Monday, 14 July 2008

Leaving the Fairtrade Foundation Board

I have just finished 6 years as a member of the Board of the Fairtrade Foundation representing the NFWI who were founder members of the FT movement in 1992.

When I first joined the NFWI Board of Trustees I was asked if I would be their representative on the FT Board which I readily agreed to do. I knew a little about FT and what the mark stood for as I had been my Federation ACWW Rep and always included in my talks a little bit about Fairtrade.

The number of FT items in the stores has increased tremendously in the last 6 years, from tea, coffee and chocolate to FT cotton T shirts, nuts, honey, beer and flowers to name but a few.

There have been many highlights for me during my time with the Fairtrade Foundation. I have met some extremely committed people. Harriet Lamb, FT Director, a bit like a whirlwind and with her energy and enthusiasm for her job she leaves anyone she meets breathless. All the staff are 100% behind the FT Mark and what it stands for and I have seen the amount of time and effort given by the Board Members, Certification Committee and all the volunteers who work so hard especially during Fairtrade Fortnight. Maybe one of my greatest pleasures has been to meet and to work with the Patron of the Fairtrade Foundation, George Alagiah, who spends many hours of his time promoting FT.

When I was on holiday in South Africa in November 2003 I was able to visit some FT producers. I saw Fairtrade grapes, in Kanoneil, where there was a large grape producer who would be supplying Tesco Stores with FT grapes for Christmas. In Uppington there was a dried fruit concern, a small co-operative called Eksteenskull Vine Fruit who supply dried fruit for Traidcraft’s Geobars. In Citrusdal they were growing grapes and producing Fairtrade wine. It was great to see Fairtrade at the producer end and to see what difficult circumstances some of these people work under and how much they appreciate the difference it makes to them to be part of the organisation.

I am sad in many ways that Board Members are restricted to no more than two terms of three years but I look back on my time with Fairtrade as a most rewarding and fulfilling experience, thanks to everyone who is part of the organisation.

Fairtrade has grown considerably during the time I have been involved. As we get more and more FT products in the shops can we look forward to all bananas sold in UK supermarkets being Fairtrade - not 1 in 4 as it is now and what about more chocolate?

Janice Langley

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Oh, no! Not the last one?

Suffolk Love Food Champions met formally for the last time and decided they were going to carry on meeting as they had enjoyed themselves so much, not just socially but also because they had enjoyed the whole concept of the project! They have all “found” some new ways to experiment with and enjoy food, whether it is fresh food or using “left-over” food. I think we have all re-accessed the way in which we plan, shop, store and cook food. I would even go so far as to say it has rejuvenated our ideas and enjoyment of physically preparing and eating food – by making it not just a chore, which has to be done for survival!

Dealing quickly with the form filling and getting down to the real business of the evening by enjoying a splash of “bubbly”, which Becky had brought with her as a thank you to the group, we set to work on a round up of the progress from the last meeting. Starting with the “naughty bin” (waste food caddy) we found that there had been a very great improvement and Clare had managed to pare it down to just 2 tablespoons of baby food waste – how’s that for a result!

We looked at the set tasks and decided that there was no need for leftovers to look dull and uninteresting with a little bit of colour and texture added to liven it all up. This sparked off a comment that “picking your own home grown herbs from the garden” really did make a difference. One member of our group has planted-up a herb and vegetable garden and finds it very exciting and satisfying to collect and use the produce “fresh from the ground!” It turns out that several of the group already find the enjoyment of this and others have decided to give it a try – I hope the garden centres are ready for the onslaught in Bury St. Edmunds!

Whilst all the discussion was going on Hannah had quietly been preparing our supper of Pesto Tart. Very simple and exceedingly delicious! (Recipe at end of blog) This was eagerly followed by the promised “Chocolate Fountain Fun.” We had all brought different things to dip into the chocolate and they included marshmallows, cherries, pineapple pieces and strawberries. Well, how can I fully describe different taste sensations going on around the table? With great difficulty! Suffice to say there were lots of “ummm’s” and ahhhhhh’s and not quite so much chatter!

What a wonderful way to conclude our exploration into the delights of wasting less food and saving oodles of money! We have proved that we can save money, can reduce waste and can enjoy the experience all at the same time. Sharing ideas comes top of the “what have we achieved?” list closely followed by more efficient storage, portion control, better shopping practices and far better use of the freezer, which can save time and waste less in the long run.

A very big thank you to Hannah and her group of friends who helped me fulfil this challenge, which, as I said in the first blog, was a bit daunting, to say the least, and I think in spite of all the doubts, we have all thoroughly enjoyed our learning experience and I can end by saying – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Fran Saltmarsh

Pesto Tart

1 x Frozen Puff Pastry – thawed out
Plum baby tomatoes

Rocket Salad
Parmesan Cheese

Heat oven to 200oC

Roll out pastry, put on baking tray and score a 1cm. edge around the sides, (this will form a well for the filling) spread on the pesto, place the halved tomatoes and mozzarella cheese rings.
Cook for 20 minutes then let it cool for a few minutes, sprinkle on rocket and parmesan cheese.

Serve with more salad and just enjoy! Quick, easy and very tasty.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The WI cares about carers...

And the lively debate we had at the recent forum held in Admiralty House proved that. But what a disappointment we had in the absence of Harriet Harman. It was a shame that the Minister for Women missed such a golden opportunity to learn at first hand the raw deal of carers and the care situation.

The intelligence, knowledge, broad expertise, opinion and thoughtfulness that came through the discussion topics from the WI members present provided a rich and, as yet, untapped insight into the kaleidoscope that is caring in the 21st century.

Admittedly, I went into the discussion with a narrow understanding of the issue based on personal perspective of childcare and how small businesses could cope with more employee policy and regulation. However listening to these ladies not only greatly improved my knowledge and awareness of this difficult and sensitive issue and also humbled me in the process.

