Friday, 27 August 2010

Six-O Group and Climate Change

This week I've taken part in the second of our biannual meetings of the Six-O Group. This meeting is an informal gathering of the leaders of the six largest women's organisations in the UK, which are: The National Federation of Women's Institutes, Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland, The Townswomen's Guild, Business and Professional Women Foundation, British Federation of Women Graduates and National Council for Women Great Britain.

The meetings are a chance to catch up on what each organisation is working on at any given time with a view to strengthening the message, but also to learn from each other. One of the big issues we tackled was the huge but illusive problem of Human Trafficking. With the Olympic Games now in haling distance this issue will grow. Is that something many people would think about with the excitement of the Olympic Games coming to our country, I wonder?

We also discussed the environment, something that is never far away from the conscience of many a WI member. Have you seen our latest Climate Change Action Pack on how you can be involved in actions to improve that very environment? Which reminds me, the government and the media both seem to have gone very quiet on the issue of Climate Change? What is happening there I wonder Mr Huhne? At the Copenhagen summit the wealthy counties pledged to provide $100 billion by 2020 so that the poorer countries might adapt to the impact of climate change. What is happening there, I wonder. And all we marched for in the Wave on 5 December last year has not changed – well, hardly at all. That's the trouble. There has to be a way forward by the time the Mexico summit happens.

I've been doing some clearing of papers in the last week and amongst them I found a booklet, put out in 1999 by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The opening line from "Climate Change – Draft UK Programme Summary" reads, "In the last decades of the old century, the world has learnt some hard environmental lessons". We can equally well say that in the first decade of the new century those lessons have been compounded with the result of inaction. The summary of a decade ago is more or less the summary of today. But I know members have been taking action for the last 10 years that does help the situation; don't stop. We have to change to halt the changes that have sadly already happened with the climate of their land for many millions across the world.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Holidays, memories and the year of the archive

Holidays very often provide the 'free' time we feel we need to visit the past. I'm thinking of visits to museums, art galleries, and special exhibitions. One set of memories that I experienced a few days ago was that of the world of circus. Housed backstage at the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth are the props from years gone by, photographs too, and literally, the roar of the crowd and the smell of the greasepaint greets the intrepid searcher who wishes to delve into circus history. This venue boasts 1 of the 4 remaining amazing water features still operating throughout the world today – a circus ring that drops down and pours water in, showing water spectaculars.

This set me to thinking of what we all do or don't keep; stuff, really. And in the WI world there is so much stuff. Every federation office will have artefacts and books and the like going back to the beginning of the life of that federation. I am a hoarder, so disposing of anything takes me ages since I fear I might need something that I no longer have because I threw it out! Many of you will probably know that feeling. Mind you, the NFWI possessions from the formation of the organisation, the archives, are now housed in the Women's Library in London having been rescued from the garage in our WI College in Oxford, Denman College.

A few years ago a great inventory was taken of all the textiles in the possession of WIs and federations and this is kept by the National Needlework Archive.

Throughout the federations many a County Records Office houses the minutes and paper archives of individual WIs. I know the photographs of my own WI are held in the records office too and they are "borrowed back" every time we have a special event when we want to look back at what the WI has done over the years. Many an album will have photographs behind the pages of self adhering plastic. I have learnt that this is not good as chemicals in the mix turn the photographs brown over time. We should all be using albums with the old fashioned photo corners and filmy tissue paper dividing the pages.

Quite a number of WIs now have their committee minutes and WI meetings records online. Others use this method but also keep a paper copy. And, of course, many WIs still use paper copies only. I wonder, though, in say 50 years from now, if many or our archives will be on memory sticks.

In my own federation we had quite an array of written pieces from the past and I recall one such, "A History of the federation", presented as a speech at the Autumn Council Meeting on 18 October 1952 - the month I was born! I quote the final paragraph:
"1938. The local authorities called on us to find billets for evacuees, and in 24 hours the committees of 70 villages had helped to get promises of accommodation for 5,000. Then we knew and rejoiced in our strength, and could go forward undaunted, secure in the confidence that so long as our great movement holds fast to it principles , and is based as if on the "spiritual ideals of fellowship, truth. , tolerance and justice" there is perhaps no limit to what it can accomplish for our home and our country".

