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Hedgeley Women’s Institute (1930-present day)

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The longest established village hall user group

The longest continually running group using the village hall is the Hedgeley Women’s Institute. The group started using the Jubilee Hall in 1930, moving to the new Breamish Hall in 1974 and continuing into the 21st century using the modernised Breamish Hall.

Where it began

In March 1930, a meeting was held in the Jubilee Hall to gauge the feelings of local women about setting up a Women’s Institute (WI). The meeting was very well attended. After a long discussion, a vote was taken and it was decided to create a WI at Hedgeley.

The new WI would hold its meetings on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 7:00pm in the Jubilee Hall.

Over 50 inaugural members

At the April 1930 meeting it was noted that “a very large number of people were present. It was gratifying to find that we were able to record a membership of over 50.” [Hedgeley WI Minute book 1930]

At the Annual General Meeting in March 1931, the Secretary gave her report, indicating that “the Institute was not standing still, but was making good progress.” [Hedgeley WI Minute book 1931]

WWII stops evening meetings

In September 1939, owing to the outbreak of war and the consequent lighting restrictions, no meeting was held. However, a committee meeting decided to hold subsequent meetings in the afternoons.

2007 a difficult time

Worryingly, at the end of 2007 the future of Hedgeley Women’s Institute was in jeopardy. The number of members had dwindled, and the once thriving WI was down to just eight members.

The reduced numbers meant less income from subscription fees and so it was becoming increasingly difficult to pay for specialist speakers.

Portrait image of Mrs Jean Givens

Not all jam and Jerusalem!

“It is a great pity if it has to come to an end… Everyone is welcome and we are a very flexible group. If people come along with ideas for speakers and demonstrations, then we will try to get that particular speaker. It isn’t all about jam and Jerusalem. We have a varied programme with a host of activities and a variety of speakers.” Jean Givens (WI President) speaking to Northumberland Gazette in 2008 [Ref: BVPC0421]

The Northumberland Gazette came to the group’s aid by writing a short article in the weekly newspaper, outlining Hedgeley WI’s desperate struggle to survive. This led to five new women joining the group by February 2008. A grant of £300 in 2008 from The Co-operative Society also helped to secure the group’s future.

Activities

Since its inception in 1930, Hedgeley WI has worked closely with the local community by providing learning opportunities, looking after those in need, providing friendship and supporting all women irrespective of age or circumstance.

Today (2022) the Hedgeley Women’s Institute continues this proud tradition by helping to run the Breamish Hall, providing regular Warm Hub lunches, advising the Hedgeley Parish Council, maintaining the Breamish Valley War Memorial, organising local celebrations in response to national initiatives…and much more!

Photo of written text overlaid with a PDF download buton
Hedgeley Women’s Institute Programme 1930 [Ref: BVPC0521]
Photo of red coloured programme diary
Hedgeley WI Programme 1975-1976 [Ref: BVPC0464]
Two elderly women holding hands and singing at a birthday party
Hedgeley WI’s 80th anniversary celebrations in Breamish Hall 13 April 2010 [Ref: BVPC0531]

The above image [BVPC0531] shows Hedgeley Women’s Institute’s oldest member in 2010 Anna Smith (on the left) celebrating Hedgeley WI’s 80th anniversary with Jackie Wylie (Chairperson of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes) in the Breamish Hall.

Woman giving a flower arranging demonstration to a group of women in a village hall
Flower demonstration in Breamish Hall 20 September 2017 [Ref: BVPC0530]

The above image [BVPC0530] shows Marjorie Read (Chairperson of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes) giving a flower demonstration at an Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) event entitled ‘Lunch and Flowers’. Other members of the Federation Board cooked and served Indian food. [NB: All Women’s Institutes are affiliated to ACWW.]

Photo of group enjoying Christmas meal in village hall
Christmas Warm Hub lunch in Breamish Hall 2019 [Ref: BVPC0494]
Scrap books and photo albums displayed on long tables in a village hall
Hedgeley WI 90th anniversary celebrations (held 10 May 2022) [Ref: BVPC0533]

The above image [BVPC0533] shows memory books, photo albums and similar documenting the history of the Hedgeley Women’s Institute displayed in the Breamish Hall on their 90th anniversary. Owing to the global pandemic and the UK’s national lockdowns, the event could not be held when it should have in 2020 (i.e. 90 years after Hedgeley WI’s inauguration in 1930). It was, therefore, held post-lockdown on 10 May 2022.

Further information

What My WI Means to Me

In 2014, at the age of 89 years, Elizabeth Paxton wrote a poem entitled ‘What My W.I Means to Me’.

[NB: Elizabeth was one of the signatories to the Charity Commission incorporation document when the Jubilee Hall was awarded charitable status in 1965.]

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Elizabeth Paxton poem 2014
Graphic with WI logo and the words 'Hedgeley Women's Institute'

Credits

NB: Dates in (brackets) indicate the year when the images were first shared with either the Breamish Valley Photographic Collection or the Breamish Hall Heritage Project and, therefore, the date when permission to use the images was granted.

  • Header image: BVPC0174: Marj Greshon personal collection (2019)
  • BVPC0421 (cropped): Janet Shippen personal collection (2022)
  • BVPC0521 (cropped): Hedgeley Women’s Institute from ‘Hedgeley WI Golden Jubilee Book 1930-1980’ (2022)
  • BVPC0464: Hedgeley Women’s Institute from ‘Hedgeley WI Golden Jubilee Book 1930-1980’ (2022)
  • BVPC0531: May Wilson personal collection (2023)
  • BVPC0530: May Wilson personal collection (2023)
  • BVPC0494: Graham Williamson personal collection (2019)
  • BVPC0533: May Wilson personal collection (2023)

Can you help?

Can you tell us more about the history of the Breamish Hall in Powburn? Spotted any errors, any missing information? Or do you know anything that we don’t? Do you have any related photos or documents? If you have information to share, please use the contact form. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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