Availability of respite care, recognition of carers roles, support for carers, two-tier charging of homes and access to benefits were some of the topics, amongst many, that were discussed. What came across clearly is the fact that at some point in a WI member’s lifetime, we are all likely to take on a caring role or indeed need caring for ourselves.

Beyond the WI, as the institute has always been a leading figure (see WI Life Issue 12 for our latest article), carers appear to be the silent majority. Whilst attention is given to diversity policies and ethics, and in spite of the recent Government consultation, the role and value of carers seems to be unappreciated, unrecognised and second rate. The recent news story about the death of a mother and her disabled son in Redditch is tragic and sadly demonstrates the magnitude of stress and anxiety a carer is left to shoulder alone. At NFWI, we believe that needs to change and promptly.

I salute those WI members who attended the forum, in particular the lady who has a 24/7/365 job of caring for her husband who suffers from dementia, and the fact that we all managed to find time from our day jobs to attend this important meeting.

So I urge Ms Harman to speak with WI once more for your gain and to the benefit of carers*. Perhaps we will have a resolution on this next year to support our voice, and then action will be necessary!

Caroline Macdonald

* Our discussions in the forum were recorded verbatim and sent for approval by those who attended. This document will then be delivered to Harriet Harman.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

“And Finally”

On Friday evening, 2nd May, with a supper of take-away fish and chips, mushy peas and a glass of wine, we held the last official meeting of the West Sussex Love Food Champions group.

Over the past 4 months we have swapped recipes, shared ideas on meal planning, compared shopping lists, promised that when we put leftovers in the freezer we will remember to get them out and use them. We have made new friends and will continue to keep in touch.

At the end of each meeting goals have been set and confidence in achieving them increased. Sue had set herself 4 goals at the end of Session 3, perhaps a little ambitious – was she carried away with enthusiasm at the last meeting?

Everyone agreed this has been a very positive experience with the added bonus that 3 of us were involved in the recording of the Ready Steady Cook programme! Sharing new ideas and fresh information with friends and colleagues has been easy and everyone is interested in what we are doing and achieving. One thing we have learnt is that with small children it is harder to keep food waste to the minimum. Sometimes they don’t want to eat, and sometimes they ask for more and don’t eat it. Nick has reduced the waste on the cereal the children eat by giving smaller portions and seconds if asked for.

So with a promise of a BBQ in the summer for the entire group and their families when we will meet Helen’s new baby, due in 2 weeks, could this be the first Love Food Champions baby? We will continue to put into practice all we have talked about and achieved so far in reducing our food waste and try to do better!

Remember to tune into BBC2 at 4.30pm on Friday to see what professional chefs do with a bag of leftovers given to them by Love Food Champion Emily Bennison.

Janice Langley

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

It’s April and time for our third meeting of the Suffolk Love Food Champions!

Read the first entry for this Love Food Group

This month’s topic was food preparation and storage. But before we got started we shared our thoughts on how we felt we had done at attaining our goals from the last meeting – it seems to me that all their cupboards and fridges would put mine to shame, but I have made a start upon this task! Shopping lists are being used far more and portion control is certainly better than before. One of the main obstacles seems to be husbands who do not check the cupboards if they are embarking on the weekly shop!!! Bit more training needed here, I feel!

Having played with pasta-portion-control and using up those “tempting-to-throw-away” bits last month, we decided to carry on with the theme of using up bits and pieces, but this time Hannah very kindly made three pizza bases for us to decorate with the “offerings” the others had brought along to finish them off. We had a mixture of red and white onions, mozzarella and ordinary cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, leeks, peppers, Italian sausage and ham slices, artichokes, and some different dressings which all sounds very disparate but let three different groups get their heads together and you come up with some very scrumptious pizzas for all to enjoy – along with a glass of wine which complimented the flavours!

Once the food preparations had been carried out we could then get on with the main objective of the evening, which was to talk about food storage and preservation. Whilst the pizzas were cooking we went through the activity table in the booklet and decided that we could all do more, with a little forethought, about keeping food fresher – we had a hilarious few minutes talking about refreshing limp carrots and other things!!! Good old common sense is what it comes down to and the workbook certainly covers the basics we all need to brush up on to make our food use more effective and less wasteful. We shared some very spontaneous hints and tips for using up food and, hopefully, will end up with some tasty ideas on the Tips and Favourite Recipes form, which they have all taken home to fill out along with their last Caddy-bin test!

Then came the taste-test to try out what we had concocted – it went very quiet – the anticipation was overwhelming and the smells wafted around us as the pizzas were brought to the table – ummmm……… Need I say more – no! This was followed with a delicious chocolate mousse and guess what we are doing next time??! The Chocolate Fountain is getting an outing and we will have fun with different things each person brings!

Watch this space for next month’s thrilling finale!

Fran Saltmarsh

Monday, 14 April 2008

The Challenge of Shopping

Thursday is shopping day.

As it approached I slowly descend into a mild state of panic (something akin to a scene out of Dad’s Army). And no, not over the thought of getting the latest Mulberry handbag or a pair of Christian Louboutin heels but over where to go for my groceries, you know, your everyday goods.

Do I buy organic? Do I go to my local fruit and veg man called Howard or to my supermarket? Where does the food come from? How many miles has it travelled to get here? How much packaging waste will I end up with? With a young family in tow, will they be angelic or devilish if I drag them to the shop? And above all else will price and value of the groceries justify the means?

It’s enough to make you sit down for an extra cuppa. But perhaps that’s it! Maybe I should sit down and question my motives and consequent actions for my choices. As part of the WI and through participating in our campaigns, we are fortuitously able to question and change our habits to make a difference. As individuals we can make a difference, no matter how much climate change is perceived as a global issue. Our Care of the Environment campaign has equipped us with the knowledge and tools to make our choices and take pride in our decisions. It maybe that we can never get it completely right but we can be sure not to get it wrong!

