You may or may not be aware that the Women’s Institute (WI) have a college in Oxfordshire called Denman where they run cookery, craft and lifestyle courses. You don’t have to be a WI member or female to go. It’s open to everyone.
While I was heavily pregnant I won a bursary to help cover costs towards one of their courses. I decided to use the money towards a 2-day residential stained glass – leaded mosaic panel course and would take both LB & Hubs with me to make a weekend of it. Why not a cookery course? Time for a change.
It was going to be some well overdue “Me time”. During the teaching sessions it would be the longest I’ve been apart from LB since she was born and also the longest Hubs has been sole carer for her.
As we pulled up to Denman Friday afternoon I will admit we had reservations. Hubs had some preconceived ideas of the WI and when he spotted a lobby full of women old enough to be his mum he looked scared. As we got to our huge, traditionally decorated room in the main house, Hub’s heart sunk even further when he realised there was no TV or wifi signal. The three of us headed down to dinner with all the other residential students a bit unsure about what lay ahead of us. It soon came clear why there is no TV and wifi signal is patchy, it’s to make you do that good old-fashioned thing of talking.
We’re not the most natural of social butterflies but once we realised nearly all people there had come on their own we soon got chatting to others. I think the novelty of Hubs being one of only three men there and carrying a baby was a pretty good ice breaker. As the evening wore on, we thawed and realised we were surrounded by a bunch of the loveliest, open-minded, interesting women around. Most of which seemed to adopt LB as their granddaughter.
Once dinner was over I headed over to the teaching block to start on my design, meet Anna Conti our tutor and the other 7 students on my course. One of the reasons I picked stained glass mosaic was because I decided it wasn’t something I could easily learn without a tutor and I don’t have the equipment at home to quickly rustle up a panel. Initially I was going to make a panel with LB’s initial, but unless I got it perfect it could look awful so after playing around with a few ideas I settled on a tree made of circles. Yes I forgot I’d have to try and cut a circle from glass.
Saturday was spent cutting glass, gluing our mosaic the glass panel, leading up and burning my finger. Note to self: steadying hand by putting finger on metal part of soldering iron hurts… lots. Sunday we finished our panels in time for Sunday lunch.
Other courses running the same weekend were patchwork, botanical painting, showstoppers (singing & dancing) and a very popular baking weekender. The delicious scents from the cookery school kept wafting into the classroom where we were working.
All our time in the classroom was interspaced with food, lots of it.One of the big things about going on a course at Denman is the catering. In true WI style you won’t go hungry and the food was excellent. Each break was accompanied with a biscuit or slice of cake and there was always a pudding with custard for lunch and dinner.
A big mention must go to the staff. Babies rarely visit, let alone stay at Denman and they went to great lengths to make us feel welcome and make sure things ran smoothly. Nothing was too much trouble.
A weekend that originally I was so nervous about I nearly cancelled, turned out to be a lovely relaxing weekend learning a new skill with precious bonding time for LB and Hubs. I want to return to do another one of their craft courses. I like the sound of stone carving or silver jewellery. At first glance the prices can seem steep but you have to remember that this includes full board accommodation.
This isn’t the most modern of places to visit, but that’s ok. Denman is in its own little bubble. The lack of TV and wifi wasn’t missed, in fact it was refreshing. We all need to disconnect from modern life once in a while and invest some time in ourselves. Cast aside your ideas of what the WI is about and give one of their courses a go.