The Brentwood Belles WI

The Brentwood Belles WI

WI for the modern woman

December, 2021

It has been a while since our last blog post and we have a lot to catch up on so to begin, here is a round up of the last couple of months.  First a look back to our October meeting entitled Books with Hooks when we were entertained by member and romantic novelist Sue Merritt AKA Virginia Heath. Sue encouraged us to identify what makes a good opening for a book, one that entices the reader and draws them into the book. Furnished with this knowledge, we then had a go at compiling an opening sentence or two to accompany one of three book covers supplied by Sue each with the same title, ‘No Jam for Jerusalem’ but different genres. The choices were Thriller, Rom Com or Steamy! Here are the winning attempts as judged by Sue:

No Jam for Jerusalem

She spat her one milk, two sugars cream tea all over her fiancés suit. “What do you mean you slept with a stripper named Strawberry Daquiri on your stag do?” Jerri cried in the middle of Claridges “No”, wailed Steve, “you misunderstand, I think we should both sleep with her on my stag do”.


The soft, luscious strawberry reminded her of the last time they had met. Her lips, moist, swollen and wanting, he anticipating her wants and needs.


The mourners gathered in the overgrown churchyard, surrounded by unloved headstones. As the priest called them to pay their respects to the recently departed Jam Magnate, a black taxi drew up to the decrepit lych gate. An elegant figure approached the crowd.


Jam she thought. Bloody jam, what possessed me to agree to make jam for the WI stall? Hate the stuff and now wasps are getting in. Suddenly she felt a sharp sting in her neck but before she could turn round she had fallen to the floor and her eyes stared glassily up.


Say anything with confidence and people will believe you. Jo watched Toby pull his far too tight pants back up. She felt guilty although not guilty enough to stop. Jo shouted, “Toby I do love you really but we must stop today”


Any budding authors here – we’ll let you be the judge of that but a fun evening was had.

Then in November, we had an interesting talk from Mark Lewis all about Christmas traditions and their origins. Admittedly it was somewhat chilly in the hall with good ventilation to ensure our safety,  but it didn’t dampen our spirits as we sat in our coats hearing about winter celebrations.


This meeting also saw the welcome return of pudding club and, in order to vote on a favourite,  it was necessary to sample quite a few of the desserts – well that’s my excuse anyway!






Marion was announced the winner of the 20/21 Challenge Cup which was certainly well deserved as she entered most of the often obscure challenges that were set during lockdown. Well done, Marion!






Members brought items for the food bank and, once again generously donated Christmas gifts for the children at the refuge.





December Party

Sadly we had to postpone our in person party due to case numbers of Omicron, and feedback from members. So we moved online and were treated to a Christmas Quiz from our President, Jane including a Scavenger Hunt of festive items around our house. We had great fun and it was lovely to be able to spend an horu in the company of so many Belles, albeit online.

The band, the cocktails and the dancing will all be happening as soon as we safely can!



Becky has provided a comprehensive guide on all the recycling opportunities locally…

It’s great news to see that recycling has vastly improved since Covid.  There are now so many places locally that will recycle soft plastics (including crisp packets) and hard to recycle items, making it easier for you to take them to your local store than storing them up to bring to our WI meets.

Here’s Becky’s basic guide:

Soft Plastics

Soft plastics are lightweight plastics that often cannot be placed in recycling bins at home.

Including: baby, pet food, detergent and cleaning pouches, biscuits and chocolate wrapping, bread bags, bubble wrap and cling film, cereal liners, cheese, fish and meat wrapping, crisp and sweet bags, delivery bags, frozen food bags, multi-pack wrapping, plastic carrier bags, plastic film lids, salad, pasta, and rice bags, toilet roll wrapping

Participating Stores: Sainsburys Brentwood, Any Co-op, Tesco Extra, Gallows Corner

*Do remember to check the back of your packets as you go – I’ve noticed some plastics (a salad bag and Mini Roll wrappers to name two!) are marked ‘Do not recycle’ so these should go in your household general waste.

And continue to check as more product packaging is changing continuously so what you may not be able to recycle now, may change next week, month etc…

Coffee Cups

Any Costa or McDonalds will take any paper cup (not the lids)

Make Up & Hard to Recycle Toiletries

Participating Stores : Boots – Brentwood, Billericay and Hornchurch High Streets; and The Brewery, Romford.

Hard to recycle plastic items that can’t be recycled in your household waste e.g mascaras, lipsticks, make up palettes, compacts, toothpaste tubes, hand cream, lotion pumps etc

Boots will reward you 250 Advantage points every time you recycle 5 items – however this isn’t as simple as it seems. The points come in the form of a voucher which can only be redeemed when you spend £10 in store.

You need to create an account and sign up to Boots’ recycling scheme (Different to your normal Boots log in)

Each time you have an item to recycle you take a photo and add it to your account. You must have a minimum of 5 items BEFORE you can drop them off in store – and they will need to be verified (which takes 24 hours)

Are you still with me?! I’ve signed up and I’m going to give it a go, but I’ve not tried it yet as I don’t have 5 items!

If you want further information on recycling locally check out and  they can help you locate your nearest recycling centre and hold up to date information on what you can recycle where.

Thank you for that well researched and useful information, Becky.

Food Bank

Unfortunately, we are not able to collect for the food bank as it’s our party this month. However if you’d like to take donations to a local drop off point, please click the link to see what is needed. Foodbank Christmas

Belles Library

Returning in January will be our book swap so please keep any books that you might read over Christmas and think others will enjoy and bring them along to our January meeting.

And finally, we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thursday 14th October, 2021

How fabulous was it last month to kickstart Autumn with our first monthly meeting in person since February 2020?

The buzz in the hall was palpable; Jane welcomed us all back with her cheerful,” Good evening Ladies” and a very sociable evening was enjoyed with Viv’s table quiz and plenty of cake and laughter.

How good it now feels to be back on track!

Well almost, we have made a couple of changes to this month. Firstly, we have a change of venue due to essential maintenance works at our regular hall and, as a result, we cannot take any collections this month. We will however have present requests for the children at Changing Pathways and wrapped gifts can be brought to our November meeting. Secondly, in the light of recent upsetting events, we’ve changed our programme for October. But, rest assured we have a fabulous evening planned which include a free drink from the bar.

October Meeting

Books with Hooks is the theme for Wednesday’s meeting and Sue Merritt aka Virginia Heath, an author of romantic fiction will be running a fun session on what makes a book un-put-down-able and why first lines matter. There will be prizes! So to get us in the mood, can you identify which novels the following opening lines are from?

1. It was love at first sight

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

3. You better not never tell nobody but God.

4. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

5. Call me Ishmael

6. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

7. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day

8. It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Lunch Club

As Beryl and Vena are booking an extra lunch this year, they will need full payment for the October lunch and a deposit for the November lunch at the October meeting. To book either lunch please see Vena or Beryl.

26th October – Cucinas High Ongar – This is an ‘extra lunch date’. The cost will be £14.50 for 1 course, £18.50 for 2 courses and £22 for 3 courses. These prices include tea/coffee and a tip. No pre-order food is required.

23rd November – Masons Ingrave Road – This is our annual Christmas lunch and a deposit of £10 is required please. Pre- order of food is necessary and menu choices and full details will be available at the October meeting.

Answers 1. Catch 22  Joseph Heller,  2, Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen 3, The Colour Purple Alice Walker 4, Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier 5, Moby Dick Herman Melville 6, The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath 7, Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte 8, 1984 George Orwell

Friday 20th August, 2021

Yes it’s been a while but, despite the silence, we haven’t been idle. We always take a break from meetings in August with the exception of last year when, due to the exceptional circumstances, we had an additional Zoom meeting.

Throughout the summer, since the restrictions were lifted, Belles have been meeting up for both lunch and brunch club as well as the walking group, Happy Hookers, Arrow Belles and the long awaited return of Sewing Bee.  The book group which has been meeting on Zoom hope to meet back in person next month.

In addition, a number of Belles helped to decorate Crown Street for the Get Into Arts Festival and were pleased with the resulting colourful displays of flowers and hearts. Hopefully you spotted them if you took part in any of the activities at Chicken and Frog or went to see the outdoor performance of Twelfth Night.

And then we had the Olympics and our knitting and crochet hero, Tom Daley. Who could fail to be impressed by his talents, not least his diving and subsequent gold and bronze medals. It was, in fact, a terrific games for Team GB and we’re in awe of our many wonderful athletes who kept us entertained when our weather was far from summery!


And this week we celebrated the return of Liz’s summer garden party. It just felt so good to do something ‘normal’ again and to get to know a couple of our newer members.

A huge thank you to Liz for welcoming us to your home and lovely garden.  A good time was enjoyed with plenty of eating and nattering! 

 And someone else who has not been idle this summer is our lovely Bookings Secretary, Jane, who with husband, Chris, welcomed their new addition – gorgeous baby Harry. Huge Congratulations to you both.

We all look forward to meeting the latest mini Belle. 







We are conscious, as we’re sure many of you are, of the awful situation in Afghanistan and the plight of the many refugees coming to the UK. We felt that a combined effort would help our members be able to support those individuals more effectively. So our President, Jane M, has been liaising with the charity Care4Calais who work to provide asylum seekers with basic items such as toiletries and basic clothing. They are expecting an influx of refugees from Afghanistan into the county and these people will be in desperate need of supplies. They cannot easily access anything when they arrive as all mobile phones are confiscated for security reasons.

We will therefore be collecting the items listed below over the next couple of weeks. Drop offs are at our usual points, which are detailed on an email you will have received.


This week the committee met to plan our meeting in September when we will be back at South Weald Hall. There’s a lot to consider to ensure everyone is safe and we’ll be letting you know ahead of the meeting of any special arrangements in place.

There won’t be a speaker in September as, after such a long break, socialising is the order of the day – with cake naturally!

Cake donations would be very welcome.


Following a very successful return to lunch club at Masons earlier this summer, and to compensate for all those missed lunches, Beryl and Vena plan to to arrange a date for September, October and November which will be on the fourth Tuesday of the month. The September lunch is at 12.30 at The Bakers Arms at Stock. For those unfamiliar with this, Beryl and Vena collect a deposit at the monthly meeting and, if necessary, record menu choices. They will no doubt have details of the October lunch in time for our next meeting. If you plan to go to The Baker’s Arms in September, a £5 deposit will be required at the meeting on the 15th Sept.


Sunday 18th July, 2021

Throwback to 18th July, 2018 when the walking group headed off under blue skies for their summer walk and picnic.

How timely as it is the annual summer walk and picnic tomorrow and the conditions look identical. Sunscreen and hats will be worn, no doubt.

It may well be so called ‘Freedom Day’ when restrictions are relaxed but we’ll proceed cautiously and will be happy to find some shade and remain outdoors.

This is in contrast to one year when we had to shelter in a  visitors’ centre due to torrential rain! Hopefully we’ll get some photos of our sunny picnic tomorrow.


Help Us Decorate Crown Street

Have you managed to visit the Art Trail or viewed the photos on social media? Our exhibit at the theatre look fabulous and has been included in the top ten must sees along with Tori’s collages in the library.  Today marks the final day of the Art Trail, which has been a great success, but there is no time to sit back on our laurels.

Our help is needed to decorate Crown Street which is participating in the Get Into Arts festival this August. The theme is Twelfth Night (which is to be performed outdoors in Crown Street as part of the festival) and we’ve volunteered crafty Belles to make various decorations.

You have received an email detailing what is needed but in summary it is crocheted or knitted flowers, hearts and musical notes plus papercrafted flowers and upcycled plastic decorations.

For help with the papercraft, our member, Becky, whose business is upcycling old books and turning them into notebooks, has produced some helpful tutorials. You can find them here:-

Paper rose, Origami flower and Bellflower lights.

We will also be running a drop in coffee Zoom with Becky for you to show us what you’ve made and ask for any hints and tips if you’re finding it a little tricky. That will be on Tuesday 20 July at 11am. Usual Zoom details can be foun don the email.

If you wish to knit or crochet then Happy Hookers meet at Chicken and Frog Bookshop on Monday afternoons starting at 2pm for 2 hours

Debra made some more pom pom flowers and we selected a very simple pattern for a daisy and for anyone who wishes to make them to form a daisy chain here is the pattern:

Centre – Using A make 6 ch, join with ss into ring.

1st Round (RS) 1ch, 11 dc in ring using B ss in 1ch. 12 sts.

Petals continue with B

2nd round [11 ch, ss in next dc] 12 times ending ss in ss of first round.

Fasten off invisibly.

This pattern using DK yarn and a number 4 crochet hook but any yarn would work by adjusting hook size accordingly.

Other patterns together with good photo tutorials can be found on Lucy’s blog, Attic24 and a simple knitting pattern for a daisy can be found here

We also have Pinterest Pages for all the crafts which can be found here: TBBWI Pinterest Page

Monthly Meeting This Week – Wed 21 July

And the July Challenge Cup is a very practical one! Email your solutions to Tricia on


Sunday 27th June, 2021


Mmmmm, British strawberries synonymous of that great summer event, Wimbledon!

I know that Marion, and others, will be glued to their screens over the next two weeks as tennis makes a welcome comeback to South West London after last year’s hiatus.

It certainly is a summer of sport with the European Championship dominating at the moment. Come on England!

If sport isn’t for you then, even though the so called “Freedom Day” has been postponed it’s still possible to get out and about.

Gardens are available to visit through the National Garden Scheme and, of course, there is our own local Brentwood Arts Trail that begins next weekend and runs from 3 – 18 July.

Plenty to see and do from guided tours to workshops  and talk and create sessions.

Details are on the website


Beautiful Alstroemeiras 

British Flowers Rock was the subject of the talk last month by Ben Cross, aka AlstroemeiraBen who gave us a virtual tour of his nursery and answered our questions. The violent thunder storm that raged down there in West Sussex whilst we were live didn’t dampen Ben’s enthusiasm and his passion for his flowers was evident throughout. A campaigner, likened to  Jamie Oliver but of the British flower industry, his message was clear.  Ben encouraged us to avoid purchasing flowers imported from as far as Ecuador, Columbia and Kenya and stocked in supermarkets and to support the grown not flown initiative and buy British. He was certainly convincing when he described how foreign flowers are treated to make them last longer. In his words,                                                                                                           “Flowers are supposed to be fresh and romantic; it’s not very romantic if the flowers you give as a present only last a few days and you have no clue as to when and where they were harvested , let alone the carbon footprint involved”            Ben gave lots of advice on growing alstroemeiras too with reference to products that control pests in an eco friendly way. For more information about some of the associations Ben referenced, please see the links below. I, for one, had no idea that there were flower growers local to us until I viewed the flowers from the farm website. Following the talk, Helen and Cathy ordered some flowers from Ben which they then shared and Margaret has displayed some from her allotment now that she knows exactly how best to pick them.  The photos speak for themselves.