Well, my sit down is over, this challenge is fun and unlike M&S I am fortunate enough to have a Plan B as well as a Plan A, so more panicking Mr Mannering!

Caroline Macdonald

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Contrasting legacies

On Saturday, I went out with a group of friends on a walk on the downs in Wiltshire and was enchanted by Wayland Smithy. The 5000 years old burial chambers with imposing stones, encircled by ancient trees overlooking the beautiful countryside cast a magical spell over me. When I looked up, I could see 5 wind turbines in the distance, dominating the skyline and I thought of the historical link between the two landmarks. I know that there are those who are not in favour of wind turbines, but on that day the wind was ferocious and no doubt, quite a few TVs and washing machines were operating on electricity generated by these modern giants.

We went on bravely in a blizzard as far as Uffington castle, and this time when I was admiring the views I was struck by the ugliness of the coal burning towers of the Didcot power station. There they were, very unappealing big lumps of concrete, churning out tons of grey smoke.

What a contrast, I thought between the eerie beauty of Wayland Smithy and Uffington Castle, left to us by our ancestors, blending with the surrounding countryside, and the brutality of a coal burning power plant. I wonder what people will find if they go for a walk between Wayland Smithy and Uffington Castle in 4008 AD – I bet the burial chambers and the castle will still be there, just as beautiful and intriguing as now, but hopefully, we will have left a better legacy than the power plant. Maybe, there will be a plaque on the ruins of the power plant referring to self-destructing button that mankind was pressing at the time when the power plant was operating. I will not so much mind the association of the wind turbines with my time in history as these are one of the first steps that we have taken in generating power from renewable resources.

As for our own bodily regeneration, we had tea and cakes in the beautiful grounds of Greys Court, not far from Didcot and Denman College. Greys Court, in care of National Trust, is the home of Lady Brunner’s family and it made a fitting end to an unintentionally meditative walk.

Jana Osborne

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

London to Morocco by train

To celebrate the end of the 90@90 project, my partner and I decided a holiday was in order. We wanted to go somewhere far and interesting (translate: hot and sunny!) but I’ve been very aware of my ever growing tally of air miles as of late and with two international weddings in the next year, I just can’t bring myself to allow all my efforts at reducing my carbon footprint to be blown away on another flight. It was going to have to be by train.

We decided on Morocco as destination of choice and laughed upon discovering it’s actually cheaper to take trains and boats all the way to Marrakech than it is to the Scottish highlands!! Gordon, are you listening to this…?

Seat 61 website has already done all the hard work, train travel to (almost) anywhere from London, you just need to log on and sort out your itinerary. It takes 48 hours from central London to Marrakech, but we decided to draw it out over a few days to make the most of our holiday and enjoy not just one destination, but 3 or 4. We started out on the early train from the shiny new St Pancras station (London to Paris is 2:15 min, 186mph, or whatever the new marketing slogan is). We spent one day walking around Paris, enjoying the springtime air, drinking wine and watching people walk by our pavement bistro before catching the night train to Madrid.

Waking up in a moving train and watching the Spanish landscape passing by is a good way to wake up! Since neither of us had been to Madrid, we took two days to explore the city’s museums, gardens and plazas before boarding a morning train to Algeciras (caught out by the clocks moving forward and almost missed the train - my fault!). Upon arriving in Algeciras we made our way straight to the port and bought tickets for the next ferry to Tangier. Watching Morocco approach in the sunny distance was one of the highlights of the trip. We just kept saying “I can’t believe we’ve come all the way from London over land – and now water – and there’s North Africa!”

We actually arrived in Tangier ahead of schedule and because of this, had the opportunity to explore the coast for the afternoon before making our way to the train station for the final leg of our journey to Marrakech. This night train had a four bed cabin which we shared with a friendly German couple. Another night sleeping on the train meant another morning waking up to different landscape passing us by.

The four days we spent in Morocco, (including Tangier, Marrakech and a trek in the Atlas Mountains) was meant to be the “far and interesting” part of the trip, but by the time we arrived, we had already explored so many exciting places that our final destination was actually just one of many memorable places we travelled through. There are more than just carbon benefits to overland travel, you get to eat many different types of wonderful food, watch landscapes unfold around you and meet fascinating people, while actually enjoying the time it takes to reach your final destination.

We decided to fly back to London for two reasons; firstly, we were running out of annual leave days, and secondly, this was an experimental trip and we didn’t know if it would actually work, so we didn’t want to be committed to train both ways in case it was a disaster. But it wasn’t, far from it. The flight home was the worst part of the whole trip. Queues for check-in, passport control, small confined spaces with people behind you kicking your seat, delays on the runway, stale food, waiting for baggage and then the journey all the way back into London.

So why not take your next holiday by train?

Emily Boost

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Love Food Champion tests the Chefs on Ready Steady Cook!

Emily Bennison, Love Food Champion from Yorkshire challenged Chefs Paul Rankin and Garrey Dawson at the recording of the Ready Steady Cook programme to be aired on May 16th, BBC2 at 4.30pm.

With a bag of leftovers she challenged the celebrity chefs to produce interesting and tasty meals. The bag contained – half a loaf of bread, half a lettuce, half a grapefruit, a few mushrooms, a chunk of parmesan cheese, half a jar of passata, half a tin of chick peas, cooked salmon and cooked new potatoes.

The audience voted on their red tomato and green pepper key pads after hearing the ideas the chefs suggested for using the leftovers. But you will have to wait for the programme to air to find which chef took up the challenge!

Ainsley Harriott presents the programme in a very friendly and interactive way; he obviously enjoys his work and is also very passionate about food waste and the effect that waste food being put into landfill is affecting climate change.

