were a little nonplussed at first, never having gone outside their store to do any demonstrations. But after a while they got really enthused by the idea. They had plans to do different demo 'pods', film it all, show it to the bigwigs as something that might be rolled out round the country etc.  You see, we are innovators! And they were great, largely organising their bit of the evening themselves. Handing out aprons for all and very generous with the raffle prize. Due to my Twitter contacts at least five other WIs have contacted me for details so that they can do the same.

B&Q cake

April 2013:

HattosMeat Month: Hattos the Butcher, on Frimley Road since 1928.  He was first approached about coming to talk to us about all things meat by a regular customer, one of our committee, and was agreeable to  the idea. Then two other committee members, also customers, talked to him, then various WI members popped in and said they'd heard he was coming to the WI, he must have thought it was a pincer movement!  He soon entered into the spirit though, we didn't know he would bring two great sides of meat with him.  Nor did we know his wife would arrive half way through the evening  with hot samples of sausages and chicken for the locusts (WI style) to descend on. We were very appreciative, as was he by the wonderful cake Louise made for him.  Next day it was on display in his shop!

March 2013:

Phew! An easy one for the committee this month (and we needed it after last month!)  Solicitors like to have all the i's dotted andthe t's crossed and that is exactly what the good folk from Charles Russell did. They organised it all, we only had to supply the tables, the chairs and the people!  They exceeded our expectations by providing a fun quiz and a lot of chocolate.  The only slight hiccup was that they all came straight from work and had ordered some pizzas to be delivered for them to eat before the evening got underway.  The pizza man delivered the pizzas and the solicitors were nowhere to be seen. I didn't have any money and the pizza man appeared to speak no English! We communicated by sign language until the solicitors arrived and paid the bill!


legal cake


February 2013:

behind the scenesWe had this down as a DIY night. The idea was to get various tradesmen to set up stalls to show us how to mend a leaky tap, do a bit of tiling, what to do when all the light go out... useful things we thought we ought to know how to do.  But what happened? A dozen local tradesmen were contacted and none of them were prepared to talk in front of a bunch of women! Yes, they could do the jobs, but explain to a listening female audience...? No way!

So suddenly with a meeting less than three weeks away we had to come up with something else. We checked our calendar for the year and decided on Sugarcraft.  We were keen to let the members have a hands-on experience, not just watch a demonstration, but with the numbers involved would this be possible?  We got advice from a cakemaker as to what would be needed, we then had a trial lesson with the committee and a few icing-friendly friends.  To our surprise we all learnt to make quite a presentable rose! We were so pleased at this that we felt the rest of the members should really have a go too.  Trying to work out what ingredients and equipment would be needed was a massive calculation exercise (especially as we can never be sure how many people will turn up).  But the order was delivered, only a few mistakes were made! Our main problem was that it was subsequently decided that a rose was better made out of sugar paste rather than fondant and we had ordered an industrial amount of fondant!  The shop wouldn't take it back (foodstuffs, Health & Safety etc) but were generous enough to give us a chunky gift voucher.  Our next worry was working out the tables, one of us on a table for 11, 'us' being the committee who had had two swift lessons in the delicate art of Sugarcraft. Some were more confident than others, some had another quick practice at home.  And what was everyone going to do with their roses and caterpillars? We had to make them cupcakes, iced!  If the committee made enough for two for everyone that could be approximately 260 cupcakes, some people had commitments that didn't give them the time to bake at the last minute, so when we got down to the fact that two of the committee were going to have to bake 80 cupcakes each we thought everyone could manage perfectly well with just the one cupcake each!!

Certainly our most challenging evening yet, but we learnt 'hands-on' was a possibility with so many members and we are prepared to do something similar again, but not just yet!

January 2013:

Mark with Yve's Crocus cake

Our speaker is a co-Director of a very successful company so I am keen to make sure everything goes smoothly. Went down to the IGC in the afternoon to check out the room and make sure things were in place for Mark Fane of Crocus to show his photos of Chelsea etc from his laptop. I asked if there would be a technician there in the evening in case of problems, and was told technicians came expensive!

In the event they left a laptop there for us so all Mark had to do was swap his own laptop for the theatre one and we were away. In fact he had to ask the audience how to pause his photos whilst talking and, of course, one of our techy members knew the answer!