Useful websites;essex;farm/land;settlement;in;east;anglia;article

Challenge Cup

Unfortunately, we failed to inspire you to have a go at painting or drawing a flower or maybe time was the issue as so many Belles lead busy lives. We’ll be sure to keep it simple next time. However, Annette sent her beautiful painting  of flowers in her garden and I’m including my attempt at a sunflower from a YouTube tutorial that I did during the first lockdown. Liz S has entered her lovely screen silk painting and Tori has submitted her flower. I have also received a beautiful sunflowers picture created from felt from Marion and a lovely painting of Nasturtiums from Chris McAlister. We know there are many talented Belles so please send any paintings or drawings and they can be included  in the next blog.

Brentwood Art Trail

Last week, Jane hosted a Zoom call with several Belles to discuss how we, as a WI, adapted during lockdown and what we’re looking forward to in the future.

Jane will edit the video which will then be screened on a loop in The Brentwood Theatre as part of this year’s At Trail alongside our ‘work in progress’ quilt of calico squares.

Thank you to Beryl and Vena, Margaret, Rachael, Nic, Helen and Debra for participating in the Zoom discussion.

We look forward to seeing the edited version.                           


July Wine Tasting With A Difference

Our July meeting will be wine themed. As we can’t do a traditional wine tasting it will be a BYO drink affair but we will be joined by local lady Penny who will lead us through a fun quiz, loads of top tips including for pairing different wines with different foods, what supermarket wine labels really mean and much more!


Friday 11th June, 2021

If you have been following The Belles on social media you’ll have seen that there’s been quite a lot happening the last two weeks. The committee have been busy planning for the Brentwood Arts Trail and Nic, in particular has been liaising with this month’s enthusiastic speaker, all perfectly innocent of course!  The Happy Hookers met again in person and we were pleased to welcome new member, Debra to our group. Other Belles who were lucky enough to go on holiday and enjoy the fabulous weather at half term have shared some of their photos on the Shooting Stars group page and Jane posted some of the lovely flowers in her garden. You might have seen that Tori has been busy with her craft and some of her work is going to be displayed in Brentwood library as part of the Arts Trail. How fabulous is that? At least a dozen members have expressed interest in the proposed coach trip to the Knit and Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace in October organised by Essex and it is almost certain there will be a pick up in Brentwood as before.   Debra has posted in Plastic Free Fantastic and offered to collect Taylors of Harrogate coffee pouches for recycling so if anyone has these please save and give them to her when we next meet. On the subject of recycling, Becky has confirmed that the facility that collects the crisp packets will only be reopening once all restrictions have been lifted. We might well have a mountain of crisp packets by then!

Meanwhile, our lovely member, Breda  organised a litter pick on 6th June to tidy the Cathedral, St Thomas’s grounds and the surrounding roads as far as Shenfield Common. Equipment was borrowed from 3rd Brentwood Scout Group and Breda personally invited  Brentwood Councillors and three attended on the day. Many bags were filled with rubbish from just the small area of Brentwood they were able to cover. Breda says it’s just a drop in the ocean really in the whole scheme of things but they made a difference which must have been appreciated by local residents and certainly raised the issue of litter which appears to have worsened over lockdown. Well done, Breda on your very public spirited act. We’re proud that you’re a Belle. Breda, pictured below in her hi-vis jacket, was joined by another Belle. Can you identify her?

Calico Squares

Liz and Cathy have received some fabulous calico squares that they are going to assemble as a work in progress for the Arts Trail. Liz has managed to get some more calico so if anyone has mislaid their square and still would like to contribute, please email and I’ll let her know. New members are invited to join in too. As you can see there is a wide variety of both ideas and techniques. It isn’t necessary to sew if that’s not your thing. Some appliqued work  has been glued into position and it is still very effective. We think there are still a lot of lockdown positives that are not featured such as the jigsaw swap, tasty bakes, cycle rides on deserted roads and so much more.   Obviously, it’s our ultimate aim to complete our ‘quilt’ once we meet again in September but if you have time and feel inspired to do one in the next week or so and can hand it into Cathy or Liz at Happy Hookers, that would be great!

June meeting

We’re excited to be joined by Ben and to hear him explain why British flowers rock!

Challenge Cup

We’d like you to unleash your creativity and paint a flower or vase of flowers and email it to me and they’ll be featured in the next blog. A sketch or coloured pencil drawing is fine if you prefer not to paint.


Each year we vote on the proposed resolution which this year is  –  A call to increase awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer.

Every two hours in the UK someone dies of ovarian cancer. Making sure GPs and the public know what to look for will not only ensure the early detection and treatment of this disease but transform lives today and for generations to come. NFWI calls on WI members everywhere to help increase awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer.

In advance of our meeting and to be well informed, please read information here

 You may have seen some of the presentations given at the Annual meeting on social media. Our link delegate, who this year is from Fox Hatch will submit our vote which is being done electronically this year and,  in this instance, after the Annual meeting.

Monday 31st May, 2021

Have you been following the adventures of Wally the Walrus spotted basking off the shores of Wales and Cornwall? Far from his polar home, he has now swum across to France. I am reminded of the walrus that I crocheted for the Belles yarn bombing two years ago. We decorated the tree outside the theatre in an Under the Sea theme complete with all sorts of marine life plus a mermaid and even a submarine! It was a very industrious summer as we also took part in National Knit in Public Day and took over a then empty retail space in the Baytree Centre. You can read about our installation and community knitting and see photos here. It was all part of the Brentwood Art Trail and we are pleased to have been invited to take part again this year. And as for my walrus, he, like Wally, embarked on a journey to who knows where but was never to be seen again!

The Brentwood Arts Trail (3 – 18 July)

The Belles have again been invited to participate in the Arts Trail this summer and a group of willing volunteers have formed a planning committee. The calico squares that have been completed will be joined together to form an ongoing display illustrating something positive that has helped through lockdown. Liz S. and Cathy are coordinating this project. If you have missed the deadline, don’t worry as the remaining squares will be added when we meet again in person in September and will form a memento of what lockdown was like for the Belles.  Other contributions to the Arts Trail are planned and will be communicated to you at the next meeting.

 Twelfth Night is the theme for Crown Street, Brentwood this summer with the individual businesses participating. The Belles have been invited to make a contribution here and details will follow. Crafty Belles you will be needed!

Challenge Cup

Last month we asked you to tell us the most unusual item you always pack when travelling. Annette replied that she always takes a kettle when travelling in Europe and teabags as an early morning cup of ‘proper’ tea is essential and so often hard to come by on the continent.

Margaret disclosed that she always packs her earplugs to block any intrusive sounds as hates disturbed sleep whilst Debra, on returning from a holiday in Cornwall realises she always packs Germoline! My essential, though not unusual, item is a lightweight scarf. It comes in handy as a wrap when the air conditioning on a plane or at an airport is ferocious, it protects from both the sun and the wind and provides necessary cover for bare shoulders when visiting religious buildings. Marion however, decided that it’s been so long since she’s been away that she’ll no doubt be packing everything but the kitchen sink!  

June Meeting

We’re delighted to confirm that we will be joined by the much sought-after speaker, Ben Cross, of Crosslands Flower Nursery, who specialises in British Alstroemeria. He will be giving us a virtual tour of his nursery and telling us why British Flowers Rock!

Our June Challenge Cup will be confirmed after the committee meeting on the evening of 2 June.

Essex News

Please follow this link for the latest digital copy of Essex News. It is to be published again as from next month and we will have a few copies for you to peruse at our meetings again from September. Members who have ordered a digital copy should start receiving this via email soon.

Sunday 2nd May, 2021

As I sit typing this, my eye is drawn to the lovely blossom tree in the street outside the window. I love the month of May as it seems that everything is bursting into life now. I was fortunate enough to have a week away last week and really enjoyed seeing so many signs of new life emerging both in the fields and hedgerows, ponds and streams. Everywhere I turned there was a photo opportunity or maybe it was just my over enthusiastic reaction to being in a different environment following months of lockdown! I wonder, is anyone else struggling with their wardrobe at the moment? It is hard to know how to dress now after wearing pretty much the same clothes each day for months. I was chatting to a shop assistant last week who told me that so many visitors to her boutique have been saying the same in that they have let things slide. We have been wearing masks, not the most flattering of accessories it has to be said and, as a result, our make up routine has all but disappeared. I, for one, need to update the contents of my make up bag! So as restrictions ease, and the warmer weather arrives I guess we’ll be happy to pay more attention to personal grooming in the  hope that masks won’t be around for too much longer.  And then, lovely Belles, we’ll emerge from lockdown like butterflies from a chrysalis!

 Who has been brave enough to gut a mackerel yet following the expert demo from CJ at our last meeting. Wasn’t she interesting? As a result of the meeting, several Belles have signed up for a special socially distanced Fish Masterclass at the school in Billingsgate in late summer. Otherwise there are other workshops on offer that you can apply for by viewing the website 

Busy Belles 

Heading out with the Belles  resumed their programme of monthly walks with a walk through Hartswood and into Thorndon Park. It was agreed that it was lovely to meet up again. Have you seen Carol’s beautiful embroidered horse on the Craft Group Facebook page, member’s photographs on Shooting Stars and last month’s recipes for fish dishes shared in our Wooden Spoons group? If you are new to the Belles, do take a look at our various Facebook Groups and send a request should you wish to join any.

Coming this month….

Challenge Cup 

For the benefit of our new members, The Sadie Jones Challenge Cup, so named after one of our lovely members who sadly died, is a monthly competition tentatively linked to the theme of our meeting. Points are awarded to entrants each month and tallied to find the winner with the most points accumulated over the year. This year has been slightly different as entries have had to be sent in but points are awarded all the same. Please email your entry to Tricia

Other news….

How lovely to hear from Cathy that the sea creatures that we knitted and crocheted last year for the yarn bombing event on the theme of ‘Save our Oceans’ are now being used by her daughter- in -law in her classroom. Some are displayed with shells to represent rock pools whilst others are used in a magnetic fishing game.  We are pleased that the children are enjoying them and our sea creatures live on. I spy Myrtle the turtle, does anyone else recognise their work?

Brentwood Art Trail

We have again been invited to make some contribution to this annual event and there are a number of ways in which we can participate. Please register your interest either  on the Belles  Craft Group Facebook Group or email Tricia  Hopefully we will be able to meet in person to work on a variety of projects this summer.

Food Bank Request

 All donations to the foodbank are gratefully received at this time of great need. Please click on the link below to see what is in short supply.                                                                                                                                            Foodbank Shopping List May 2021

Wednesday 14th April, 2021

Snow in April, such as we saw earlier this week, always reminds me of my sister’s wedding. There is one particular photo which looks for all the world like the bride and groom are being showered with confetti when it is, in fact, snowflakes falling on them. It was a bitterly cold day and guests dressed in their carefully chosen spring outfits stood shivering outside the church posing for photos, as is tradition. The log fire at the reception venue was very welcoming as you can imagine. Unseasonal freezing weather is not great for weddings, neither is it good for outdoor dining and just as the pubs etc were set to reopen, the temperatures plummeted. This didn’t deter the hardy and many have now enjoyed a drink out with friends, albeit well wrapped in winter coats. And as the hairdressers and salons open and we can once again browse the shops, life does seem to be getting back on track.

Some of our own activities are able to resume now too. The racquet Belles are back on court and the walking group will be heading back to happiness next week with a spring in their step for the first walk this year. The plan is to explore Hartswood and Thorndon Park, an area that’s been almost off limits in lockdown but should be less busy now that the schools have returned.  Other groups such as Happy Hookers should be able to meet outdoors again once it is warm enough and hopefully the next scheduled Brunch will be able to go ahead too. Maybe inspired by the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee there will be the possibility of outdoors sewing too. And , if all goes to plan with the roadmap, the first meeting of the Lunch Club is scheduled for 27th July at Masons restaurant – Whoop Whoop!


Me, Myself and WI                                                                                       

As we are well aware, especially so this last year, mental well being is equally as important as physical health and so in May, the WI is launching a new programme, Me, Myself and WI which aims to encourage us to look after our mental health. A week of mindful activities will coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Week (10th – 17th May). More information can be found on the NFWI website You will need your MyWi password to access the information.

The Brentwood Art Trail

The Brentwood Belles have been asked to get involved with the Arts Trail planned for this summer. The committee are liaising with the organiser, Villene, Liz representing the theatre and Natasha at Chicken and Frog Bookshop. There are ideas in the pipeline and it’s possible we might use our calico squares to form part of a display. So, we need more completed squares please , Ladies! They don’t need to be elaborate and, if sewing really isn’t your thing, you can use a fabric pen or you can glue a collage in place. Please let us see your finished squares by uploading a photo to the Craft Group Facebook Group or sending it to us and Nic will post it for you.

We can’t wait to see what you come up with that represents something positive to come out of lockdown. It could be a new pastime or interest that you spent time on last year or something you appreciated whilst out walking. The possibilities are endless and there are some completed squares on Facebook that might help if you are looking for inspiration. We’ll let you know nearer to the summer how we plan to collect these in.

Also this summer, it is National Knit in Public Day. If there is enough interest from The Belles, Liz S. is happy to organise again. It simply involves sitting in a public space working on an individual project and chatting to anyone who is interested.

Coming soon

Challenge Cup

We’d like to know your favourite tried and trusted recipes for serving fish. This could be a recipe for fishcakes or fish pie or maybe a delicious sauce to accompany fish. Or anyway you like to prepare and serve fish. Please either post your recipes on The Wooden Spoons Facebook Group or send them to and we’ll add them to the next blog post. We’ll also ask our guest, CJ to comment on which appeal to her.                                   

Essex Federation Online Events

Have you seen the  collages posted on the Craft Group Facebook Page? They are fabulous. I know that Carol has signposted members to YouTube tutorials and that Annette has done a few Denman at Home Calligraphy Courses. If you’re feeling crafty, you might be interested in the online events offered by Essex this month.                                       

Tuesday 23rd March, 2021

One year on

It is exactly one year ago today that the first lockdown was announced. Who could possibly have known then that the twelve months that followed would see the world on its knees as the global pandemic took hold.  A roller coaster of a year that changed our lives beyond measure where working from home became the norm for many and children were out of school for months. The news was depressing as we watched cases surge more than once resulting in enormous  pressure on our NHS and we witnessed  the repercussions hit the economy.  It has been an anxious year, undoubtedly, leading us to question our values and reflect on what really matters. Unsurprisingly the things we miss the most are not material things. What we long for is to to see our friends and family again, welcome them into our homes, to party and to hug once again. Now, thanks to the incredible work of scientists,  vaccinations have been formulated and here the  programme is being rolled out at speed and there is definite hope of better months ahead. One year on and today, as a nation, we pause and reflect on all the loss and grief caused by this virus.

We’re back!

You might have noticed our absence on the web recently this was due to technical issues with the website but thanks to the valiant efforts of Jane and her husband, David, we’re back with a whole new look. Of course, we never deserted you in person with Jane emailing on a regular basis and of course, Nic did a great job of keeping us informed via social media. As a WI, we have been reflecting on the last year too and hopefully you’ve seen the extensive list of all the virtual meetings and coffee mornings as well as the gift bags delivered. We managed to collect presents and also Easter eggs for the children at the refuge and members of the sewing bee and craft group made scrubs.  I think we can give ourselves a collective pat on the back for being a supportive community during these strangest of times. We’ve even managed to invite prospective new members to sample our virtual meetings – well done to Margaret for arranging this. The feedback has been good. And as we think about renewals we say goodbye to two of our members who have or are moving away. Carrie has relocated to Dovercourt and Anne-Marie is heading north to a new life in the Lake District this summer. We’ve received lovely messages from them both saying how they’ve enjoyed their time with the Belles and we wish them both well.