From the ingredients Emily had given the chef, he produced
· Lettuce cups filled with chick peas, herbs and some cooked salmon in a delicious spicy dressing
· Omelette with fried potatoes
· Salad of salmon, grapefruit and finely sliced lettuce with herbs and a sweet and sour dressing
· Bread croutons mixed with the tomato sauce, mushrooms and cheese

Now the big moment, and as they say “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Emily was joined by two very well know celebrities (my lips are sealed until the 16th) who had been the contestants in the first part of the show, to taste the delicious dishes produced.

I have often wondered what happened to the food when the programme was over - now I know! Helen, Emma and I from the West Sussex Love Food group with Emily and her mum, retired to the studio restaurant to sample the dishes – they were great. The celebrities shared with us the meals they had cooked including the winning dishes. So, I can now assure everyone there is very, very little food waste following the Ready Steady Cook programme it is all far too scrumptious to leave!

Janice Langley

Monday, 31 March 2008

“Drink?” “G & T please.” “Ice and lemon?”

Oh dear, there is only one very hard and wrinkled lemon in the fruit bowl – not to worry! Problem solved! Frozen lemon slices in the freezer providing both ice and lemon.

Storage and preservation of food was the topic for the third meeting of the West Sussex Love Food Champions. We started the evening by reviewing our goals from the last session, sharing successes and failures. Everyone felt they were making progress and as we tucked into cottage pie and vegetables (even the member who doesn’t like veg had some carrots! – well done Lea!) conversation turned to storage of potatoes. There were tales of smelly, sweaty potatoes in plastic bags, sprouting potatoes and a discussion on whether the containers you can buy to store potatoes really do work. Could broccoli and cauliflower be frozen without blanching first? Some of the group had done this and said it works. Lea, who you may remember doesn’t like vegetables, only buys frozen vegetables so they are available if necessary and this also eliminates waste.

Suzanne stores all her cereals in plastic containers. This she says keeps them fresh and she likes the cupboard to look tidy! Nick seals the inner bag with a peg but with 3 small children the cereal doesn’t last long and keeping it fresh never seems to be a problem.

Although everyone thought they were good at storing and preserving food we have all learnt something new.

Hot tips from this session –
· Freeze lemons sliced, in wedges or whole, Seville oranges for marmalade can be frozen and used as required. Limes also freeze well.
· Freeze leftover cream in the ice cube tray and use in soups and pasta dishes.
· When defrosting fish, place it in a container with some milk, this enhances the flavour.

While looking at The Kitchen Journal the conversation turned to storing recipes as there are quite a number of pages allocated to writing recipes. It would seem that the modern way to collect recipes is in a folder as most recipes are either from magazines or printed from the internet. Recipe cards from supermarkets are also very popular and some come in their own folders. Both my mother and mother-in-law had well thumbed hand written recipe books and some of these recipes I still use. Perhaps one day they will be a collectors item!

We would like to thank the two people who responded to our last entry on the question of “Waste versus Cost”. We particularly liked “Phone a friend and share the fish”. What a brilliant way to spread the word and involve more people allowing us to share our involvement as Love Food Champions.

Only one more session to go – leftovers and what to do with them. Will keep you posted.

Janice Langley

Friday, 28 March 2008

Love Food Champions of Suffolk reporting!

Who would have thought just a routine trip could lead to such an exciting project? On Saturday, 19th. January, I set off from home at 7.30a.m. to attend the Love Food Champions training day at Denman college, as a dutiful member of the Public Affairs Committee, thinking I was only there to meet, greet and help Noelle, NFWI, and Julia from WRAP, in any way possible! How wrong could I be! I joined in gamely with the ice-beaker and other discussions and was very impressed with the whole-hearted, participation of the rest of the group.

As the day wore on I began to realise that I may be here under a false apprehension and over lunch had a quiet word with Noelle who said, “Oh, yes, we thought you were going to be a Champion. You will, won’t you?!” Well, what could I say?! There was no way I could refuse her so that was that and on the way home I thought, “What have I let myself in for and how am I going to do this?”

Fortunately I mentioned this to one of our daughters, Hannah, and she was very interested in the whole concept and suggested I go along with her to Baby Yoga to talk to the rest of the mothers who take part. Well, what an easy way to recruit my group! They were all very keen to learn more about food waste and ways in which to cut back on it and they all signed up for it, including the teacher! Hannah very kindly offered the use of her home for the meetings and we set the first date for 27th. February. So the first part of the challenge was complete! Phew!

What about the meetings? Would they be a success? Would they come up to expectations? Would I be able to put it across properly? So much to worry about but there was no need! They all made it very easy for me – Hannah cooked a lovely meal, which we enjoyed with a glass or two of wine, the girls were more than happy to talk of their feelings about food, how they shop for it, how they store it and the tasks in the Workbook were easily completed! They were more than happy to go home and re-think their planning and shopping habits and set their goals high for the following meeting! The caddies, along with the “truth forms”, were the only things that caused any concerns! Although there was a sense of trepidation as to what they would find out from this exercise they all went home in a very bubbly mood having enjoyed a “girls night out!”

Could this euphoria be sustained through to the next evening in March? Yes! They all came back with a sense of pride as cupboards, fridges and freezers had had an overhaul and complete clean and re-organisation in one case! Their aspirations for better menu and shopping planning had been very productive and they all felt they had achieved far more than they expected. What about the dreaded caddies?! Well, they all surprised themselves and felt they did not waste as much food as they thought they would. In one household it had been named “Fran’s Naughty Bin!” The consensus was that feeding a growing baby who is experimenting with new food was the hardest to monitor as gauging amounts was not a precise art! The feeding of birds and chickens has increased around Bury St. Edmunds – let’s just hope that animal obesity does not set in as a result!!!

