Buddy Belles Blog

 Friday 21st May, 2020

This week is the ninth week of lockdown and perhaps more importantly, it is Mental Health Awareness Week. I refer back to Nic’s contribution a few weeks ago reminding us to look after our mental health and the importance of maintaining contact with friends and family. A theme central to  Mental Health week is that of kindness. I like to think that small acts of kindness in the community outweigh the acts of the Me, Myself, I brigade who go about flouting social distancing rules and we’d love to hear of any small acts of kindness you may  have witnessed.

We hear a lot about people thanking key workers in a variety of ways and one way is to write a personal thank you.  This week an article appeared on my facebook feed about a letter writing boom in lockdown. I can see the attraction especially now when many people have time on their hands and wonder if any of the Belles have signed up to the unofficial WI initiative to be matched with a member in another part of the country to write to?  I have always enjoyed letter writing and have fond memories of receiving post from Magda, my penfriend in Holland. Thinking back, she had amazing English that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I can still recite her address and wonder where she is now as we stopped communicating in our late teens due to the pressure of exams.

One of my pleasures is writing to my school friend who now lives in Yorkshire. Yes we email, text and WhatsApp one another and talk at length on the phone but our letters are special. I enjoy receiving her news by post often along with a specially selected postcard from a gallery as she is an art history graduate.

More recently letters were my chosen way of communicating when  a close friend had a long stay in hospital. Now recovered, she tells me how she could pick up and read some of my letter as and when she felt up to it, and it didn’t interrupt her rest as a text message would. There was no compulsion to reply. Currently I am writing letters to another dear friend telling her all about our WI events and competitions as well as describing my walks and cycle rides. Sadly, she is terminally ill but is resolute in character and does not want to hear platitudes or receive messages of sympathy. Instead she likes to keep up with all her friends and hear their news. Now too weak to text, I am told my letters are read aloud to her and it gives me comfort to maintain some form of contact in this way.

And when I write letters, I don’t use a cheap lined pad from Wilkos , oh no that wouldn’t do at all. I choose the best quality parchment type writing paper. Such a pleasure to use a favourite pen on beautiful paper. No doubt, stationery addicts will be able to relate.  


Next Meet Up – an Evening Zoom

How fabulous was our second quiz night held in lieu of our monthly meeting?  A huge thank you to Jane Jupp who again did a great job challenging us.

Why not join us for an evening drink & natter – whether it’s a glass of wine, or a hot cup of tea, come and drop in between 8pm and 9pm on Wednesday for an hour with friends.



Competition Entries

Here are some more entries to our View from My Window competition, a theme that coincidentally featured on Grayson Perry’s Art Club. With no paints to hand, I was inspired by a David Hockney iPad painting featured on the programme and so downloaded a painting App. I have submitted my first primitive attempt: not in the same league as the paintings by Annette, Jane M, Margaret and Nic.  


Thank you to Cathy S. who has sent a photo of herself and the masks she has made for family and friends.

















Lockdown Locks

For our new competition, we’d like you to send us a photo of your lockdown hair! How are you managing it? Are you embracing the roots or are you home colouring? Maybe you have a pretty hair covering to wear or are liking the longer length that gives you a choice of styles.  Have you resorted to cutting it?

NFWI Photography Competition

You might like to consider this competition when out walking, Belles.

Enter the NFWI-Wales Tree Photography Competition! 🌳There’s just less than 1 week left for members to enter the…

Posted by The WI (National Federation of Women's Institutes) on Thursday, 21 May 2020

Food Bank Requests

And finally…..




Friday 15th May, 2020

This week we have seen the first tentative steps taken to easing lockdown.  For some this means visiting the garden centres again, resuming golf or tennis or meeting up with one other person all whilst maintaining social distancing. Others prefer to remain as we were and are not venturing out yet. Either way is fine and we must each make our own decisions at this challenging time, bearing in mind that some people might have no choice but to return to work. With the easing of restrictions, more and more people are wearing masks and, although not yet compulsory, we are being advised to wear them on public transport or when shopping. In true WI spirit, lots of Belles are making masks for friends and family. This was a focus when the craft group met up on Zoom this week and also got a mention when the darts group met virtually, too.

There is a lot of media attention to mask making with Patrick Grant of The Great British Sewing Bee fame encouraging the nation to sew as he spearheads the big community sew. This website has two patterns, one slightly more difficult than the other. It is even possible to make a mask that doesn’t require any sewing using an old tee shirt or even a sock! I imagine over the coming weeks we’ll see a whole array of designs on our streets.

The internet is awash with free patterns for masks but one I particularly like is by a Japanese ballet costume maker who has produced a YouTube tutorial as well as a template. This design is particularly well suited to the female face shape. For the concertina shape mask I used Tilly and the Buttons pattern as it has a gap to insert a filter. Fat quarters that are 100% cotton and a tight weave are perfect for the job and the ones I used are from Aldi and are very reasonably priced but old pillowcases are just as good. The main thing is they can be washed after each wear.

Elastic is in short supply at the moment so fabric ties or shoelaces can be used. I managed to get these hairbands for 99p from the pharmacy and they are just the right size. 

There was a doctor on television the other evening explaining the do’s and don’ts of wearing a mask and more information is on the Which website but basically it is a case of following these simple rules and treating your mask like your undies Haha!

We would love to see all the masks you have been making so please do send a photo, preferably of you modelling a  mask, to me  – secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk and you can feature in our masked gallery.


May Monthly Meeting!