So glad we asked him to come. He ticked all the boxes: local firm, interesting subject, amusing and self-deprecating speaker.  I think everyone was fascinated.  Job done!





December 2012:

Well no panic from me. I spent the previous 10 days lying on a beach.  I left all the organising to my trusty committee and am happy to say they did well and I just turned up on the night.  Perhaps I should make a habit of doing that?




November 2012:


The times we spent going through the WI Handbook trying to work out what you are supposed to do for an Annual Meeting!  We just didn't fit into any scenario illustrated. Been going 10 months, not a year, so no-one wants to step down from the Committee and I want to continue as President.  Our work has only just begun! There's no competition, you can only vote for a President from the Committee and none of them want to do it!  But apparently I have to be voted for, regardless. So that meant we had to call in a WI Advisor or Tellers from another WI to conduct the voting and see fair play. In the end we got them both! I suppose there is a reason for having to go through this rigmarole, and it's over for another year.



A more pressing problem was the refreshments. We wanted to celebrate with wine and nibbles. So we ordered various trays of canapes from Waitrose. When they turned up in the morning they were the wrong order! Couldn't send them back because apparently Waitrose's computer was down and we were lucky to get anything at all. This lot required cooking first.  Figured I'd start doing this at about 5pm to keep them fresh. You had to cook them in the little sort of bun trays they came in, but when cooking time was up they were all soggy at the bottom, so realised I would have to take each tiny one out and put it back in the oven on a tray to cook a bit more, then put them all back in the 'tins' once they'd cooled down! I was still doing it 10 minutes after I should have been down at the hall!  That was far more stressful than having to give any speech!

October 2012:

No problems at all this month!  But I spoke too soon.  24 hours before the event the Line Dancing teacher we had booked cancelled due to illness!  She told us we'd just have to cancel the evening.  Cancel the evening?  She didn't understand we are the WI - we carry on!  So a frantic morning on the phone and we amazingly found Eve who had originally been approached months ago, but couldn't help us out then because she had a class on a Wednesday evening.  And now she didn't!  So she was free.  She was willing and she came and taught us line dancing (or tried to, there is definitely an art to it!)  Sighs of relief all round.


September 2012:

Most people like a quiz so we thought it would be a fun way to start back after the summer break.

But to make it work properly we knew it would have to be planned/timed/prepared down to the nth degree.  So that is what we did!  There was hysterical laughter from Annie and Cara with their first attempt at questions - we quickly whipped them into shape! We decided on the rounds, with ambiguous titles obviously.  Went on a search for a whiteboard, all marked up ahead of time by Louise. My husband did the music round which was put on Annie's phone and refused to open for several long minutes on the night.  Then we found I had downloaded the wrong version - the one with the original Candle In The Wind - so a heated phone call ensued in the middle of the meeting!  We over ran but no-one minded and from the comments we received afterwards it was a highly successful evening.  We had invited a strong contingent from our ever-growing waiting list to see if they liked what they saw.  I think they did

July 2012:

I thought I was going to have nothing to say this month.  All the craft demonstrators had been contacted, by email and phone, they were all on board and willing and able. I had been in email conversation with Jade the card maker and Diana who was going to do the Fimo jewellery making, or so I thought.  I had been to another Craft evening some months ago and seen this demo going on. I was intrigued by both the Fimo and the quirky jewellery that had been made. Had a conversation with the person involved, she said Take my card and get in touch. So I did. It wasn't until the afternoon of our WI meeting when she phoned up about parking and I asked her exactly what she would be doing, and she started talking about card making. I thought 'Am I talking to Jade the card maker?' but no, I wasn't.  When she turned up that night, not only was she a card maker and not a Fimo person, she wasn't even the woman I had spoken to that previous night!  I fail to see how we could have gone through a couple of months of communication with neither of us mentioning what exactly was the craft involved!  I can only assume I had picked up a card from the neighbouring table.  I was embarrassed for Jade who was the card maker I had booked, but apparently they all knew each other and Jade valiantly joined forces and they all demonstrated card making together.

So we were one craft down.

Meanwhile Annie Hunt had learned the art of Fruit Bouquets especially for the occasion. She turned up and said "I've got no fruit!" All the material required for the bouquets were in the house of the friend who had taught her what to do. This friend had been suddenly called away on a family emergency, but had told Annie the key to her house was with a neighbour so she could just go and pick up everything she needed.  However... the neighbour with the key was out!  So no Fruit Bouquets either.

