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Seven Hills WI visits Denman College

We’ve all heard lots about the WI’s very own residential college in Marcham, near Oxford, and we were intrigued to find out more. So, just before Christmas eight Seven Hills WI members set out on a trip to Marcham to attend a New Wave Weekend – a chance to sample the delights of Denman College and meet women from other WIs across the country. 

In the sewing class with May Martin (centre)

We all had our reservations about what it would actually be like but we are pleased to report that it was wonderful, we loved it! Okay, so it might not seem the cheapest weekend away at first glance, but when you add it up it’s really quite good value for money. We got two nights’ accommodation, welcome drinks, breakfast, lunch and three course dinners, loads of tea and coffee, the best shortbread we’ve ever tasted, and three workshops for just over £200 each!

The workshops were great, I made a charm bracelet, some Christmas decorations and a door wreath (gave the latter to my mum, she loves it!) and I was impressed with the quality of the tuition. Our sewing class was taught by the fabulous May Martin who will be appearing on TV in March as the Mary Berry-style judge in new programme The Great British Sewing Bee!

We also met some lovely women from other WIs (hello Clare and Becki from Birchgrove WI, India from Gloucester Road WI, Meryl from Old Dalby WI, the ladies from West Ealing WI and our wonderful college host Sally!) and it gave us a great chance to talk about our groups and pick up tips and advice from other branches.

Now we’ve been to Denman we can see that the charm of it really is the old house and gardens (it’s like being in Downton Abbey, seriously!) so the news that the national federation are looking at selling the house and gardens, and just retaining the new part, is really sad. 

There is lots of history to the college which you can find out about here, but basically the house dates back to the 17th century and was the former manor house of Marcham. It was bought by the WI with money raised by each WI branch throughout the country contributing £10 over three years – seems reasonable to me! 

Denman College, named after the first chairwoman of the WI, officially opened in 1948 and has been a big part of many WI members’ lives since then. Each of the bedrooms in the main house are decorated by federations so each is unique and just being there really makes you feel that you are part of something. We would love many, many more of our members to experience Denman College but we feel this experience will be much poorer if the house and gardens are sold. The national federation are currently consulting on the future of the college and we’d urge all WI members to complete the short online survey before 11 January. 

Kim on the beautiful Downton-style landing!

You can also help Denman College by attending courses there. It is open to anyone, not just WI members, and there really is something for everyone, see  for more details or email us at if you have any questions (I’ll try and help!).

Lindsay SHWI President


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