And don’t forget……..back by popular command is our live streamed Quiz Night in lieu of our May monthly meeting, next Weds 20th May at 8pm. We will email full access details out to you on Monday – it will be on Facebook Live again but there is NO need to be signed up to Facebook to take part.

Our Challenge Cup Returns!

Have you managed to represent the view from your window as a sketch, a painting or in some other form yet? We would like to see them  so please email them to secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk by next Wednesday, 20th May. One point for very entry!

Carol has sent a sketch and Connie a watercolour.  Marilyn has themed her artwork on the clematis in her garden. She enjoyed colouring a template and then trying her hand at watercolour. They are fabulous and we’d love to see more.


Virtual Garden Visits

Essex Federation thought you might be interested to know that Essex National Garden Scheme have produced virtual garden tour videos that can be viewed here:- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCw86lu6Kv67MPJhVVEHOtw


Food Bank Requests

The Food Bank have been in touch and they have seen a significant increase in individuals coming for support, with their busiest week ever, last week. To donate you can drop them in to your local branch (either Dodd Road Church every morning, or the church on Hanging Hill Lane on a Thursday morning). They are now in urgent need of the following:

Photograph Requests

And finally, please do share photos as you are out and about on your daily or even multiple walks. There is so much to see at this time of year with the hedgerows so full and verdant. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to insert a photo into the lockdown album, simply upload it to Shooting Stars and we will do the rest.

A view of the ford on a walk from Mountnessing Windmill.






And remember




Thursday 7th May, 2020

This Friday is the 75th anniversary of VE Day – the countdown to peace in Europe and is a bank holiday with various commemorations taking place. As the country prepares, red, white and blue bunting is being strung up adding to the already colourful rainbow decorations around, and many people are planning socially distanced street parties with front garden picnics. Whatever your plans are for Friday, the forecast is for a lovely sunny warm day and we hope you all enjoy the long weekend free from the pressures of work or home schooling. 

The celebrations will naturally be somewhat muted and poignant with analogies made between WW2 and the current battle being fought in our hospitals and care homes. There has been a great outpouring of appreciation, love and respect for those on the frontline as well as other keyworkers and, just as factories had to change what they manufactured to help the war effort in the 1940s, today companies have adapted to produce much needed ventilators and PPE. Members of the public have supported the national effort to provide scrubs, scrubs hats and bags for doctors, nurses and care workers as well as headbands and ear savers.  Old duvets have been repurposed and fashioned into scrubs, colourful and often wacky yet perfectly functional, whilst more sober professional looking scrubs are being made from standard material for those on critical care wards. Hundreds of drawstring bags have been donated that allow the medic to change out of dirty scrubs and put them in a bag and directly to the wash. When making these, Breda even removed the guy ropes from a tent to use as  tie cord! I guess she won’t be going camping anytime soon!

TBBWI Sewing Bee Sub Group

A few weeks ago, Liz F. made some scrubs commissioned by a doctor friend of Nic’s and realising that it was something we could all do, she  rallied our Sewing Bee members and the Belles Scrubbers was established! Instead of meeting as usual, members of the Sewing Bee have been working away in their own homes fulfilling orders and requests. A nationwide group, ‘For the Love of Scrubs: Your NHS Needs You’ was set up by A & E nurse, Ashleigh Linsdell, an amateur seamstress who originally put out a Facebook appeal for fabric to be donated. Many offers flooded in from people volunteering to sew scrubs resulting in thousands of followers to date. To make things easier, there are now regional scrubs hubs and coordinators and it is the local coordinator who should be contacted, in the first instance. Carol has also mustered help from some of our Craft Group and they too have joined the effort. Both Queens Hospital and King George’s have been supplied with scrubs made by some of The Brentwood Belles. Others have been donated to Brentwood Community Hospital via church groups.

A fabulous pair of customised Dr Who scrubs made by Liz and being modelled by a doctor who is obviously a happy recipient.







The drawstring wash bags.

Here are some of the scrubs, hats and scrubs bags made by Belles.

Some of the Belles have been making masks for family, friends and neighbours as it is possible these will be necessary once lockdown is eased. If you fancy making one a free pattern can be found here

Meanwhile, our lovely member, Nina, has knitted two lovely hero bears for her twin daughters who are both serving on the frontline, one as a paramedic and one as a critical care nurse in a London hospital. I’m sure you’ll agree that just like her two daughters, the bears are fabulous! And I just couldn’t resist sharing Nina’s other project, her knitted Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Margaret, meanwhile, has responded to an appeal from Basildon hospital for small bags that they use to place memory key rings in. She included her W.I. letter thanking the NHS when she sent in her bags.


National Walking Month

 May is National Walking Month and Living Streets is encouraging everyone to walk for 20 minutes every day as part of your daily exercise. More details can be found here. Whilst out on your daily walk why not take a photo and post it on our Shooting Stars Facebook Group page? Please add your photo to the album entitled Lockdown Walks.  We’d love to see them.

Blooming Belles

Thank you to Lesley Beckett who took us on a virtual tour of her garden and has inspired other members to do the same. What a lovely way to explore one another’s gardens. If you are happy to do so, please take a video and post it in the Blooming Belles Facebook Group for us all to enjoy.

Challenge Cup Competition

Thank you to Ann M and to Annette who each sent a photo of their baking following the last blog post. Ann has made a sourdough loaf and Annette, among other things has made Bara Brith (Welsh fruit loaf).

