Tea + Tents = Daisies

The WI logo changed a few years ago to an updated clear and concise message of who we are as an organisation; Inspiring Women.

May carole crafting at denman college

This is a clever play on two words and two initials, and so very accurate on so many levels.

My article this month is about a member who continues to do just this; so let me introduce you to Carole Donovan, a WI member of some 20 years, in fact …you would describe her membership as passionate and she has been duly elected President of her own WI not once but twice within that time.

Carole tells me she joined the WI to get to know her neighbours in the village, and as a working mum at the time, monthly meetings provided a much needed night out… just for her!

‘There is so much more to the organisation though’, she tells me; ‘I love the historic values of the WI, and how we as members and women have adapted and changed over the generations; claiming our identity, educating ourselves, and we are not afraid to move with the times’ she continues, ‘This has been particularly highlighted with the Coronavirus pandemic and the shift to online learning and zoom meetings, all with lots of positivity’.

Most WI’s offer sub group interests and Carole, a keen crafter, set up a Craft Club within her WI in 2017, which is very popular. Most of the members attend, trying out various crafts, teaching each other new skills, all self-funding and providing another opportunity to socialise and learn. ‘Crafting brings out the best in folk,’ Carole tells me. ‘A sense of achievement, to have a go and complete something and share with others’… something the WI constitution is built around.

Carole’s enthusiasm and enquiring mind came to the fore in 2007, when looking for WI related social groups on Facebook beyond the National WI pages. She came across a small members group. ‘Just 12 WI members from across the country, having stilted text conversations. It was very quiet but I could see the value with the idea of making WI friends up and down the country, and persisted,’ laughs Carole ‘We eventually named the group the Unofficial WI Facebook Group’.

Carole took over the admin role of the group when its founder member left. The numbers grew steadily and by the time 700 women began interacting, Carole realised she needed additional admin help if the group was to survive. ‘Today 12,000+ members chat about WI matters, and any other subjects of interest… tips and advice… crafts and book clubs… gardening and pets, travel and holidays, in fact anything we like!‘ says Carole.

The WI celebrated its Centenary in 2015, and the National Federation Annual meeting was attended by the Queen. It was also an ideal chance for some of the Unofficial WI members to meet up at last, as thousands of delegates descended on the Albert Hall in London. To identify each other, members chose to wear a daisy, which has now become the group emblem. ‘The daisy patch is growing all the time, ’adds Carole ‘Some hand crafted, big or small… we’re able to identify ourselves to others, and we’re an extension of WI and our membership’

The current admin team come from Cheshire, Shropshire, Surrey and Suffolk East. A tight friendship has developed between them both online and in real life! Followers of the Facebook group get so much more from their annual subscription, and widen their social circle, all with the aid of the internet.

The idea of camping weekends came about when four Daisies arranged a camping event for upwards of 80 fellow Daisies in Derbyshire. This was the very first Tea & Tents. This then became an annual event, with more members attending in subsequent years and the need for bigger campsites. ‘As well as making new friendships with like-minded members, there was lots to get involved with,’ Carole tells me. ‘We had interesting speakers in our Speakers Corner, craft workshops, yarn bombs (the first being an Alice in Wonderland theme), singing, dancing, you could join a quiz team, watch a demonstration and even do a turn in a talent show… all arranged by the campers for the campers, and we enjoyed lots of tea, cake and chat too.” Carole goes on to say, “Having joined the Tea & Tents organising team for the last two camps on the admin side, I dealt with queries from campers and managed the dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages for the 500 campers. The camping idea caught on with fellow WI members who then starting setting up their own versions of Tea & Tents and there have been subsequent WI camping events up and down the country ever since’.

And whilst all this fun is going on, the Facebook page continues to attract attention not only with the updates, photos, selfies and comments but more requests to join the throng on-line!

2020 should have seen a weekend camping in Suffolk East. ‘There was lots of interest and we were well underway with the organising,’ says Carole, ’but like everything else, all our plans were postponed with the coronavirus and lockdown’.

Carole concludes our chat saying, ’I have learnt so much from our wonderful organisation, how it works from the grass roots upwards, and my daisy friendships are always full of fun and humour and very special to me’.

So… next time you are on Facebook, do look up the unofficial WI group, even if you don’t do camping, there’s bound to be a conversation to join in with!

Posted on 19-Apr-2021 (Updated: 20-Apr-2021).