Having reviewed their month we then came to the fun bit of our second evening. I had asked each of them to bring something from their cupboards or fridges that needed to be used up so that we could prepare a meal on the spot. Hannah had provided several different sorts of pastas and we set everything out on the table to see what we could make! This not only tested our ingenuity but also our portion control with the pasta! Trial and error certainly came into play on this occasion and we supplied some storage bags for taking home anything surplus to requirements! Three delicious pasta dishes were concocted from half a bottle of sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, sprouting broccoli, half a bottle of pesto, cheddar and parmesan cheese onions, basil, mushrooms, eggs, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Everyone helped with the preparation of the food before Hannah tossed it around - Ummmmm….
It worked exceedingly well and we had a super, off-the-cuff supper! To prove that freezing items also reduces waste I had prepared a pavlova-base from five frozen egg-whites I had had in my freezer and to top it off I managed to find some half-price strawberries and kiwi-fruit as they were both at their sell-by date! Only three people went home with bags of pasta to either freeze or re-heat so we felt quite proud of ourselves!

This activity not only made us aware of how we really do need to be careful with our portioning but also gave us some fresh ideas about how to use those bits and pieces that would otherwise have been consigned to the naughty caddie! They found the Handy Hints section in the back of their Journal, very useful. A good, hands on exercise, also illustrating how easy it would be to batch prepare meals to save more of our precious time.

Roll on our next meeting in April!!!

Fran Saltmarsh

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Climate Change Bill Week of Action

Take part in the Climate Change Bill Week of Action beginning this Saturday 29th March until Saturday 5th April 2008! The week of action is being organised to ensure that the Government’s Climate Change Bill, due for Royal Assent this summer, includes a carbon reduction target of at least 80% instead of its current 60% and includes aviation and shipping emissions within this target.

Throughout the week members of Stop Climate Chaos will be holding open public events across the country. If you would like to find out if any of these are happening near you or if you would like to take action to encourage your MP pledge their support for a 'Climate Bill with Bite' please visit
I Count.

Belinda Fairbrother

Visit the WI’s Climate Change campaign.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Disturbing news for victims and survivors of domestic violence

I found today’s news article in the Metro Domestic violence ‘triples in a year’ (page 2) very disturbing indeed. It reports that figures announced by the Home Office yesterday reveal almost 659,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported to police compared with 241,000 the previous year.

The Home Office believe that this is a reflection of the improvements in the criminal justice system and that women are becoming more confident that they will be listened to and their reports investigated.

This may be so but the article goes on to say that the conviction rate is still roughly the same at 18.8%. What message is the criminal justice system sending to women in violent relationships if they report violence, it is investigated and then nothing is done about it?

The other disturbing matter about the article is the accompanying photo makes the woman look like she’s smiling while her partner hits her. The media need to beware of what message this light-hearted image is sending as it takes the reader’s attention away from thoughts of violence and diminishes the gravity of the issue.

Noelle Virtue

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Rape Crisis needs your help

I have been spending a lot of time in the last month researching various strands of violence against women. The other day I was speaking to someone at the Rape Crisis centre in Essex and was asking her about the number for the national rape help line. I must say I was horrified to learn that one does not exist.

I cannot imagine what it must be like for a woman who has gone through such an horrific experience to then not have a national telephone number that she can ring to seek help. I mean what is she to do? Ring the police? Although there seem to be many improvements in the response from police to rape we still hear many horror stories of women feeling victimised a second time by those who are meant to help and support them.

I suppose she could ring her local council to find out where her nearest support service is located but then again if she was from London her nearest rape crisis centre would be in Croydon!

If you feel as disturbed as I do by these revelations then please make her voice heard. You can sign the Downing Street petition or write directly to your MP asking them to support the issue in Parliament on your behalf.

Noelle Virtue

Visit the WI End Violence Against Women Campaign.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

I am in danger of turning into my grandfather

I am in danger of turning into my grandfather – he used to tell tales of his childhood, of how much bread cost in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how modestly he and his family lived, despite having had a butcher’s shop and two pubs in a small provincial town. As a result of our recent campaigns I keep catching myself wanting to share memories of my childhood with others: no one in my school was ever obese, we played outside in free time, roaming the suburbs and the little woodland near my home, I used to be sent for milk to a tiny shop in the basement of the house next door and it was poured from a large aluminium container, the bread was cut from loaves (you either had a whole, half or quarter), ham was cut of the bone, we shopped daily in small quantities, and coffee, citrus fruit, bananas and cocoa were the only items that came from afar. And if the milk went sour, then we made cheese from it by pouring it in boiling water and then hung the curdled lumps on the balcony in cheesecloth. And we had no fridge, so kept butter in an earthenware pot in the pantry on the floor. Then things started to change and there may be a bit of nostalgia attached to my memories. No, I would not want to live without a washing machine or a modern iron. But I can now see how much of what we have considered modern and better was in fact leading up to the current selfish and disastrous way of life. Those plastic bags that were so exciting in the beginning and replaced the expanding string bags have come to be one of the ugliest signs of our modern lives. WI campaigns are tackling the issues where they matter most: in our lives and I think they have united members and given us the strength to start this difficult century as a confident and positive organisation. My husband came back from a business trip last week and confessed to chatting up a fellow passenger who he noticed had a WI diary with a bit of an unusual pick up line: Excuse me, are you a member of the WI? She answered yes, I am and added, a bit cautiously, actually, I am proud to be a WI President. My husband responded by saying ‘and I am proud to be married to the General Secretary’. Once he explained that I was working in the NFWI HQ, they enjoyed a WI filled conversation and I was so happy to hear that the member felt that recent WI campaigns have been behind our success, put the organisation back in the general public’s eye, and have brought new members in. Farah Nazeer who has been heading the Public Affairs team for the past 3 years has been poached by the British Retail Consortium and so we will have to say goodbye. I want to thank Farah and the Public Affairs team for helping members become such a formidable modern campaigning force. If anyone can green up British retail, Farah can – and if not, members would know what to do.