Inspired by a facebook group designed to show views from around the world during lockdown, view from my window, we’d like you to produce the view from your own window. this can be a sketch, a painting or any other media you like to work in. Please photograph your work and send it to me, secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk    I can then display them in a future blog post.


Brunching Belles

A chance for Belles to get together over brunch this Saturday. Please email beckywash@outlook.com for the details.


Afternoon Zoom: Bake & Share

Our next general Zoom session is all about baking. We’d love to see what you have all been making and imagine what it tastes like!


Our Next Virtual Meeting

Our May meeting was scheduled for 20th May but don’t despair, our lovely quizmaster, Jane J, has offered to host another quiz.


Food Bank Requests

Demands on the food bank have increased quite dramatically and, given the current situation, are set to get higher. Our continued support is greatly appreciated. As always, the staples plus cleaning products are required.

And remember…





Friday 1st May, 2020

 Oh my goodness, it’s May already.

Maypole Dancing at the Downton Cuckoo Festival in Wiltshire by Anguskirk on Flickr.com

In fact it’s May Day, a day that was celebrated traditionally in towns and villages up and down the country with maypole dancing  and the crowning of a May Queen. Even today, in normal times, it is common to see Morris Dancers putting on a display usually connected to a village pub and copious amounts of beer! Today, being the first Friday in the month, would have been when the Sewing Bee meet to enjoy coffee, homemade cake, a chatter oh and some sewing. It is actually the second session we’ve now missed because of the lockdown but we keep in touch and most of us have been busy in our respective homes making scrubs, caps and scrubs bags for local doctors and nurses. In fact, so much has been going on that it will feature in a future blog post.

So how is everyone coping? There does appear to be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel but it will be a slow process to get back to anything that remotely resembles normality. However, the panic buying that we witnessed back in March appears to have stopped and the shops are pretty well stocked again. The only items that seem under pressure are flour and yeast. This probably explains why there are so many bakers showcasing sourdough loaves on Instagram at the moment as, it’s my understanding, the recipe doesn’t require yeast, not that I’ve made any! Maybe you have and if you’ve been successful, please send a photo to me secretary@thebrentwoodbelles.co.uk as it might just encourage others, myself included, to try. 

Following on with our recent theme of well being, the focus of this blog is about achieving a balanced diet and who better to ask to contribute than our own nutritionist and lovely bookings secretary, Jane and this is what she has to say about healthy eating during lockdown…………..

So first things first, the theme of this blog is a bit of a con, there are no special secrets to eating healthily during lockdown than there are at any other time but there are other factors at play that may not be there ordinarily – the big one being boredom – or like me I am now working from home in my kitchen – I have an abundance of food at my disposal at all times – urgh!

When I see clients in my clinic for weight loss/healthy eating strategies, the first thing I do is talk to them about 2 basic principles – Portion Control and Mindful Eating.

Portion Control – If you want to lose weight/be more healthy, eating well-known healthy foods is, of course, a fantastic place to start but eating unlimited amounts of these foods will not help shed the pounds in the long run.

Take avocado as an example, a staple of the fitness elite on Instagram and an excellent addition to salads, smoothies, toast (#avoontaost), full of good healthy fats and Vitamin E but 100g of avocado has a whopping 234kcal )an average avocado is around 150g) and contains 21g of fat.

Another example is nuts – a handful of nuts is a great healthy snack, full of protein and can keep the wolf from the door between meals , but be cautious, 10 Brazil nuts contains 330 kcal and 33g of fat – around 1/6 of the recommended daily calorie intake for a woman!

With both these examples neither avocado or nuts should be removed from a healthy balanced diet, quite the opposite, but be more conscious of how often you add a whole avocado into a smoothie or devour a handful of nuts between meals.

When constructing a plate of food, I suggest to clients that it should be roughly 50% vegetables (of a variety of colours – non root vegetables can be eaten in unlimited supply) and 25% good quality protein (fish, lean white meat, eggs, seafood, lentils, fermented soy products, chickpeas, beans) and 25% whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, oats, barley, millet, wholewheat pasta or granary bread). Making sure you eat protein will help keep you satiated in between meals and prevent needless snacking. Carbohydrate heavy meals will fill you up but can make you feel hungry again sooner. If you feel the need to snack, pick wisely and don’t overindulge. An apple with 4/5 cashews or a tablespoon of hummus with some carrot batons is plenty to keep you full until your next feed.

Eating protein-rich foods as a snack (like nuts) rather than just simple carbohydrates (like an apple) on their own will help keep the cravings at bay and prevent blood sugar spikes and dips which can lead to craving and eating more.

Friday, 24th April 2020

The weather this week and last has been lovely as I’m sure you’ll agree. The sky, so blue by day and clear at night, must surely be a result of less pollution in the atmosphere. Did anyone manage to catch a glimpse of the meteor shower or even see Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starlink satellites fly over Essex? And the BBC has reported that scientists have recorded significantly lower levels of ambient noise caused by human activity such as traffic and industry in the last five weeks. This must explain why the birdsong is so noticeable at the moment. Both the sights and sounds of nature can be so uplifting. The sun also has a positive impact on mood and we’ve been fortunate to see plenty of it this month with some beautiful warm spring days. The blossom is a picture everywhere and if you are inclined to take photos when out walking, we would love for you to post them on our Shooting Stars Facebook group for us all to enjoy.