During lockdown and the various tiers, we’ve tried to keep the challenge cup going with competitions ranging from Limericks and birthday poems to paintings and sketches, photographs and green hearts in support of the show the love campaign. This month we asked you to tell us what your proudest achievement has been over the last year. Of course, we should all be proud of following the rules to keep safe but more personal responses have been varied. It is evident that there are so many things that Belles have accomplished this year and I’m hoping modesty has prevented anyone from mentioning them. We simply want to celebrate the positives in what has been the most challenging year. Let’s  begin with some exciting  news – I’m happy to announce that our lovely bookings secretary, Jane J, is pregnant! She is expecting a baby boy and has been crocheting cute teeny tiny clothes as well as a cardigan for herself. Congratulations, Jane. Liz S. is proud to have raised nearly £800 making and selling facemasks for friends and family with donations to Brentwood Operatic Society whilst Margaret is proud to have knitted socks. Constance has learned much about skincare, hair and make up through her role as a representative for a skincare brand  and is proud of this achievement which, she says, has kept her brain active. Nina is proud to be a member of an army of volunteers helping out at the at the food bank where she unpacks donated food that will be given to people attending the food bank or to be delivered. About 900 to 1000 food bags are given out each week and many of the Belles help the cause by  donating items to the foodbank. Viv is proud to have finished a complicated knitting pattern that took  perseverance and tested her patience at times. Community has been so important this past year and Jane is proud of running her village well-being hub as well as creating the life size figures she made for a Nativity scene at her church which brought some festive joy to Doddinghurst. And let’s shout out to all you Belles who have been home schooling, now that is an achievement!

Marion gave seeds and plants with instructions for how to tend them to children in her community or children known to her through friends. She was pleased to see them take an interest in growing sunflowers, runner beans and mange tout and later in the summer, tomato and strawberry plants. Marion feels strongly that children should have knowledge of growing plants and an appreciation of where food comes from and is proud to have helped in this way.  Nic has honed her knitting skills and has mastered purl stitch in lockdown.  She is proud that despite working and having her son home from school, she managed to knit some rainbows Christmas tree decorations as handmade Christmas gifts. Helen is proud to have completed her crocheted Persian square blanket and the colours look amazing. Breda was inspired to deliver her home made cream teas to both friends and strangers after seeing how appreciative her first recipient was. What started as a small gesture soon grew and Breda asked people to let her know of anyone who was lonely and would appreciate a surprise visit complete with cream tea. Now, one year on, Breda has supplied more than 50 cream teas and is proud to have helped others in difficult circumstances. She has received lovely feedback but then who could fail to enjoy a cream tea personally prepared and delivered by Breda! 

 As for myself, my new skill is blogging! I feel privileged to have the opportunity to indulge my love of writing and am proud to have maintained communication with the Belles in this way. I have mastered some aspects of WordPress with the help of my excellent and patient tutor, Jane. I am in awe of Kirsty who is proud to have taught herself how to build a website for her business. Just as well as, due to redundancy, she has gone fully self employed this year.  Annette is proud of her walking routine, only missing two daily walks in the last year due to icy conditions. She has kept busy with crafts and other interests, learning new skills through the Denman at home courses, and is never bored. I think Annette speaks for all of us when she cites remaining sane throughout the year as an achievement! Well done to all!

Easter Egg Bonanza

Belles, as always, you’ve been amazing and have donated over 65 Easter eggs for the children at the refuge.             

Coming soon…

We hope you enjoyed the meeting with mindreader, Chris.  I still can’t figure out how he knew Nic was looking up Nottingham – amazing! Next month’s meeting will be confirmed in the next few days! Watch this space!


It is currently renewals time – don’t forgot to check your inboxes on details of how to renew. Whilst you’re here, let’s reminisce about what we have done this year…

Saturday 27th February, 2021

Signs of Spring

Out and about on walks this week I have noticed leaf buds,  pussy willow, catkins and Yew trees beginning to flower whilst in the garden, the birds re looking to nest – all welcome signs that it is almost spring. The weather has been kind too and all in all there is a hint of cautious optimism in the air. The road map out of lockdown has been revealed and by the end of March, we will once again be able to meet with up to five other people outdoors. Our walking group can resume as can tennis and, if happy to eat al fresco, brunch group too. It has been quite a wait and it will be good to meet in person once again.  Hopefully all will go to plan and we’ll all be able to enjoy many more freedoms by the summer.

In the meantime we will continue to hold our meetings on Zoom and Facebook. In this way we can book speakers from around the country and indeed the globe! Our last speaker, Leila, was based in Sweden! She showed us how to make some pretty paper decorations using pages from magazines, old seed catalogues etc. Nic has shared some of these on social media if you haven’t sent her a picture of your paper creation, please do so as we’d love to see them. Members have also been sending photos of their completed calico squares which once again, have been shared on social media in the hope that many more will follow. So if you haven’t already done so and want something in the next week or so, please consider completing your square using any theme of your choice that represents something positive from what has been a very strange twelve months. You might like to embroider or use applique – it’s up to you or fabric pen if you prefer.

Show the Love

For this month’s challenge cup we asked you to make green hearts in any medium. We love these different entries from Annette, Connie, Marion, Sally and Liz S.

Our Next Meeting

March’s meeting is all about mind reading! Come and join us for some light-hearted fun with our special guest.

Monday Coffee Shop

Don’t forget we have our coffee shop open every Monday on Zoom, from 11am to 11.30am. Do pop along and join us for as long or as short a time as you have spare.

Tuesday, 26th January, 2021

January has 41 days right? Well maybe not but it really is the longest month. It seems ages until we turn the calendar to February. There have been some grey days but there have also been some glorious blue skies, some sharp frosts, a little snow and today there was the most amazing sunrise. I wasn’t able to capture the red sky as by the time I was dressed it had gone. But February is just around the corner and the days are getting longer. Spring shoots are beginning to appear and soon the crocuses and snowdrops will be out in abundance. Meanwhile, here is a photo of some colourful  tulips that I couldn’t resist buying whilst out food shopping today. They certainly add some cheer  and a hint of optimism to my living room.

It was good to catch up for a chat with some familiar faces at The Belles coffee morning which is at 11am every Monday. It is a short Zoom session to allow members to grab a cup of coffee and take a break. We loved watching Gemma’s toddler interacting with their cat and hearing about how her eldest likes making nature pictures. Chris took a break from painting and a couple of us were knitting as we e commiserated with Beryl and Vena who are currently trying to cope without an oven leaving Vena unable to spend time baking a cake. I guess some sweet treats will now be added to their  Click and Collect order to compensate.  Until then, we promise not to eat cake on the Zoom coffee morning! It was good also heard that some members have received or have been offered and with the rest of us in line to get one in the coming months, there is a good chance that we’ll be able to meet again later this year.  We are hopeful that some of our sub groups will be able to meet if restrictions are relaxed slightly in the coming weeks.

Let It Snow!

To kickstart this challenge, here is a photograph from the archives of me aged about 6 with my next door neighbour Barry who, much to my dismay, was also my country dancing partner.                                                                                                                                                                                                            

But how timely was it that we got a dusting of snow on Saturday just in time? It didn’t stay around for long and only the early birds were able to capture it – well done to Marilyn and Tori.  Some of us have delved into the archives to find snow themed photographs whilst Marion, on the other hand has sent a short acrostic poem.   

Marion’s Acrostic

S -Snowflakes, snowmen,  Schnee in Germany
N– Nippy, neige in France
O– Obscuring, overcast
W– White, Winter Wonderland.

 And here are the photographic entries – two of Marilyn’s garden and a close up from Tori. Then a photo from 1991 of Margaret’s rabbit in the snow and one of a young Jane. Viv has submitted a photo of herself with Hubby in the snow and another of a helicopter in the snow. Was that your own private transport, Viv? And finally, my photo of Tallin, Estonia with a frozen Baltic Sea.




Friday, 8th January 2021

Welcome to blog number 31, the first of the year which sees us almost a week into lockdown 3. It seems we are pretty much back to where we began in March. The big difference is that we are now in the cold dark days of January unlike last Spring when the weather was warm and the promise of summer lay ahead. Although there is some optimism in the form of the vaccine rollout, we have a rough storm to weather before the critical numbers begin to fall again. We are back to working from home, anxieties around home schooling are again real and whilst we recognise the importance of staying at home to save lives,  lockdown fatigue is a real thing. We may have lost the enthusiasm for baking sourdough loaves or crafting, the novelty of online fitness classes may have worn off, we are unable to play golf or tennis and are restricted to  exercising outdoors once a day. Some mornings it is very hard to get motivated at all whist at night coronasomnia can plague us. We have been warned that this lockdown is likely to last until spring and we know it is going to be tough. This is where The Belles can help…

We are hosting a virtual coffee morning each Monday morning at 11am just for 30 minutes, so why not make like the cool Swedes, take a break from whatever you are doing and and join us for our own Fika – a break from activity during which people drink coffee, eat cakes or other light snacks, and relax with others. Pop in for five minutes or stay for half an hour, it’s up to you.

And don’t forget you can interact with other Belles through our online Facebook groups. This week Tori has posted about her fabulous paper collage in the craft group, Liz S has offered a jigsaw to swap in Buddy Belles, Anne has shared a funny crochet pattern on Happy Hookers, there have been book suggestions in Bookworms (including useful notifications of Kindle 99p offers) and I have posted some photos in Shooting Stars. Now where is Susan and her bakes?

Things to do whilst staying at home

There’s no denying this lockdown is hard so we have a few ideas to help fill the time. If you are looking for something to do whilst staying at home, don’t forget about the panel we’ve asked you to complete with an image that represents something positive from last year. Sylvia has chosen to embroider a picture of her dog and constant companion, who kept her going with walks each day, whilst Annette has represented her garden in applique and embroidery. How lovely are they?

Don’t forget to take a look at the online courses offered each week by Denman at Home. Courses range from cookery to craft and lifestyle as well as virtual guided tours and talks on Zoom. Priced at just £5 an hour this represents excellent value. In December I enrolled on a craft course for making wine holder gift bags. The demonstration was clear and the course notes emailed beforehand were very comprehensive. It was perfectly pitched  for beginner sewers and those with experience alike. I have made Boomerang bags at Sewing Bee yet still picked up a few tips on applique and it did mean I didn’t have to work out the dimensions for myself! We’d love to hear from you if you’ve done a Denman course but equally we’d like to know if you’ve found any other online material that other Belles might enjoy. Or even any other online groups we could set up, as an example, online board games that was suggested at our committee meeting.                                                                                                                           

Coming This Month

As this month we’re off to The Arctic and we’d like you to create something snow-themed to show at the Zoom meeting. It could be a photo (possibly from your archives if we don’t have any snow between now and our meeting), a collage or drawing. Any medium is fine so get creative as we’d love to see how you interpret this challenge. 



      STAY CONNECTED                                                                                           

Thursday, 31st December 2020

Winter Sky

Well that was a Christmas with a difference and probably some considerable disappointment too.  The Tier Four restrictions which were imposed, somewhat belatedly, prevented household mixing and plans had to change last minute. But however you celebrated, we hope you were able to enjoy some peace and quality time with your immediate families.

And now, it’s finally here, the bitter end of 2020 when we can at last turn our backs on what has been the most strange and tough year, a year like no other! A year that saw us putting rainbows up in our windows, working out indoors to Joe Wicks or similar fitness gurus, commemorating VE Day with front garden tea parties, working from home and home schooling, staying at home as most of the world went into lockdown and cheering on Captain Tom. It has been a year of stark contrasts where we have witnessed a minority of people panic buying and deliberately flouting restrictions whereas  on the flip side we’ve seen communities coming together to support one another and care for the vulnerable.

It has also been a year when we recognised that our true heroes are our doctors, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists, carers, teachers, postal workers, refuse collectors, shop assistants and all other keyworkers who kept the country going. We have recognised that what we miss most isn’t material possessions but  the company of friends and family. Who could have guessed as we watched the firework displays last December that our 5 star hotels would soon be used to accommodate the homeless, that so many eminent professors would become household names and that a professional footballer would successfully campaign for free school meals to be extended throughout the holidays? And now as we approach 2021 we can celebrate the hard work of  the scientists and researchers who have worked tirelessly to bring about a vaccine in record time that will enable us to combat this virus. But with Brentwood seeing a surge in cases we are not out of the woods yet, schools can’t reopen next week and we’ll have to remain in our own homes to see in the New Year.

Here’s hoping that it won’t be too long until we can all party again.

The parting year was also a very different one for the Belles as we turned to meeting on Zoom. We joined in with quizzes from both Jane J and Viv, learnt some photography tips, had an interactive sketching lesson, heard about the antics of two very different speakers and celebrated our 10th birthday by making roses from sugar paste as taught by professional baker,  Zoe. At our December meeting, we came together for some Christmas entertainment in the form of singing from Sarah. In the Summer, the committee delivered the materials needed for the sketching lesson and then in November each member received a birthday bag decorated with our logo and containing the sugar paste and cutters that were used to make our roses. Some of our sub groups have been able to physically meet at times when lockdowns were eased but most of our interaction has been through our Facebook groups and other social media channels as well as this blog. 

Mental Health Support

One of our members, Tracey, works for the Vita Health Group who provide the mental health services for the NHS in our area. She’s has kindly provided us with the following information:

Vita Health Mental Health Support

January Meeting

Our first meeting of 2021 is a cracker! We have Misba Khan, ‘an “ordinary” mum turned Rambler turned polar skier‘ coming to tell us how she ended up as an Arctic explorer!

In the meantime we wish you a safe, healthy and peaceful New Year!


Saturday, 12th December

Well it’s hard to believe that we’ve made it to December and we can shortly put 2020 behind us. This week we saw  the start of the Covid vaccination programme which should eventually make a big difference to our lives.  Whipsnade Zoo aptly named their latest arrival, a baby giraffe, Margaret, as it was born just as the first person, a lady by that name, was being vaccinated. The zoo called Tuesday the ‘day of hope’ and I think we can all share that sentiment knowing there is now light at the end of the tunnel.

Christmas Party This Week!

For now though, Christmas is fast approaching and with it our annual Christmas party which although somewhat different this year should still be an opportunity to get together in a virtual sense and enjoy a fun filled evening. To help things go with a swing, Jane is providing recipes for some of her infamous cocktails so that on on Wednesday we can put on our party hats or festive jumpers, and with cocktail to hand sit back and be entertained. These will be emailed to you Monday 14 December. We have booked Sarah who you’ll remember from last New Year’s January meeting, to sing some seasonal songs and carols. Oh and there’ll be a few fun and festive games and puzzles to complete too that will be emailed to you before Wednesday.

