By Amy Middleton
You may know that I have recently completed the WI Adviser Training. I started the training in pre-Covid times . . . and a lot has changed since then!
My WI history
Let's go back to the beginning. I joined the WI aged 22 having recently graduated from university. A work colleague asked me to help her do some social media for a newly formed WI, for which she was President. After a couple of months of deliberating it I decided to try out a meeting. That night I joined the committee and took on the running of the WI’s website. I spent a total of five years on the committee and held several roles, including secretary.
A Move to Wiltshire
In 2014, I had a change of job, and in 2016, I made the decision to move over the border from Hampshire to Wiltshire to be closer to work. Once I had settled in to my new flat and found my way round Salisbury, I went on a WI quest! Over a few months, I visited several WIs across the city and surrounding area. One evening I met Chris Walker, now Chair of the Membership Committee, who happened to be on a WI visit. I knew when I moved I wanted to get involved with WI activities at the Federation level, becoming a WI adviser was a role I was interested in. Chris and I had a chat about my aspirations, we exchanged contact details and I soon found myself at a Membership Committee meeting!
I spent two years shadowing the Advisers, getting to know the team and visiting WIs across the South of Wiltshire. I completed the in-house training to become a ‘Membership Assistant’. I took my time to find my feet with the role, and took on responsibilities slowly, so I could build my confidence and balance them with my full time job. There was never any pressure from the Advisers to complete the training or do anything I was not comfortable or confident with. The Membership Committee and WFWI have been incredibly supportive of on boarding me into the committee, (they even changed a whole years’ worth of committee meetings as they clashed with a reoccurring monthly meeting I had at work!). We have also held membership committee meetings in the evenings in the summer months to see how they could fit around a day at work.
WI Adviser Training
Last summer I took the plunge and put together my application form for the WI Adviser training. I was successfully accepted into the 2020 intake of trainees (eek!). It then all became very real.
I was assigned a tutor (the wonderful Patience Broad), invited to a webinar, on which the course outline and pre-work was laid out. Patience also called me to learn more about me, answer any questions I had and to put me at ease. I was quite anxious about the workload and delivery deadlines and ensuring I met these whilst working full time. I had made it clear that my day job would remain my priority. My tutor assured me we would manage any issues if they arose. I felt well supported and reassured that I wouldn’t be thrown off the course if my coursework was late!
In January 2020, I packed my suitcase, pencil case and new notebook and headed up to Denman for the first part of the training. Upon arrival, I met the other trainees for a working lunch, it was an opportunity to get to know each other, and chat about our expectations and share any anxieties we had. Then we were straight into the work! We had two nights at Denman and two modules to get through over the three days. We studied ‘Communication Skills’ and ‘Understanding the WI’, this covered everything from using microphones and body language to planning workshops and getting our heads round the constitution. We worked late into the evenings, but were rewarded with a gin or two from the bar. By the end of the weekend, we had exchanged numbers, set up a WhatsApp group and a Facebook page so we could all keep in contact. We left Denman, for our respective corners of England, as a newly formed gaggle of trainees!
The Corona Girls
In March, Covid-19 hit the UK, courses at Denman were cancelled, and then lockdown was enforced. But what about our second residential visit for modules three and four? A video chat coffee morning was quickly arranged and the majority of us met virtually for a catch up. Although we understood the reasons for the course cancellation we were all devastated not to be able to spend time together at Denman. More coffee mornings and gin evenings were arranged so we could regularly see each other.
Whilst we continued through the coursework, our tutors worked away in the background to resolve how the course would continue. A webinar was arranged and the new plan proposed. The course was to be delivered virtually via a series of webinars across the week in which we should have been at Denman. We were anxious but excited! This was a new way of doing the course and we had become training guinea pigs. We soon dubbed ourselves the “Corona Girls”!
Our newfound friendships have made lockdown brighter. Throughout the course, despite the group being spread across the country, I have never felt isolated or alone. The Corona Girls have always been on the end of the phone/video chat. We seem to have adopted a pack mentality and we have provided our services as a virtual audience for those trainees who did not manage to complete their presentations before lockdown, together ensuring everyone completed the required coursework. They say the friends you make at university stick with you for life and I think the same applies for WI Adviser training!
Training round II
Luckily, the training materials arrived in the post a couple of days before the training was due to start! We were to have 2.5-hour webinars each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday morning followed by group chats with our respective tutors in the afternoons. This gave us the chance to chat through any questions from the morning sessions. In the time in between sessions, I was able to dip in and out of any urgent work queries in my work inbox and I made a start on my coursework!
The Corona Girls had also organised a couple of evening socials at the beginning and end of the week, this allowed us to check in with each other, answer any questions and reduce any anxieties. We didn’t want to loose the group experience that we would have had at Denman. The week flew by and it was soon our last social of the week.
At this point the plan was to then meet in October to round off the course with a group presentation and visit NFWI HQ in London. However, as the lockdown continued and furloughs were extended this too was cancelled.
The plan now is to be reunited in March 2021! Time will tell if this is successful. We have all completed our coursework, and aside from receiving our WI Adviser badges, we have been released into our respective counties (well... sort off… given the circumstances) to start our official adviser duties. Our tutors remain in contact with us, and the Corona Girls WhatsApp group remains as active as ever! I am sure that when we are allowed to get together again, a lot of gin and merriment will be on the agenda!