It is important we acknowledge, however, that despite the lovely weather, some people may be finding this time particularly difficult. Doctors amongst others  are concerned about the impact of the lockdown on mental well being and in particular those forced to isolate. Familiar names from Prince William to Ruby Wax have highlighted the importance of mental well being and now our own media team member,  Nic, looks at the relationship between physical and mental health  from her own personal perspective……

Our brains are funny old things aren’t they? As many of you Belles will know – especially after our AGM where we discussed the resolution Mental Health Matters – I have had a complex relationship with my own mind over the years. But the good that has come out of this is that I’m much more aware of those times when I need a little extra support.

The weird thing is, I don’t really worry about the things that most people worry about. My therapist actually once told me that I was a ‘very unique case’. I had to laugh, otherwise I would have cried! But the odd thing for me in this situation is that, weirdly, I suddenly don’t feel as anxious as I did anymore.

I mean, I have my moments; as I’m sure most of us do. And I do feel massive overwhelm at trying to homeschool and work at the same time, but on this, time has served to show me that life is for living. And dare I say it, once this is over, I might actually give those things a go that previously would have been unthinkable to me..?

Of course, if you’re feeling a little wobbly, that’s absolutely fine too. And I’m by no mean an expert but I thought I’d collate a few ideas which might help if you need to calm worrying thoughts

1.Limit your news intake

This is easier said than done because Coronavirus headlines are everywhere. However, if you’re finding that you’re being bombarded with this news and its making you anxious, try to switch off the news channels and social media once in a while, particularly of an evening.  Always use reputable news sources for any information that you do wish to consume in order to separate the fact from the myth

2.Distract yourself

You may not have the time, the means or the will to take up a new skill during isolation, and that’s absolutely fine; just surviving is all you need to be doing. However, if you’re feeling anxious, enjoying a new or longstanding hobby or craft can help to calm racing thoughts.

3.Talk to us!

There are certainly enough of us Belles to go around that, if you find you need a listening ear, one of us will be available for a chat. Please feel free to get in touch if you need a friendly voice to talk to. And don’t forget that we have lots of online chatter available via our Facebook subgroups, particularly Buddy Belles!

Of course, it goes without saying that if you are feeling like you need a little extra support, then please speak to a medical professional. But please know that being a member of the WI means that you always have someone to turn to if needed. Stay healthy, in both body and mind, lovely Belles!


For anyone wishing to delve further into this subject Public Health England have published  information on mental health and coronavirus on the Government website

If you know of anyone who needs help then the NHS every mind matters is a good place to start.

It is good to know that the Belles, in true WI spirit, are helping where possible. Whilst some have volunteered to help through the local hubs, Marion has signed up as a NHS telephone check in and chat responder. Anyone can be referred by their GP or from Social Care to receive a phone call either as a one off or regularly once a week. Marion informs me that the RVS, in conjunction with the NHS are organising this.  They were formed in 1938 to help with lots of aspects of wartime life and I’m sure we can all draw similarities to today’s events.


If you are looking for a distraction or simply something to fill the time, Sue Cane has reminded us that there are lots of free courses that can be accessed through the Open University. 

And a good selection of  tutored courses, although not free,  have now gone online at Adult Education


Along the lines of mental well being and happiness we thought you might like these:

And finally please remember to send in the funny things you have said or something you have done that could only apply in lockdown to me secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk

And remember…




Sunday, 19th April 2020

Who, this week, could fail to be impressed by Captain Tom Moore who to date has raised 23 million pounds for NHS charities together, and as a result has become something of a national treasure? What an inspiration to us all! As we enter this extended period of lockdown we might find that we occasionally lack motivation and Captain Tom’s positivity is indeed encouraging.

A number of Belles joined in our quiz last week with our bookings secretary turned quiz master, Jane. And didn’t she do a fantastic job? I have to confess that some of us, myself included, had joined forces on WhatsApp in an attempt to beef up our chances. It wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds though trying to communicate on the phone whilst watching the quiz on another device and with a small time lag between our respective houses! But hey ho, it was fun.  On the subject of quizzing, fans of University Challenge might be interested in ‘Legends of University Challenge’ which is being hosted by Bobby Seagull ( himself a UC legend) following the final tomorrow evening to raise funds for the NHS. Present and past champions are interviewed and there will be some actual audition questions for you to try throughout the show which can be found here:  Bobby Seagull’s YouTube Channel at 9pm tomorrow, Monday 20th April.                         

 With the gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and tennis clubs closed, we wondered how everyone is keeping physically active. Half the nation, it appears, now begin their day working out along with Joe Wicks. Others enjoy the outdoor gym as Margaret calls it, namely her allotment but this term could just as well apply to gardening which burns many calories. 

For myself, I have dusted the cobwebs from my bike as, although I have been following a streamed fitness class, I prefer to be outside.  I have been out on streets local to me, gaining confidence as there is now less traffic on the roads.   I have also bought a skipping rope but I don’t think we’ll go there!




Jane, meanwhile was having her own adventures – over to Jane……

Well, maybe misadventures is a better word, Tricia! As, I’d foolishly decided that I should test out some of the exercise options available to Belles in case it helped. I used to be a gym bunny doing over 1,000 sit ups a week, a bit of boxing (I’ve a mean right hook apparently!) and weights too. Then I had children, broke my back, got my back bolted back together and suddenly it’s 14 years later. However, not a problem I thought, I’m sure I’ll be not that far off what I was back then! Ah yes, you know what’s coming next – I was very much mistaken!

It’s not been a wasted week – I’ve definitely narrowed my options, and my family have frequently delighted in my attempts! Anyway, here are the things I’ve tried and how I found them:

Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred:

American fitness guru who helps people lose weight. Recommended to me by ex-Secretary Claire G (who was due to run the London marathon this weekend so clearly the same level of fitness as me – not!). Well the pros are that Jillian is genuinely lovely and positive but not too positive, she’s not patronising and even has options designed for those “new to fitness”. Each exercise only lasts 30 seconds, so whilst I had a go at most, there were a few where I spent the whole 30 seconds trying to get into the correct position, but at least those were generally followed by 30 seconds of something I could do, like running on the spot. Cons? Well I either just wasn’t bendy enough for some bits, or it was an exercise involving my knees and they seemed to have taken an instant dislike to Jillian. Would I do it again? Actually I think I will repeat Day One until I can do everything – I feel determined that it won’t beat me. Will I manage all 30 days – maybe by 2025…

Score: 6/10

Joe Wickes PE Sessions:

I think I picked the wrong day to try this – everything involved using my knees A LOT. I actually had to stop and forward to the Abs section as it was too painful (disclaimer: not his fault – my knee caps have been wonky since I was a child). Sorry Joe – I felt bad as he seems like a lovely and enthusiastic chap and I know a few of you are getting on with his sessions well.

Score: 5/10 if knee problems, 8/10 if working knees

Barbara Currie – Seven Secrets of Yoga:

I liked this. I bought this 16 years ago but hadn’t used it for years. Barbara is very encouraging and all her adaptations for those “not so bendy” were achievable and I found myself actually believing her when she said (quite a few times), “you’ll get there, yoga will get you there.“. By the end, I felt like I’d had a good workout and a good stretch too. I felt like I had achieved something.

Score: 8/10 – she has a lovely encouraging and calm voice

Dave’s Abs Session:

So my husband took it upon himself to run me an Abs session to help me trim my tummy and waist region. He demonstrated various exercises and kept a remarkably straight face at first when I found them tricky. This face gradually morphed into a mix of bewilderment and frustration – bear in mind he goes to the gym at least twice a week. I managed a full plank and then a side plank on my RH side but not at all on my LH side. After that he suggested we leave it and that I have an online 1-2-1 session with his personal trainer to work out some basics. Not a bad suggestion to be fair.

Score: 3/10 – little bit advanced for my level, sorry David! Thanks for trying to help.

At this point I went back to walking the dog! Overall, I think I will try to finish Day One of the Shred and maybe manage Day Two! And I’ll alternate that with Barbara Currie (she’s just so lovely she makes me feel better about my fitness level!) but Joe and David, I’m sorry, I’ll have to leave it for now.

P.S. Top Tip from my husband – don’t wear skin coloured cycling shorts in public! He genuinely thought I’d forgotten my trousers!


Thank you to Margaret,  Marion and Ann for sending photos of your gardens or allotment as requested. Margaret’s show her allotment where she is growing fruit, salad and vegetables whilst Marion has raspberry canes which she hopes will be a bumper crop. From a selection sent by Ann, I have included a couple showing her ornamental garden. I have also included a photo posted on Blooming Belles by Breda showing her colourful wallflowers and two of Marilyn’s lovely garden. Enjoy browsing.


Lunch Date

We are hosting a lunchtime get together this week so please join us in our DiningZoom this Friday lunchtime at 12.30pm. Simply prepare yourself a tasty morsel and take a break in a quiet spot where you can settle down to enjoy your lunch in the company of other Belles. Please email me, secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk for the invitation code.

A fun challenge for you

We have a new challenge for you, Belles.  In a conversation with Jane last week, she said to me,  “I’ll do that once I have finished soaping down my shopping”!  I can’t imagine she’d have said this a few months ago which got us thinking what funny expressions have you uttered as a result of this situation? Please email them to me, secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk

And finally…..

Of course, we recognise that well being encompasses both physical and mental health and next time Nic will take a slightly more serious look at the topic of mental health which is so critical right now.

And remember…





Tuesday, 14th April 2020

So who’s excited about the return of The Great British Sewing Bee which will air on 22nd April?  It really is good timing and offers a fabulous craft fix as we enter the fourth week of lockdown with, as many believe, a few weeks to go yet.

The benefits of crafting have been well reported with research highlighting the positive impact on mental health. A creative project is a great distraction which is particularly pertinent in these strange times. It provides an opportunity for quiet contemplation whilst keeping the brain active and healthy. And the sense of achievement is a great boost for self esteem and confidence. All this has been recognised by a study currently being conducted by Bristol University and you can read more about the research and, should you wish, be a part of it  here

And for inspiration during this pandemic, Kirsty Allsop is presenting a new craft show, Kirsty’s House of Craft on channel 4 – you can see the trailer here 

As members of the WI we are, of course, very acquainted with the benefits of crafting and those of us with more time as a result of lockdown have been busying ourselves whilst those still working can hopefully find a few moments of downtime. Of course, if you are home schooling then you have the perfect excuse to enjoy some crafting with your children, the creative arts being an important part of the curriculum.

Last Friday we had our first Belles CrafterZoom tea where we met online for a show and tell session! Crafts on display varied from knitting and crochet to patchwork and quilting and also painting and some clay work. We marvelled at the completed items and offered encouragement to those working on ongoing projects. I have compiled a gallery of photos to showcase the crafts and have included some from members unable to join the Zoom meeting but have posted on our various facebook or WhatsApp groups. What a crafty lot we are, enjoy!

 Nic and Helen RP have been crafting with their children.


