Currently under Covid19 lockdown, it seems that everyone with a garden is suddenly starting to grow food! It’s a great idea of course, when you have more time on your hands, and it has suddenly become risky to go to the shops, which are often short of stock. Gardening is also great exercise and working outdoors, and connecting with nature can improve your mental wellbeing too.

When you go into your garden or for a walk in the park, you may be treading over ground that once grew the food that fed the nation, in other times of crisis.

The WI and WW1

Did you know that the Women’s Institute was born, to encourage women to grow and preserve food for nations ravaged by war.

The first WI was set up in Canada in 1897 and arrived in the UK in 1915. Submarine warfare was preventing food arriving by boat, and gardening went from a hobby to a method of survival. Everyone (from soldiers at the front line to families at home), started producing food and rearing livestock!

Authorities were given permission to requisition land for the growing of produce. Allotment ownership in Britain, rose from 450,000 before the war, to 1.5 million by May of 1917 and was a catalyst for the popularity of allotments and gardening, which continues to this day. There are allotments all round the Greenhavens area.


Some of the most popular vegetables to grow in 1915, were potatoes, artichokes, turnips, onions, marrows, horseradish, beetroot and cabbage.

The very first British WI group met in Anglesey, but soon the groups were springing up all over. The Seaford group started in 1918 and two years later Members had raised enough funds to build their own Hall – Claremont Hall. which is still in use today for a large membership.

By 1919 there were 1400 WIs throughout England and Wales. The organisation had its own magazine and the early years saw campaigns for free school milk for children, extra women police officers and more midwives for rural communities.

The WI from WW2 to today

In 1941 The National Federation of Women’s Institute carried out a famous survey among WI members called ‘Town Children through Country Eyes’. It dealt with the issues housing city evacuees in the countryside during the second world war. The survey gained national attention and was one of the factors leading to the provision of family allowances, to reduce poverty after the war.

If you are interested in starting gardening, WI members can enjoy exclusive floral art and gardening projects. There are blogs and tips to grow-your-own on My WI, the WI members-only site.

The WI are also world famous for their jams, preserves and baked goods! There are some lovely recipes on their website In Seaford, as the group own their Hall, they are able to offer a number of activities – Art, Play-Reading, Yoga and Craft. They also have a Walking Group, Lunch Club, Theatre/Cinema Group and organise various visits and outings.

Growing your own

If you need some support when you start growing food, you will find most gardeners are a friendly lot and like to share their produce, spare plants and growing tips!

There are lots of Community gardens and clubs in the Greenhavens area which will be happy to share their spaces when the lockdown is over. You can still find plenty of online tutorials, help and support such as this one.

It would be great if the Coronavirus Crisis motivates a whole new generation of gardeners in our precious green spaces, and new members to Greenhavens!

Keep digging those veggies and do let us know how you get on.