FAQs: COVID-19 impact on WI activities and members

We have received a lot of questions from members about the impact of COVID-19 on WI activities and members. We hope these FAQs will help to answer a lot of your questions.

Please note: These will be updated regularly as the situation develops, but please keep a very close watch on Gov.uk for the most up to date and relevant information and advice.

Should we cancel WI meetings and events?

The Government is advising everyone to reduce social contact, particularly those who are vulnerable. As the situation is still so uncertain, it is not clear how many WI meetings and events will need to be cancelled, but our advice will always be to prioritize members safety and wellbeing, ensuring that the Government advice is followed. Many WIs are already implementing alternative arrangements to ensure they stay connected and support members who may become more socially isolated without their WI meetings and the support network it provides. Please see our #MyVirtualWI page for ideas and inspiration.

How can vulnerable members be supported?

This time will be particularly difficult for vulnerable members, especially people who live alone. Without WI meetings taking place, take time to check on members in your community in other ways. For members who may not have access to a computer or mobile phone, telephone them on their landline regularly to check in and see if they need any support. For those who do use technology, you may wish to set up WI WhatsApp groups or Facebook messenger groups if you haven’t done so already. Meetings and subgroups certainly don’t have to stop, for example, you could try holding your meetings, craft groups, book clubs or film clubs via Zoom or free conference calling software. Please have a look at our Guide to Zoom for more information.

So many WI members are doing amazing work to keep their communities connected and to ensure nobody is isolated or in need. Have a look at our WI Community Champions page for case studies of some of these extraordinary members.

The uncertainty of this situation can be scary and affect our mental health. It is normal to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed as we read news about the outbreak, especially if you have experienced trauma or a mental health problem in the past. While social media can be invaluable for staying connected, it can also circulate a great deal of scaremongering and untrustworthy information surrounding the virus. You can hide content and unfollow pages that are making you feel uneasy alongside stopping news notifications on your phone.

What are the consequences of not having 11 meetings a year as stated in the constitution?

With the uncertainty of this situation and how long it will go on for, it is not possible to say how many meetings may have to be cancelled due to the virus. In order to try and maintain the 11 meetings a year, WIs should consider holding virtual meetings using Skype or Zoom (which are free) where possible. This may be slightly easier for some WIs than others depending on how big their membership is, along with their access to the software. In other instances, WIs could move one or more of their cancelled meetings to later in the year, and could even hold more than one meeting per month later in the year.

However, if you are unable to hold 11 meetings this year, please do not worry, as the health and wellbeing of members is far more important. These are unprecedented times with many organisations and charities asking the same questions, and the Charity Commission is aiming to be as flexible and pragmatic as possible to help organisations to continue to function effectively during this period. We have sent official legal guidance to all federations, and would also suggest that members continue to review the latest information on the charity commission website, as advice and information is changing regularly.

For the time being, we ask WIs to please focus on supporting other members and keeping connected during the period you are unable to meet.

A lot of WIs have also been concerned about cancelling their Annual Meetings and elections, and the consequences of this on their WI operations. In the current circumstances, the Charity Commission has confirmed that it understands that charities may have no choice but to cancel or postpone their AGMs and other critical meetings. The guidance we have sent to federations explains this in much more detail, so please contact your federation or NFWI if you have any specific concerns or questions.

Can subscriptions be refunded to cover the WI meetings that will be cancelled?

As most members will appreciate, refunds for membership would be incredibly difficult, both to administer and because of the financial implications for the organisation at all levels, as we continue to have fixed running costs that still need to be covered. However, we are currently considering other options and will be consulting with all federations in the coming weeks. We cannot guarantee anything, but please be assured that we are working hard to find a solution that works for all levels of the organisation.

What should we do about events and venue cancellations?

The financial implications of event cancellations will vary depending on the venue you have booked with. You should seek advice directly from the venue along with your insurance company regarding their policy. If your WI’s insurance is managed at federation level, please contact your federation.

Are the NFWI offices still open?

As of Wednesday 18 March, the NFWI London, NFWI Wales and NFWI–Unit offices have closed and staff are working from home. You are still able to contact all staff via emails and telephone as normal.

Please do not send anything urgent via post as we are not currently accessing the office buildings at all. If you want to send us anything that cannot be sent via email, please call us to discuss alternative arrangements.

Are all NFWI events cancelled or postponed?

The Annual Meeting at the Royal Albert Hall on 4 June has been cancelled, and the Wales Conference on 26 April has been postponed until later this year (date TBC). We make the decision to cancel the Annual Meeting with great sadness and we know many members will be very disappointed, as we are, but we always prioritise the health and wellbeing of our members above anything else.

You will still receive your Annual Meeting documentation in the upcoming NFWI mailing as this was signed off at the end of February. Please retain this documentation and we will be in touch to confirm how we will proceed with regard to the selection of this year’s resolutions.

There is more information here: https://mywi.thewi.org.uk/nfwi-news/articles/coronavirus-update-on-nfwi-events-and-activities

What happens to the 2019/20 resolutions?

As the Annual Meeting at the Royal Albert Hall on 4 June has been cancelled, a decision is being made on how to proceed with the 19/20 resolutions below and will be announced following a meeting of the Board in May. Please check back here for further announcements.

When will Denman re-open?

Denman has postponed all on-site courses and events until 1st July 2020. We will review all future courses at the earliest alongside the guidelines from the government and will update you accordingly.

Visit https://www.denman.org.uk/ for further information and regular updates.

Can WI members and WIs help to craft items such as face masks and uniform bags for the NHS?

Over the past couple of weeks, we have received a number of queries about whether WI members can craft items to support the NHS. The NFWI is very concerned at reports of shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other vital items of clothing and equipment and urges the government and NHS to make sure that all health and care staff get the right protection to carry out their vital roles.

It is important to note that many items of PPE are single-use and produced to strict specifications, so in many cases, crafted items would not be appropriate.

We have been in touch with the NHS and are aware that there is a need for scrubs in some areas of the country. This is not confined to NHS services, as other health and care services like care homes and domiciliary care services are increasingly using scrubs for their staff.

At present, these projects are being managed locally by various volunteer groups to respond to particular local need. The NHS is under significant pressure at the current time, and so we want to make sure that any contribution members make to support our NHS is timely, useful and responds to local need. We are aware that some health services are not in need of these items whereas others do still need supplies. As such, it would not be appropriate to launch a national appeal and we are instead encouraging members who wish to support their local health and care services to do this at a local level.

If you are aware that your local hospital or other health or care services are in need of these items and are calling on the community for help, please do organise this on a local level. If you are able to contact your local hospital, you can let them know your WI is available to support with making these items if necessary. Given the burden on NHS staff at this time, it is preferable for you to contact the charity arm of your local hospital who can advise how best to support them, or to make contact with volunteer groups already coordinating donations. If you would like to support a local care service or care home you can find nearby services by searching on the CQC website.


This page was last updated on 19 May 2020.


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