Happy birthday! Sidford WI wave the banner as it turns 100
PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:12 20 May 2019
Not stuck in the past, Sidford WI celebrates turning 100
This May will go down in history as Sidford WI marks 100 years of friendship, community and fun with a centenary celebration to remember.
Anniversary events were held across May 5 and 6 as members worked hard to put the finishing touches to a spectacular commemorative banner and history board, showcasing the evolution of the group over the last century.
The dedicated team of Marion Baker, Carole Marchant, Carole Turner, Christine Teague, Claire Crouch, Joan Collett and Jan Beavis have spent time looking through the history books compiling the traditions and changes since 1919.
The branch officially began on May 2, following a meeting in the vestry of St Peter's Church. Little could members know it would be the beginning of something that would become a cornerstone of village life.
The founding members were a Mrs Farrant as president, with vice-presidents Mrs Lang and Mrs Lund, while Miss Darrell held the post of secretary and the treasurer was Miss Bristowe.
Over the decades, the group branched out to provide women with opportunities to pursue new skills or showcase their talents, from folk dancing to singing, drama productions to holidays abroad.
"It's more than jam and Jerusalem," said one member of the history group as they discussed the many changes the branch had undergone and continues to do as it tries to attract new blood to its membership and committee.
A staple of the group has always been its varied array of guest speakers, which over time has included novelist RF Delderfield and well-known shop keeper and councillor Ernest 'Ernie' Whitton. After the talk, members would take part in a competition, which still happens today and is often linked with the speaker's talk.
Programme organiser Christine said: "I have been absolutely fascinated by the history. The change in fashion, the hats; the ladies were still wearing hats at meetings in the 1960s and called each other Mrs so-and-so, there were no Christian names. The competitions reflected what was going on in the world at the time. Some of them in the 1940s and 1950s are things such as preparing a chicken for boning, not skills that we need much of now. It would be interesting to know what it is like in 100 years' time.
"The thing for me is the number of really strong women that we have now and have had in the past in this group."
From early in its history, the WI has run its own choir, which started up in the 1940s, achieving much success in local competitions. It stopped briefly in the 1960s but continues to run to this day.
In wartime, members made a trip to Stonehenge, sparking debate of how they managed to get there, as well as pictures of members taking part in events including the carnival.
Marion said: "The things they have done over the decades, we have no idea. We sit round in a group and say 'look at this'. Having always grown up in Sidmouth there are lots of people here I remember. My music teacher and other people I know when I was growing up - it's been fantastic looking at this."
Other activities run by members included a drama group, book club, sewing group, skittles team, hand bell group and crafts as well as trips to WI conferences and county quiz.
The history group said the community had always been at the heart of its work, from planting cherry trees outside Sidford surgery when it opened, painting the sign at Stevens Cross, to serving teas and coffees at events including Royal British Legion fundraisers, the Horticultural Show and athletics event.
Carole said: "I have enjoyed finding out what they did for things like the competitions and how they put their programmes together. It's absolutely fascinating really, how they were able to support the community. That's the main thing with everything they did."
Members have continued to use their skills for good, knitting everything from Noah's Arc, the Nativity Scene and now toys for local causes and charities.
One thing is for certain, the group has always had a strong membership, boasting 150 at its height in the 1960s as it celebrated its golden anniversary. Fast forward to 2019 it still retains healthy numbers, with 72 women actively involved in the branch.
But members are aware of the importance of showing the group is not stuck in the past as nearby WI groups around Sidford have folded, not due to lack of membership but due to having no committee to lead it. It is something members are aware could happen but hope there are many more milestones left to celebrate.
Jan said: "It's a wonderful way of meeting different people from different walks of life.
"I joined because my mother joined and said I would enjoy it. I have done a bit of everything. I've been president and my mother was treasurer; it's what you put into it."
Members hold a coffee afternoon on Tuesdays after the meeting which is open to the community to attend.
The branch's history has also been stitched into a banner made up of 100 squares, each embellished with key dates, events and tasks the Sidford group has been involved in over the years.
The banner will be framed and will be blessed at a service at St Peter's Church, in Sidford, to mark the anniversary on May 5, followed by an open day on May 6 in Sidford Social Hall.
The celebration will be open between 10.30am and 4pm with various stalls. Entry costs £1.50 and includes coffee and biscuits, tea and cake.