Jana Osborne
General Secretary

Friday, 7 March 2008

Meeting Gordon Brown

We were invited, along with 18 other organisations, to meet Gordon Brown to discuss our views on climate change.

We were a mixed bunch – Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, WWF, RSPB, Oxfam, the Woodland Trust and National Trust among others, so we all came with a different agenda. We agreed fairly quickly that Climate Change was the over-arching issue, but everyone wanted to include their own take on it. Many wanted to take a very strategic line and challenge the Government on its lack of coherence and sense of urgency on tackling climate change, so we agreed to start off with that, and that the WI should put forward the individual’s point of view. Someone said the WI represented “reality” which was more compelling than strategy. We also agreed to include Europe, coal power stations and air travel as well as the international scene. The wildlife organisations wanted to include adaptation. Quite an agenda!

After we had been through the security post, the famous door was already open across the street. We had to leave our mobile phones in a rack of pigeon holes in the hall. I was terrified of forgetting it. The place was like the Tardis. From the small entrance hall it opened out into large lobbies and reception rooms until we reached “the staircase” with its photos of past Prime Ministers arranged in double ranks all the way up. We were on the last flight before I recognised any of them. At the very top, in solitary state was Tony Blair’s. I wonder where they will go in the future – there only seems room for Gordon in double rank with Tony and then it will be full.

We met in the state dining room, not the cabinet room which was a bit disappointing. The tables, fitted together like any WI office set up, had inlaid marquetry patterns round the edges. I was pleased to see the water was served in jugs (silver) rather than bottled. Other government departments serve House of Commons bottled water – not good for their carbon footprints.

Our meeting went almost to plan, although some were disappointed. I was able to tell Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn that our members (and the public in general) accepted the need to take action on climate change now rather than later, but that we needed accurate information on what actions worked and I made clear that there were real barriers which hindered taking action. We wanted the government to remove these barriers and give clear leadership that they were taking climate change seriously, and that building coal power stations and expanding airports did not give this leadership.

I remembered to collect my mobile phone on the way out!

Fay Mansell

NFWI Chair

Visit our Climate Change campaign.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

International Women’s Day March

This Saturday (8 March) Isla Arendell, NFWI Public Affairs Committee member, will be speaking at the Million Women Rise march in Trafalgar Square. The event is part of International Women’s Day and Isla will be highlighting what the WI is doing to end violence against women.

Please come and show your support, and celebrate International Women’s Day with us! The march begins in Hyde Park at 12:00 and the rally in Trafalgar Square will take place from 2:30-5:30.

Noelle Virtue

Monday, 3 March 2008

Waste versus Cost

How competitive can you be about the amount of food you have left on your plate at the end of a meal?

The Love Food Champions of West Sussex certainly can!

Take-away food and bread seem to be the worst offenders. There was a feeling of frustration in the group expressed by those who had small children, about predicting how much a toddler will eat/leave.

The topics for discussion this week were portion sizes and meal planning.

As we settled down with a glass of wine to discuss how we plan our meals for the week, Nick’s husband is sitting at home looking for new and different ideas for their meals for next week. He is probably surrounded by cookery books and recipe cards; he may also be checking a website or recalling a TV programme. When Helen plans her meals she checks the freezer to see what she has left from previous special offers. Sue has decided that because of their busy lifestyle it is better to shop on a more frequent basis so as not to waste so much food.

The members of the group seem to enjoy talking about food and the many ways in which to obtain recipes.

Portion size discussion led us to the inevitable portion control of spaghetti/pasta and rice – everyone seemed to find this a problem. Referring to the portion guide on the Love Food Hate Waste website we decided that we probably ate more than the recommended portion size, and that getting it right was an acquired skill. On a day-to-day basis, with a little practice we could get it right but when preparing for guests this could and probably does lead to surplus food waste.

The group would like to pose a question:

Waste versus Cost.

For example - If you can buy a whole fish for less money than it would cost to buy the particular portion you require and knowing you will waste the rest of the fish what do you do?

Janice Langley

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Have your say about rural life in Wales

The National Assembly for Wales Rural Development Sub-Committee is currently undertaking a scrutiny inquiry into poverty and deprivation in rural Wales. The aim is to learn about people’s experiences of living in poverty/deprivation in rural Wales and to get feedback on how the Welsh Assembly Government can address the problems faced by communities.

People in rural Wales may well be affected by rural poverty/deprivation but be oblivious to it as defining rural poverty and deprivation can be difficult. The first thought that may come to mind is that these are money and income issues and are related to economic inactivity. However if we go back to the WI’s 90@90 report, a number of other issues relating to rural poverty and deprivation become apparent.

An issue highlighted in 90@90 and which is raised by the WI time and time again is that a community needs certain basic services – bank, post office, school, corner shop and hospital etc. – to thrive. Yet access to local services is becoming increasingly problematic in rural areas.

Poor public transport provision in rural communities is another issue giving rise to social exclusion and which is prominent in the 90@90 report. A member from Powys Montgomery who took part in a 90@90 focus group said “The Government is always banging on about how we should use public transport, but you can’t if there isn’t any”.

Labour market exclusion, lack of affordable childcare, and difficulties in the farming industry are examples of other issues prevalent in rural communities and impacting on rural quality of life.

The NFWI-Wales Office is currently drafting a response to the inquiry and we would very much like to hear your thoughts concerning poverty and deprivation in rural Wales.

Sarah Thomas

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Third time lucky?

Another meeting with the Minister and another failure to get an answer on whether or not she intends to hold true to her promise of a cross-Governmental strategy to end violence against women.

We met with Harriet Harman and Barbara Follett, Ministers for Women, yesterday to discuss what women’s organisations want the Government to focus on over the coming year. When asked whether a Government strategy to end violence against women was still a priority for the Minister, she disregarded the question entirely.