And here are our Easter crafts:

Trisha M’s crochet chicks –

Kisty’s pom pom bunnies –

Nic’s Easter twig tree –

And finally, my twig tree decorated with needle felted eggs and traditional eggs bought in Prague –


All NEW – Belles Online Quiz Night

Don’t forget to grab a pen and paper and enlist the help of whoever else in in your household and take part in our first online quiz organised by our lovely bookings secretary, Jane S. Details of how to join in have been emailed out to you.


Jigsaw Swap

A number of Belles are enjoying doing some jigsaws  and are posting on the Buddy Belles page when they have completed them and are offering to swap. If anyone has a puzzle or two that you’d be happy to either swap or lend, please do post in Buddy Belles and maybe arrange delivery or collection with someone who lives close by.

And finally….

As we are well into Spring now, we would love to do a post on gardening so please send photos of your gardens or allotments to me, secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk and do please include a description of the plants etc.

And remember…




Wednesday, 8th April 2020

We are now well into the third week of lockdown and it continues to feel strange, as we still adjust to having more time at home.  So just how are you filling your days?  As I pass beautifully  manicured lawns and colourful floral displays on my daily walk it is evident many people are indulging their passion for gardening and I know there will be lots of green fingered Belles enjoying this form of exercise. Others will be unleashing their creative talents and pursuing much loved crafts or even learning a new one. What better time than to sit with a good YouTube instructional video and teach yourself a new skill. A challenge in this way can be quite frustrating as I have discovered whilst grappling with WordPress to write this blog but perseverance and a call to one who knows the program well, namely, Jane usually helps. One thing I know for certain is that small chunks is the way forward and although I want to insert pictures in a carousel, I do know my limitations! But if lockdown is extended into the summer who knows what is possible.

So thinking along the lines of what we are doing to occupy ourselves, it is the turn of  Kirsty, the lovely other  half of our social media team, to give us an insight into her somewhat unusual pastime and, be warned, it scores high on the Ah factor. Over to Kirsty………..

I get by with a little help from my prickly friends.

It’s that time of year when our prickly friends are starting to appear again post hibernation, and for me, it’s a super busy time of year! Last summer, my garden was approved by South Essex Wildlife Hospital to become a soft release site for their recovered hedgehogs, and since then, we’ve had 25 hedgehogs come to us from the hospital to care for, along with plenty of wild ones visiting too! Over autumn and winter, we’ve been keeping a close eye on our hogs, weighing them to ensure they have enough fat reserves to hibernate safely, and checking them for obvious health issues. Any poorly hogs have been going to the hospital to recover, before they return to us fit and well, and ready to cause chaos!

Now is the perfect time to play spot the hog in the garden of an evening – it’s much more fun than repeats on tv! If you can sit outside and keep relatively quiet, you may just hear them rustling about in the bushes. I’ve set up an area at the end of my garden, with hog houses and a feeding station, to keep our pricklies happy and well fed. Ours have a penchant for Go Cat chicken and duck dry cat biscuits, so each day , I clean out their feeding station (they are the messiest creatures I’ve ever come across!) topping up their biscuits and water, and cleaning any mess they’ve left behind, They’ll eat most wet or dry cat and dog food – they do prefer the meaty variety, and specific hedgehog food doesn’t hold any nutrition for them (plus it usually contains millworms which cause metabolic bone disease in hogs).

Adding hog holes to the bottom of your fences lets our little friends travel where they need to go to go for food or a mate – just a 10cm hole under your gravel boards is all you need to help these little guys out. They’re great gardeners’ friends, eating lots of insects and pesky slugs! Come the middle of April, I’ll be giving the hog houses a clean too- they certainly keep me busy!

As we’ve had both sexes in the garden, I’m desperately hoping for hoglets this summer! Hedgehog numbers have decreased by about 50% in the last century, so I really hope ours will breed to help swell the population.


We look forward to an update from Kirsty later in the summer. In the meantime, here are some photos for you to enjoy.

Easter Eggs

This week, Liz delivered the Easter eggs donated by Belles to the refuge. Thank you to everyone who dropped at egg off at one of our collection points and to Liz for delivering them.


Food Bank Request

We have had a request for support for the Foodbank as the demand at this time is high.  Please either leave a donation at Sainsbury’s in Hunter Way or take it to Breakthru Church 165  Hanging Hill Lane open from  10.00 – 12.00 Monday and Thursday. The most needed items are tinned foods, tinned meat pies, jars of pasta sauce, jam. Also laundry powder/liquid, washing up liquid and bathroom/kitchen cleaners.

CrafterZoom Tea

Following the success of our previous two Zoom meetings, this Friday at 3pm we are holding a CrafterZoom Tea. The clue is in the title as we’d love you to join and show us what you have been working on. So if you’d like to join in, please email me secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk for the log in details.

Some suggestions of things to craft

Craft Ideas with a Unique purpose

Basildon hospital are asking for pairs of hearts, approx. 6.5cm, one to be kept with a loved one who has sadly passed away whilst the other is given to their  bereaved relative.  This is something we might well be able to do . The hearts can be knitted, crocheted or quilted but must be matching. They need to be lightly stuffed as will need to be posted.