Refuge Presents

Last week our own Margaret delivered our donations of Christmas presents to Natasha at Changing Pathways. As you can see from the photo there was a fabulous array of beautifully wrapped gifts with enough donations for each child currently at the refuge to receive at least one present.  Natasha has thanked us for our generosity and hopefully you can read her greeting on the card pictured.

One for The West End Belles and other theatre lovers!

 Theresa Baker from the Ambassador Theatre group has compiled a quiz for WI  members to have a go at.  She writes, ” Over the last few weeks I have prepared a theatre Quiz for members to use during their online meetings or just on your own at home. The quiz covers a a mixture of questions covering the shows from the last few years and upcoming new shows plus pantomime and theatre terminology. I hope you enjoy the quiz – it’s just for fun- I hope it brings some happy memories and ideas of the joy of live theatre!”

Theatre Quiz

ANSWERS Theatre Quiz

Virtual Winter Festival

Have you seen the virtual Winter festival on the NFWI website with lots of activities to try from crafts, recipes and puzzles? It will be live throughout December and the start of January. All the recipes and craft projects can be downloaded as a PDF for printing. It is worth taking a look here –


As this will be the last blog before the 25th,  Jane and the committee wish you all a Merry Christmas. Stay safe in your Christmas bubbles, Belles!

Friday 20th November, 2020 

Special Birthday Edition!

How fabulous was Wednesday evening, Belles? Firstly the demonstration from Zoe from Boutique Cake Studio who taught us how to model roses and leaves using the cutters and sugar paste we all received. Some of our creations have been shared on our Facebook from decorated cupcakes to biscuits and even mince pies, we love them all. And now that we know how, my guess is we’ll see lots of beautifully decorated cakes at our future meetings. Always good to learn a new skill. The second half of our Zoom meeting was all about our 10th birthday  as we watched Jane’s montage of photos depicting the last ten years. At the end, Jane thanked the committee for all their hard work. Even though we were unable to meet in person, a large number of members joined on Zoom with others watching on Facebook and there was a definite celebratory air to the meeting.  For a good number of the past ten years, Jane has been at the helm either as President or in a shared role and it is her drive and enthusiasm that we all admire. Jane is quick to show her gratitude for others and now it is our turn to say a huge heartfelt thank you to her. Thank you, Jane! You are a fabulous president and we love you!

Challenge Cup Competition: Belles Big Birthday

Here are the poems entered on the theme of what it means to be a Belle:-

By Marilyn

Ten years ago I walked into South Weald parish hall
To be met by so many people too many to recall
On that night a brand new WI was formed
With 100 members Brentwood Belles was born
Friendship and laughter has ruled non stop
With lots of cakes and non stop fizzy pop 🍾
We have ten years of fabulous speakers to entertain us and challenges to be won
Plus quizzes and dancing and keep fit and lots of non stop fun
Lunch club and crafts clubs theatre and walking groups all add to our delight
Plus Facebook and Instagram to read day and night
The committee are amazing especially through this dreadful year
Every single one of them deserves lots of thanks and a great big cheer
I am so lucky to have become a Brentwood Belle
Let’s all raise a glass to the next ten years by which time we will all have lots more stories to tell.  

By Annette

A bunch of wild women
Who meet once a month
To talk and to chat
But much more than that
Our friendship we share
In groups large and small
We sew and we bake
And love to eat cake
Our walks and our games
Have brought us some fame
There’s too much to tell
Of course, We’re the BELLES               

By Nic

Being a Belle, what does it mean?

Does it mean being part of a fabulous team?

Does it mean speakers and crafts and lots of fun?

Does it mean challenging ourselves to things we’ve never done?

Is it lots and lots of tea and cake?

Is it chatter and laughter during tea break?

Is it friendly competition as we enter the Challenge Cup?

Is it love and support as we lift each other up?

Does it mean a room full of women and a projector screen?

Is it turning to Zoom in times never before seen?

Is it brunch club and book club and darts we can try?

Is it craft club and lunch club and lots more besides?

Does it mean inspiration, education and fun?

Is it campaigns for women who get the job done?

Being a Belle: it’s fabulous fun friendship and it’s 10 years young;

Being a Belle: I’m so grateful I’m one!

By Marion

Carol and I enjoyed arranging the trips
We managed it mostly, without any slips!
Waiting at locations, ticking names off our lists
All our lovely ladies knew the gist
Mail Rail, Alpaccas & so much more
Always other adventures lined up in store
Friendship, fun, ladies willing to lend a hand
All help to make Brentwood Belles the best in the land!

By Margaret

Submit a poem they suggested.

How do you feel?

They asked,

About being a Belle?

Well, to be honest,

Regarding a poem,

I feel challenged, yet inspired,

With a new found confidence

To leave my comfort zone and to have a go –

As a Belle

Joining the Belles

Brings a sense of belonging,

New experiences, learning and laughter

Volunteering, helping others

Being welcomed and accepted

By a group of friendly ladies

That’s being a Belle

By Tricia

10 years at The Belles

An inspirational talk from Sister P.  yarnbombing the theatre tree

Yoga, belly dancing, even burlesque, Margaret at the check-in desk!

Biscuits, cake and pudding club, knit and natter in the pub,

Carol’s CD wall, the challenge cup, bake it, make it, points add up.

Guessing nail varnish colours at one of Viv’s quizzes, summer garden party at Liz’s

Buying plants from Marion’s stall, A New Year sing song in the hall,

Author Virginia’s comedic tales, party fun, games and Jane’s cocktails.

Bookworms, craft group, walks with views, Buddy Belles blog and Essex News

Spring group meeting with cream tea, Mini Belles, bunting, sewing bee

Lunch group, theatre trips, online chat; Facebook, Twitter –  Nic sees to that.

So what does being a Belle mean to me? I’d say friendship is the key 

From frivolity and laughter to serious campaigns, the WI is in my veins

And in this strange year more so than ever, The Brentwood Belles have come together.

Happy Birthday, Belles!

Belles in WI Life

And to add to our birthday celebrations, we also have two Belles in the November issue of WI Life – did you spot them?

Coming Up Soon

We have a new Morning Coffee Zoom for you!

And here’s this year’s Christmas Party!

We may not be able to meet in person yet but we’ll do our best to provide you with a classic Belles Christmas Party online still! With a special musical guest and festive fun and games!

Food Bank Requests

Our local FoodBanks are getting even busier now. Here’s what they are most in need of at the moment, plus details of where to take your donations…

Breakthru Church, 165 Hanging Hill Lane, Hutton, Essex CM13 2QH 10:00-12:00 Noon  Monday & Thursday
Doddinghurst Road Community Church, CM15 9EH 1100- 1300 Tuesday & Wednesday
Sainsburys, William Hunter Way, Brentwood 08.00 – 21.00 Box at store front




Wednesday 11th November, 2020

Ten Fabulous Years

We may be a week into the second lockdown but it can’t have escaped your notice that it’s our birthday and, in true Belles spirit, we’ll rise to the challenge and despite a global pandemic we’ll throw a party, albeit online.

There does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel with promising news this week of a possible vaccine  in the not too distant future. This is potentially good news in terms of us being able to resume our meetings next year. We can but hope. But for now, we are ten and have good reason to celebrate.

How it all started…

It hardly seems like ten years ago when I ventured out along with many other women on a bitterly cold evening in late October. The hall was packed and myself and 94 others paid our membership fees and joined the newly formed Brentwood Belles WI. The following month was the official first meeting and the remaining few places were taken and membership was full, such was the demand for a new and forward thinking WI in Brentwood.

From that date we have gone from strength to strength always maintaining a strong and stable membership and have a waiting list of ladies wishing to join. So what is our winning formula? We believe we are inclusive and welcoming and aim to provide a wide and varied programme from inspirational speakers to demonstrations and  interactive meetings such as self defence and also laughter yoga. With our many sub groups and online facebook groups there is something for everyone. Most of all though and I think you’ll agree, we are about friendship. 

So how are we going to celebrate our ten fabulous years?

Well we began in earnest last month when Viv hosted a quiz with a difference at our recent Zoom meeting.  We always look forward to Viv’s quizzes as they don’t rely too heavily on general knowledge and this one didn’t disappoint, based as it was on game shows! We discovered previously unknown facts about some of the committee members – who knew that Margaret and husband, Jeff, had managed to get locked in Caernarfon castle and Jane J will no longer be able to disguise tomatoes in future meals she prepares for her husband who dislikes them!  Viv was very imaginative in coming up with red herrings to throw us all off course. The generation game round featured items advertised in WI Life and tested our memories.  After other rounds based on Blankety Blank and Take Your Pick we added our scores and submitted them in secret to Viv. The worthy winner is Sarah Logan. Well done, Sarah, we hope you enjoy your prize.  I’m sure we’d all like to thank Viv for preparing and delivering the quiz in such a fun way.

What’s next?

With November as our actual birthday month, we have an extra special meeting for you, and a birthday present being hand delivered to every member by our lovely committee – the contents of the delivery are to be brought along to our birthday meeting! Don’t use them beforehand!

So, on Wednesday 18th November we’ll meet on Zoom at 8pm to celebrate with a live cake decorating demonstration and, of course, to eat cake. Sadly, much as we’d love to, we cant deliver 120 slices of birthday cake so we invite you to bring a cupcake along to the Zoom meeting. Further details will be sent to you along with the Zoom instructions.

Meanwhile, please look out for a birthday present that will be delivered shortly. We hope you’ll love it as much as we do. 

Challenge Cup Competition: Belles Big Birthday

Celebrating The Belles

To celebrate the tenth birthday of The Brentwood Belles, we would like you to write a poem about The Belles and what it means to you to be a member.

It can be any style of poetry but preferably no longer than 16 lines as we’re hoping to have lots of entries to share with you. 

Refuge Christmas Gift Collection

This year it’s even more important than ever to support Changing Pathways. We emailed you w/c 1st November with details on how you can donate this year.

Food Bank

Equally important is supporting the local FoodBank as they are getting busier as the financial implications of Covid-19 start to hit. Here’s what they are most in need of at the moment, plus details of where to take your donations…

Breakthru Church, 165 Hanging Hill Lane, Hutton, Essex CM13 2QH 10:00-12:00 Noon  Monday & Thursday
Doddinghurst Road Community Church, CM15 9EH 1100- 1300 Tuesday & Wednesday
Sainsburys, William Hunter Way, Brentwood 08.00 – 21.00 Box at store front




Friday 16th October, 2020

If you go down to the woods today…………. the ground will likely be carpeted in russet leaves and various fungi will be visible. Squirrels will be busy gathering acorns and conkers to store for the winter. The low sun will highlight the different colours in the trees which this week  have often been set against a backdrop of threatening grey clouds as in this photo which was taken by Margaret. And should you go to Thorndon Park you may well spot some parakeets flying around and hear their distinctive call as I discovered today. I was at Thorndon Park this morning for a particular reason – shall I let the cat out of the bag? Oh alright then, you’ll all know soon enough anyway – I was there to meet a photographer who was to take some portrait shots of me to be used in a future edition of  a magazine we all receive!  A few weeks ago, there had been a request from members of the WI  who have been  lifelong friends and so my schoolfriend, who is a member of Saltaire WI in Yorkshire, and I sent in our story. We were contacted by a journalist working on WI Life and we had a three way Zoom meeting. We were then each assigned a professional  photographer and asked to arrange a meeting in an outdoor setting and I suggested Thorndon Park hoping that it wouldn’t be too busy on a weekday morning. Whilst I enjoy taking photos, I am far from comfortable in front of a lens and would cringe with embarrassment if there were lots of onlookers. As it happened, Melissa, the photographer was lovely and the moment I spoke to her on the phone I felt at ease. We managed to avoid most of the mothers and toddlers on the Gruffalo trail but I’m sure there were several shots with a dog or two answering the call of nature in the background as we seemed to be hounded (pardon the pun) by them at one point!      


So, as from tonight, Essex moves to tier two of Coronavirus restrictions. This means that we are unable to meet in an indoor setting and so the darts group, Sewing Bee and the Happy Hookers will have to suspend their meetings. Fortunately, the walking group can, for the moment, continue and we’ll happily walk in most weathers. Other sub groups will be able to meet virtually as we have a subscription for Zoom.  But don’t forget to keep in touch via our facebook sub groups. This week, Tori posted her beautiful collage of a ballerina she photographed in Covent Garden, Becky showed us a lovely wreath she has made from book pages and Liz S. posted a photo of the gorgeous lap blanket she has just completed for her son’s flat. If you have baked a tempting Autumn treat we’d love to hear about it so please post in the Wooden Spoons group and also share any atmospheric Autumnal photographs in The Shooting Stars as we’d love to see them.

This Week At The Belles: a welcome antidote!

It’s the first of our 3 Months of Fun for our 10th birthday this week and we see the return of Viv’s Quiz. But with a difference this time – no general knowledge is required! It’s is based upon 4 popular tv gameshows from current shows to good ol’ classics. So grab a cuppa or a glass of something and do join us on Wednesday for some fun and laughter, Belles-style.

And don’t forget next month!

Support At This Strange Time

If anyone is feeling overwhelmed or anxious at the current situation, please do get in touch. We’re always happy to chat and catch up whether that’s on the phone, email or by Zoom. If you need help with anything, then we’re here for you too. Get in touch with Tricia or Jane and we’ll do our best to help or find some support for you:




Friday 2nd October, 2020

Well October certainly announced it’s arrival with storm Alex battering the country and making it clear that Autumn is well and truly here. October is of course Black History Month and  you can read about inspiring Black women throughout history and the present day over on the WI blog. This year we have seen the impact of Black Lives Matter around the world and issues of racism have been quite prominent.  Essex libraries have published a list of recommended reading, both fiction and non fiction that highlights prominent black writers, thinkers and activists. Included in the list is material that deals with race, racism and experiences of racism and books suggestions for children are included. Short reviews of the recommended titles will be on the library You Tube channel and social media which might be a good introduction.

Next Saturday, October 10th is World Mental Heath Day and this year’s theme is ‘Mental health for All’ and is particularly pertinent with so many suffering mental health issues as a direct result of the pandemic. There are lots publications available on the website with, amongst others, titles such as  ‘How to overcome fear and anxiety’  and ‘ How to sleep better’ and they can be downloaded free of charge. You might be interested in a coffee and catch up Zoom session organised by WI Essex next Saturday.

Have you seen the latest copy of Essex news which, this month is an online edition in the form of a flip book? Simply click on the link and you should be able to read it but please do get in touch if you have any problems accessing it. Also available as a flipbook is WI Life which can be found here. This does not replace a hard copy which you should receive in the post as usual. Mine arrived today.

October was traditionally sober October but given the current circumstances, that might be a bridge too far for some this year. I rather like Optimistic October. There are some things we can all be optimistic about – our 10th birthday being one of them – more of that later. We should all be grateful that we are not subject to the tighter restrictions imposed on some of the Northern cities and most of Wales. At the moment we can still meet in groups of six and so the walking group can continue. The Sewing Bee ladies met on Friday and continued to make Boomerang bags that are being offered to customers in Calcotts farm shop for a small donation to charity. There are a number of ladies who go to sewing bee and Liz was very creative in breaking it into two sessions and by sanitising tables etc in between everybody who wanted to attend could be accommodated. Other sub groups might be able to meet providing the rule of six is adhered to and all Covid precautions are in place.


