Thursday, 23 May 2013

Adult Learners’ Week and other opportunities within the WI

Tea and chat comes to mind for many when a WI meeting is mentioned, and it is the same with NFWI board meetings- only I would describe it more as refreshment and discussion. Much of the latter has happened in the last couple of weeks with numerous internal meetings, not least in finalising arrangements for our forthcoming Annual General Meeting to be held on 1st June. It takes place in Cardiff this year, with 4,000 WI members converging on the Welsh capital – along with thousands of motor sport fans too, as I understand such an event is also going on then.

At the AGM this year we shall be discussing our revised constitution – 'tweaked' is nearer the mark – to make it fit for purpose in the second decade of the twenty first century, and a vote will be taken. There will also be presentation and discussion on our resolution for this year; the saving of the “high street”, and a vote will be taken here also. A lot of voting goes on in the WI, at every level, which is all part of our entirely member-led democratic processes.

I was honoured to take part in voting of another type recently when I sat on the NIACE panel to judge the Learners through Arts, Craft Skills and Culture category for the Adult Learners' Week Awards. The ceremony was held on Monday in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall where I was very proud to present the awards. The first award was presented to Dean Short, the individual winner, who has overcome severe dyslexia to achieve distinction in a Film and Television Foundation Degree. He is now dividing his time between working at Pinewood Film Studios and studying for a BA (Hons) degree. Next I presented the Project Award to Artspace, a project that occupies town centre properties to offer art-based learning workshops and exhibition space for local amateur and professional artists, as well as learners. The project aims to attract learners from groups where participation is traditionally low and to facilitate opportunities for learners to progress to further learning or self-employment.

NIACE and the WI often collaborate on projects and one of the latest has been that of learning how to use the internet. A conference of Digital Champions was recently held in the WI's centre of leaning, Denman, where WI members received the necessary training to pass on their technical skills both to other members and the wider public.

And with that, the end of another WI year is now on the horizon. Looking back at this blog over this past year, it is evident just how many opportunities the WI offers to its members, and there will be many more over the coming year.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Circular Trends

Yet again, it has been an eventful few days with the WI. On the train between Bangor and Welshpool I met a lady, who was not only on her way to meet her bridesmaids and choose their dresses, but she also works for Body Positive, an organisation which works for and with HIV/AIDS sufferers. This led to conversation around WI mandates, not least the one from 1986 “This meeting of the WI urges its members to support the campaign of the Department of Health to inform the general public of the true facts concerning the disease AIDS”. There are mandates on a huge range of issues that have beset the country since the WI began in 1915, and one that is especially pertinent right now is the call for more midwives and our report ‘Support Overdue’, produced with the NCT. On the day of its launch, Friday 3rd May, I discussed this briefly on the BBC 1’s Breakfast news programme after a live chat on BBC Radio Five Live on the topic. On ITV’s Daybreak at the same time, the NCT was discussing the findings too, which was a great result!

All of this media work took place just before I dashed off to the well-known village of LLanfairpwll on Anglesey for the opening of a museum in a famous Thomas Telford Toll House. The museum is to showcase the history of the WI and its history where the first ever WI meeting was held 98 years and 8 months ago and it is where the Anglesey Federation office now stands adjoined to the Toll House. The WI's inauguration in the main was to enable women across the country to help provide the nation with food during the dark days of the First World War. It was also the intention that it would educate women in a more general sense, and indeed it has and continues to do so. As you know, the WI movement has come a long way since then, but at that first meeting, the discussion was The Food Supply of the Country. This very year, WIs across England and Wales are holding WI Great Food Debates to highlight the many challenges of food growing, farming, food waste and not least, nine billion mouths to feed by 2050. Plus cą change, plus cą change.

My journey from Llanfairpwll via Bangor then took me on to Welshpool in the heart of the Powys Montgomery Federation of WIs where I attended their Spring Show. It was a joy to present prizes for such creative and imaginative items produced by very talented members. Sponge cakes, Welsh cakes, Bara Brith, photographs, flower arrangements, and displays of such a high standard, and so much of it was learned through the WI. A competitive spirit achieves, as we know from the Olympics last summer, but so much can also be learned from just taking part. One very lovely touch at this show was the beautifully hand written prize cards as each class was judged. The lady responsible, a WI member of course, was sat in the back room quietly using her calligraphic skills to enhance the final display, and utterly deserving of her own prize.

Friday, 3 May 2013

WI members campaign for more midwives

WI members up and down the country are gathering in force today in a day of action to celebrate and support our midwives. The day of action coincides with the launch of a WI authored report, Support Overdue, which shines a spotlight on how midwives are being stretched to their very limits, and how this in turn is impacting on many women’s experiences of childbirth and the early days with a new baby.

Working in partnership with parenting charity NCT, we surveyed five and a half thousand new mums, who candidly told us about their maternity care – from pregnancy, to delivery and beyond. We heard about how 60% of women were simply not getting as much post-natal support as they needed, how the pledge to give women choices, as promised by the government, was failing most women, and how the level of care varied dramatically throughout the maternity pathway. It’s important to recognise that many women told us they experienced high quality care, but far too often women told us how they were left without adequate support during different times of the maternity pathway, when they needed care and reassurance – and how this had knock on effects for their family.

With the midwife staffing to birth ratio falling short across the country, Support Overdue presents a hotchpotch picture of maternity services, with the standard of care a woman can expect to receive all too often determined by her postcode. The maternity service is sometimes referred to as the ‘shop window’ of the NHS and, with giving birth the most common reason for going to hospital, it’s easy to see why. Ensuring that that ‘shop window’ provides patient-centred care is important not only for women, but for wider society and public health. That is why we are calling on the government and maternity providers to work harder to make a woman’s experience of birth a good one: by ending the chronic shortage of midwives; by allowing women the opportunity to build and maintain a relationships with their midwife; by giving women a real choice of where to give birth; and by ensuring that continuing post-natal care is in place.

Everyone who took part in our survey only had good things to say about midwives, who I know work hard to deliver care in very difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, the framework within which they’re operating is failing. The midwifery profession is under real pressure and morale is low. The government is training more midwives, which is of course to be celebrated. But unless we retain and value the midwives we already have, this will be a drop in the ocean, and we are only likely to see a vicious circle of declining numbers.

Support is long overdue for our stretched midwife workforce. I for one will be showing my support for midwives and new mums in the day of action tomorrow, and making sure that the NHS’s maternity services is one which is fit for purpose.