Friday, 17 September 2010

...A Wonderful World...?

So now we know, Jan, Gemma, Doreen, Jennie and Naomi are "The Harmonies: The Voice of the WI." And what voices they have! I told you the standard was high, didn't I? Their version of Jerusalem is particularly beautiful: I love it, and I don’t think it’s in competition with Parry's version; it's just a different stance musically, giving it a more soulful, thoughtful aura. It’s also a huge thrill to know that they are to sing for Prince Charles. Being a member of the WI really can make it "...a wonderful world"

You know, before the girls had even left the BBC Breakfast studio yesterday morning, we were receiving calls at head office from women wanting to know how to join the WI. So heartfelt congratulations to The Harmonies! We can't wait for the CD to be released and of course you are all invited to sing to your fellow members at the AGM in Liverpool next June - with bells on.

But on the other side of the world there are some harrowing tales to be heard. At an Oxfam reception earlier this week I was introduced to "The Circle ", an initiative set up by the singer Annie Lennox with Oxfam. The WI' s own Women Reaching Women project is run in conjunction with Oxfam and, of course, has women's rights, their education and their heath at its heart. However, The Circle, with many female celebrity supporters, throws up salient facts to ponder:

- Two thirds of the 72 million children denied school are girls.

- Sixty four percent of the 771 million illiterate adults worldwide are women.

- Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world's income.

- Women hold only 14% of the world's parliamentary seats.

- Every minute a woman with no medical help dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

- Domestic violence is the single biggest cause of death and injury to women worldwide.

A wonderful world?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Northern Inspirations

Something has to be truly inspiring to cause that intake of breath and the moistening of the eye, which was how I felt yesterday evening when I stepped through the portals of Carlton Towers in Yorkshire for the opening of 'Northern Inspirations'. This is a celebration of crafts, including flower arranging, from six northern Federations: North Yorkshire East, North Yorkshire West, East Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside and Lancashire. It is a wonderful collaboration of talents, abilities, and sheer genius, all in one place, representing patchwork, textile art, embroidery (hand and machine), bead work, lace making, painting, gold work, encostic art and, I should think, any other craft ever devised.

In the magnificent setting of this stately mansion with its foundations dug in medieval time, each exhibit is an heirloom to be cherished, and every craft is a treasure that was created to be enjoyed now and savoured in the future. The kaleidoscope of colour, presented in the perfect and amazingly beautiful flower arrangements, demonstrated nature's beauty and the craftswomen's artistry working together to create stunning effects.

If you find yourself in the north of England this week, do take a trip to Carlton Towers for the opportunity to see the WI at its best.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Persuasion at Denman College

Be persuaded that taking a course at Denman College; it could change your life! I have alluded to this phenomenon several times in past blogs but this time I'm thinking of the people you might meet; you could make lasting friendships while learning something new. While I was visiting Denman last week, they were running a course entitled "Persuasion" where I met a lady who had travelled from Canada to take part. A fan of Jane Austin and looking for some activity pertaining to the author while she visited England, the course came up from an internet search. She then took a look at the Denman web site, honed in on the college and grounds, and decided she had found the perfect combination; Jane Austin at Denman College.

I am told a similar course was held last year and a lady travelled from the USA to attend. She is still in touch with a fellow student she met and they have become firm friends. Who knows which country might be represented on next year's course when Northanger Abbey will be discussed?

My reason for staying at the college earlier in the week was to attend a Denman committee meeting, which was followed by a Finance Committee meeting at the National Headquarters in 104 New King’s Road. National Treasurer, Aleathia Mann, reported on a recent meeting she attended at the Payments Council to discuss the abolition of cheques. 71 charitable organisations were represented at the meeting, where the discussion centred on the importance of cheques to each of those organisations – all receive money via cheques and make payments too, with many of the alternatives requiring either mobile phone or internet access. However, a paper based option is being investigated but two main issues were not addressed: the cost of cheque alternatives, and the security of personal data. Further consultation meetings will be taking place and a report will be provided after these meetings.

Friday, 3 September 2010

NFU, cows, the Great Milk Debate and COOL campaign

Children back to school on Thursday in many parts of the country so the sun came out and I spent the day in the sunshine standing in a field surrounded by dairy cows inquisitively looking at me while I, in turn, nonchalantly looked out across a Norfolk landscape. I had been asked to “star” in a photo shoot and interview for the NFU’s Countryside magazine, which brought me face to face with Holstein calves, cows and a magnificent, huge and, sometimes frightening, three year old bull. The cows were completely unfazed by our presence and equipment; many of them were lying down and lazing in their stall on sand - which I learned helps to keep them cool – while others were scratching their backs with a brush fixed at just the right height – it was idyllic, and I’m so glad that it wasn't raining or things might not have turned out quite so well!

My morning on the farm was to do with our upcoming return to the Great Milk Debate. In 2007, Federations held Great Milk Debates where not only members but the general public were invited to question dairy farmers, processors and retailers in a bid to raise the price that dairy farmers actually receive per litre of milk. The sharing out of pennies for that litre was not quite 'fair', and the WI had the mandate to raise awareness of the low prices dairy farmers were receiving for their milk. At the time, this did change in part but in the ensuing years, the margins are unfortunately slipping back, so along with many members, I felt it was imperative to raise this issue once again and stand behind our back dairy farmers.

Our recent campaign on county of origin labelling – COOL – comes naturally into this debate too, and imported milk, labelled or otherwise, is not, hopefully, the way our milk should go.

Concentrating on milk once again always reminds me of my very early childhood and my great aunts hand milking their small herd of cows, then taking it in churns on their milk cart, pulled by Dolly, around their village. People would come out of their houses with their jugs to be filled with fresh milk. It is always amazing to see how times change and how technology is changing our world.