Autumn Plans – Three Months of Fun!

It’s our 10th birthday so we have three months of celebrations for you!


The return of one of our most popular annual evenings – Viv’s Quiz! You’ll get an email next week with more details…


Details will be released next week but we will be joined by a special guest demonstrator for a fun birthday party with a difference!

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We may not be able to meet in person yet but we’ll do our best to provide you with a classic Belles Christmas Party online still! With a special musical guest and festive fun and games!


We have received some lovely comments from members. Beryl C contacted us to say how much she and Vena enjoyed the speaker at our last meeting on Zoom and how she enjoys reading about our future plans on this blog. Marion also enjoyed the online meetings which she watched on Facebook. Constance has sent photos of the sunflowers which she grew from the seeds enclosed in the gift bags delivered earlier in the summer. 



As you’ll see in the magazine, there are some great talks on Zoom being hosted by Essex Federation in the next couple of months so don’t miss out – they have limited availability!




Friday 18th September 2020

Well you are no doubt wondering why we haven’t blogged in a while. To be honest, we have been up to our eyes in admin recently. Firstly we had to grapple with risk assessments and then the new rule of six and constantly monitor the ever changing situation with regards to our sub groups. We had to prepare reports for our AGM and attend a committee meeting where, amongst other things, we are busy planning our tenth birthday celebrations – quite the challenge in these unusual times for sure! In addition to this and possibly due to too much screen time both myself and Jane have suffered migraines. I had to miss the first of our walking group meet ups last month as I was laid up in bed and going nowhere as anyone who suffers from these debilitating attacks will understand. But we are back and have plenty of information for you.

Our Virtual AGM was a success and all the business was conducted very swiftly and effectively with reports circulated in advance. Our speaker for the evening, Faith Powell  was very entertaining with her hilarious account of her appearances as a contestant on a number of tv shows. We laughed as she swivelled round in her chair whilst singing the theme tune to Going for Gold and quizzed us on some of the preliminary questions that she was asked back in the day.  Beryl managed to get an answer correct and from that moment on, Faith put her on the hotspot! Who knew a meeting could be so much fun on Zoom!  It really did feel like we were all in the room together. After Faith’s speech, Jane conducted the business part of the AGM and everyone agreed unanimously to adopt the suggestion from National that the same committee is elected to serve until the new year starts in April. More information on the committee including an introduction from each member will follow in the next week.

As we head into Autumn we are picking up what we are offering you again – read on for full details!

The full statement from the WI on the Rule of 6 can be found here: NFWI Rule of 6 Update

So what does this mean for the Belles?

Main Meetings

Whilst these can’t resume in person we do have a brilliant programme for you over the Autumn and Winter and hope that you can join us at as many events as possible. It is our 10th birthday season after all!

Sub Groups

As you’ll have seen from the NFWI update, our sub groups can meet, as long as there are no more than 6 people there.

The NFWI said they consider multiple groups of 6, spaced apart from each other, as not allowed and in breach of the law. And that sadly WIs and their activities do not count under any of the exemptions.

The committee are supporting any sub groups that wish to return, as much as they need us to with risk assessments and ways to meet, and are keeping up to date with the latest information to ensure we can offer our members as much as possible, as soon as is allowed.

Exciting Autumn Plans!

It’s our 10th birthday in November and so the committee are planning not one, not two but three whole months of celebratory meetings for you all!

October will see the return of the ever popular Viv’s Quiz – The Birthday Edition! Team up or fly solo – either way, buckle up, it’s going to be fun!


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November we will have an exciting interactive session with a special guest, a birthday raffle, a secret surprise for every member and more!

December we will be having a festive get-together on Zoom including singing a few festive songs with another special guest singer, plus a special TBBWI Christmas edition of bingo!

We’re really looking forward to some fabulous Belles fun with you all to help us celebrate albeit on Zoom and FB Live!

Recycling Update from Carol

Some of you may have quite a collection of a) crisp packets b) toothbrushes and c) pens for recycling. If you are happy to hang on to them till we restart meetings, that’s great, if not here are your options:
a) Crisp collection point is at My Place, near Harold Hill swimming pool
b) Find your local dental collection point at  There is one in Grays which I used this week, one in Billericay and one in Wickford
c) Pens can be posted to Ellie’s fund 31, Otley Road, Headingely, Leeds, LS6 3AA

Also Brentwood council has changed the recycling facility they use, which has resulted in a revised list of plastic items that can be put in the new white sack:
Basically no thin plastics go in the white bag.
‘Stretchy’ plastic including frozen food bags can go to supermarket recycling,
‘Crinkly’ plastic, ie film such as salad bags goes in the bin.

List should be updated soon on
Tetrapacks can no longer recycled in Brentwood ….but Chelmsford residents can!
As they can’t recycle their foil maybe suggest a swap if you know someone who lives there?
Alternatively, there is a Terracycle collection point for them at Barleylands, see their website.
It may be complicated, but please don’t give up recycling!

Old make up can be recycled too so no excuse to hoard those old lippies that are of no use to anyone now that masks are mandatory in so many places!   L’Oreal launches make-up recycling across UK shops and also Superdrug have a recycle facility.





Friday, 14th August

What a week – hot temperatures and a series of tropical nights and then finally, last night, a storm. I love a good thunderstorm and am enjoying the slightly fresher air now which is more comfortable as I sit here typing. Just a brief update from me on news from the National and Essex Federations before I hand over to Jane for this week’s blog. Firstly, National are introducing a newsletter which will feature articles that are different to those featured in WI Life. If you’d like to receive a copy, you can subscribe here. There is also a warning to members to be aware of Denman scams on platforms such as ‘Just Giving’ and ‘Go Fund Me’ as these are not legitimate.

Have you clicked the link to Essex News Bubble Edition 5 that was sent out in the email? You might have noticed that one of the  winning entries to a recent writing competition is featured and is written by our very own talented member, Nic. Her source of inspiration is her young son and she writes about how motherhood has helped her to overcome anxieties. There was due to be a presentation at the Annual County Meeting in March which had to be postponed and so for now, Nic, we send you a round of virtual applause. You have done The Belles proud and we all congratulate you. Well Done!

So over to Jane… another week and there’s more changes – a few more places are able to open, brows will be threaded again, but those on holiday may face quarantine when they return. We’re in a bit of a limbo land at the moment and it’s one that’s quite variable. Some of us will be back at work and some still furloughed, whilst others are dipping their toes in the ‘going out’ pond either with day trips, or a staycation. An unusual summer for sure.

Colchester Museum Archives Re-Write

Normally, back in March, there would have been many Essex Book Festival events. In fact, several Belles all attended one at Shenfield Library about the slave trade,  a few days before lockdown. And last week, I spotted the opportunity to attend an online workshop with their resident author and born and bred Essex girl, Syd Moore…

This week I was booked to go on Re-Writing the Archive – An Online Writing Workshop with Syd Moore. Now, I have read several of Syd’s books – namely an excellent series based around the Essex Witch Museum. Said museum  doesn’t actually exist but her descriptions of it are so intricate and full of tales of past witches and hunters that it’s easy to see why directions to it is one of the questions she’s asked the most! I wasn’t entirely sure what our session involved but for a donation of £5 I was willing to have a go!

It turned out to be a fascinating session done in conjunction with Colchester Museum with objects that they find hard to place in their displays. For example, there were slave manacles, embroidery one of our previous queens made alongside the 2 ladies-in-waiting that she was in a relationship with, melted glass from the time of Boudeccia, an animal foetus in a jar from an experiment at Colchester Zoo in the 60s and 70s, and many more. We then were led through a really easy process to help us re-envisage the history of the item we had chosen and write a couple of sentences about protagonists, events and the item. We will now have some time to develop these ideas a little and will send them in and Colchester Zoo will decide whether they would like to include them with the display to help visitors understand the life of the items.

Plus I got to fangirl a little and meet Syd on Zoom – she’s fab!

The session is running again in September and I thoroughly recommend it for any budding writers out there – full details on their events page:

How Not To Exercise!

To counteract this creativity I also decided I needed to get to grips with my lack of exercise. With less dog walks due to the recent heat, I was feeling the need!

I started by downloading Couch to 5k and set off and completed session one. For those who have not done this before, it is an app currently being promoted by the NHS as a way tp get fit: I can choose from people as different as comedian Sarah Millican or Olympian Michael Jordan to coach me and over the course of 9 weeks I learn how to run 5k. So off I went on Day 1. And it was actually ok – 8 lots of 1 minute running intervals, interspersed with 90 second walks with Michael Jordan sounding immensely positive was actually way more ok than I thought it would be. I felt pretty pleased with myself by the end although it took 2 hours for my face to no longer be like a beetroot!

Now, I did this in secret from the rest of the family: just me and the patient hound. Reason being, I was going to surprise them after a few weeks by suggesting we all went for a run (I’d never suggest this normally!). However… the next day, Saturday, came around and OUCH! My thighs had gone on strike! I’d committed to helping my daughter with quite a bit of tidying on the Saturday which involved me kneeling and squatting and it was so painful. But still I kept my secret! It’ll feel better by Sunday I thought. But no, still the same. The secret was finally broken when my husband and I were on a dog walk and going downhill to the village centre and I was walking so oddly and slowly that even he noticed! Lol Now he does do a lot of training so bless him, he suggested we went home and then did some super strength stretches his PT had taught him and the relief was incredible!

And whilst perched on the sofa with a restorative cup of tea, and feeling a bit of a failure, I then happened across a YouTuber who you may have seen in the papers or on This Morning: Lucy Wyndham-Read. And she’s been revelation! Lucy offers short exercise sessions that are easy to fit in with a busy day, which was one of the problems I was having. For those who don’t know, Lucy is an ex-Army PT and has been a personal trainer for over 25 years – she’s 49 and looks about 29! She has honed these exercises to create short routines, not usually more than 7 minutes, that increase your metabolism for 10 hours, and for longer more than an average 45 minute workout does. So I have been doing her 7  minute Melt Belly Fat routine, and her 3 minute arm toning routine every day since Monday.

And my results so far: I’ve already lost 4cm round my waist, 2cm off my hips and 1cm off each bicep/tricep! So I think I’ll do some more workouts with Lucy and save the c25k app until I feel a little fitter.

Obviously you have to eat reasonably healthily as well but I like her gentle yet enthusiastic style and I already feel better for my 10 minutes of exercise every morning.

Bonus Meeting This Week!

This week we have a bonus monthly meeting for you – we’re not sure how many of you have actually managed to get away and so we have booked an additional speaker. She’s spoken at other WIs up North previously and we’re taking advantage of the current Zoom based situation we find ourselves in to book her. Her name is Petr Allingham and she is going to entertain us with her stories of her Travels in A Quirky Car!

So log on to the Zoom on your email (or follow us on Facebook Live) as per our previous meeting and sit back and be entertained with her tales. We will also have a Q&A for you at the end too.

No AfterZoom Tea this coming week – our next one will be Thursday 27th August.

Sub-Groups – Slowly Reopening! Hurrah!

Jane emailed our subgroups leaders on behalf of the committee and we’re really pleased to say that some are now meeting in person in a socially distanced, and often outdoors, manner! We currently have Brunching Belles (outdoors), Happy Hookers (outdoors), Raquet Belles (outdoors) and the Sewing Bee (indoors but socially distanced in a village hall) on offer – see the subgroups pages for contact details of leaders.

Coming soon is Heading Out With The Belles. We are in touch with other subgroup leaders and as and when they wish to start up, Tricia is kindly collating the risk assessments required by our insurance company and by NFWI and FEWI. A big thank you to all the leaders who have taken the time to complete a thorough risk assessment for the committee to ensure the safety of our members – and we hope member feel reassured as the committee are following the strict guidelines as dictated by National Federation and Essex Federation.

That’s about it for this week Belles – we look forward to seeing you all on Wednesday and in the meantime…





Tuesday 4th August, 2020

Blog 21 – how can that be?

Who’d have predicted back in March when we first began to blog regularly that we’d have enough content to keep going for five months. Well we are still here and with every intention to keep posting but probably not as frequently as every week from now on. We will however keep you informed of all the news and virtual events that are planned as your committee continues to meet. For starters, we don’t normally meet in August but this month we have arranged for a guest speaker to join us on Zoom and one of the benefits of online meetings is that we can invite speakers from other areas of the country without the need to pay travel expenses! In this way we can draw on quite a repertoire of people willing to give their talk on Zoom or similar online platforms.

At this week’s committee meeting, we discussed all the rules and regulations regarding sub group meetings. Jane has been checking with both Essex Federation and National to ensure that we have interpreted the guidelines correctly. It would appear that for sub groups to meet and to validate our WI insurance, a risk assessment must be completed to comply with Covid regulations.

This appears to be a lot simpler for those groups meeting outside as The Brunching Belles and Happy Hookers have done in numbers of 6 or less. It is likely that our Heading Out With The Belles walking group will resume shortly, too. It’s more difficult for those groups that need to meet indoors as there are so many stipulations around cleaning the venue, social distancing and more. Fortunately, the weather is fine currently and meeting outdoors is fine for a few of the groups. It is my understanding that the Lunch Group can’t reconvene yet as only two households are currently allowed to book a table in a restaurant or cafe. On a much brighter note, the conversation then moved to ideas for celebrating our 10th anniversary which falls this October. I can’t believe that it is ten years since I ventured out on what was a cold and frosty night to South Weald Parish Hall for the inaugural meeting. The hall was packed with lots of enthusiastic ladies such was the demand for a WI in the centre of Brentwood and it was at this meeting that our name was decided upon through a vote. And so The Brentwood Belles WI was born. The rest, as they say, is history! We may not be able to meet in person but we will celebrate nonetheless! How could we ignore such an auspicious occasion?

Has anybody taken advantage of the Eat out to Help out scheme that started this week? It seems that quite a few of the restaurants and cafes in the Brentwood area are participating and a full list can be found  here. If you have had any experience of good food and service please email and let us know so that we can pass on your recommendation.   

Next Zoom Meet Up

There’s no AfterZoom Tea this week due to the main organisers all being otherwise engaged! But we will be back next week with the AfterZoom Tea.

July Challenge Cup

Thank you to Connie for her colourful painting of an apple, to Margaret for her sketch of a pepper and to Jane for her sketch of a raspberry. All of these were done using the principles that Stephanie taught us at our last meeting (available on FB and YouTube if you missed it – see earlier email for details or email Jane for the links). It’s not too late to send in a sketch if you still want to take part.




Friday 25th July, 2020

Well today is the day that face coverings become compulsory in all shops and shopping malls in England. A few weeks ago I wrote about face masks and reviewed some of the patterns available to make your own. Since that post, Geoff’s remnant shop has reopened so material and elastic is now easier to obtain although I understand there were certainly queues outside initially, such was the demand for his supplies. It is encouraging to see independent shops in Brentwood reopening and being well supported and some, including former Belle, Natasha, of the Chicken and Frog bookshop feature in an article on BBC Essex. But back to the face masks, I have discovered that many stores including Hobbycraft now sell kits with all that is required to make some and online suppliers such as Ladysewandsew and Plush Addict now stock that soft lycra elastic, nose wires and toggles to adjust the elastic. Another favourite, The Cheap Shop in Tiptree have announced that they now have a good stock of elastic. With so many disposable masks now turning up in landfill or worse in our oceans it is well worth the small effort required to make a few or at least buy washable masks.