Details can be found on WI Essex Facebook Page: Hearts Post

There is a pattern on ravelry   Heart pattern  by Amanda Berry

Royal School of Needlework Postcard from Home Challenge

Cathy Smith has received news from the Royal School of Needlework about an exciting challenge whereby you are encouraged to create a piece of embroidery the size of a postcard to represent your home. For more details of this exciting worldwide challenge please see RSN Postcard from Home

Belles Challenge

We would like you to send a photo of something Easter themed you have made, maybe it is something you have crafted or baked. Please send your photos to me secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk

And remember…





Thursday, 2nd April 2020

March 24th 2020 will forever be etched in my memory as not only was it my birthday but it was the first day in lockdown. We were supposed to be staying in a lovely hotel and taking long walks along the beach but Covid-19 put paid to that. I count myself lucky, however, in that, despite all the florists having shut up shop, my husband went out early and managed to source two beautiful bunches of Spring flowers at our local M&S as they had left over mother’s day stock.  The day itself was actually quite uplifting as I chatted for hours on the phone with friends afar.  Anyway it got me thinking about others whose birthday falls at this time and  I took heart when Gemma informed me that, like the queen, all of us whose birthdays fall during lockdown can choose another date to celebrate this year and what a party that will be!  Even better,  I  decided to cancel this year’s birthday altogether and now my age won’t increase until next year.

On Monday evening, the Belles committee meeting took place on Zoom. We are busy thinking of ways to amuse you during these challenging times and how we might keep in touch with everyone.

Today, our lovely President, Jane, writes about acts of kindness. So over to Jane…….

“A memory popped up on Facebook to remind me that this time last year I was speaking at the County Annual Meeting to 1000 ladies, and the Rev’d Richard Coles, about mental health. And I realised how timely that reminder was. My speech was about us not making assumptions about others and their choices. And my final line ……well it wasn’t actually mine – I stole it from our lovely member Nina (I did tell her!).

When we’d discussed mental health at the Belles, Nina had summed it up beautifully with her comment, “be kind, always”. I ended my speech quoting Nina, as that’s a very powerful sentiment.

It’s not just a powerful comment though; it’s also a challenge. When we’re in the midst of a situation that is overwhelmingly large, where we’re having to protect our health and that of those around us, where we see our amazing key workers working hard, and where we’re having to change how our lives work, we might get upset, we will get stressed and that’s totally understandable.

So why am I writing this? Well I was reminded of it because I’ve seen so many truly wonderful acts of generosity and kindness: donating and delivering food, calling to check on people, making scrubs and more. And I wanted to remind others to look for those too, so we have a chance to see something positive in amongst the other news.

I live in Doddinghurst, where a group of 50 have come together to support those more vulnerable. I know many other areas have too. The sheer upswelling of community spirit and the kindness I have seen has been incredible and I have found it genuinely moving.

Personally, I’ve had a rare opportunity to chat to people I’ve never met before and who I now hope to meet in person. Perhaps another glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel could be that by getting this unusual chance to “be kind, always”, we’re also building community spirit, remembering that small things make us happy, and maybe even making new friends.

So whether we can contact people online or by phone, or if you’re on lockdown with them, let’s keep following Nina’s rule and Be Kind, Always, even once this is all over.”


A great mantra, thank you both Jane and Nina!

So what have we been up to and what  suggestions do we have for you today?


Last night a number of Belles met for our first pyjama party. Some even brought their teddies along for a cosy chat. If anyone has any ideas for a Zoom meeting, please email me – secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk .  We will see what we can do. We now have a Belles subscription for Zoom so any sub group leader who wishes to organise a meeting please contact Jane for the details President@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk


Gemma has kindly alerted us to the fact that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is to stream his musicals for free. Who can resist a good old sing along to some old favourites? 

ALW Musicals For Free

Or why not take the At Home in April – 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge? Click here
So now to finish here are our limericks – well done to all who submitted one or more and even encouraged family members to take part.




Sunday, 29th March 2020

Well we have all but completed week one of lockdown. How is everybody coping? Have you established a new routine? How amazing was the applause for the NHS on Thursday evening?  And have you noticed children’s painted rainbows displayed in windows of homes in your area to bring a little cheer to all who see them? 

Today we feature on our blog a piece by lovely committee member Nicola, one half of our  social media team, who describes her first week of home schooling………

If you’d told me six months ago that today I would be in lockdown because of the coronavirus, with my four year old in the house, I would have laughed. Or I would have run for the hills; one of the two. But here we are.

I keep seeing these fantastic ideas on social media of how we could be spending our time in lockdown: read all the books! Get lost in a box set! Learn Welsh (with thanks to ‘My WI’!)! But the reality is, if you have a four year old, you’ve got to put their needs first and foremost. Oh, and there’s the small matter of homeschooling whilst working from home almost full time, too.

I’ll admit, I was dreading it. The week leading up to the schools closing their gates indefinitely, I was filled with a massive sense of overwhelm. We are a pretty outdoorsy family, maybe not in the hiking boots and rock climbing sense, but in the country parks and National Trust sense. We are out somewhere – anywhere – every weekend. So the thought of keeping him confined to our home was not a pleasant one.

I also worried about how I’d keep up with his schooling and work from home at the same time. How was I to work when I was also supposed to be gluing feathers and cutting out shapes to stick in his project book?

But. Here we are. And so far we haven’t gone crazy or fallen out (too much). And I have to say, for the most part I have really enjoyed the small snippets of quality time I’ve had with him in between trying to work.

It’s funny, because before he started school, and shortly after, my heart was so heavy at no longer having him at home with me, even though he’d been in childcare four days a week for the year prior to that. Suddenly I’m reminded of why I missed him so much during the autumn term of his first year at school.

So as tough as this time may be, I’m going to try to cherish it, and hope that one day Baby Lighty will look back and say, “Do you remember that cool time when the schools shut because of The Bug and I got to spend all that time at home with you, Mummy?”

Well, that’s the plan at least. Ask me again in 12 weeks’ time!!


