18th October 2018 


This year Alice, Anne and Halina joined a few hundred other WI members from across Dorset at the Annual Meeting.

The actual meeting does not start until 10.55 giving members plenty of time for coffee and a look around craft stalls  before the meeting. There was a brief welcome from the Mayor of Poole and a short talk from the High Sheriff of Dorset, Jacqueline Swift, then onto the business which was kept quite short.  The trustees were introduced, the financial statement and annual report was presented. As most members will be aware County House is not meeting the needs of members and the search is on for more suitable premises. The board of trustees will need to look at other means/events of raising funds as Bestival, our main fund raiser, was hit by bad weather this year and closed early. Elaine, from our WI, got a special mention for her work in organising the WI’s Bestival tea tent for both events.

The highlights of the day were the two exceptional speakers. Both were motivational, entertaining, riveting and amusing without the use of any visual aids.

The morning speaker was Frances Benton on “Passion for Pearls”. Some members of our WI have had the pleasure of seeing Frances at Denman, where she regularly does courses in knotting pearls, jewellery making and reclamation jewellery making. Speak to Dena for a first-hand account of knotting pearls or look at the Denman website Frances gives over 32 talks a month in the UK - all for free!  She lives in Burgundy, France and spends her winters there making jewellery that she sells after her talks. During the lunch break there was a long row of tables laden with the pearl necklaces and jewellery that she had made surrounded by women eager to buy her pearls.  She has raised over £50,000 for charity. For many years she supported a charity for orphans in Durban, South Africa. Her current charity is Scottish Autism.

Frances talked passionately about her love of pearls, of legends and myths associated with pearls and how they are formed. For those of you who possess pearls Frances advised that you wear them as much as possible, as the oils in skin are good for them as they polish the pearls.

The second speaker of the day was equally inspirational. Very down to earth, humorous and self-effacing, Nancy Birtwhistle had no baking qualifications but was the winner of the 2014 Bake Off. She worked in the NHS before retiring at 53. She credits her grandmother with her love of cooking and described doing the “Bake Off challenge” at home before she considered entering. The lengthy audition process included a visit to a psychotherapist. She spoke very warmly about Paul Hollywood. Since her win she hasn’t followed the obvious path and written a recipe book – she thinks the market is already saturated. Instead she took to social media with her “365 challenge” – every day posting a recipe, craft, gardening or household tip or other pearl of wisdom. She told us that she does not use a conventional pastry recipe but has her own, which she shared with us…………unfortunately I couldn’t scribble it down fast enough!

I look forward to seeing who the speakers are at next year’s Annual meeting.

Anne Jones  October 2018