2012 is to be the Year of the Archive. I know many federations have archivists but if all 69 of them had just one archivist each, then our history would be taped and tidied for the future. It is said the WI is one of the major custodians of our heritage, the social history of England and Wales. This we should never doubt.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Annual August garden meeting, WI Life and memories

I had the tables, decked out with cloths, and the chairs all ready, and the punch was rippling gently in the bowl alongside the mugs. The lime and coconut cake was on its stand and I'd even managed to acquire an urn for the evening. I suppose I was tempting inclement weather since it had been raining on and off, more on than off, all day. This very quickly turned to on, rather than off, and very reluctantly I had to take the decision to cancel the annual August garden meeting of my WI. Most unfortunately, the message did not reach several members who turned up on the doorstep, surprised to find everywhere seemingly very quiet.

It was disappointing and, of course, by the time everything should have started, the rain had stopped, but everywhere was damp and not suitable for an outdoor soiree. However, during the phone conversations to cancel, I leaned that a friend who used to live in the village and is a WI member in Suffolk East now, had returned especially to come to our garden gathering, so happily I was able to meet up with her, which was some kind of compensation.

Being a member means you have even more in common with your friends than just friendship. We immediately started discussing the latest edition of WI Life, the AGM, WI book clubs, I know many WIs have these nowadays, as well as theatre groups and many more. My own WI has a thriving walking group too; hardly a month goes by without an organised trek, finishing up at an hostelry for lunch.

We also talked about writing down our memories or, indeed, our memoirs. More and more of us want to do this; some are more proactive but others need a helping hand to begin. Just the other day I was telling my youngest son about my father, whom he never met since he died when I was 19, and I realised just how much I had not imparted to all my children. Another snippet I had forgotten; for the first 15 years or so of living in this house, a dairy herd would be taken by morning and evening for milking - with all the mess you would expect! But by the time my son was old enough to have understood what he was seeing, the dairy herd was no more due to EU-related regulations. The farm land now belongs to the Countryside Restoration Trust. His three siblings remember the cows going by but he is just too young.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

“Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright..."

I was very pleased to be asked to go on a radio show on Sunday afternoon to chat about everything to do with the WI for half an hour. Interspersed with the local travel news and a beautiful 1923 rendition of Jerusalem, I was free to discuss whatever I fancied with presenter and journalist Christopher South, who is well known for his page in the Cambridge News and for his shows on Radio Cambridgeshire. He has a great admiration for the WI and I asked him to chair a “Question Time” style event on climate change we held in Cambridgeshire in 2008, where he did a superb job. We touched on the topic of climate change during our discussion, along with the age range of WI members, whether ladies from ethnic minorities are becoming members, and the plight of the honeybee, referring to our 2009 mandate.

Of course jam was discussed, not to mention Jerusalem as I have already mentioned, but, as I have always maintained, the skill of jam making is good to have or acquire, and to know the words of that great four stanza poem by William Blake does no harm at all! Our WI signature might well have been “Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright..."; as that too is set to music.

But not content with a Sunday slot, which Mr South very kindly said he'd like to repeat some time, yesterday morning Radio Newcastle wanted to hear about women's social groups and why there is obviously a need for them. The WI is the biggest voluntary women's group in England, Wales and The Islands, and its long 95 year history speaks for itself; women have always liked to come together in groups. I'm sure strength and safety in numbers, empowerment and education and so much more, are all reasons to form a WI.

The world really is an oyster for any WI member; and I hope all 207,000 of them out there realise this and revel in it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Holidays, weddings and James Martin

The month of August has always been real holiday time. I remember my French pen-friend, Joelle, saying that the world is on holiday in August because the whole of Paris is on holiday, which to me, at the age of 15, seemed to be the case. Of course, I know now that this is not strictly true, but it does seem so at 8am in the morning when getting to the railway station means a ten minute journey rather than the usual 35-40 minutes. That doesn't help me too much though because, as I said last time, the WI tends to slow down in this month and the meetings are not so many or frequent for me.

As well as July, August is the month for weddings too; and not only have a couple of the members of staff married but I too have the joy of a few to attend. In fact for one wedding in the Cotswolds I found that the hotel I am staying in is actually advertised in WI Life. There don't seem to be as many such adverts lately as there used to be, which is odd, since there are so many more people who now see this magazine. Anyone out there, with a hotel or B&B to fill could do a lot worse than putting an ad in WI Life.

I meant to record earlier that one of the very nice WI events I have been to recently was a cookery demonstration by James Martin. He came to Denman College and his demo was one specifically using canned foods. Canned beans, tomatoes and similar were his most used ingredients and seeing him demonstrate live was even better than seeing him on screen. The audience were, of course, entranced - not least because he is a superb cook - or should that be chef. Suffice it to say, he definitely knows how to cook and his tips alone were worth the trip to our wonderful college in Oxford.

Indeed, why not take a course in the WI Cookery School at Denman College; think of it as a mini-break and the chance to learn something new at the same time. And gentlemen, you are most welcome on these courses too.