Monday, 28 May 2012

Looking towards the AGM

This Wednesday, the NFWI is holding its AGM in the Royal Albert Hall but before that gets under way; there is much to report on recent WI representation. 

On 16 May, I attended the Wildlife Trust's Centenary event held at The Natural History Museum in London. We were seated at tables in the Central Hall surrounding the diplodocus, and listened as Sir David Attenborough told of how he became involved with the natural world and ultimately the Wildlife Trust. He recounted his teenage days in Leicestershire when a local farmer purchased a tractor and everyone gathered to view it, without realising that this was the beginning of a new way of life in the countryside. We also heard the well-known ornithologist, Bill Oddie talk of his passion for wildlife and the countryside via a letter written to his grandchildren.  It was a memorable evening and pertinent to the WI since so many WI members live in, and share, a passion for the countryside.

The countryside was also at the forefront of the National Trust’s Octavia Hill Awards luncheon last Wednesday. The awards were introduced this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the National Trust's founders, Octavia Hill. The awards celebrate individuals and groups that are keeping Octavia's legacy alive and the following awards were given: Growing Hero; Natural Hero; Inspirational Hero; People's Campaigner: Green Space Guardian; and 'Love Places' award.  The full list of winners can be found on the National Trust website.

On Thursday I attended the second meeting of the Prime Minister's Champion Group on Dementia Friendly Communities, this time attended by the Prime Minister himself.  David Cameron was updated on the plans and progress being made by the group and he acknowledged that a change in the culture around dementia is needed. Indeed, the outcome of this whole project relies on a mixture of culture shift and specifics, together with an understanding of actions that government must take where barriers are encountered. Included in this, of course, is a sustainable funding system for social care, and the Prime Minister's advice was one that all WI members hear so often: speak to your MP, lobby your MP in person and in writing, and explain what is needed, why, and possibly, how it might be done. The government needs the public to tell them what barriers and regulations should be changed.

During the discussions we heard from a young volunteer who, through the National Citizens Service, and together with others, had built a beach garden in the grounds of  a care home so that residents can experience the 'seaside' without leaving the premises. Training in awareness and some understanding of dementia is happening in many sectors now across retail, banking and leisure, and raising awareness among children and young people is high on the list of desired outcomes.

Now we move on to the NFWI’s AGM.  Keep an eye on our twitter feed for regular updates throughout the day.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Ethical living

One of the WI's Little Black Dress judges and NFWI Associate, journalist Lucy Siegle reminded the nation about the packaging problem it still faces in a recent response in The Observer to a reader’s problem.  She also highlighted the WI's campaign on the issue from 2006, which aimed to reduce packaging.  Although much has changed for the better; there is generally LESS packaging on groceries and nothing other than what is deemed necessary to prolong the life of the product.  In some shops I have noticed a slow move back on some items but nonetheless, the state of packaging is better than it was when the WI first started campaigning.  However, that must not breed complacency.  The removal of unnecessary packaging at the checkout mentioned by Lucy was one action WI members took but many also returned excessive packaging from a weekly shop to the supermarkets, discussed concerns about packaging with store managers, and refused of plastic bags in favour of bags already owned. Many of us still carry on this campaign, I know I certainly do.

And the maxim remains the same, less packaging in the first place means that less non-recyclable packaging is sent to landfill, which results in less methane gas being produced and less contribution towards climate change.

 Another campaign we ran on hazardous chemicals between 2003 and 2006 brought about the WI's booklet "Simple Solutions". I have mentioned this before; it was published to show alternatives to beauty preparations and cleaning products on the market.  The aim was to show that chemicals, hazardous or otherwise, need not be used on the skin or in our homes where natural alternatives are available. I notice that the START website is currently introducing eco alternatives that may be purchased, but even some of these could be replaced with natural products that you could make yourself.

Another issue that we have revisited recently is the state of farming in Britain. In 2006 the NFU launched their "Why Farming Matters" campaign that "restated, and in time re-established, the case for a productive, farming industry in 21st century Britain". This time last year I addressed the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs Annual Convention in Blackpool, and in the discussion that ensued with young farmers who are passionate about their work, the question was asked if enough was done to promote farming as a career.  Does the general public know that technology of the highest calibre is a large part of farming in the early 21st century; do they perceive farming as a profession, or as a way of life?  Is it seen as a tradition rather than a business?  Those young people would be great adverts for farming, if they had the time and opportunity to promote it but farming is hard work that takes up most of the hours of the day. 