This week we heard the sad news that Denman College is to shut as it is no longer financially viable. This is such an unfortunate development as the college provided a lovely facility for members to book a stay, learn a new skill with nationally renowned trainers and speakers alike and meet members from all over the country. In fact Beryl and Vena enjoyed a stay and a cookery course there a few years ago when Beryl won our Denman Bursary. The Belles have since diverted these funds elsewhere as, for a variety of valid reasons,  a Denman bursary was not taken up by subsequent winners in our draw. It is no secret that The WI has beeen struggling to meet the growing costs of maintaining Denman College and the lockdown proved to be the final straw. However, Denman at home, the online courses offered have proved popular and there is hope that a training facility along these lines might continue. You can read  the statement about the closure in full and find out out what is on offer from Denman at home here.

To safely go…..

Good news for some who are keen to venture out safely is that from this weekend indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities can now reopen obviously with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place. The Brentwood Centre is reopening from Saturday and is offering a new Rainbow membership allowing use of pool and sports equipment but also a £5 pay as you go sessions for fitness, spinning, badminton and also gym and swim slots. All of these need to be pre-booked. There will be some restrictions on the use of changing facilities so it is worth checking the website before booking.

Brentwood Theatre have a programme of film screenings beginning on 31st July with popular release 1917 with Trolls and Judy scheduled for August. And for those who fancy the full on American Drive -In Movie experience then Moonbeamers Pop Up Cinema at Barleylands is for you. Just remember to take some popcorn!

Coming up at The Belles

Zoom Time This Week

We have our next AfterZoom Tea this week on Thursday – see your blog email for the log in details

Challenge Cup

We’ve extended the deadline for your fruit pictures to the next blog – we’ve had a couple of entries in already.

Next Meeting

Full details will be out next week

And in the meantime




Friday 17th July, 2020

Today is the end of the school year and it was heartening to see on the news this evening children in Year Six being able to come together to say their farewells to their teachers and have some sort celebration to mark the end of their primary years. No doubt there are many parents of children of all ages sighing with relief now that home schooling duties are over. And to all the amazing Belles who have juggled home schooling and work we applaud you!  It can’t have been an easy gig. Hopefully you will be able to relax more now  and enjoy some sort of summer break, albeit maybe not in the traditional sense.                                                                                                                                

We hope you all enjoyed receiving your surprise ‘goody bags’ this week. Well we know you did from the lovely messages of thanks we’ve received either in writing or personally at your own front doors. Last Sunday, Jane, Liz S and myself spent several hours tying rolls of paper, counting out pencils and chocolate bars and filling 120 bags. It was quite a military operation to get them all delivered to you, dividing up the postcodes amongst the committee members. I set off on Monday morning walking the streets local to me and found that my bike basket was the perfect container for the bags. I was helped by my husband who held the basket manfully whilst I looked up addresses!                                                 

I enjoyed chatting to some of you when I delivered your goody bag and it reinforced how good it is to see people in person after all this time.

We hope you enjoyed our virtual meeting this month with our guest, Stephanie, and managed to use your shading pencil and paper to represent your sphere. Lots of Belles joined in the Zoom meeting with others following on Facebook live. Thanks to Jane and her technical wizardry, the meeting was screened on several platforms and is still available to view for anyone who missed it. An email detailing how you can watch a recording together with a link to Stephanie’s tutorial video has been emailed today. The beauty of Zoom is that it is interactive and we were able to show our attempts at shading and Stephanie gave instant feedback. The meeting ended true to form when Jane asked us all to put our chairs away! The committee are looking at future meetings where we can invite a speaker and be able to ask questions as it is unlikely we’ll be back in the hall just yet.

It’s Competition Time

Following up on last week’s meeting you might have guessed that this week we are asking you to do a shaded drawing of a piece of fruit. Please send a photo of your work to me, so that they can feature in the next blog. Our challenge cup continues and a tally of all entries shared through this blog is being kept.

Beautiful Work From Our Craft Group

What an arty- crafty week it was with Carol demonstrating how to draw mandalas on the craft group Zoom last Monday. Here are two, Tori’s showing progress and Annette’s completed design.

For anyone who was unable to make the Zoom meeting, Carol has kindly posted some instructions on the facebook group. You might also have seen that Jane and Tori signed up for an online Matisse class and if anyone is looking for more craft ideas there is a lovely papercutting tutorial based on colourful caravans on the makes of the month section of WI website, MYWI.  And, following on from Nic’s recent post about theme days there are ideas for holding a Sports Day at home on this site too. It is well worth a look as it is regularly updated.                                                                                              

Next Zooms will be w/c 27th July

We will next be hosting a Zoom get-together next week after such a packed week last week.

Other news

You will have seen the notification from Jane about when and if meetings can resume. There is a lot to think about and she is seeking your views on this. There is detailed information about meetings on the WI website for anyone who wants to read all that is involved in ensuring a meeting satisfies all the new Covid regulations: FEWI Website – Local News

During the pandemic, Essex Federation have been publishing their news in an online bulletin originally called the Cocooning issue when we were in full lockdown but now referred to as the Bubble issue and would like to know if members like the online version or would prefer a paper copy of Essex News as before. We have been asked to survey members on this point and Jane will be seeking your view in the near future so that we can feed back. 




Friday 10th July, 2020

So how is everyone enjoying the fact that hair salons, bars and restaurants are now open? And how many Belles along with Jane, have said goodbye to lockdown hair? It must feel so good. You are the lucky ones! Due to the high demand, my appointment isn’t for another week and I really am counting the days. I almost hijacked Beryl and Vena in Shenfield yesterday when they told me they were on their way to their hairdressers, I was so envious!

Then came the news welcomed by many that nail bars and beauty salons can reopen so, after weeks of lockdown, we can return to being pampered if we so wish. One of the pleasures of visiting a salon is to browse through the glossy magazines but I have discovered that Essex libraries have an extensive collection available to read online. It seems that they have added to their collection which now includes a whole host of publications covering every hobby and interest from Astronomy to Photography and Wedding Planning and everything in between. It is just like browsing the shelves in the newsagents with all the weekly gossip mags, the glossy monthly editions of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Woman and Home etc,  specialist craft magazines and the more general such as Mollie Makes, health issues such as Top Sante and Liz Earle and even the lovely well being magazine, The Simple Things which is a joy to flick through. There are even Australian editions and magazines in other languages so well worth a browse!

Coming Up on Wednesday!

On the subject of hobbies, lockdown has been a time for many to find calm in creativity and to boost well being and with this in mind, our next virtual meeting is a creative one. Without giving too much away, Belles, please look out for a little something that will be coming your way via a member of the committee in time for Wednesday’s meeting.

Today, as you might have seen on Buddy Belles, I bumped into Margaret whilst out visiting a local open garden. A few of the gardens in the National Garden Scheme are opening this year, though sadly, not all. Obviously, social distancing must be possible and for this reason, online booking is required and a time slot must be selected. Actually it worked quite well with plenty of space to explore without crowds of people spoiling the photo opportunities! And, as Nic commented last week, it is so nice to see other Belles and especially so when it is an unexpected surprise. We were able to walk and talk (at an appropriate distance) with some semblance of normality.

I have a recommendation for some television viewing next week as Our Yorkshire Farm returns. I love following the lives of Amanda Owen, her husband, Clive and their nine children on their farm in the Yorkshire Dales. Amanda also writes humorously about life at Ravenseat Farm and chronicles  the annual tasks that have to be done come rain or shine.  She is also talented photographer and posts the most fabulous photos on Instagram of her children, the animals and the fabulous scenery that is their home. She is @yorkshireshepherdess on Instagram.   I don’t generally like fly on the wall type programmes but this really is an exception and I can’t wait to catch up with what’s been going on in Swaledale.  The children have the most amazing existence living much of their lives outdoors and learning so much through nature.

No Zoom This Week

No Zoom this week but the Brunch has been deferred by a week. Please let Becky (scroll down to last week’s ad for her email address) know if you wish to come though as it may be in person and therefore limited to 6 only.                                                                                                                                                                   

What’s New This Week?

New member, Tori, and I (this is Jane now!), are both booked on a Henri Matisse scissor art course on Saturday afternoon. It’s run by the London Drawing Group and is repeated on other days too. You pay as much or as little as you see fit for the session: Henri Matisse: Painting with Scissors

Another interesting looking online talk is Livestream ‘Walk by the River Thames’ Walking Tour hosted by Wonders of London, Saturday 11th July at 1pm. My sister is joining that one – they have nearly 90,000 expressions of interest so it’ll be interesting to see how many turn up! You can find that one here: Walk by the River Thames Walking Tour

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall. Loz Pycock from London, UK / CC BY-SA (

Internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei is known for his political investigations as much as for his mountain of porcelain seeds. There’s a couple of chances to experience his insights and amazing works this summer. Firstly at the Imperial War Museum in person from 1st August. Ai Weiwei, takes over IWM London’s iconic atrium with a new immersive and site-specific artwork. The atrium is being given in its entirety to an artist for the first time in the history of the building. The artwork explores international migration, conflict as a root cause of human flow, and the relationship between the individual, society and the state, History of Bombs draws on the artist’s ongoing investigation into politics and power.

It’s FREE with a general admission ticket but you have to pre-book for those and you can do so here: Imperial War Museum

At the Royal Academy, Ai Weiwei’s exhibtion was the groundbreaking cultural phenomenon of 2015. They are offering an immersive digital tour as a chance to either revisit this amazing exhibition, or experience it for the first time, online. To watch follow this link and scroll down to the video just below the press release about this event: Ai Weiwei 360 Online Exhibition

For those more scientifically minded, The Royal Society have moved their Summer Science Exhibition online. They have a week of science streamed straight into your home, with talks and videos on subjects including the science of pets, doping in sports and Antarctica exploration, and some highlights from their most popular exhibits over the years. You can view the full programme on the Royal Society website: Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

And for those who enjoy all things horticultural #RHSTattonPark are heading online and launching RHS Flower Show Tatton Park at Home. In the absence of the ‘real’ show this year, on Wednesday 22 July, their website will host an array of inspirational gardening content with the theme of ‘the true spirit of the summer show’ for you all to enjoy at home for free. There will be videos, articles and advice from some of the show’s favourite growers, designers and gardening experts. RHS Flower Show Tatton Park at Home will take place at on July 22nd.

Want To Get In Touch?

If you have a query about something to do with the Belles or the WI in general than please contact either Jane (President) on or Tricia (Secretary) on and we will do our best to help!

Several of our sub-groups are meeting virtually at the moment including The Bookworms, The ArrowBelles, TBBWI Sewing Bee, TBBWI Craft Group and Brunching Belles as well as our main Zoom which we hold most weeks. If you would like to know how to join one of these then please drop either me or Tricia an email at the email addresses above.

Happy Hookers have managed to meet in person as there was less than 6 of them. The Sewing Bee are considering whether they will do that too. And the Brunching Belles are investigating meeting in person (maximum 6 people) in a park next week. Again please email me or Tricia if you’re interested.

And in the meantime…




Friday 3rd July, 2020

This week marks a particular milestone in that we clocked up 100 days in lockdown. Admittedly, restrictions are easing with more to come for those of us who are able to get out and about. Obviously for some people who are still shielding there is a different timetable for coming out of lockdown. We must be mindful of the most vulnerable and maintain social distancing as the bars and restaurants open this weekend . I realise I’m preaching to the converted here, Belles!  It got me thinking about how many Zoom calls I’ve participated in since March. More than I can count on my fingers, that’s for sure! It’s been a great way to stay in touch with family and friends and has been quite a lifeline at times but it doesn’t compare to meeting up in person.

On Monday, a few of us from Happy Hookers met in the park where we sat a couple of metres apart from each other. It was so good to see one another after all these weeks and, even though it was way too windy to get out any yarny projects, we enjoyed a good old catch up. Hopefully next time it will be warmer.

This week, as promised, Nic tells us all about her get together with some of her WI friends to host a Summertime Twist event in her garden and to enjoy some cake and crafting. Well there was plenty of cake, maybe a little light on the craft though! We love the festive vibe created by with bunting and face painting. Read on and it will soon become apparent that Nic likes to put her heart and soul into themed days. Maybe you should be an events planner, Nic.

Last weekend, NFWI encouraged WI members across the country to take part in a virtual festival at home, the Summertime tWIst. I’d already been talking to some of my fellow Belles about having a socially distanced meet up, and so myself, Becky and Jess thought, why not combine it with the WI’s virtual festival?                                                                  

We basically came up with the idea that our festival had to have three components: cake, crafts, and outfits with festival vibes. Well, the cake was a given, and plenty of that was consumed on the day. The outfits were easy: any excuse to dress up (yep, it’s me, the one who can often be found sporting a fairy outfit or rocking the 80s at our meetings!). The crafts? Not so much! It’s fair to say that four months after our last meeting, we had far too much catching up to do to give way to crafting!

5 hours in, and we were having such a lovely time chatting that our crafts didn’t even make their way out of their bags. But I think that just goes to show how much we missed each other and how much catching up we had to do.

It has got me thinking about hosting themed days at home during lockdown. Here are just a couple of ideas for you:

  • Mini Golf at home day: there are actually companies that will hire mini golf equipment for golfing parties at home, but for my 5 year old’s lockdown birthday, we created our own. With the help of some putting mats from a well-known sports shop, children’s mini golf sets, odds and sods from the garage and a certain WI raffle box, we were able to cobble together a 9-hole course. Silly hats and homemade score cards completed the day.
  • Holiday at home: If you’ve missed out on a holiday due to lockdown, why not try to recreate it at home? Yes, it’s not quite the same as sipping cocktails on a Caribbean beach, but when we missed out on our week in a holiday park in Germany, we made the most of the late May bank holiday with Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and Bratkartoffeln for dinner, roasting marshmallows over the fire pit and the paddling pool for our five year old. I did, however, regret not having purchased a Dirndl all those years ago when I lived in Vienna!
  • Movie Night at home: this is a really easy one, and with plenty of big-name releases on our home streaming services nowadays, all you need to do is grab the popcorn and nachos and enjoy. Why not take it one step further and see if you can set up an outdoor cinema in your garden?

Yes, lockdown has definitely had its frustrations, but I’ve really enjoyed being creative with our time. We’d love to hear from members who may have had a themed day at home themselves.

Thanks, Nic, your Twist get together sounds like it was fun and there are some truly inspiring themes you’ve thought up there. On your next visit to Austria you must certainly buy your Dirndl skirt and, maybe a pair of lederhosen each for the two men in your life, one adult sized and one a child’s version!

Our Next Meeting

Don’t worry about it being on Zoom – anyone who can’t currently get on Zoom, we will help you to do so.

