Westcliff on Sea Women’s Institute: Cooking for under £1 challenge

Last night I was invited to speak at the Womens Institute at Westcliff on Sea, for their ‘Bountiful Harvest’ themed evening.

And a bountiful harvest it was indeed, with members bringing in dishes that they had made costing less than £1 a head – which I had the very difficult job of tasting and judging – and a bulging table of donations for the local food bank, who also spoke at the evening.

I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the women there, almost all of whom turned up with donations for the Storehouse, and spent the evening chatting to many women who “didn’t realise food banks were by referral only” or “didn’t realise there was one in Southend” or wanted to know what they could do to help. I left the Cliffs Pavillion yesterday evening feeling completely overwhelmed by the kindness of over 100 women, and re-energised after the exhaustion of conference season.

The women that had cooked dishes for the challenge all said how difficult they had found it. One commented that they were surprised how expensive vegetables were, and another that it certainly made her evaluate ‘cost per portion’ the way that she eats.

The winner of the challenge was Jo – who made an absolutely delicious cheese and vegetable bake at 67p per portion – so good I’ve asked her for the recipe!

Others included a beetroot falafel that I’ll be trying, and a broken biscuit cake that I’ll definitely be trying too!

The ladies presented me with beautiful flowers afterwards, which as you can see from my face was a total surprise and very well received! I also received a fee for being their ‘keynote speaker’, which I will be donating to the Southend Storehouse.


I also handed out a list of suggested donations for food banks to all the ladies present, which I will put up on my blog shortly…

Now it’s an early night for me, as I’m off to Birmingham tomorrow to deliver a workshop at the Urban Expression conference. Busy busy!

Jack Monroe. Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Categories: Blog


  1. Jack, I live in the US but I want you to know, your work is extremely valuable internationally. Keep it up!

  2. You are an inspiration Jack! Thank you so much for your blog and all you are doing to raise awareness of food poverty in our country, a fact that shocks me every time I think about it.

  3. Adorable story! So easy to forget that these kinds of women’s groups are still in business today. Also importantly, many of them lived through great austerity; so we can learn something from them now! I must find my local WI, I’m sure it would be worthwhile.

    • lol…I’m 42 and many members are Jack’s age and upwards so not sure about the austerity comment applies to many of us….Ladies …there’s a revolution going on…..WI’s are not just for the wise and mature ladies. Our WI started up 4 years ago with a group of friends that has grown to nearly 200 members. We’ve moved on from the WWII image – as great as that was. Our great grandmothers gave us a legacy which is about sharing knowledge, empowering women and campaigning for change. It would be naive to think that all WI’s are the same…each one has it’s own charm and culture. At Westcliff on Sea, we are young, sassy and have a lot to share and say…and occasionally make Jam 🙂 You can find your nearest one on the website by entering your postcode: http://www.thewi.org.uk/

      You can join more than one and you can also attend as a guest at any WI in the country…..go on you know you want to 🙂

  4. As a WI member I feel so chuffed that you met WI ladies. I have met so many lovely people since I joined. It’s not at all like people who don’t go think it is
    I am now wondering if the group I go to would like the idea of cooking something for £1 for one of our meetings. Although I would probably make them do it for 50p so I can use their ideas on the blog!

  5. You were so inspirational last night when you spoke, had a wonderful evening listening to you speak. I was at the knitting and stitching show today and got talking to the WI ladies on their stall and was telling them about you and they were extremely jealous we had heard you speak. Once again thank you, I have since joined your blog and have enjoyed reading them so far x rebecca x

  6. Food banks and pantries are not by refferal here and I donate regularly.
    Recently a neighbor who should know better, given the job situation in my area, sniffed that ” we had no need for such things here” implying that food insecurity was for those “other sorts”
    I went online then and there….yeah smart phones!… and found over six hundred.
    SIX HUNDRED! What a modern day disgrace….

  7. Jack, I live in Israel as a relatively new immigrant from America, and follow your blog avidly. I have shared it with many friends, one of whom has been inspired to start her own food bank locally, since none were in existence when she desperately needed one. I think you, your work, and your message are both amazing and very inspiring. I remember times of hunger in my own adult life, and know how NOT fun it is and how desperate one can feel. Keep up the great work!

  8. Hmmm, I’ve always avoided the W.I. because of their policy of denying membership to lesbians. Is this no longer the case?

  9. Sounds a lovely evening and so please to read about the WI ladies .I was staying near the venue and loved visiting Southend,West cliff and Leigh on Sea this summer where my daughter now lives.I also enjoy your blogs and once again thank you for your blogs.

  10. Inspirational post. Food banks have come in for a bit of a knocking from some quarters lately. But I think they do good. We shouldn’t need them, there should be a better answer. There shouldn’t be food poverty at all, but we don’t live in a perfect world and we should all do what we can. We need to know what helps the most.

    Jack, please put up the recipe for beetroot felafal. I had some once and it was lovely

  11. I bet you had a lot of delicious food to try, it sounds like a brilliant idea. Lovely photo too 🙂 And oo, you’re in my neck of the woods today! How exciting.

  12. Thank you so much for coming to speak to the WI on Thursday. You really helped to change people’s perceptions on Food Banks and many people commented on how it was the most inspiring talk they had heard in a long time. Keep up the good work Jack!!

  13. Bless you for all you are doing Jack and never underestimate the “power of one” to make a significant difference. If ever you plan to be in merseyside please let me know and I’ll gladly invite you to my garden, plus send you away with whatever food or flowers are in season. Meanwhile continue to take care of you and yours while telling your simple truths xx <3

  14. Thank you Jack – it was so lovely to meet you and your talk was inspirational. I have been telling all my family and friends about you and the food bank and will be following your blogs with interest. Lovely picture of you and your son – how proud he will be of his mum when he grows up and understands how you turned things round. I wonder if the fire brigade have learnt from this and now offer flexi-time hours for woman/men in a similar situation!

  15. Do you know whereabouts I can donate food to the Storehouse (in Southend)? I’ve been meaning to do it for a while but when I looked on their website, there’s no information about when and where to take it. I’m at work in London all week so need somewhere I can drop it on weekends.

  16. Do you know whereabouts I can donate food to the Storehouse (in Southend)? I’ve been meaning to do it for a while but when I looked on their website, there’s no information about when and where to take it. I’m at work in London all week so need somewhere I can drop it on weekends.

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