In September 2019, St Wilfrid’s Hospice became the home to the very first Women’s Institute held at a hospice. The idea was brought to life after a simple conversation between a group of volunteers and staff members and despite a few obstacles along the way (namely the coronavirus pandemic), the group has come on by leaps and bounds.

Although the group is separate from the hospice, they pride themselves on sharing the hospice’s values: Compassionate, Professional, Progressive, Respectful. Since March 2020 they have also been part of the Community Links project, which aims to create a vibrant community network across our catchment area.

We recently spoke to Deborah Becker, President of the St Wilfrid’s WI, to find out how the group has continued throughout the pandemic, why their relationship with the hospice is so important and what they have gained from being part of the Community Links project.

Deborah Becker, St Wilfrid's WI President

No such thing as a typical meeting

Between their inception and the first national lockdown, the St Wilfrid’s WI were able to have six face-to-face meetings, held in the hospice’s Education Suite. These meetings would usually involve discussions, presentations from outside speakers, and other activities, such as a Christmas flower demonstration from the hospice’s Head Gardener, Kevin.

After a short gap, the group resumed their meetings in October 2020 via Zoom. ‘Being able to connect online has been invaluable for us,’ said Deborah. ‘There is no such thing as a typical meeting anymore, but the situation is just encouraging us be all the more creative.’

Creativity comes in abundance in their membership and one of the most successful things to come out of the lockdown has been their craft group. During this time, they have mainly been making things for the hospice, including hearts for patients and families, Christmas decorations for the volunteers working in retail and purses in which to return patients personal effects. They have also recently finished a community quilt, which was first started in February 2020 and worked on individually throughout the past year. This was recently displayed at the Friston Place Open Garden.

‘It’s given our membership a real opportunity for meaning and purpose,’ said Deborah. ‘It wasn’t just having a craft group because it was something to do, there was a clear aim in mind and that’s given people a real focus.’

The community quilt

A place in the hospice community

With the majority of the craft group’s work directly supporting the hospice, and also by the way in which they mirror St Wilfrid’s values, the group have gained a true place within the hospice community. This means an incredible lot to Deborah and the rest of the membership.

‘We have a lot of members who have some kind of association with the hospice,’ Deborah explains. ‘They may have lost a relative there, they may volunteer there and we’ve got a few people who have a professional background in healthcare. It has definitely helped those who are bereaved and living alone in terms of isolation and loneliness, particularly throughout the pandemic.

Fabric hearts made for hospice patients

‘When we were meeting face-to-face our door was always open for any female inpatients if they wanted to join in. I hope that we can continue with that once we are able to return to the hospice and that relationship can continue to be developed.

‘I’m always very conscious of the reputation of the hospice and I feel that we should be maintaining that at all times. I am hearing from other WI’s that we’re getting a name for being a very compassionate and caring WI and I couldn’t ask for more than that.’

Collaborating with the wider community

Being part of the Community Links project has also been incredibly beneficial for the group as it allows them to support the wider community, which is, as Deborah told us, ‘what the Women’s Institute is all about.’

Deborah frequently engages with the project through the Community Links Get Togethers (currently taking place over Zoom) and through this she has been able to network with other Community Link groups.

‘I recently had a conversation with Janet McInnes from Vitality Villages because in one of the Community Links Get Togethers she mentioned that they have developed various initiatives in Herstmonceux and the surrounding villages. I have since met some of the people involved in setting up and running the various projects and look forward to further conversations about how the WI could get involved.

‘I’m trying to think outside the box and explore what else we can do to collaborate with our community. It’s early days, but because under normal circumstances we meet at the hospice, we are described as a WI which meets in a non-traditional setting, which affords the opportunity to be non-traditional!’

Looking to their second anniversary

Setting up a new WI in a non-traditional setting was always going to be a challenge for Deborah and the committee, particularly when it wasn’t something she had ever done before. With the added challenge of a pandemic, the group have done remarkably well to continue as they have and to have achieved so much.

Preparing for a virtual meeting

As lockdown restrictions ease and the world starts returning to normality, the group are planning to return to their face-to-face meetings from the beginning of September. ‘That will be our second anniversary, so it will be very fitting,’ Deborah said.


If your group or organisation would be interested in finding out more about the Community Links project, please contact Lucy Cheshire via [email protected]. You can also visit the Community Links pages on our website.

Please note: St Wilfrid’s Hospice (Eastbourne) Ltd is keen to promote community links with other organisations and community groups and whilst the links on this page will take you to their respective websites, St Wilfrid’s Hospice (Eastbourne) Ltd is not responsible for the content of their websites or the practices of these groups/organisations. All other websites should have their own privacy notice/policy, and you are advised to refer to those accordingly.

Community Links Project funded by: