NFWI AGM AT THE MOTORPOINT ARENA, CARDIFF WEDNESDAY 6TH JUNE 2018
The sun shone brightly as I headed from my hotel through Bute Park in Cardiff to the Motorpoint Arena and joined the happy queue of excited ladies ready to be welcomed by Members of the NFWI.
After milling around the foyer, meeting the Editor of WI Life and being photographed (and subsequently featured on Page 14 of the July/August issue), buying some merchandise and enjoying a cappuccino, it was time to take my seat for a full days agenda. I had the pleasure of sitting next to two lovely ladies from Buxted WI and Bodle Street Green WI and in front of Vicky Booth from ESFWI.
We were welcomed by Lynne Stubbings, the new NFWI Chair and started proceedings by singing Jerusalem. Lynne then gave an overview of the history of the WI, that it was founded in Llanfair PG 103 years ago and advised that last year 80,000 new members joined the WI, and 86 new WIs were set up. This year so far, 19,000 new members have joined and 63 WIs have been set up.
Lynne advised us that a new radio quiz will be aired called WIQ with Jo Brand as host on Radio 4 featuring a WI from Manchester and another from Cambridge. More details can be found on the WI website.
Lynne spent some time talking about resolutions and how as a group, the WI has played a central role in pushing through changes in policy. In 1921 the WI put pressure on the jury system to allow women to sit on jury panels. In 1964 the WI pushed for banning smoking in public places which came into effect in 2007.
Lynne thanked all those members from Manchester who had collected and washed all the teddies that had been left after the Manchester arena bomb. They received a massive round of applause for their efforts.
Lynne also mentioned My WI which is soon to feature tutorials on knife skills, how to make homemade granola, how to make creative containers and floral arts amongst other things. Many other tutorials will be added in time and the hope is that more members will access My WI, creating a one stop shop and an opportunity for all members to get the most out of their WI. Here you can search the noticeboard for trips, read the constitution, read how to plan engaging meetings, and an opportunity to stay connected and chat with other members. Lynne advised that to-date, only around 20,000 of 220,000 members have subscribed.
Lynne thanked the WI advisors and acknowledged the terrific work they do in supporting WIs and their members. Many of the 372 advisors were present and received a terrific round of applause from those present.
The ‘Save Denman’ representative thanked the membership for raising £661,978.61 to-date to keep Denman going. I hadn’t realized that Denman receives no income from our WI membership and relies purely on donations and return from investments. Denman’s net income of £132K included donations and bookings. Saving Denman needs continued support to ensure its future and we were all urged to do as much as we can to support the ‘Save Denman’ campaign. We were told that there is a pack available online with fundraising ideas such as hosting a dinner, baking cakes and there are resources such as leaflets, posters and cake flags. We were urged to look to the future and ensure we secure Denman’s future as it enters its 8th decade of learning and enjoyment.
Draped over the top table was the most beautiful cloth featuring the WI Coat of Arms. If you haven’t seen it, take a look online or have a browse through this months WI Life magazine. It is beautiful! Created 43 years ago by West Kent Federation, having made 100 appearances over the 4 decades, it had become rather tatty. The Royal School of Needlework was commissioned to restore it and painstakingly removed the crest from the fabric and repositioned it onto a new fabric. Lynne explained the meaning behind the crest:
The Bar Dancetty and the Pallet are ancient heraldic charges which happily form the letters WI. The pierced suns are a pun on Lady Denman's maiden name of Pearson and also they are symbols of education, energy and light. The lion in the crest is quartered in the Welsh colours and may be taken to represent England and Wales. It is hardly necessary to state why it holds a distaff. The heron supporters were thought to be elegant symbols of the countryside and are associated with all the elements, as they fish in the water, nest on the land and fly in the air. To distinguish them from other herons, they stand among reeds.
Voting on the resolution ‘Mental Health Matters’ then began. Louise of Callow End WI, Worcestershire Federation, stood up and gave a speech on why she was ‘for’ the resolution. Points to note from her speech were · The need for all WIs to raise awareness by inviting speakers along to their meetings · Include articles in your monthly newsletters to your members that relate to mental health issues · Challenge local government
Caroline of Bewdley WI, Worcestershire Federation was the second proposer of the resolution and spoke passionately ‘for’ the resolution with points to note: · We as the WI will be heard as we are passionate and practically we pack a collective punch · Our local federations can take action and be heard · We can recognize a cry for help, we are open to talk about it and we can learn how to respond · We can signpost people locally · We can engage in training our members
Andrew Molidinski, speaker and a member of the Oxford Health Foundation Trust sensed a real sign of change now that the WI has selected ‘Mental Health Matters’ as its resolution this year. He highlighted that mental health funding in the NHS makes up 1% of the total funds available- 6% less than for cancer and heart disease. He described that there were long waits for therapy, often children and adults having to wait 4 years. But what to do? Firstly admit there is a problem: Mental Health sufferers deserve support but currently government investment is small. If this resolution is passed by the WI, it will have a huge impact:
1. We can start to campaign for better statutory services – lobby our councils and MPs. 2. Ensure that in schools there is mental health support for children – hold GPs and Trusts to account 3. Campaign for more research 4. Raise awareness 5. Promote good mental health 6. Mental Health first aid: give skills to others such as mindfulness, yoga, walking
Mr Molidinski urged us all to support the motion to make a step change to provide mental health support. He realizes that the WI is hugely motivated to give help and is influential.
We then heard from Mary Clark who advised that she was putting forward the ‘against’ argument although she did not oppose the resolution. She wanted to give a balanced view. She advised that despite many attempts to find a speaker, the Public Affairs team had been unsuccessful in finding a suitable candidate to speak ‘against’ the resolution. Reasons one might vote ‘against’ the resolution were suggested as follows:
1. There is a continuous focus already with a £937million investment in mental health for new mums and in hospitals. 2. There are measures in place aimed at children and youths by Public Health England with a £15million programme already underway 3. Can we really make a difference, can we add more? Mental health is already on the agenda of policymakers. 4. There is a risk of those with no training to jump in. 5. This will add more pressure to MH practitioners.
Members were then invited to step up to 6 microphones placed around the arena to air their views and made comments as follows:
· My granddaughter has been self-harming, we were told that if she commits suicide and is unsuccessful at that point she will then be given help and support through CAMS (collaborative assessment and management of suicidality). I want to know and understand what is being funded. · My sister is mentally retarded. I have been trained in Mental Health First Aid. Society needs more training so that it is normalized. My father was ashamed of my sister. · Two mental health hospitals near me have closed and have been turned into housing developments. Hospitals are not trained to cope with mental health. · I am annoyed that you haven’t been able to find a speaker to speak against the resolution. · Let’s have strong support for good mental health and wellbeing rather than calling it an illness · Dementia sufferers have to go through a terrible traumatic experience when being assessed. The carer (usually spouse) is not asked for their thoughts. There are no care packs for dementia sufferers. · Let’s keep the momentum going and engage more speakers on MH. · Let’s make more time at our meetings for social interaction · Let’s actively lobby for more research · Having a positive attitude can only help to reduce the stigma.
The voting then took place with the outcome: 5,945 ‘for’ the resolution and 103 ‘against’ the resolution.
With a pause for a walk around and lunch, we then returned to hear Dame Stella Rimington enthral us with tales of her time and how she got to work, at MI5.
Dame Stella was educated at Edinburgh University and then went to work in the Records Office in Worcester. From there she met her husband who became the High Commissioner of Kabul and she enjoyed the trappings of a diplomat’s wife until during an event in Kabul was tapped on the shoulder and asked if she fancied becoming a spy! She moved to London and started working for MI5, intercepting communications using a kettle and a knitting needle. She described how surveillance in the 70s meant physically following people, drilling holes in walls to listen in on conversations. As a woman, it was very difficult to get promoted as there was a two tier system, top tier was male officers only and the other for women who undertook administrative roles. Women were forbidden to recruit agents. Stella wasn’t prepared to put up with this any longer and got all the women on side to write a round robin to the powers that be. Stella became the first woman to attend the officer training course but soon realized that it was unsuitable hours (24/7) for a mother with two small children – there were no job shares or part-time work. She remembered fondly, when she became the First Director General of the MI5 that the headlines of the day showed her loading her supermarket shopping into the back of her car with the line ‘Housewife Superspy’.
A member of the Public Affairs team returned to the stage and gave us an update on previous resolutions passed:
End Plastic Soup – Government have pledged significant funding, the WI had previously asked all to complete an online survey and World Ocean’s Day had taken place on 4th July.
Alleviating Loneliness – ‘World Kindness Day’ had been created. £1.2 million funding available for the over 65s and 28% of new mums experience loneliness.
Food Matters – WI have been at the forefront of this debate – 5,000 members took part in a survey and a food poverty toolkit had been available to download.
Climate Coalition – ‘Share the love’ green heart campaign and we were encouraged to yarn bomb. 30 June was the start of ‘Speak Up Week’.
Carers are now welcome in hospitals to support those with dementia.
Care not Custody-this campaign is now in its 10th year. There are 5 WIs in prisons.
SOS Honeybees – the Government increased funding for research into bee health. Honeybees play a vital role in the pollination of food crops in our environment.
We were all encouraged to put forward a resolution of our own and were reminded that the closing date is 14th September. Last year, 100,000 ideas for resolutions were put forward.
Next to the stage was well known journalist and news presenter Huw Edwards He addressed the audience in Welsh firstly and then translated it for the English speaking audience. ‘When I told my mother that I was coming to speak at the Women’s Institute Annual Conference, she said (in a thick welsh accent), ‘Are you bonkers, they will eat you alive!’. He then thanked us all for being so welcoming and generous with our applause.
Huw described how as a student he had studied in Cardiff and even though he only lived 50 miles away in Llangollen, he felt like an outsider living and studying in Cardiff and being one of only a handful of friends that had Welsh as their first language. He described how there had now been a big shift and that speaking Welsh was now accepted and is a language to be treasured and how proud Welsh people are of their language.
Huw congratulated the WI for highlighting the problem of plastic in our seas and oceans and how the scale of the problem had not been previously understood but thanks to our resolution, it was now high on the agenda. He also thanked his colleague, David Shuckman, Science Reporter who has an interest in this and has been doing his utmost to raise awareness of the scale of the problem.
Huw was keen to share his thoughts on our resolution ‘Mental Health Matters’ and advised that he was ‘for’ the link between mental and physical health. He knows that mental health is under resourced and that it is a major social issue. He also commented on the addictive nature we all have towards smartphones and how out of control it has become with whole lives being conditioned by them. He felt that the biggest change to society in recent times was the introduction of social media. Huw felt that it was important to be able to share information we can trust and make informed decisions but he felt that the quality of public debate had been affected with people only accessing information that they want to access and less likely to tolerate other’s points of view.
Huw then spoke of life as a BBC journalist. He said his colleagues are a diverse workforce now, with a very collaborative approach and provide good healthy debate around the big issues. He said journalism is in a flux however, and still grappling with technology and how to deliver news. He said that viewing patterns have changed with people watching what they want to watch when they want to watch it but that quality is still valued (Royal Wedding in 2011, 13 million viewers). The challenge for the BBC is to continue to hold together the core viewing tradition of watching the news at 1.00pm, 6pm and 10pm. 9 million viewers regularly watch the news as it airs on TV and these traditions should be protected as the viewing habits change. Other key challenges are how to retain loyalty to programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and also how to appeal to a younger audience in an age when there is much scepticism. He stressed the need for the BBC to consider what they offer for the younger generation and how to make the BBC more relevant and how to tackle the big issues.
Huw described how he had spent 6 months with Danny Boyle in the build up to the coverage of the Olympic opening ceremony so that he knew exactly what was going to be happening and when, so that he could perfectly describe what the viewers were seeing. He described the moment when Danny Boyle had told him that key to the whole commentary was to say as little as possible. How funny then that the Daily Mail had written that he had spoken too much throughout the ceremony. Huw told us that commentating on the Olympic ceremony was the best thing he has ever done, with 26 million viewers watching.
After a brief question and answer session with Huw where one lady asked him if he could do his mean scowl expression
Lynne took to the stage to thank Huw for his wonderful speech and asked a representative from Walking Netball to come to the stage to talk about this new joint venture to get WIs to participate. We watched a short film where a WI had been selected to embrace the Walking Netball scheme and how all the members had benefited from a health and social point of view. We were advised that all those WIs that had expressed an interest would in time be contacted by a representative from Walking Netball.
Lynne thanked the Board for their support during her first year in Office and closed the meeting.