We’ll wait to hear how you get on, Nicola.

AfterZoom Tea & Limericks

Eighteen ladies joined us for our very first Zoom meeting. We enjoyed a good chat and got to meet new members too.

We love that  Jackie dressed for the occasion in her hat. Here we are:

I was inspired to write this limerick:

In lockdown but never alone

Though our meeting we had to postpone

But it isn’t all gloom

We can meet up on Zoom

Wearing lippy and a splash of cologne!

Please keep the limericks coming and I will share them on the next blog.  Send them to  me at secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk

Online Pyjama Party!

This week on Wednesday we are hosting an evening meeting on Zoom so thought it would be fun to make it a pyjama party . So if you’d like to join us at 7.30pm on Wednesday, please email secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk and the details will be sent to you. Dressing in pyjamas is not compulsory!

Staying Connected

There has been quite a lot of discussion on Buddy Belles this week and thank  you to Gemma who has posted a film quiz that has kept us all guessing. Others compared scores from the Virtual Pub Quiz which was held on Thursday evening.

Sue ran a poll to find our favourite song from Mama Mia and the Top Three were:

1st: The Winner Takes It All

Joint 2nd: Slipping Through My Fingers and Take A Chance On Me

Beryl and Vena have sent us information from The Royal Opera House about ballets and operas that are going to be available to view via Facebook and YouTube. It’s a FREE live programme of full-length productions to spread the joy of ballet and opera during these uncertain times. They will be broadcast via their Facebook and YouTube channels allowing you to enjoy them from the comfort of your own home. #OurHouseToYourHouse

And Sue has informed us that we can go to The National Theatre from our armchairs too. There is a full schedule of plays that will be streamed live each Thursday evening. See what’s on at National Theatre at Home by following this link  https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

And for Strictly fans you can join Anton Du Beke for a workout. Find his Elevenses with Anton here  


And remember…




Hello and welcome to our new blog. We have a new media team who will be contributing on a regular basis. Our first blog is by Tricia, our lovely Secretary…

I like to write. I enjoy compiling the Belles newsletter and submitting the occasional article for inclusion in Essex News. As the committee know, I like to shout about what the Belles have been up to and get our name in print whenever possible. I could never have imagined that I would now be using terminology such as self-isolating and social distancing when writing a blog post for the Belles. But these are strange times, normal life has been suspended and our weekly structure has all but disappeared. The landscape is very different now with the high street all but closed and those who can are working from home.  In the last seven days we have witnessed panic buying at the supermarket countered by incredible support for our valiant doctors, nurses and others working to fight this virus. Daily briefings from Downing Street have become the norm as we struggle to absorb what is happening globally. Our emotions are all over the place and we miss the physical contact with our friends and family.

It can be overwhelming. Like many, I often feel all at sea in a boat without a rudder as I spend too much time watching continuous news bulletins. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt, however, and this week began with a live streamed exercise class. I wasn’t alone as I could see that Helen W. had joined in too! I have realised that there are many things to fill the time and allow us to stay connected and so many Belles have been sharing what they have been doing. Lesley B, for example, joined in The Big Sing from the comfort of her sofa whilst Liz, who sadly is self -isolating, has been doing a jigsaw. Others have been working out timetables for homeschooling whilst juggling for desk space with a husband now working from home.


Thinking along these lines we’d like you to enter our competition and complete this limerick and email them to secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk 

In lockdown but never alone…..


Join Us For AfterZoom Tea This Friday

I had my first ever Zoom meeting with Jane this afternoon. It was so easy and we have discussed ways of keeping the Belles connected. Firstly we’d like to get a few more Belles chatting and so have set up our first Afterzoom tea at 3pm on Friday. To join the meeting simply email secretary@thebrentwoodbelleswi.co.uk by Thursday and an invitation will be sent to you. 

Staying Connected

There has been a lot of activity in our facebook groups this week. Links to all of these can be found in the Online Groups menu under the Belles & More tab on this website.

Buddy Belles

There have been a lot of suggestions of things to keep us occupied shared in the Buddy Belles this week and this is a forum for simply starting a conversation.

 West End Belles

The lovely Sue has been testing our knowledge of musical theatre by posting a daily Know your Musicals Quiz.

Happy Hookers

Links to free patterns for either knitting or crochet are being shared as we all dive into our stash to fill the hours!

Wooden Spoons

It is a bit like Ready Steady Cook lately with an odd assortment of ingredients found in cupboards on as sole items on supermarket shelves. So why not share some of your favourite or most successful recipes with others in this group.

Shooting Stars

A small challenge for those who like to take photographs – take a photo featuring just one colour – be warned it’s not as easy as it sounds.


Lots of book commentary and recommended reading material shared here.

Craft Group

Crafty Belles have been sharing their projects. Here is Sue C’s lovely Spring Wreath inspired by WI Life.









Other ideas to keep busy include:-

  • playing Lexulous (online Scrabble) with a fellow Belle and I can vouch for the fact that Margaret is a formidable opponent!
  • Listening to craft podcasts.
  • Joining in either The Big Sing or The Great British Home Chorus run by Gareth Malone (Marilyn S and I have had a good sing today!)
  • It is even possible to take a virtual walking tour of London
  • https://secretldn.com/virtual-london-walking-tours/

There are many more so please keep the ideas coming.

And here is our lovely President, Jane, participating in a WI  Fika. Fika is an important part of Swedish culture and simply means making time to share a cup of coffee or tea and a little something to eat with friends.