It appears the Government’s priority is now focussed on addressing violence against women as individual issues. For instance they have a
UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking and two days ago the Home Office released its Violent Crime Action Plan which deals with some aspects of domestic violence, rape and honor-based violence. So why are they so averse to giving women their basic human rights by putting together a holistic strategy to end violence against women, encompassing not only allocated funding for victims and survivors support services but also looking at ways to prevent violence in the first place.

It looks as though we have our work cut out for us with this campaign.

If you are interested in helping to lobby on this issue please send your name, number and email address to and please state whether or not you are a WI member.

Noelle Virtue

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Would Jeremy Clarkson take ending violence against women seriously?

How is it that the petition with the third most signatures on the Downing Street e-petitions site is to Make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister? And with over 45,000 signatures, no less! By comparison a petition aimed at ending violence against women has just over 1,000.

Now I’m not a huge fan of Jeremy Clarkson’s carbon emissions policies and he’s not exactly known as a campaigner for gender equality, but if he ever announced his intention to put forward a strategy to give women their basic human rights by ending violence against women then I may just vote for him in the next elections.

The Government’s aim to end child poverty by 2020 may go some way to help prevent some instances of violence against women, after all child poverty is linked to women’s poverty, but it will take a fully fledged strategy with targets and allocated funding for prevention and survivors services to see the eradication of violence against women. And why shouldn’t we strive for that ultimate goal?

I ask all readers to please sign the End Violence Against Women coalition’s e-petition calling on the Government to take a more strategic approach to ending all forms of violence against women, including a commitment to long-term funding of specialised violence against women services thus ending the postcode lottery for such support services.

Sorry Jeremy but I think this issue deserves more attention than the bid to make you Prime Minister.

Noelle Virtue

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A World Without Jam

Can you image such a world?

Check out our new short film which captures our members’ knowledge and enthusiasm for fighting climate change and envisions a possible future where we witness some of the realities we may face as a consequence of not acting sooner.

Please watch it, and tell you family and friends too! We hope this film will motivate more people to start up new conversations about climate change and inspire them to take action together.

The Public Affairs Team

Monday, 4 February 2008

Love Food Groups begin

What better way could there be to start the West Sussex WI Love Food Champions’ Group than to sit down together to eat?
Six non-WI members joined me on Friday 1st February for our first meeting. I think we were all a little apprehensive as to what the evening would be like; not everyone had met before but one thing they wanted to know was how they could reduce food waste in their home.

To get the evening off to a “food” start everyone was asked to say something about themselves and food.
Here are some of the comments –
"I love food and eat too much."
"I don’t really like food. I enjoy cooking but don’t always want to eat it when I do."
" I love cooking but I eat late and too much."
"I do 95% of the cooking and my husband is a trained chef."
"I love eating, I am a good cook and I can’t stand waste."
"I am a diabetic and need to eat regularly; I don’t like veg and love sugary things."

I said – “I love cooking and get great pleasure in feeding people” and with that we tucked into a pasta bake!

With their Love Food Champions’ Workbook for reference we discussed various aspects of food shopping. Most of the group made a comprehensive shopping list before setting out on their weekly, some twice weekly shop.

Moving on to the topic of special offers and “buy one get one free” one participant told us she shares these with her mother as they often meet in the super market when doing their weekly shop.

We talked about how often we shop –
One participant said her husband does the shopping early on Saturday morning armed with a well prepared shopping list also often taking with him their son who is almost 4 while she stays at home with the twins who are just 2.

Another participant stated she shops after work when she have decided what she wants to eat. She feels she probably wastes more food than anyone else in the group.

We had a long discussion on understanding the date marks and how one could interpret them and being confident about making the right decision. The group then moved on to the subject of eggs – how did you know if they had “gone off”, what happened when they got past their sell-by date? What are the advantages of free range against economy eggs and the differing cost of eggs?

Everyone agreed that our family backgrounds and especially our mothers had a huge influence on the way we shopped and planned our menus. Not being quite as rigid as our mothers were, having roast on Sunday, cold meat with bubble and squeak on Monday, egg and chips Tuesday etc. but this certainly had an affect on the way we plan our meals and do our food shopping.

To round off the evening each wrote down which particular food they felt they wasted most and the papers were selected at random for the group to discuss how these could be used. There was quite a selection including cheese, bread, melon (this was a difficult one), hummus and crème fraiche and they used their Kitchen Journal to write in hints and tips from the session.

We kept to the 2 hour limit we had set ourselves – we could have gone on a lot longer! - with instructions on how to use their Kitchen Caddie and with their Love Food Champions’ Workbook and Kitchen Journal everyone departed for home inspired to reduce their food waste and to check their cupboards, fridges and freezers when making out their shopping lists.

I would like to thank my group for agreeing to become WI Love Food Champions and I look forward to our next meeting on the 29th February when we will be talking about portion size and meal planning.

Janice Langley

Friday, 1 February 2008

So you think you know about composting

Tuesday morning I travelled to Coton Village, Cambridgeshire, for the first of 8 regional home compost workshops the NFWI is running in partnership with the Waste & Resources Action Programme. As the final 90@90 project, these workshops aim to encourage people to reduce their food waste, and get the most out of composting.

As a non-composter, suffering from “no outside space” issues living in central London, I was very eager to learn about the virtues of composting and how this may be possible under my current circumstances. Organising a community compost with my neighbours may be the solution as I’m not prepared to keep a wormery in my kitchen (no matter how dedicated I may be!). Needless to say I learned a lot about compost. From bokashi bins in the kitchen to heaps in the garden, I’m no longer a novice when it comes to compost bins – nor what can and should go in them.

But don’t take my word for it; after all I am no expert. However the community members that came to this workshop had all been composting for years, and guess what? Not a single one of them didn’t learn something new about composting.

Over the next month we’ll be running 7 more of these workshops. Check out the 90@90 page to see if there’s one near you!

