Friday, 10 June 2011

An AGM to remember

Not since 1992 was there such an instance at an NFWI AGM. During the meeting, a member begged leave "to move to the next business" but it was not granted. In 2011 when the same thing happened, leave was granted and we all moved to the next business. After much discussion and insight from expert speakers, no vote was taken on the issue of granting planning permission for large-scale factory farms. This means that the WI has no mandate on which to act so there will not be a campaign. What it does mean is that the whole area of factory farming, mega farms, environment and animal welfare, not to mention future food security, is now on the nation's agenda.

Over the past few months, WI members have been accused of being ignorant and ill-informed regarding 'mega farms'. Misguided was another adjective I often read in the media. If anything proves such derogatory accolades to be themselves misguided, this outcome does. The membership, represented by 4,587 individual members at the AGM in the Liverpool Echo Arena, clearly saw that this is a subject that needs further discussion and wider debate. This is precisely why the WI's resolution process has stood the test of time; it gives time for research, thought, deliberation, information gathering and expert advice, which, on this occasion, was clearly taken to tackle such a complicated and far-reaching subject.

The vote to save local libraries was passed with a 97% majority but one expert speaker pointed out that new models of library provision should be explored, for instance the National Trust model with libraries within an authority becoming charitable trusts with independent governing bodies drawn from the public, local authorities, educational bodies, etc under the aegis of the Charity Commission. Libraries are currently used by 12.8% adult population once a month; 87.2% do not use them at all. In the saving of our libraries, perhaps there is much to be discussed here too.

Guest speakers at the 96th AGM were Erwin James, writer, who spoke of his life as it led him to prison and beyond; Dr Rita Gardner, Director of the Royal Geographic Society, who briefly spoke of her studies into natural and human induced climate change; and Sir Steve Redgrave, Fairtrade's Chief Ambassador.

Just count how many topics were covered in this meeting alone – one adjective I defy anyone to use regarding the WI is boring!