Two crafts down.  Ah well...these things happen.  Everyone seemed to have a good time regardless.  We will probably have a similar evening again, and we'll make a point of having the two missing crafts.


June 2012:

At last we have a speaker for the evening.  So much less work for the committee.  And to celebrate, a third of them choose to go on holiday!  Have to admit to slight apprehension about the evening as I have had nothing to do with the booking (control freak? me?).  Jackie (Treasurer) met our Fireman's wife at a WI Treasurer's Training course, and on her recommendation, she booked our Fireman!  His wife's recommendation?  Fingers crossed for marital impartiality.  It turns out he is not quite the build of some people's Firemen dreams, but gave us a really insightful look into a Fireman's working life.  Not for the faint-hearted but certainly interesting.

Everyone looked splendid in their red, white and blue Jubilee outfits, whilst Jackie wore the most outrageous outfit of the evening! (see photo).  The Jubilee cakes that the cake volunteers had made (especially the special Camberley WI iced one made by Louise Hodges) were quite superb. My first introduction to a pop cake (a little iced decorated cake on a stick - who knew?) As was the wonderful Fire Bucket cake made by Yve Wood presented as a thank you to the Fireman.  It should really have been an evening of Cake Awards!

May 2012:

We managed to come up with a fancy name this time: Birds and Bees - Blooming Marvellous! Gardening in it’s loosest form. Birds because we wanted to find someone who kept chickens. Put out an email to all members and must have had 30 replies from people who knew someone who knew someone who kept chickens. Who knew there were so many chickens clucking around Camberley? But actually when I tried to pin them down to find someone who would come to the evening, I only had one positive reply! And she was very elusive. I phoned her mobile, her home number, tried her email but eventually got hold of enigmatic Gayle who was very enthusiastic about coming along with live chickens! They turned out to be lovely soft chickens, more like rabbits really, with little tufty haircuts.

Bees because I knew Claire Fulleylove was about to start keeping bees. Rather reluctant to draw attention to herself to start with, a little persuasion ended with her thoroughly entering into the spirit of the evening by bringing her husband,who is a fountain of bee knowledge, a hive and wearing her bee suit! We are going to follow her progress as a WI Bee Keeper. Various connections brought us Notcutts, Longacres, hanging basket demonstrator, landscape gardener and florist. Everyone is so keen to join in, I can’t get over it.

Thrashing out ideas with the committee someone mentioned the National Garden Scheme where people open their gardens to the public for charity one day a year. Scrolled through their website and found two gardens in Frimley opening for the first time this year. The address was there, but no contact details. So I drove round to one of them and knocked on the door. They were out so I posted a note I wrote on a scrappy bit of paper I had on me and put it through the letterbox. A rather bemused phone call later that night procured us another stall, one couple knew the other couple and they were in favour of the WI so both said yes. They were wonderful on the night, having prepared a great display board of photographs of their gardens the evening before. Apart from a moment of panic three days before the meeting when the florist ducked out due to a conflict of interest, Longacres hadn’t responded and I hadn’t been able to get hold of Gayle (chickens) everything went swimmingly.                            Annie's cupcakes

Some of the stallholders refused to go home and stayed for the whole evening.  May be something to do with the wonderfully decorated cupcakes Annie (with help from Cara) had spent the entire day making as a thankyou gift for them!


April 2102:

Our Health and Beauty night proved a huge challenge in organisational terms. We were so taken up with the logistics of making it work we forgot to give it a more punchy title. Health & Beauty indeed, we should have done better! Trying to match up members’ preferred choices making sure everyone saw two therapists and adjusting the numbers between the groups really needed a statistician rather than a harassed President and a befuddled Treasurer struggling with columns and figures over coffee at the kitchen table. But we did it (that’s what we’re here for) and amazingly it all went to plan. Even with a number of people who don’t read their emails turning up on the night having made no advance choices!

I think the range of therapists we provided exceeded expectation, and there really was something for all tastes. Big thanks to Cara and Annie, who between them seem to know everyone.

Reflexology turned out to be the most popular choice, with the unknown Nutrimetics coming in second (can’t help feeling that this had something to do with the promise of anti-aging products).