Emily Boost

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Meeting the Minister for Women

Here I am a mother of 2, starting the day like any other with hunts around for school shoes, bags and my usual pleas of “brush those teeth and hurry up! Today especially as I had to be out early. I left a sunny morning in the Wye Valley behind me and 2 hours later found myself in central London.

There I was as a member of the Public Affairs Committee, waiting to meet up with Fay Mansell and Farah Nazeer before heading into the Houses of Parliament for a meeting with Harriet Harman, Minister for Women. Harriet had asked for a meeting with WI, to talk about Trafficking of Women and other issues. The main reason was to explore ideas and ways of joint working to increase awareness of trafficking. We also hoped to discuss the strategy to End Violence Against Women.

Walking through the corridors and watching the procession I was really conscious of the history and splendour of the place, what was a bonnie wee lass from Scotland doing here!

We had a relaxed and open meeting in the style of a round table discussion – we talked about adverts selling sex in the press, the End Violence Against Women strategy and asked why the UK hadn’t signed the EU Convention on Trafficking yet. I felt like Harriet Harman skirted over the issue by responding that it was because the UK wanted to put legislation in place first before signing the strategy. She was genuinely keen to know how WI members across the country could become involved in some of the issues she wanted to work on like the Care of the Elderly, and we suggested a focus group.

A sobering thought as I left the meeting… in the course of our 45 minute meeting 90 women and young girls would have been trafficked and sold into slavery.

On the journey home, I had time to go over the events of the day and indeed the journey that I have taken with the WI over the past 4 years. I have always been a person with a social conscience. My early career was in juvenile justice and youth homelessness and would have given my eye-teeth for a meeting with a high profile government minister. Having worked at the sharp end and now being part of the campaigning side of WI, once again I am proud to be part of WI and overwhelmed by its influence and the doors that open for our organisation.

Isla Arendell

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Woman’s Hour pays tribute to WI Love Food Champions project

This week we launched the WI Love Food Champions project which involves WI members working with individuals in their communities to share tips on preventing food waste.

Hear Suffolk Love Food Champion, Fran Saltmarsh, promoting the project on Woman’s Hour.

Each Love Food Group will endeavour to hold their first of four monthly meetings by the end of February. The Groups are being run in communities throughout England and the first meeting in Sussex will take place this Friday. The Sussex Love Food Champion, Janice Langley, will tell us all about it next week.

Find out more about the project or join your local group by visiting

Noelle Virtue

Monday, 28 January 2008

This year’s WI resolutions

There are two resolutions which will be carried forward to the 2008 AGM. The first calls for a “Ban on Bottom Trawling” and the second challenges the “Inappropriate Imprisonment of the Severely Mentally Ill”.

Resolutions are the backbone of NFWI campaigns and provide us with the powerful mandate to state what the majority of WI members think on an issue. To most protagonists – be it a Government body or a particular industry – the thought of the WI on their case will concern them enough to stop and listen.

The above two resolutions cover very different subject areas but both reflect the WI’s fundamental commitment to social and environmental welfare. I am sure that they will provide much food for thought and WI members across the country will enjoy debating, discussing and voting upon them.

More information will be sent out to members in the WI March mailing.

Farah Nazeer

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Dreary thoughts on a Sunday morning

As I settled in to my Sunday paper, I read about the ongoing trial regarding the Ipswich murders I found myself thinking about the stories that had really stuck in my mind that week – alleged forced marriages and an alleged honour killing in Cumbria, grooming of young and vulnerable girls for prostitution in Yorkshire, a discussion on trafficking in London and Cardiff – my list was beginning to seem like a glossary on the forms of violence against women.

There seems to be an ever-increasing litany of abuses – stalking, harassment, female genital mutilation, trafficking, forced marriages, honour killings, domestic violence, and rape - that can be committed against women and girls. Are things getting worse for us or are they the same they’ve always been but we are now naming the offences and taking a stand – declaring them to be unacceptable?

There is much discussion about the causes of violence against women and whether it is on the up. Is it the way women are portrayed in the media, easy access to increasingly violent forms of pornography, or is it rooted in our changing behaviours that have accompanied emancipation? Whilst I think the “why’s” need to be explored what I would really like to see is some more “how’s” particularly the how to address the issue – we do not need to think about the “when’s” - the time is obviously now. How many more instances of gender based violence do we need to see splashed across our papers before our political representatives sit up and do something?

The Making the Grade report was first published in 2005 and scored the Government on its performance to tackle violence against women – a shocking 1 out of 10. In 2006 the score went up to 2.28 out of 10. An improvement yes, but hardly reassuring when you are walking home in the dark.

The WI is concerned about violence against women and last October decided to start a new campaign on the issue to encourage the government to take action that will make a real difference to all our lives. I hope that any women (or indeed men) will take this issue personally and campaign with us - for more information visit

Farah Nazeer

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Launch of the WI Public Affair's Blog

Welcome to this new addition to the Public Affair’s emporium. As a department we hold the reins of the WI campaigns – and over the last 93 years, well, that’s an awful lot of campaigning to go through. But we love it!

As for me, I’ve been involved with the WI since birth it seems; my mum was a member and it seemed only natural that I should join when I grew up. So I did, and have loved it ever since working my way from local WI President to County Executive Chairman and then onto the NFWI Board four and a half years ago.

I have the privilege of opening this PA blog. For the last two and a half years I have chaired the NFWI PA committee but before that, as a committee member, I was heavily involved with the campaign we ran to put strong legislation in place regarding hazardous chemicals that slip through regulation nets into so many products we use every day. I am still passionate about this and do as much as I can to raise awareness of the whole subject.

The WI often works with MPs on areas on mutual interest and recently we were involved with the Sustainable Communities Bill, a piece of legislation which will enable communities to be more actively involved in local decisions and which I hope will prove a useful tool within all our campaigns. After all the WI is all about communities and positive changes and that’s because we’re Women Inspired!

Ruth Bond