Bear bonanza as WI reaches out to Africa

Hundreds of small knitted bears were handed over by members of Norfolk women's institutes yesterday to help raise funds to build schools in Africa. The “Be a Brick, Knit a Bear” project has enabled Norfolk WI members to make the four-inch high woolly bears, which are sold to raise funds for development charity, FacilitAid.

Hundreds of small knitted bears were handed over by members of Norfolk women's institutes yesterday to help raise funds to build schools in Africa.

The “Be a Brick, Knit a Bear” project has enabled Norfolk WI members to make the four-inch high woolly bears, which are sold to raise funds for development charity, FacilitAid.

Susan Warr, chairman of the Norfolk Federation of WIs, thanked members for their efforts over the past year. She told the 89th annual meeting at St Andrew's Hall that the Burundi bear project will be a main theme for the WI display at the Royal Norfolk Show.

The 28 members of the Pulham and District WI had knitted a total of 147 bears, said committee member June Mears, who had made a dozen herself. “It takes about an evening for each one. The heads are very fiddly,” she added.

Fellow member Ann Barber, who is the institute's president, said that members had enjoyed the challenge of doing something positive to help.

Grenville Burgess, who started the charity now based in Monmouth, Wales, five years ago after working in Africa, told members that the bears are used for the “brick-by-brick” programme. Primary school children are offered a Burundi bear in exchange for a £1 donation, which pays for four bricks for a new school in Burundi in the heart of Africa.

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Since the project was started in 2001, 100pc of funds are used to build schools using local labour and materials and work is about to start on a third school later this summer, said Mr Burgess.

The Norfolk Federation was enjoying strong membership growth, said Mrs Warr in her annual address. “Throughout the country this organisation is thriving as more and more women realise that we are influential and have a role to play to combat some of the bureaucracy in modern life, and to re-emphasise the values for which we became famous within a framework of friendship and enjoyment.”

“We have opened three new institutes - in April, Norwich Lunchtime at the federation's offices. And in October, Sheringham Afternoon opened.

“I'm delighted that it is growing fast and has more than 40 members and has not affected Sheringham Evening membership.

In October, we also opened Eccles and District, which is also growing well. I anticipate that we will open other new institutes during the coming year,” Mrs Warr told the 600 members and guests.

The federation's supreme annual award or Advisers' Accolade, was presented, unusually, to two institutes - Sheringham Evening and Old Hunstanton.

The Rose Bowl for outstanding promotional success was won by the Grimston WI from near King's Lynn.

A special certificate to mark the 75th anniversary was presented to Hunstanton WI.