Cara takes over the hair styling

The perfume people bought enough test tubes to fill a science lab, the skin care people bought an advertising board the size of a department store window, the chiropractor forgot to bring his ‘spine’ but carried on valiantly (being the only man in a sea of women), Pam making ‘beauty treatments from your kitchen cupboards’ seemed to have bought the entire contents of her kitchen cupboards....but the evening worked, and the main comment was “it wasn’t long enough”. I think everyone would have liked to have tried more groups. I had some wonderful emails afterwards expressing appreciation, so in spite of my last minute night-before-the-event email to the committee that “we are never doing this again”, maybe we will try it again. Probably not in my lifetime though!

March 2012:

Caroline Redman-LusherWe’ve peaked! And it’s only our second meeting! In a fever of excitement about the imminent arrival of Caroline Redman Lusher, founder of Rock Choir. Unbeknown to our members there had been emails and phone calls this week with the Rock Choir office. Apparently Caroline preferred to talk rather than sing, and I had already told everyone we would be singing! Now what? Polite email to Rock Choir to say that I would have to speak first to explain she wouldn’t be able to sing etc and.. .it worked! Phone call back to say Caroline didn’t want to disappoint us so would be bringing her keyboard and directing us in singing a song. Result!

Now here they are ringing the bell at the back door early, and we’ve locked them out! But how lovely and friendly they all are, Caroline, immensely tall and lugging in her keyboard, Avril the petite PR lady I’ve been dealing with, and bubbly Jeannette in her Rock Choir ‘uniform’ of black tea shirt with yellow rock star logo.

We sort them out, the members are ready and waiting with anticipation. Caroline chooses to not use the microphone (explains she is a trained singer and doesn’t need it), not stand on the stage, and talks without notes for 45 minutes. This is how to give a speech - I am so full of admiration at the ease with which she does it. Basically we heard her life story, and what a story. I wanted an occasional series of ‘Inspiring Women with a local connection’ and we got the first one - with knobs on! Not sure anyone else is going to come close. Everyone agreed she was absolutely inspirational. What she has achieved in the last eight years or so is phenomenal. And she told us about it with humour, with self-deprecation, with honesty. I think we have started a Caroline Redman Lusher (Camberley branch) fan club. And we saw for ourselves how Rock Choir works when she split us into three groups and educated us in singing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. With movements! What a great evening. Also I was so impressed with the Rock Choir cake that Yve Wood made and presented to Caroline - with no brief whatsoever she turned in a superbly professional cake version of the Rock Choir logo. Obviously much appreciated by the Rock Choir office judging from the banter that ensued on Facebook!

February 2012:

Annie HuntOur first proper meeting. This hall we have now booked - the Ian Goodchild Centre - which looked vast when we went to see it, empty but for a few chairs, is now full up with over 130 chairs and looks TINY! Where has all the space gone?

We rush around organising the cakes, tables and chairs as people start arriving. Soon they are queuing up three deep to have their names checked on the register, hand in their £1 and write their name on a sticky label. It all takes so much longer than anticipated and we don’t start until 7.40pm. I grapple with microphone technique but at least people at the back can hear. My ‘talk’ seems to be greeted with amusement, happy to be the comedy turn of the evening!

Annie Hunt - so nervous she says she had 2 G&Ts before coming out - gives an excellent talk on How To Buy and Sell On EBay in spite of the power point being a blur and quite unreadable. She apparently buys and sells everything on EBay and delivers a confident and informative talk.

Elizabeth Cutting, who a year ago set up Camberley Mummies Facebook page which now has 1000 participants, is quivering with nerves before delivering a short instruction on how to find our Facebook page. Public speaking, in whatever form or length, is nerve wracking, but confidence grows with practice. We should all be having a go at it.

The interval/half time/refreshment period (what shall we call it?) goes swimmingly thanks to the wonderful supply of cakes that the committee has made. A hard act to follow!

Then we attempt to describe the concept of sub-groups.....time has marched on alarmingly, no one seems to quite understand what we had in mind. But it does get people talking to each other. Rethink for next month.

Everyone was so enthusiastic, so friendly, so appreciative. Someone described it as a great big reunion as they met people they hadn’t seen for years.

We may be far larger than we thought we would ever be, but it’s a great feeling to have created something that looks as though it will work.




Louise's Amazing Cake

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