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Bentley Heath Country Market celebrated its 40th 'birthday' in 2014 but the roots of the market go back to the efforts of a Canadian visionary, Mrs. Alfred Watt in World War I.   

 

When the first English Women's Institute (W.I.) was established in 1915–1916, it was patterned on the style of the groups in BritisH Columbia and its aim was to increase food production in Britain.  Markets were set up in rural communities, but the produce was also sent into towns.

 

After the war pressure from local tradesmen brought about the closure of all these markets except for the one in Lewes, which is still trading today.

In 1932 The National Federation of the W.I., with the help of a grant from the Carnegie Trust, appointed Vera Cox as marketing organizer.  She drew up model rules and wrote the first marketing handbook.  W.I. Markets rapidly proliferated.

 

The W.I. is a charity while the markets were not.  They were run as co-operatives and enabled not only W.I. members, but the unemployed, retired ex-servicemen and women, to earn a little pocket money whilst working from their own homes, by selling surplus produce.  The Market organization was kept at an “arms length” relationship with the W.I. until finally, in 1995 the Markets were separated as W.I. Country Markets Ltd.  In 2004 the use of the W.I. initials was discontinued.

Our market started off in 1974, operating out of Dorridge catholic church hall, moving to Bentley Heath in 1993. Joan Spriggs joined the market in 1983.  Her memoirs, written in 2014, can be found here.

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