The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month, Borough Market officer Emily McGeevor talks about why Borough and the Belles are kindred spirits, the importance of learning new skills, and how to bake some cracking and quintessentially English savoury scones
I had already put my name down to join the Borough Belles when the vacancy for Borough Market officer came up. I absolutely adore the Market; I have always been a big fan of its ethos and ethics, particularly in respect of the Slow Food movement. My sister is involved in farming and there’s always been a focus on fresh produce in my family. As soon as they advertised the position, I couldn’t wait to get involved—with Borough Belles, but also with the Market.
Originally the role mainly involved acting as a correspondent between the Market and the Belles, organising the posts we do for the website, so it started very small, but I knew that both Borough and the Belles were very keen to push that relationship and to see where we could connect.
When I had my initial meeting with Claire Ford, communications project manager, and David Matchett, the Market’s development manager, it was really positive on both sides. They came to us with a lot of ways they could support us, and likewise we came to them with a ‘wish list’ of things we felt really link us to the Market—in terms of the WI’s background and history, but on a deeper level, with the things we do actively in the community.
There’s a lot of crossover between the Belles’ and the Market’s outlook. This year, one of the WI’s national objectives was to look at tackling food waste, which of course is a cause that’s close to the Market’s heart. A lot of us were involved with the Disco soup event, in which volunteers came along to create meals using surplus food, to music.
A huge success
My role has changed a lot in the last year. We’ve started doing stalls at the Market and at first we didn’t know what to expect, but it has been a huge success. We have a very small amount of money as an organisation, so any way to help raise money can make the difference between us being able to do an activity and not.
The first stall we did at the Market was absolutely fantastic, I was completely overwhelmed—by the Belles, and how far they went to support WI and the fundraising effort, and by the support we had from the Market. We got to use the Cookhouse, which is the dreamiest place for baking! We were completely in awe. It also meant we could bake together, which isn’t something we often get to do. It was a real joint effort, of bringing ideas together and making them happen. It was a fantastic experience from start to finish.
Though a lot of the Belles really love baking, there’s also a huge number that don’t. I think sometimes people feel like there’s real pressure, but at WI we really encourage people to put that worry aside and give it a go. It can be as simple as making a fairy cake—it doesn’t have to be an elaborate recipe with an extensive ingredients list.
We bake for all our monthly meetings, and it’s more about bringing something to share than it is about making something that tastes great. Or sometimes it looks nice, but the baker will say well actually, I forgot to put the sugar in… it doesn’t matter! No one is going to come to any harm. At least I hope not… we’ve not had any complete disasters.
For some people, it’s not that they can’t bake, they just don’t enjoy it and often they are the people who completely amaze us with other skillsets. It might be something that you take for granted, like being amazing at public speaking, or a talented sewer. The Borough Belles has taught me a lot about not only things I would never, ever have thought to try before, but also my personal strengths, which is part of the reason I joined. I had an incredible set of friends already, but joining the Belles was very much about taking what was a huge leap for me—to go to a place I don’t know anybody, not knowing what to expect.
And, of course, I have met so many new people: women of all ages and backgrounds, with an enormous array of skills and experiences. It’s half of the appeal—you don’t really join up unless you have a desire to learn something, be it about yourself or something new.
We have a meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at Better Bankside, which cover various topics, then alongside that each committee member runs a club. We have a book club called Cocktails and Pages, which is always good! Culture club, which is about going on trips to museums, exhibitions, outings to castles etc; running club, made up of dedicated runners who meet once a fortnight; dancing Belles, which involves everything from having a ballroom lesson, to going to a club; craft club.
Campaigning and charity work
As well as being Borough Market officer, I run lido club—we’re just about to do our first unheated swim of the year! We do lots of campaigning and charity work. So although we technically only have a monthly meeting, you could do something twice a week if you wanted to.
Any member of the Belles can submit new ideas and come along to the committee meetings, which are open, but it’s the committee’s job to ensure the activities we do and take part in are varied. Sometimes people contact us to say we’re doing these talks, are they of interest? We’ve found some amazing speakers that way.
Last year a lot of the Belles went to Borough Talks, which were great. Unfortunately, this year they’ve fallen on times I have been away, but I am looking forward to the Talk on reducing the impact of food production, which I’m going to in September!
To join the Borough Belles, you can just drop in as a guest if you just want to see what it’s about. Come along to a meeting and sign up there and then, or you could try giving one of our clubs a go. There’s no ‘catchment’ area, so to speak—I live in Camberwell and I am certainly not one of the people that live furthest away, not by a long shot. For me it was on my route home, so it was just perfect.
Read Emily’s recipe for cheese and chive scones—a bake from the Belles’ latest stall at the Market, celebrating St George’s Day