More Recommendations:

it’s time for some comedy!

Following on from last weeks suggestions, we’ve received some comedy show recommendations from Nina and Tori to help you narrow down the choices out there!

Nina suggests ‘Kati and Koji’ a comedy with Brenda Blethyn from Vera. She says, “It’s on ITV catch up. I found it very funny , light and easy watching. I laughed out loud on my own.” So definitely sounds like it’s worth a watch.

Tori has kindly compiled a list by digital channel so there’s sure to be something for everyone:

French and Saunders, This Country, Peter Kay’s Car Share, Staged, Tourist Trap, King Gary, This Time With Alan Partridge, Not Going Out, Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience, The Misadventures of Ramesh Ranganathan
Derry Girls, Green Wing, Seinfeld, Joe Lycett Got Your Back
Afterlife, The Let Down, The Job Lot, Offspring, Office (UK), The Good Place
Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Modern Family, The Last Man on Earth, Forever, Parks and Recreation, The Big C, The Office (US), One Mississippi

Zooms and Brunching Belles

Essex Fed Launches New YouTube Channel

Essex Federation of Women’s Institutes is the first UK federation to launch a YouTube channel. Pop over and take a look as there’s talks on there from popular WI speakers as well as messages from our trustees, recycling tips and much, much more:

Essex WI YouTube Channel

So in the meantime…




Friday 26th June, 2020

This week really has been flaming June as we’ve seen the temperatures soar and with it the hottest day of the summer so far.

It is also the weekend of Glastonbury and this year would have been the 50th anniversary of this festival with some big names such as Diana Ross, Paul McCartney  and Taylor Swift headlining. But along with all mass gatherings this year’s festival has been cancelled and the only option is to watch highlights from last year’s Glastonbury. But do not despair, festival lovers, the WI have come up with their own unique festival, Summertime tWIst encouraging members to celebrate in their gardens with suggestions for activities on their website. Some of the Belles are planning a mini summertime tWIst and we look forward to hearing all about it from Nic next week.


Maybe it will involve colourful festive hair which leads me very nicely into this week’s topic.

After expressing our dismay at what can at best be described as summer madness on the beaches this week and the illegal raves, the conversation at the Darts Zoom last night turned to transitioning with a few of us considering a change. Not wishing to mislead you, I should inform that we were discussing our untouched roots and how four months of regrowth during lockdown had given us an idea of what grey hair might look like. Like for many, I suspect, panic set in at the start of lockdown with the realisation that it would be months before I could visit a hairdresser. My hair was last coloured in mid March and, at first, I was more concerned about the style growing out than I was the colour. I resorted to cutting it and more lately wearing a headband to keep it off my face and the back of my neck in this heat.

I share the jubilation felt by many at the announcement that hairdressers can reopen again from next weekend and can’t wait to be restyled. I’m not so sure though that I will have it coloured. I, for one, haven’t been tempted to touch up my roots during lockdown but, like many, have used this opportunity to test the water and see what my natural colour looks like.  Over the past few years I have consciously gone lighter and lighter in an attempt to conceal the white roots and so for the first month or so, my hairline wasn’t particularly prominent but more recently, the translucent roots have become more noticable.

I find I am noticing more and more the visible grey roots on show on television as presenters and others including actress Eva Longoria (albeit for a colourant advertisement) are no different to the rest of us and have also been denied access to a hairdresser for four months. I love the natural grey highlights rocked by Nicole in this year’s Sewing Bee and envy Helen Mirren’s ice white locks. There is a growing trend for transitioning to grey and it’s become quite a thing with women such as @shegotawildhair on Instagram documenting the journey on social media. There has never been a better time to do it and grey has been one of the biggest hair colour trends of the last few years with younger women choosing gunmetal shades.

A quick search on Instagram reveals lots of hashtags such as #whitehairdon’tcare, #grombre, #silversisters, #ditchthedye to name but a few and I have been following some of these for a few weeks now.   Research has also taught me that colouring hair has been around a long time and that pickled leeches and herbs were used to dye hair in Egyptian and Roman times. This doesn’t sound too dissimilar to my first experience of hair colouring when, as a student, I, like many of my contemporaries used henna. I have vivid memories of applying the thick paste and then trying to sleep with my head wrapped in foil all night before washing it off the next morning to reveal an auburn red glow. And the smell would linger in your hair for days! Thankfully, hair dye has come a long way since then and the latest products my hairdresser uses are free from that awful whiff of ammonia often associated with chemical colourants. But constant maintenance is still involved in covering up the grey and I am inclined to think that it’s no longer worth it. Yes, in this youth obsessed society, grey hair is viewed as a sign of aging and I am concerned about the texture of the white hairs which is undoubtedly different. But take one look around at a meeting of The Belles and notice all the silver sirens with their beautifully conditioned hair and I’m reassured that grey hair is attractive.

So will I take the plunge and join the greyvolution?

At the time of writing, I think the answer is probably yes. Maybe with a tint or a few highlights/lowlights initially.  All of this to be discussed with my hairdresser, of course and who knows how many other Belles will emerge from lockdown with beautiful shades of grey and if that doesn’t suit, there’s always pink or purple, just ask Breda!

Membership Fees and Renewals

You have likely seen the message from NFWI about this year’s 3 month extension to your membership and the membership fee going up by £1 next April. If not, then you can find the full information here: Membership Info

Next AfterZoom Tea

Our next AfterZoom Tea is this week on Thursday at 4pm. Please email Tricia on for log in details.

Coming to a TV near you!

The weather is grey and we have a slightly cooler week ahead of us but have no fear there’s lots of new programming already out or coming out soon on the television or online. So Jane thought she’d let you know of a few things she’d spotted for the days when we’re getting a big dose of the good ol’ British Summertime rain!


If you do like to follow Glasto usually, then the BBC have a great way to experience it’s 50th birthday despite it’s cancellation this year: The Glastonbury Experience They say, “The countdown is nearly over for The Glastonbury Experience, the BBC’s celebration of what would’ve been the legendary festival’s 50 year, across BBC television, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio and BBC Sounds. A stunning range of programming awaits for music lovers from Thursday 25 – Monday 29 June.” If you follow the link you’ll find a break down of what’s on when.


Wimbledon may not be able to run this year but the BBC are supplying us with over 50 hours of programming to keep our tennis appetites satisfied over the next couple of weeks, including an Andy Murray’s Greatest Hits weekend, replays of some of the greatest matches ever and a countdown of the best finals. I (Jane) will really miss Wimbledon – as a teenager I received much tennis coaching and even had a ranking with the LTA at one point – not a very good one, but a ranking all the same! I watch Wimbledon every year and remember doing so as a child (and Ski Sunday), and I tunelessly sing along to the BBC theme music with great gusto! So it will be great to have the chance to dip into some of the many highlights from over the years. I just need to stock up on strawberries and fizz and locate my straw hat!

Cricket England v West Indies Greatest Matches Lord’s 2000

BBC Sport looks back at one of the great clashes between England and the West Indies, Saturday 27 June, 4.00pm-5.00pm, BBC TWO. The second Test of the 2000 series produced one of the most astonishing day’s play ever seen in the long and illustrious history of Lord’s cricket ground. The rare sight of a crowd witnessing action from all four innings in a single day was made possible by a brilliant display of bowling from England on day two as they skittled out the Windies second time around for just 54 runs. However, they were still left with a tricky victory target of 188 as they aimed for a first series win against West Indies since 1969.


If you’re looking for a good movie to settle down with then Netflix have got some really great additions coming in July from Airplane! to Frida, and from Charlotte’s Web to Sleepless in Seattle or Double Jeopardy, or maybe even all of The Karate Kid films! Definitely something for everyone. Plus there are plenty of new films too. Not to be outdone Prime are currently showing Dirty Dancing amongst many other classic and modern films. And of course, with a big budget, Sky have multiple excellent blockbusters hitting screens every month. Interesting choices for July include Hugh Jackman’s Bad Education, Bohemian Rhapsody and E.T. What are you hoping to watch? And what are your recomendations?

Let me know on


The terrestrial channels are looking strong with ITV sharing repeats of good programmes such as Broadchurch, Maigrat and The Durrells amongst others. And the BBC are offering us a lot of fresh, new content including The Salisbury Poisonings, Killing Eve, Normal People, I May Destroy You and much more. What caught my eye is the adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries – the trailers look not just well acted but beautifully set and produced as well. So it will be interesting to see if it lives up to it’s image. It’s an interesting story about Anna Wetherell, a young adventurer who travels from the UK to start a new life in New Zealand during the 1860s West Coast Gold Rush.

So you can see there’s many box sets to watch with a great variety of themes – we’re spoilt for choice. A personal favourite of mine is the BBC adaptation of Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaimen’s Good Omens, which is still available on Amazon Prime, and which stars David Tennant and Michael Sheen. The sparky chemistry between the two leads really makes it an excellent watch if you like those two authors’ works.

Next week we’ll have a look at what entertainment and comedy shows are available. Do let us know of your recommendations for those and also any reviews of programmes and films that you have recently seen by emailing Jane at

So for now, we hope you are are all well and…




Friday 19th June, 2020

Can you believe it, the summer solstice is upon us? This weekend as the sun reaches its highest position in the sky we will have the longest day of the year. It’s a day that traditionally attracts lots of people to Stonehenge to witness the sun’s first rays shine into the heart of the stone circle. This year Druids and others will have to stay away but English Heritage are live streaming the solstice from Stonehenge and you can view it here.

On Wednesday in place of our regular meeting, we were able to watch a pre-recorded video by local photographer, Carmel Jane, who joined our discussion on Facebook. Carmel demonstrated the importance of light and composition in photography and showed some examples of how by changing the lighting or angle a photograph can be greatly improved. Carmel finished her presentation by commenting on photos submitted by Tori, Margaret and Nina. She particularly liked Tori’s teddy bear photo.  

 Today Margaret and I met for a walk around Ingatestone Hall area with our cameras and decided to see how, by changing the angle, our photographs would look.

When we set off the weather was quite dull but the dark cloud formations really added drama to some of our shots. We were very aware of how the light changed when the sun broke through the clouds and highlighted the cornfields that were just beginning to turn from green to a pale gold.

We gave consideration to composition thinking about how to place one another in a scene and also knelt down for a different perspective and in these photos there is more focus on the sky. Every time I turned around, it seemed, Margaret was crouched down looking for a different angle and she took quite a few that I refer to as ant eye views of the grasses.  We also used some of the flowers to frame pictures. Margaret framed Buttsbury Church between cow parsley and I deliberately placed some teasels in the bottom right hand corner of a photo looking across at a farmhouse. I also hoped that by using the footpath post it would lead the eye into the picture. You can be the judge of how successful we were.

We were able to use the changing light to our advantage. I took two photographs of the same view but in one the sun is highlighting the bare tree which, I think, makes it the better of the two shots. In the others the light really catches the golden colour of the corn and the vibrant green of the fields.

Whilst we were out we also took notice of the wildflowers and I was impressed with Margaret’s knowledge as she was able to identify most if not all of them. We tried to include some of the flowers in our photos either as a focal point or to frame a scene. By crouching down, looking for a new angle, Margaret has set the beautiful corncockle against the grey sky to effect and I zoomed in to capture the detail in the teasel.

We had a good morning catching up and planning for when the walking group meet again  (you might be wondering why Viv wasn’t included but sadly she is out of action at the moment as she awaits surgery).  I think it’s fair to say that neither Margaret or myself claim to be brilliant photographers, we’re not, it is a hobby.  But we did consciously try to apply some of the tips as suggested by Carmel.

If anyone has taken a photo from a new angle following the talk from Carmel, we’d love to see it. Please email to me and we can share it in the next blog.  Also please do remember to share your photos in our Shooting Stars Facebook group.

Mandy Hickson Talk

A number of Belles enjoyed the Federation of Essex WI’s talk given by Mandy Hickson, only the second woman to fly the Tornado GR4 operationally, on Zoom last week. She spoke, not only of her flying career in the RAF, but also of the challenges she faced when climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. What an inspiring lady! Her book detailing her career in a humorous and exciting way, can be found on Amazon: An Officer Not A Gentleman

Our Next Zoom

Our next AfterZoom Tea will be at 4pm this Thursday 25th June. Please contact Tricia on to get the log in details

Belles Lockdown Video

The committee are in the early planning stages of making a group video where anyone who’d like to be involved can send in a short video clip of themselves doing a specified activity (TBC) and then we shall compile them all for you. If anyone is interested in taking part, then please email Jane on


This month is Pride Month worldwide. This is the 48th year this has been celebrated in the UK. It’s been organised by various organisations since the very first official UK Gay Pride Rally which was on 1 July 1972 (the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969) and took place in London, with approximately 2,000 participants. There are many celebrations throughout the month, and loads of useful information widely available nowadays.

We found this great blog on National’s website which focuses on the work and achievements of some of the inspiring LGBTQ+ people and activists in the UK. They come from a variety of professional fields and have all been influential in progressing change on LGBTQ+ issues in the UK. The NFWI are quite rightly, in their own words, proud to share their stories and work. As are the Belles.

To read more, visit:…/celebrating-inspiring-lgbtq-figu…

For full details of events near us, go to: Pride In London  #Pride

We’ll Meet Again

Grand Gala du Disque , Vera Lynn
*29 september 1962 By Eric Koch / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

I’m sure we were all sad to hear the news of the passing of Dame Vera Lynn (20 March 1917 – 18 June 2020), the Forces Sweetheart. She was very much one of those iconic figures who many of us knew even though we were a couple of generations or more removed from the horrors of WW2. I was born in the 70s ( this is Jane M writing this section) and I’ve known of Dame Vera Lynn and how she was a symbol of hope for the nation since a very young age. Such was the extent of her reach that her song was chosen for the nation to sing at the end of our recent VE75 celebrations. There’s a lovely tribute to her on iPlayer here: A Tribute to Dame Vera Lynn

As for the Belles and our own desire to ‘meet again’, I know that all our sub-group leaders are considering ways that they can meet up as soon as possible. Whether it’s sewing in a garden, stitching in the park or something even more adventurous, I know they are all keen to explore options for Belles to begin to come together again. And in the meantime, the committee will be planning our July meeting and other activities. Please remember, it is YOUR WI so any ideas, just pop them on an email to me at

NFWI Summertime tWIst Festival:

a message from National…

“On Saturday, 27 June 2020, we want to bring together members, friends and family for a virtual summer celebration! We wish to inspire and encourage you to have a mini-festival at home, whether it’s in your garden with a tent to sleep/party in, or inside your homes – it really doesn’t matter where, as long as there is music, food and lots of fun!

Of course, you can plan your festival however you like, but during the upcoming weeks, we will help you set everything up by providing an abundance of projects and activities that will cover a variety of interests and skill levels – craft projects, food and drink recipes, exercise ideas, fun activities and music…”

Take a look at MyWI or at the NFWI Facebook Page to get ideas of what you can do next weekend. Don’t forget to email us photos and videos of anything you get up to – we’d love to see them!




