Monday, 20 December 2010

Climate change, local communities and real ale...

I was intrigued to read Chris Huhne's comment that "...even the Women's Institutes has better rules" than the UN when it comes to their negotiating procedures when he discussed the Climate Change Conference in Cancun last week. When it comes to the UN's organisational skills, I sincerely hope that they were better in Cancun this year than they were in Copenhagen last year. I was refused entry to the Climate Change talks last year with the entrance in sight, which was not something that endears one to the UN's power of organisation. At the time it was obvious to me that the WI could have and would have arranged that event much more efficiently so it’s interesting to hear Chris Huhne echoing me earlier thoughts! I also attended the previous talks in Poznan in 2008 so know a little of how things work, although the WI was not at this year’s talks despite that fact that women's roles in finding solutions to the changed climate remain important to the organisation. We must all continually strive to make a difference every day through environmentally friendly actions at home, in our local communities and in our wider actions at every level.

Another area of interest in December is The Sustainable Communities Act, originally put forward by Nick Hurd MP, which is now on the statute book. The Act was celebrated last week with a reception for its many adherents and those who worked so tirelessly on the Bill focusing on communities and how they can have more of a say in how they are run. Ron Bailey and Steve Shaw of Local Works deserve a special mention here; I met them both when speaking on behalf of the WI in the big push to put people at the heart of governance through the aforementioned Bill. David Cameron, while he was still an MP, made special reference to the uniqueness of the the WI and the Campaign for Real Ale speaking on the same platform and thus, surely, making the Sustainable Communities Bill one that should be accepted by all.

It might have been unique but since then a WI Real Ale has been produced – you can read all about it in the current edition of WI Life!

And now I raise a glass of the Harmston Heavenly to all you blog watchers; thank you for reading the musings and goings-on of the WI in the last few months. Happy Christmas to you all!

Monday, 13 December 2010

COOL, Jerusalem and climate change

Still with food in mind, and in particular the WI's COOL (County of Origin Labelling) campaign, I had an early start today at a prestigious venue in the City. Barbecoa Butchery at 20 New Change Passage provided the setting for a short film to illustrate what the NFWI mandate is calling for – a label on meat to tell the customer where it was reared and not only where it was slaughtered and packaged after it was imported. Voluntary labelling in this manner does happen sometimes already, but it needs to be across the board so that we can be assured that our British sausages are actually made from pigs living and fed in the UK.

In just two days, the WI finds itself in so many parts of what makes our society!

And I hope you managed to download the Harmonies' version of Jerusalem yesterday!

It's worth noting that this time last year, at the very time I am writing this, I was standing outside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen, just a few paces from the door waiting in the freezing cold to get inside the building. No joke. This year I enjoyed a warmer clime in the UK to stand and wait, however, all of the messages coming back from the negotiations say that they are going well. The WI hasn't spoken so widely on the changed climate in the last twelve months but its message is still there urging, nay, demanding that the voices of those women in the countries already affected by the changed climate should be heard. "Sisters on the Planet" and "A world without Jam" are still as relevant as at this time last year, and the message is still there to be listened to and acted upon.

Sunday 12 December - all about the food

This morning I presented certificates to three ladies, who, in the space of two and a half days, have studied for and passed stage 1 of their Food Hygiene Certificate. Over the weekend they learned how to cook nutritious and moreish dishes and how to make the perfect cupcake. A short course, very much akin to our Get Cooking and Let's Cook projects, took place in the Cookery School at Denman College, with participants from the Oxfordshire Family Intervention Scheme. I very quickly learned that a great time was had by all when I joined them at the end of all the hard work, but I know that the ladies had a wonderful time as well as learning so much to take back to their family meal times.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas treats

You may have recently noticed a competition for WI members on our website under the glorious title of Yule Britannia. This was a competition to produce a Christmas dish using only the best British ingredients, with the delicious entreaty: " We want to know more about what inspires your cooking, so we need you to tell us in no more than 200 words, what inspires you about cooking Christmas food and in particular, using the best of British produce.” A photograph of the masterpiece was also requested.

The four finalists competed at the BBC Good Food Show, cooking their recipe in 25 mins. The final recipes were made on the Stoves stand and judged by renowned chef Brian Turner The winner, Yasmin Limbert, a member of Wirral Belles WI in Cheshire received a prize of £1,500 worth of Stoves appliances and a choice of cookery courses at the WI Cookery School, at Denman College, Oxfordshire.

Yasmin will indeed be taking up her prize of a course before long. Do check out the courses at the WI Cookery School, where there are courses for all interests and for everyone, including gentlemen. We should be learning more about Yasmin and her entry in the next edition of WI Life.

And WI Life was the reason behind an indulgence of a "white chocolate Gianduja mousse with cherry jelly, cherry sorbet and almond tuille" at the Independent Publisher awards earlier this week where our magazine was nominated under the category of ‘best new launch/ best relaunch of the year'. WI Life might not have won the award but its small, perfectly formed team, headed up by Editor Neal Maidment, is a winner with the WI.

Speaking of winning combinations the combined voices of WI members and several gentlemen in a choir sang in Kent West Kent Federation for their Christmas celebration. I'm sure such celebrations will resound across England and Wales in the coming weeks. In my own federation we have 'Words and Music for Christmas', which I always hope will include a few words from Mr Charles Dickens and his Christmases past.

But for Christmas present – a song with a difference. 'The Harmonies – the voices of the WI' are releasing their beautiful arrangement of Jerusalem on Sunday 12 December. Nowadays, to achieve a chart topping hit single, the song needs to be downloaded from the internet. Even if you've never download music before, please do give it a go and download Jerusalem by The Harmonies from Jerusalem – always a hit with the WI, now let’s make it one for the nation.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Water water everywhere

A resolution on flooding was put forward in 2009, and although it was not accepted, it was of great interest to many members and so under the banner of environment it was decided to look further into flooding. The result was the creation of flooding workshops in partnership with the Environment Agency.

I spent yesterday morning in Cambridge at the third of these flooding workshops – the other two had been held in the West Midlands and Devon – discussing floods, their history, their causes and some possible solutions. There was also discussion on issues relevant to the area, including what might happen to excess water where thousands of new dwellings are built. We spoke of the recommended provisions in the Pitt Review, including the active response by communities before, during and after flooding and the recruitment of Flood Wardens. You know, so many of these proposals fit quite naturally with the ethos of the WI.

Householders, parish councils, indeed, anyone, may sign up to receive flood warnings wherever they are. Go to the Environment Agency website, if you are interested in learning more.

Not living near a stretch of water Riparian Rights is something I know little about, but, as with all rights come responsibilities. I learned that householders whose land stretches to the bank of a river are responsible for that bank along their boundary and also for that water to the middle of the width. This must surely come from the time of the ancient Franks living on the Rhine between the Meuse and the Moselle and the code they observed for harmonious living.

And this type of discussion I also had yesterday around the ‘Big Society’, in an interview for the Office of Public Management Public Service Futures programme. In many ways WI members are already doing or living the ideals of this ‘Big Society’; being engaged in their own communities and coming together within their WIs to make a positive difference to their lives and the lives of others. The ‘Big Society’ is about rights and responsibilities too and as such will mean commitment at all levels.

Footnote: I learned of Elton John editing The Independent newspaper today. Where WI Life leads others follow; the WI has a guest edited edition of our membership magazine coming up in 2011.
And congratulations to WI Life Editor Neal Maidment for his nomination from the Periodicals Training Council as ’new editor of the year’ - an accolade in the big society of periodicals.