Friday, 29 October 2010

End of another busy week

So have you heard it yet? Of course I am talking about The Harmonies - Voices of the WI – a truly beautiful collection of songs. I am so proud of you girls – Doreen, Gemma, Jan, Jennie and Naomi. I am sure they just had the best time making this CD - for them it must have been even better than the auditions, which was such a memorable day too for the rest of us who were there. One of the highlights of the entire process was definitely the whole choir of WI members - all those who sent in an audition tape - singing the new version of Jerusalem – a truly inspiration moment!

This is just one example of the opportunities that come with belonging to the WI, proving that membership is so much more than eleven meetings a year, raffles and cups of tea. These are all part of that great jamboree of course, but there is so much more on offer! Opportunities from your own locality, within your federation, and much further a field; you will have read here that the proposer of this year's resolution that has become the NFWI's COOL campaign (county of origin labelling) went to Brussels to state the WI's case in the European Parliament. Members can be involved in the campaigns they empathize with; they can enter competition, locally and nationally; and they can even send in audition tapes when they are called for - check out - and also your federation websites to find out what’s on offer. The world of WI really is your oyster.

While the girls were on television on Tuesday morning, I was in the Isle of Ely at the federation’s autumn council meeting where I was giving members an insight into what I do as Chair of the NFWI. I said that just like them, the WI keeps me very busy!

After this I made my way to Worthing to speak at the West Sussex Autumn Council Meeting; this time telling them more about my trip to Malawi earlier in the year. The Mums Matter petition is still available for signing but sheets of signatures are coming into our office in their thousands – keep them coming! Check out for more information on this too.

And something that I presume must sell in their thousands are cookery books by James Martin. I had another dose of this superb chef at this very meeting. Remember, he came to demonstrate at Denman College in July? I did ask if he would come again – just imagine a masterclass with this motor-bike-riding, fast-car-loving chef…!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A busy week

A week ago I was in Bishop Aukland; this week I was in Ulverston in the Cumbria Westmorland federation to celebrate their ninetieth anniversary. I shared the bill with Gyles Brandreth, the very person who shared the bill ten years ago with a certain Prime Minister. He was as hilarious, as intelligent and as clever are ever; it is always such a treat to see him perform.

I always marvel at how swiftly we can travel around our country, and what beautiful scenery we can view at leisure from a train window. I had the pleasure of travelling past Morecambe Bay and the flatlands, which are now covered in grass with sheep grazing. The smooth dips and hollows of magical shapes full of shimmering water were really quite delightful and completely justified such an early start.

Yesterday it was back to 104 for a meeting of the Public Affairs Committee where bees and fast fashion, the next stage of the milk debate and ACWW were discussed, along with a whole host of other fascinating issues.

We met with the new World President and Treasurer of ACWW last week, May Kidd and Alison Burnett respectively; to discuss the many projects WI members had funded during the last year, and future involvement with the UN Women's Commission.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many other organisations the WI has been involved with at their inception over the last ninety five years. The British Standards Institute recently revealed to us that the WI was one of the founders of the original committee on standards some 60 years ago in 2011, which is just another string to the bow that was fired at the time of our Keep Britain Tidy era in the early 50s.

I was lucky enough to hear Bill and Melinda Gates speak at the Science Museum about international aid on Monday evening. Their latest venture, “Living Proof”, aims to demonstrate that international aid really does work, for example vaccination to prevent measles for children has to be a positive. I am eagerly awaiting the rest of the talk; unfortunately technological problems meant that it had to be cut short. I will, of course, share more when I can.

P.S. By popular request, here is a photograph of my daughter’s wedding.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Brussels to Birmingham

We arrived in Brussels via the famous Eurostar train and after a hair-raising taxi ride; we were dropped off at the European Parliament. The WI contingent was made by myself; Marylyn Haines-Evans, Chair of the Public Affairs Committee; Enid Gratton-Guiness, the WI member who proposed the resolution on Country of Origin Labelling (COOL); and Rachel Barber, Head of the Public Affairs Department at NFWI.

The first task was our ID photographed at the security check-in, which appeared to be much more flattering than the ones one has to bear in our own Houses of Parliament, and after this, we were ushered into a smart cafe area to meet with Renanta Sommer, the rapporteur for the legislation pertaining to our COOL campaign. We spoke to Renata for an hour; a meeting that revealed differences of approach. She maintains that it is too difficult to track the route of any lorry load of meat or poultry due to the many loads arriving at huge slaughter houses across Europe every 24 hours, and that keeping a check is next to impossible. We countered this argument by discussing the paper trails that legally have to follow any sheep or cow, and any other animal, wherever it goes, for example, a paper record must be made to move a cow from one field to another. We were told that fact-finding programmes have to be put in place before anything can be decided, meaning that voluntary labelling seems to be on the cards at this time.

We also spoke with MEPs Jill Evans and Chris Davis, from Wales and the north of England respectively. They are fully behind the WI's call, but other MEPs are not, and many MEPs will not have encountered the discussion or legislation just yet. The WI mandate calls for mandatory labelling so do get lobbying those MEPs and MPs – they need to know what the WI is calling for!

From Brussels to Birmingham for me, as 24 hours later I found myself in Sutton Coldfield Town Hall speaking to members of the West Midlands Federation. I then enjoyed a short break before travelling on to Barry in South Wales to address the autumn council meeting of the Glamorgan Federation.

Yesterday I headed to Denman College for the beginning of the Women Reaching Women's final year and then I travelled on to Darlington in readiness for the Durham council meeting. Today it's Bishop Aukland!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Meetings, ANC and Brussels...oh, and a wedding

My last entry was several days ago because life, both with the WI and otherwise, has been rather hectic of late. A spate of internal meetings followed by the September Board of Trustees meeting took up some of this time. A Board meeting is always important because that is where the 'running' the NFWI really happens. 13 members of the Board of Trustees only meet five times in a year so this is the place where all of the organisation’s activities are discussed; approaches by other individuals and organisations are brought to the table; and issues are voted on and decided. Money is also discussed as in any organisation, and offers and opportunities for all 207,000 members are heard and deliberated, resulting in a packed programme across the two days.

This time, we also finalised the format and contents of the Annual National Council. This is an annual forum/conference for all Federation Chairmen and Treasurers from across the 69 Federations (the areas roughly denoting the county boundaries in England and Wales). 138 leaders come together for discussion of the many issues that affect and inform the whole of the WI, and the exchange of information and ideas. This year we discussed how to expand our organisation, how we are perceived, and how we truly are as we begin the five year countdown to our centenary in 2015,

My time was well and truly taken up with meetings but right in the middle of these two big events was an even larger one; my daughter’s marriage. Anyone who has been the 'mother of the bride' will understand the many last minute things to suddenly need to be done or, at the very least, considered.

And now I'm off to Brussels to speak to MEPs about out Country of Origin Labelling campaign (COOL). I'll tell you how I get on very soon.