Monday, 30 May 2011

SOS for honeybees

Look at any new campaign and you may be sure that the WI is already on the case. Today I noticed that the RHS has launched a campaign to urge all gardeners to plant bee-friendly plants. The RHA has compiled a list of plants that will provide nectar and pollen for bees and many other types of pollinating insects. I would urge anyone reading this to download the list of bee-friendly plans found on the NFWI website, This list was compiled back in 2009 when the mandate to do all that was necessary to save the honey bee was accepted by the membership.

The SOS for honeybees campaign highlighted the issue of varroa mites, the many diseases that can attack hives as well as the use of pesticides. WI members across England and Wales have put on events of every kind to highlight the plight of not only the honeybee but also the many pollinators we rely on for our food crops and beautiful flora. After months of pressure by WI members, the beekeeping community and campaigners, the Government announced that £10 million would be put towards funding projects researching pollinator health.

One of the first things WI members did in this ongoing campaign was contact their local authorities requesting that they plant bee-friendly plants on all their roundabouts and public spaces where flowers are planted. Members were also urged to plant bee-friendly plants, which they have done in their thousands.

Do take a look at the SOS for honeybees pages on the website and read the blog of the WI's own resident bee-blogger, Martha Kearney. Here you will also see the many other issues that the WI is working on, and if you look back into the history of our mandates (there must be around 500 by now) - you will be amazed, surprised and sure that the WI has been making a difference for almost 100 years. Like I said, the WI is on the case.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The WI in action

WI history in action
Last week I attended my own WI’s Group Meeting; a collection of between four and six WIs meeting together, once or twice a year, to enjoy a particular speaker – this time we heard about the life and works of William Morris – and learn about the highlights of each WI. Our host WI was celebrating its 90th year and on the front row were two members who were at the inaugural meeting all those years ago. Of course, they were very little girls at the time, but they have been part of this wonderful organisation all that time.

Something that could also have happened all those years ago is gardening in schools. I am interested in this because my father, a young teacher in the mid 1950s, cultivated a garden with pupils taking part and learning the ways of the soil and the best means of ensuring plentiful crops. Gardening in schools really should become the norm and I have a place on a task-force that will do its very best to bring this about. One of the many reasons behind the formation of the WI was to grow food for the country during the years of World War 1. I know many WI members who have shared their love for gardening and green-fingered skills with school children, and I hope that this will continue for many more years to share and promote the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables.

Campaigning update
The WI is hoping and trusting that many benefits will be reaped following the introduction of 100 diversion schemes, promised by the Health Secretary at the WI and Prison Reform Trust Care Not Custody reception in late March. A collection of 22 organisations, including the NFWI as well as the Prison Reform Trust; Prison Governors’ Association; The Royal College of Nursing; Revolving Doors; Action for Prisoners’ Families; and Keyring Living Support Networks will all work together to monitor the progress and outcome of the commitment. I chaired a gathering of this amazing collection of organisations on Thursday to explore next steps – collectively there is the will so there will be a way to ensure ‘diversion’ is a mainstream initiative in the criminal justice system in the future.

And speaking of the future, a swishing session at the NFWI’s first Fast Fashion event saw a new future for one of my once favourite dress and jacket outfits. It has a new owner who might wear it as it is, or even give it a new lease of life either with embellishment or the scissors! The event on Saturday afternoon highlighted the mass production of ‘fast fashion’ items that carry hidden environmental and social impacts, and asked members to consider the demand for virgin resources such as water, oil and cottons when some clothing is produced on such a huge scale, and demand that living wages be paid to the people who make the garments. To find out more about the campaign, visit the website – or contact the NFWI Public Affairs team on 02073719300.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

In the Clink

Yesterday I had lunch in The Clink. The Clink is a restaurant within High Down Prison, where, as in other prisons, a prisoner can determine "to be better than he was and manage to become whom he was meant to be". These words are based on text by Erwin James, author, former prisoner, and upcoming AGM speaker. Erwin also commented that a prisoner may find a reason to live that is inconsistent with crime if he will only access all that is on offer in any given prison. While it is acknowledged that this might be easier said than done, we enjoyed a talk from a Samaritan Listener in High Down Prison who is a prisoner himself, and is always ready, willing, able, and trained to listen to his fellow inmates, and in most instances avert a disaster or help to calm a troubled mind.

