Thursday, 31 March 2011

Care Not Custody

The WI Care Not Custody Campaign reception was held this week ; you might have seen mention of it in the press and online. It was hugely gratifying to welcome so many eminent people from such a wide variety of mental health and penal services, not least the Prison Reform Trust; the organisation that has worked so closely with the WI throughout the campaign. The Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke MP, and the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley MP, addressed the gathering with encouraging words, stating that the care of those with mental health problems is now a priority area in order to prevent the possibility of them committing a crime. Money is to be made available, and health and custody services will work closely together for the benefit of any given individual within the system.

In the extremely diverse world that is the WI, Ladies Day at Cheltenham for Gloucestershire Federation members was a highlight I heard about when I was a guest at their annual council meeting in Cheltenham. I always enjoy federation council meetings because it gives me an opportunity to meet members. It was also a chance to explain just how important the WI is, and the level of respect the WI enjoys by decision makers and the many organisations who wish to work with us. WI business has to be done too, so I have attended several internal meetings as well as a trip to Denman College for its committee meeting. Certainly every day is different with the WI.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

No.10 Downing Street

I enjoyed a visit to No.10 Downing Street on Wednesday 16 March for a reception to celebrate one hundred years of International Women's Day, which was held earlier on 8 March. In latter years, this day has received more and more prominence in the UK, which is great news; women's contributions to society should be celebrated, and their struggles within that same society still need to be highlighted. This is exactly what we focussed on in the discussion panel I took part in for the Women of the World (WOW) festival last weekend.

Back at No.10, I knocked on the famous door to gain entry, which was rather exciting although they obviously know that you’re waiting because you’re on camera! Once inside, I entered a room full of amazing women ranging from Cilla Black to Rebecca Adlington; Dame Shirley Williams to Tanni Grey Thompson; beautiful women whose names are not well-known but who stand up for abused women; women serving in the armed forces, and those who make a major contribution within their field and as such, make an important difference to society. It was a wonderful event and I was honoured to attend to represent all WI members.

There was another cause for celebration on that day too – one member celebrated 45 years of WI membership who has been, and continues to be, a stalwart, persistent and successful advocate of WI campaigns. The WI's mandates are what hooked her on WI membership all those years ago – and the same thing is happening right now. Why women join the WI was a topic of discussion when newly elected Federation Chairmen and Treasurers came together at Denman College for a 'How To' workshop towards the end of last week. As with all leaders, they will put their own stamp on their time in office, and they will deal with all manner of events and situations they would never have believed possible, but above all, there is the guarantee of learning many new skills and having a great time doing so.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Lamb stew and mushroom risotto were on the menu at Clarence House when I attended a luncheon hosted by The Duchess of Cornwall in support of the Women of the World (WOW) Festival last Wednesday. This fantastic festival was organised by Jude Kelly and held for the first time in the South Bank Centre from Thursday afternoon to late on Sunday evening. The achievements and enterprises, art and entertainment of women were celebrated across three and a half days, and I was honoured to speak about the WI’s campaigning work, and shared the platform with Bianca Jagger and Finn McKay, with Baroness Helena Kennedy chairing. It was an excellent event with a good, large audience. Although all three of us campaign from difference perspectives, the aim of any campaign is to realise a goal, which all of us showed could be done. It takes tenacity, and determination; sometimes the iron fist outside the velvet glove might work, but sometimes a softer approach is necessary and there is nothing wrong with the iron fist inside that velvet glove.

I also enjoyed delicious lunches at two federation annual council meetings last week; one in Suffolk East and one in Leicestershire & Rutland. I find such meetings exhilarating because of all the members I get to meet and hearing what excellent things are happening in a federation, and there always seems to be laughter – a real boost. My thanks go to both federations for two great meetings.

Another lunch came my way earlier last week when I addressed the Council Meeting of Soroptomits International in the Midlands East Region discussing 'Women As Leaders in Civil Society' alongside Marianne Haslegrave, National President of British Federation of Women's Graduates, and Baroness Sandip Verma. We all discussed the Millennium Development Goals and the new UN Women's group, as well as girls’ schooling and addressing maternal mortality. All of these goals pertain to women in such a vivid way; it is essential that we all take action to raise awareness wherever we can.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

I am a bookworm...

I am a bookworm and a book lover because I absolutely love reading. I collect or acquire books, and I can't pass by a second hand stall at a jumble sale or fete without buying "only one”.

So yesterday I was very happy to hear about how the many people who learn to read in adulthood are encouraged to do so by Quick Reads; short stories written by well known authors especially for adult learners. So it's not Janet and John, or Dick and Dora for them, but titles such as 'Kung Fu Trip' by Benjamin Zephaniah, 'Men at Work' by Mike Gayle and 'Strangers on the 16:02' by Priya Basil, just three of the new Quick Read titles released yesterday. I was invited to the launch party of all ten new titles as part of World Book Day on Tuesday and the event got off to a good start. There were exciting activities suggested too and I really like the idea of A Family Reading Breakfast. Take a look at the World Book Day website – – for more intriguing and exciting ideas.

The WI will be involved in the Hay Festival in June this year and a number of members are currently writing their memoirs with the guidance of Queenbee Publishing. Within the WI, we have our own Lady Denman literary competition and this year, in no more than 500 words, members have to imagine, extol, and speculate on "The WI in 2025".

In addition to all of this, we are holding a Literary Lunch at Denman College on 8 April with Joanna Trollope who will talk about her writing and read extracts from her latest novel: Daughters-in-Law. When I realised her previous novel, 'Friday Nights', was set in the area around our office in New Kings Road we just had to invite her along to the WI – the friends in that book could well have joined the WI together.