Today is the fourth day of the WI Adviser conferences that are on a WI progress around the country. Monday was Harrogate, Tuesday was Bedford, yesterday was Gatwick, today is Bristol and Friday is Shrewsbury. WI Advisers are WI members who have been trained to open WIs and offer help and support to WIs in every way that you can imagine. Originally, WI Advisers were known as VCOs - Voluntary County Organisers - and they rode around the countryside on bicycles in regulation brown long skirts, jackets and hats; those days are no more!
In those days, corner shops were everywhere, as were Co-op stores where every customer had a number - our family number was 18129 - and 'divy' (dividend) was collected. Now, corner shops become fewer and fewer, but the Co-op goes on, and last week I attended a Co-operative event: How to Reboot A Sustainable Community. Speakers included environmental economist Noreena Hertz, and Oxfam GB CEO Barbara Stocking, who both presented alternative approaches to sustainable business, and examples of Co-operative opportunities already being delivered, including renewable energy with the Co-op already funding community initiatives to the tune of £70 million.
Whilst this spending is positive, I remain hugely disappointed about the proposal to remove funding from another area of the legal arena; the withdrawal of much funding from the legal aid budget for victims of domestic violence. The WI has engaged in lobbying both MPs and Peers in recent months, and that lobby continues. A few days ago I gave 'evidence' on the subject again; this time to Labour's Commission on Women's Safety, and between 5th and 7th March the Lords are expected to vote on the amendments to the Bill. The NFWI is deeply concerned with a range of the proposed reforms: the proposal for more mediation; that self representation in the witness box will deter women from reporting domestic violence; and the narrowing of the gateways of proof. Altogether none of these are acceptable when trying to protect women from violence, which is why lobbying has to gain even more momentum in the remaining days before the vote.
Another area of WI work for many years is the environment, which was reflected by START who recently held a day-long event at the WI's Denman College to share ideas on how individuals can make small changes in their life style to fight to save and safeguard the environment. WI members have been doing just that for years, not least with Eco Teams and the Carbon Challenge, never mind our campaign for less packaging on certain foods, combatting food waste – the list is long and that is just within the last five years! Who knows what we will be working on in the next five years – it’s all up to our members!