For my lunch I enjoyed a menu of beef osso busso and chicken ballotine, followed by bakewell tart with a difference (I’m sure it contained fresh raspberries). Earlier in the morning I had enjoyed morning coffee with melt-in-the-mouth lemon biscuits. Between these treats, I attended the launch of the latest report from the Prison Reform Trust, “Time Well Spent”; a practical guide to active citizenship and volunteering in prison.

The report has a forward from Erwin James which begins "It is a fallacy that people in prison are content to wallow in a state of irresponsibility whilst lounging around wasting time just waiting for the day when the gates are opened so they can stroll back out into their feckless, crime-sullied lives". The following 62 pages detail the many ways in which prisoners can be active citizens voluntarily giving their time to help fellow prisoners. The NFWI has worked closely with The Prison Reform Trust throughout the Care Not Custody Campaign, and the Trust profiles and promotes all of the good work that happens within our prison system.

Some of the attendees at this event had also attended the Care Not Custody conference in March where both Kenneth Clarke MP, Justice Secretary, and Andrew Lansley MP, Health Secretary spoke and announced that £5 million would be put into 100 Diversion Schemes in the country. I mention this here because three people I spoke to said how moved they had been to hear from the WI member whose son's suicide in prison had prompted the resolution to stop the inappropriate imprisonment of the mentally ill. There is a moving story behind every one of us and not least behind every prisoner, whatever the reason for their incarceration and no matter their circumstances. What is surely needed is rehabilitation with respect, and prison with purpose.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

NFYFC annual conference

Last Saturday morning I visited the famous Winter Gardens in Blackpool and although it was pouring when I came out, I was glad because the plants and crops desperately needed the drink. These same crops were on my mind when I attended the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) annual conference earlier in the week to discuss the WI's rural connection, its Great Milk Debates and Mission Milk, as well as the ways in which young people might champion British Farming. In the ensuing discussion, it was obvious that these particular young people were passionate about farming – their herds and flocks, crops and machinery – and if their enthusiasm is anything to go by, British farming should be secure, but I think we all know it is not as easy as that. However, there is plenty in the industry to get excited about: the technology and advances that have come with combine harvesters and tractors, and of course, the animals.

Today a young friend of the family is leaving for the USA where he will spend an exciting six months learning more about ploughing and the use of machinery in vast landscapes. Some of the young farmers at the convention have already done this and I know when ploughing and hedging competitions are held in my own area, they attract a lot of attention. British farming is a highly skilled profession to be proud of and cherished.

Although membership of Young Farmers ceases at the age of 26 (and may begin at the age of 10) the keenest can remain as an Associate member. This is somewhat different from the WI's Associate scheme – one way of becoming a WI member without the requirement to belong to a specific WI – please check out the details for more details: it could be just the introduction to the WI a woman needs!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

WI Life guest editors, what you might learn with the WI and the resolution process

This week I received my copy of WI Life and it was just as I hoped it would be: full of superb articles and features, as well as photographs to drool over. I must say I was very happy to hand over my column to Jenny, Storm, Judy and Pauline, the magazine's Guest Editors for the May/June issue. Congratulations to these four members from Sandon WI in Staffordshire, and also to the home team of WI Life who all took up the challenge such an edition presented with aplomb. Such a copy of WI Life could be yours when you join the WI.

There is no end to what you might learn with the WI. I have always been intrigued by how my mother (also a WI member) can make gloves; not something I assume many folk do very often these days. It was a skill she learned through classes given by the WI when she first joined the organisation in 1950, just at the time when ‘The Country Wife’ mural was being assembled for the Great Exhibition of 1951. Housed in the WI's Denman College until very recently, the mural, which features examples of a myriad number of handicrafts, displays an exquisite and tiny pair of gloves, proving once again that the WI is and always has been of its time.

The same must be said of the WI's resolution process. A resolution is a briefly worded request, on any chosen subject, put forward by a WI or a federation and, if voted on and adopted by two thirds of the membership when debated at an AGM, becomes a mandate upon which all of the WI may work to achieve its goal. Votes on the resolution are cast by a whole WI, which will have discussed the issue, usually and hopefully with input from experts, both for and against the motion. Once the WI has voted either for or against the motion, one member – the link delegate – will attend the AGM, taking with her the votes of four WIs including her own. It is hoped and expected that each WI will also grant their link delegate a discretionary vote on a resolution, having heard further arguments on both sides of the issue at the AGM from more eminent experts in the given field. At every stage, the process is led entirely by WI members – submission, selection from a long list, selection from a short list and adoption or not at the final vote; it is true democracy in action.

Join the WI and get you voice heard.