Friday 12th June,2020

It seems the easing of lockdown has gathered a pace somewhat with all shops permitted to open from Monday and single people now being able to form a bubble with one other household. This move might be welcomed by those who own a small business in retail or those who have missed shopping and, of course it will be lovely for some families to meet up after weeks of isolation. For others, myself included, it might be a little while before we hit the shops again but much will depend on each individual’s lockdown experience.

Today I have a question for you – what do Jane, Margaret and myself have in common apart from the obvious WI membership? Answer, we are all cartophiles!  There are probably other Belles who would also agree that there is something magical about pouring over maps!  I guess my joy of maps began as a child doing jig-maps. These were jigsaws of countries or continents which, once completed, had pieces removed to be replaced with names of the major cities, the challenge being to correctly locate them.  I  have to admit to now having a whole shelf devoted to maps here and a favourite coffee stop when out with my husband in London is Stanfords where you can browse maps from all over the world. We know how to live Haha!

One of the simple pleasures of the last few months has been planning regular walks with a view to remaining within a 6 – 8 mile radius of home. My OS map is well worn and each time I open it, I am reminded of lessons at school  memorising the OS symbols, learning about grid lines and contours as well as compass points and direction all of which are necessary skills for understanding a map. Of course, GPS is a great tool in today’s world.  I once took a class of 10 year olds out on an adventure day where one of the activities was geocaching. Each group was handed a garmin device and within seconds the children, so used to technology, had grasped how to use it and left me trailing behind!  That said, I’m not averse to using google maps when I need directions and for walking, my App of choice is MapMyWalk. There are other walking apps available and I am aware that Margaret favours Strava.                                                                

I like that I can turn on the mapping app and it plots my route, records the mileage and then stores the details for future reference. This is a great way to build up a bank of local walks for when the walking group can head out again which hopefully won’t be too long.  But you can be sure I will have a paper map with me as it doesn’t rely on battery power and signals but on good old map reading skills!

Over to Jane…

My Dad is a Master Mariner and I grew up surrounded by many maps. I still remember when I received my very first school atlas aged 7 and spent hours looking through the different maps inside. For me, there was something infinitely fascinating about pouring over them and trying to visualise what places looked like. Nowadays, I have apps like Google Earth which are heavenly as I can type in anywhere in the world and go there and virtually stand there and look around (maybe not Area 51 though!). And when I went to some fully immersive virtual reality pods in London with my son last year, the first thing I did was head to Google Earth and go and stand on a life size Everest! My husband, in another VR pod, went to central London and stood on top of the church spire next to where his first flat in London was. We’re clearly well matched!

Mainly though, I am using them when out walking The Huge Hound. He’s ex-rescue and very nervous of other dogs, and protective of me, so using different apps helps me plan routes where we might not encounter as many other people. Plus, walking is my main exercise. To that end, I saw recently that another member, Sandra M, was using an app to walk the equivalent of Hadrian’s Wall and receive a medal at the end. I thought this was brilliant and so I started investigating and happened upon a Ramblers’ Association recommendation of a different app called World Walking.

In the app I can choose one of many worldwide walks to go on, whether it’s touring the sights of Florence, to walking to Bethlehem, walking around Queensland or the classic Lands End to John O’Groats, there’s something there for all distances and tastes. I was blown away by the choice actually. There are some very long ones, which realistically I would take rather a long time to complete, such as Walk the World which is 33,805 miles long. So, at my current walking average, that would take me 15,402 days to complete, which is 2,200 weeks, 513 months, or 42 years!

So I’ve chosen a walking tour of  Shetland with a steady target of 139 miles. And the thing I like best about this app is that as I walk it takes me the equivalent distance around Shetland as if in real time – not just on the map either, but as I move along the walk I can look on my phone and see the actual views that I would if I were doing the walk in real life on Shetland. It’s a great motivator especially in this time of limited travel. I’m tossing up between Peru and the Sultan’s Trail for my next walk!

On a more functional note, the app also has good options e.g. walks can be measured in miles, steps, kilometres etc, and you can link up with others and share walks to motivate each other if you wish. It’s free and you can use alongside your real-life mapping apps and they sync! Brilliant!

The Belles Meet Again!

It is our June meeting on Wednesday, and like many other WIs, we are offering members a meeting via Facebook Live and YouTube. Our speaker is pre-recording a talk and thanks to those of you who have contributed photographs for her to take a look at. We can’t wait to see you all in person but we know that’s a while off yet to we hope you’ll pop along to one of these two sites to hear her talk. We will embed it on the website afterwards as well.

Black Lives Matter

After the tragic and shocking death of George Floyd in the US, awareness of the discrimination faced in everyday life by those from ethnic minorities in the UK, as well as in other countries, has been brought quite rightly to the fore of our news and discussions.

Here is the NFWI statement including resource links:

“Our latest blog highlights anti-racism resources including UK-based organisations we can engage with and books and podcasts that we can learn from. The WI stands in solidarity with Black communities around the world, who face injustice and violence. There is no place for racism in our society and we must work harder to educate ourselves, challenge other people and take action to eradicate inequality.

Please share these essential resources widely:

This is is not a comprehensive list but a selection that we will be adding to and developing. If anyone has additional resources to recommend, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at”

TBBWI also wanted to let you know that there is a group of WI members from around the country, coming together virtually, to look at whether there are any resolutions related to equality and discrimination, that would be suitable to be considered nationally.

There are 3 Belles who have already indicated that they are interested in this process, which is great. There will be many of you who, we appreciate, already show your support for equality and for defeating discrimination in other ways. However, if this sounds of interest and you wish to be involved in looking into whether the WI can campaign further in this area, please let Jane M know on

Essex Federation News

There’s a great FREE talk on Zoom being hosted by FEWI next week – several Belles have already booked places but spaces are limited to 100 and Mandy Hickson is considered an exceptional speaker so don’t miss out! Those not on Zoom are welcome to book and contact Jane for support on joining.

The FEWI Potter’s weekend has had to be cancelled sadly, but unsurprisingly, due to current circumstances.

Busy Belles

Belles have been sharing lots of crafts and bakes in the Facebook groups this week. Following a Craft group Zoom meet up, pictures of the makes including embroidery, collage and quilling have been shared for others to see. Meanwhile, members of the Sewing Bee have been working on various projects with i-pad cushions proving popular. It could be that flour is more readily available  but more likely due to the dull weather this week that so many scrumptious bakes have been posted on The Wooden Spoons group page.

Tori’s owl collage

Wishing You Well

We would like to extend our thoughts and best wishes to any members whose families have been affected by Coronavirus. Please contact us if there is anything we can do to help.  And we’re thinking too of  Viv and Sue C. as they  each await surgery.  Big Belles love to all of you.   




Friday 5th June 2020

Hello June! This is the time of year when,  under normal circumstances, our thoughts may well turn to summer holidays. This year, however, with quarantines and severe travel restrictions in place the prospect of getting away is slim and many plans have been kiboshed. Last week the fair weather did seem to alleviate the pain a little but with the cooler temperatures many might be wishing they were drinking a cocktail on a far flung beach beside an azure sea. Not for me, oh no – transport me to the mountains!  I would love to be standing dwarfed by the majestic Canadian Rockies drinking in the dramatic scenery. We can but dream. We might even make tentative plans for 2021. For now, we have to console ourselves occasionally with a little treat and why not? This week I bought this lovely bunch of peonies as I love to watch the huge papery blooms unfurl. And now that the weather has turned bringing much needed rain we find we are spending less time in the garden and more time indoors. At the meet up of the Sewing Bee girls on Zoom this morning there was talk of cracking on with projects that have got overlooked in the recent good weather. More time inside can be productive but does require strict discipline to limit the raids on the fridge!

So on the subject of little treats and watching our waistlines Jane writes about all things cake. Over to you, Jane for some baking antics…..

I’ve tried really hard to eat healthily during lockdown. But this last week went a little wrong…

I was getting concerned about my ‘lockdown love handles’ and saw that the WI’s Denman College was doing free online cookery courses via Zoom. So I booked myself on their Low Sugar Baking course with ex-GBBO Professionals candidate, Kelly Mauger. I bought the ingredients, booked the husband to sort everyone’s lunch, and logged on.

I was slightly gobsmacked that there were 194 WI members on there, all talking at once, but Kelly muted us all and got underway. Some like me, cooked along, whereas others watched. I soon realised I had not pitted my dates, my raspberry reduction wasn’t reducing enough, and I was using a blender, not a food processor, so my dates got stuck and my blender got annoyed and huffed plumes of smoke. I took her to the garden to cool down and think about her behaviour!


Despite all that, I had immense fun and made some delicious raspberry flapjacks and no bake brownies. Which, it turned out, was rather lucky, as the husband forgot to feed everyone, and when they came clamouring to me at 3pm I fed them all warm, jammy yumptious flapjack instead! We ate it all – not so low sugar when that happens!


Then my birthday happened. Normally my Mum would bake me her amazing dairy free chocolate cake, but we’re shielding so I’d resigned myself to cake being a lockdown non-starter. Imagine my surprise when the doorbell goes and on the doorstep, is an absolutely beautiful cake from MissFlitsBakesVegan, who is one of many small businesses striving to adapt. It was a vanilla, caramel and chocolate ganache box of delicious gorgeousness!

Blow that lockdown diet – there was cake to be eaten!

Kelly, and my overworked, smoking blender (now fully recovered!) had inspired me; when I received some Amazon vouchers for my birthday, I treated myself to an electric chopper for future adventures – a Magimix Le Micro. Obviously, me being me, I cut myself on the super sharp blade within 5 minutes of opening but it’s the best chopper ever!

Great, I thought, back to salads, with the addition of some fabulous dressings all professionally chopped and whizzed.

But then my friend Charlie sent me a big dairy free chocolate cake yesterday. We’ve soldiered on bravely and eaten all the delicious cake – it would’ve been rude not too! But the diet is blown!

Oh well, my next blog will just have to be walking apps instead!

Thank you, Jane, yes walking apps is a very appropriate way to follow up all that cake consumption but come on, cake for a lockdown birthday is a definite requirement!


Details of our June Meeting


AfterZoom Tea & Brunching Belles

Our AfterZoom Tea was well attended this week – it was lovely to see everyone. We’re holding another at the same time this next week too, plus it’s our monthly Brunching Belles next Saturday…

Film Title Challenge

Thank you for the following suggestions:

“All the President’s Prime Minister’s Men” from Margaret

“Train to Busan Wuhan”, “Cabin Lockdown Fever”, “Contagion Contagious” from Marilyn

“Peter Pandemic” from Marion

“Dr. No PPE”, “Still Home Alone” from Jane

”The Sound of Applause” from Tricia


And finally…..




Friday 29th May, 2020

Susan Cs first ever batch of fruit scones look very tasty

It seems incredible that we have now completed almost ten weeks in lockdown. It has been the sunniest Spring since records began in 1929 and the driest May on record.  This has resulted in a bumper strawberry crop apparently so a good excuse to make scones to enjoy them with.  A number of Belles have posted photos of their scones on The Wooden Spoons facebook group and they all look mighty tempting!  At the Darts zoom meeting last night we discussed how different the lockdown experience would have been if the weather had been miserable.

After ten successive weeks, last night might possibly be the last applause for carers. There are mixed opinions about this but either way new relationships have been forged with neighbours and communication channels opened up as a result. Some will continue to clap, some won’t but our gratitude to the NHS and key workers will not diminish and we’ll find other ways to thank them. Today I delivered a small handmade gift to each of my father’s carers to show my appreciation for all that they do for him and for their continued service throughout this pandemic. It was only a small gesture but they were very pleased. 

Nic has given some thought to the  coming together of communities during lockdown and writes the following :-

As we’ve spent more and more time at home, only seeing those immediately around us, there has been one decidedly good thing to have come out of lockdown: the coming together of communities. Of course, The WI is its own little microcosm community in itself, and it’s been lovely to see various tips and tricks, snippets of conversation and the likes of puzzle swaps being arranged within our various Facebook subgroups. This is together with our collections of Easter eggs for the women’s refuge, toiletries for Covid patients in Brentwood Community Hospital, and donations for the food bank, as well as the sewing of scrubs. However, even at a smaller level, communities are coming together.

All of a sudden, neighbourhood support groups are being set up. Streets have their own WhatsApp and Facebook group, and we are seeing small businesses being supported like never before. Facebook groups such as Brentwood Open are a great place to recommend and find services that we need within our very own community. Many of us are now becoming friendly with our neighbours. Of those (responsible) street parties, neighbours are suddenly asking, “Why haven’t we done this before?”. They are promising that once we can socialise together again, there will be a street party proper, where the children will be able to leave their own drives to play with each other and adults will not have to shout from drive to drive to converse with neighbours.

Baby Lighty’s  Lego Tower Bridge

On a personal level, I have been leaving a box of books on my drive with a sign advising passers-by to help themselves to a new lockdown read. We have a regular collection for our local foodbank within our street now, and neighbours across the road donated a large amount of Lego to my four year old to keep him occupied while school is shut. At the start of lockdown, a local primary school delivered Easter eggs to anyone who had a rainbow displayed in their window, and the plethora of rainbows, thank you notes and decorated rocks that have been displayed and hidden around the local area show us just how thankful we are to our local communities.

If we take one thing from lockdown therefore, let it be this sense of community. Here at WI we are very used to being part of the local community, but let’s extend that to our immediate neighbours, too.  

Thank you, Nic and well said!    

Acts of Kindness

Thank you to Marion who responded to my request for information about what you have been doing in the community. Marion has been delivering plants to friends or leaving them in her porch for collection. I’m pleased to say I am one of the lucky ones to have collected some plants from her when she heard of my plight about what to plant in a shaded area. She has also given sunflower seeds , runner beans and mange tout peas to some of the young children she knows complete with instructions on how to grow them as she loves to encourage children to grow things. Marion has enjoyed receiving pictures of how their seedlings are coming on and reading their texts etc. Although, up to now, Marion can’t physically go into their gardens she finds this very rewarding. In addition, she gave the children empty yoghurt pots if they needed some and compost, too. Some lucky children have even been given some tomato plants. As Marion points out, there are many different ways to play to your strengths and help the local community.

Jane live streaming Blue Peter style!

Other Belles have been either too busy or too modest to respond but we know a lot of good work is going on. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets if I tell you that Jane has been busy organising online children’s activities and live streaming services for her church and Nina is volunteering at The Daily Bread Cafe where she sorts food donations ready for collection/delivery.  Well done, Nic, Marion, Jane and Nina and everyone helping in their community.    

Lockdown Locks

So who else is getting desperate and resorting to drastic action including home haircuts, colour etc? Take a look at the photos below but please don’t comment on our hairdressing skills!

Next Belles AfterZoom Tea


New Challenge

We love that in the USA cinemas are billing hypothetical films that fit these strange times and would love to see that happen here. So Belles, we’d like you to think up a suitable film title by changing just one word or letter or adding a word e.g. Good Vaccine Hunting and email it to me, to feature in the next blog. My starter for ten is BoJo Rabbit Haha!                                                                                      

And finally…..




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.

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  – 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 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:-


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,    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 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

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 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

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, 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,

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, 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 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

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 – .  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


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

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 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

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 

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 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

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.