Yesterday, I saw some of these issues addressed by the NFU at the launch of their "Farming Delivers for Britain” campaign. Moored at Butler's Wharf Pier, a farm themed boat was the venue for a reception at which Peter Kendall, NFU President, spoke about the new campaign to acknowledge all that Britain's farmers do for us.  “Make it British, Make it Local, Make It Happen” is the slogan that celebrates all that farming delivers and stands for in Britain; food, animal welfare, the economy, the environment, careers and cleaner energy.

Life is one big cycle and we should always remember that everything has a connection to everything else!

This year’s National Countryside Week, supported by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, will run from 9th – 16th July. The week provides a great opportunity to get out into the countryside and to raise awareness of the importance of the countryside to the UK so I hope you will join me in getting behind it!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Climate change in every day life

Every day last week, ‘Help Save The Planet’ hosted an International Climate Change conference at the Royal Institute of British Architects. I was asked to speak on climate change and consumer choices and whilst I was there, I took the opportunity to hear talks on climate change and the effects on health; climate change and obesity; climate change and population; and climate change and culture, to name just a few of the topics under discussion.

One of the questions posed was why do health professionals not take climate change as seriously as they might? In the French heat wave of 2003, 30-60,000 people died prematurely yet this seemed to trigger little scrutiny about how this could have happened, not to mention longer-term debate and assessment of the implications and the need to prevent such disasters in the future.

It is said that the credit crunch is borrowing from the future, but surely climate change is stealing from the future.

Health systems are currently busy focusing on making people well,  reacting to demand,  and time to focus on prevention is lacking. However, the NHS has a huge carbon dioxide footprint "with drugs having a larger footprint than NHS building."  Alternative therapies, such as walking, talking and even singing therapies, would reduce the footprint more since they would hopefully reduce some need for drugs.

The day provided some important food for thought.  Wth a recitation of the Sterne Report taking place as well as art works on global warming being produced, climate change really does permeate all aspects of human living and will not go away.

Food security is another major issue that the WI will be looking into in the coming months, especially in light of the reports that there will be an estimated nine billion people on the planet by 2050.

We can make statements all the time but mitigation and adaptation is necessary - and this means action.

Friday, 4 May 2012

New action on dementia

Federation Annual Council Meetings have come to an end for now and my journeying around the country has slowed down.  The last two meetings on my agenda were Devon and my own federation of Cambridge; both were thoroughly enjoyable and offered lots of WI information on which to feast.

Meetings of all types are the stuff off WI, and last week I attended a new group; the Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia Friendly Communities Champion Group. Chaired by Angela Rippon and Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society, the group is to discern how dementia friendly communities can be encouraged, brought about, and act accordingly to help people with dementia, and their carers, remain part of their communities.  The group will meet several times throughout the year, investigating how to develop a cross-sector approach to build understanding and raise awareness of dementia and eventually producing a report with recommendations.

Despite the fact that one in three people over 65 will develop dementia stigma is rife.  There is a real lack of awareness of dementia amongst the public and in many places, there is a lack of understanding of the needs of both those who suffer from dementia and those who care for them. People with dementia want to remain independent for as long as possible, and they want to have choice and control over their lives through all stages of their dementia. A common misunderstanding about dementia is that it is an inevitable part of ageing and nothing can be done to improve people's lives; this definitely is not so and the Alzheimer Society will provide Alzheimer Ambassadors – people who suffer from dementia – to speak to groups to explain and dispel so many of those myths around dementia.

The champions group is made up of representatives from across society including the emergency services, banks, supermarkets, local government, foundations, leisure outlets, utility services, design services food outlets, transport operators, Plymouth Dementia Action Alliance, and the WI.  The Plymouth group is led by an extremely compassionate and dynamic man who felt dementia sufferers were a silent majority in that city and following hard work and determination, some 40 organisations and institutions in the city have now signed up to the Dementia Action Alliance.  The city council now plans to set up a city coordinator to develop individualised training schemes within Plymouth, which is a great result; where there is a will there is a way.

I know there are many WI members out there who are caring and quiet demetia-friendly hubs – I look forward to updating you all on the group’s progress throughout the year.