Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Summer of activity

The WI has certainly been busy in the fortnight since the COOL vote took place in Strasbourg, with a number of internal meetings and the July NFWI Board meeting taking up several days. All of these meetings deal with the true heart of the WI. The NFWI Trustees consider everything from procedures to opportunities, from costs to plans for the future. We review what has recently taken place and always with an eye to what the next steps must be.

This year we have one new board member who joined us after our AGM in early June. An article in the latest issue of our magazine, WI Life, tells how she balances life on the Board at the same time as balancing a full time job. This is something that has to be addressed by both the National Board and Federation Boards of WIs since so many members work; day time meetings are not always suitable. Are we ready for a paradigm shift and how will it come about? At this stage I am not sure but I do believe it must happen sooner than later.

I am constantly delighted when new members of all ages tell me that joining the WI has been the best thing they've done. I mention this because quite recently I have been told just that by both a 24 year old and an 81 year old member. This certainly goes a long way to prove that there is something for every woman in the WI. In this instance, they enjoyed meeting different people and hearing of so many issues that they could get involved with through the campaigns for the younger member, and the opportunities to attend such a variety of events she would not otherwise have had from the older member.

Indeed, new members are coming in all the time. Where there is a group of women wanting to open a new WI, we have WI Advisers, who are members that have been recommended by their federations to open WIs. They do many other things besides, but in the last few years the demand for new WIs has been exceptional. WI Advisers work tirelessly throughout their federation in all weather conditions, often going to unfamiliar halls and venues, which is never easy in the dark, nor in the light for that matter – I know, I've done it! Last weekend I spent a couple of hours at our college, Denman, in Marcham near Oxford speaking with a group of WI Advisers. They were there to discuss their role and all that it has entailed in recent months, as well as to learn about new initiatives and methods of recruiting and retaining members. These women are particularly passionate about the WI and all their time and effort on behalf of members is appreciated by everyone. We must not forget that all they do for the WI is in a voluntary capacity.

And speaking of working in a voluntary capacity, last week I appeared as a witness at the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill Committee to represent the NFWI. Confronted by questions from 21 MPs from across the parties in Portcullis House, I spoke of the three key areas of concern regarding women who suffer domestic violence: the way the new proposals will disproportionately affect women, how the proposals put women at greater risk of violence, and the fact that women who do suffer domestic violence also usually need help with a much wider range of issues. (For more information see visit Legal Aid 2011 under Campaigns on the NFWI website.)

Closer to home, celebrations are happening for WIs reaching their 25th and 90th anniversaries, and members holding wine and cheese parties to attract new members. These events are wonderful, caring and they really do work – why not organise one for your WI?

I know I say this often but it really is true: the WI really does provide something for every woman.