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Meerbrook Women's Institute celebrates 90 years

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: April 05, 2014

By Belinda Hargreaves

  • Members of Meerbrook WI have hosted a show in celebration of the group's 90th Birthday celebrations.

  • Members of Meerbrook WI have hosted a show in celebration of the group's 90th Birthday celebrations, with president Vera Belfield at the front.

  • From left, show compere Avril Crompton, Ivy Goodwin as Oak Tree, Joan Lomas as Fir Tree, Christine Woodward as Lava Tree, and WI president Vera Belfield, who organised the front-of-house for the show.

  • Pictured from the left: show stage manager Pauline Harrison, Joan Whilock as Miss Lucy, Dawn Williamson as Jack, Margaret Goldstraw as Grandma, and Isabel Sales as Sir Jasper.

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Members of a women's institute havebeen celebrating its 90th birthday by presenting an all-singing and all-dancing show.

'Wooing Of Miss Lucy' was presented to WI members from across the area by Meerbrook WI at its village's hall.

Over the years members of the group, which started in 1924, have enjoyed varied activities at meetings and raised money for different charities.

Jean Bailey, who has been a member of Meerbrook WI for 52 years, said: "My grandmother Harriet Barks was a founder member, and as both my sister, Mary Heath, and I have both been presidents of the WI in the past, I am sure our grandmother would be proud.

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"When our grandmother was involved with the WI, so too was Mrs Gwen Nicholson of the Nicholsons of Leek – I am not sure which Nicholson she was married to but I know she was connected to the Meerbrook WI for a long time.

"She was also president for many years including when I became a member.

"During the Second World War, Mrs Nicholson instigated what went on in the WI including having a canning machine in the village hall, which I can remember vaguely. It was all very good with the ladies canning up peaches and other fruits.

"I know also that National Savings was organised from the village hall. I am not sure if that was a WI thing or not but Mrs Nicholson was definitely a part of it."

At its height, Meerbrook WI had 70 members but, even though it is one of the largest WIs in the area, it now only has just over 40 members.

Jean, aged 76, added: "Our mother was also a member of the WI. She joined in her teens and was awarded a certificate for being a member for 70 years.

"At the beginning of the WI it was more for rural areas as towns had townswomen's guilds. But of course WIs have opened in urban areas in recent times.

"WIs were initially set up mainly for passing on skills, and so on.

"We have had some very good speakers over the years, and we have had some great times in this village hall – we have learned a lot and also laughed a lot.

"We have also raised a lot of money for charity and done many many concerts, which see everyone pulling together.

"I couldn't imagine my life without the WI. When something bad happens in your life, that's where you get your support. When my husband died it was the WI where I got my strength from."

As for the future of Meerbrook WI, Jean admitted: "The future isn't secure – there are two WIs in the area which have closed recently.

"Meerbrook is still the biggest with around 44 members, but we are not as big as we have been in the past.

"Many of us have tried to get our daughters to join, but they just laugh at us.

"The thing is women didn't used to go to the pub, for example, for a night out; they would come to a WI meeting instead."

Down Your Way: Pages 34-35

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