Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Sisters on the Planet

If you are a Facebook fan you will have seen photographs from the recent event organised by Stop Climate Chaos- Green Is Working- which called on George Osborne to recognise the potential of the green economy.  We all wore green hard-hats in a bid to show the Treasury that the low-carbon sector has generated growth and jobs. And we won’t stop there, because Green IS Working. A letter stating just this was also delivered to No 10 Downing Street, so as ever we are watching this space.

A while back I spoke at an event known as The New Home Front, set up by the new economics foundation. My talk focused on what the WI did during the Second World War - food production and jam making, as well as producing gallons of rose hip syrup and much more.  Much of what I said can be found in a report, also called The New Home Front, which sets out policy proposals designed to illustrate what could be implemented if there was the will to act.  It is a recommended read for anyone concerned about the changing climate, and what this means for food security, reuse and general well being.

Likewise, it is the well being of people who suffer with dementia and their carers that is on the minds of the Dementia Friendly Communities Champions, and a report is currently being compiled to present to the Prime Minister just next week. There are many forms of dementia and not all sufferers live in nursing homes, so much can be done to make life easier for them and their carers while still living at home.

One such woman who has made a great contribution in this field is Kate Woolveridge, who won an award at the Women of the Year lunch last week for her work promoting awareness of Alzheimer’s disease in Cardiff. Last year she formed a choir called ‘Forget me Not’s’ for people suffering with the disease, and she organises concerts and fundraising events for the choir that also focus on support for the sufferer’s loved ones.

Attending the Women of the Year lunch is an enormous honour, but even in the glamorous surroundings of The Intercontinental Hotel in London’s Park Lane it is no different from when WI members get together at annual council meetings. There is no doubt women truly are "Sisters on the Planet".

Thursday, 18 October 2012

2012- Year of WI Archives

I have written previously that 2012 is the year of WI Archives. Many WI members, as well as Federation archivists (WI members too), willingly give their time to make sure the WI's history and the history of women in society is recorded, collated, kept, and stored in the proper fashion.

I was very proud to be able to tell this to the assembled company at the launch of the Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives last Monday. In the River Room at the top of the House of Lords, against the backdrop of THAT green wallpaper, I told of how our own NFWI's national archive was rescued from the damp obscurity of the garage of Denman and found its home in the Women's Library - soon to be relocated to the London School of Economics. I also spoke of both WI and Federation archives being housed in local Records Offices, as well as in some Federation offices. The main message always has to be:  a) take a record b) keep that record c) know where that record is kept.

"Neglect of archives across the voluntary sector is endangering our ability to understand activities and agencies which impact on all our lives". This sentence from my letter of invitation to speak is the essence of the subject and must be remembered. The smallest action can grow. Keep those notes, those odd scribbles that may become a driving force, collate them and find a relevant home for them. One day they may form the basis of a research project or even a best-selling book - available in e-book edition!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Food and climate change

Last week a letter from the WI was printed in the Guardian looking at the 50 months that are left for action to be taken to reverse the changed climate before what is known as 'the tipping point' is reached; the point of no return.  The WI has always maintained and still does, that the individual can make a difference no matter how small, that simple things like boiling only the amount of water in a kettle that you need right then, and recycling your 'rubbish'  in a responsible fashion have long been at the top of our agenda.
In 2006 the WI began to ask supermarkets to reduce the amount of packaging on their products, particularly on fruit and vegetables.  There have been inroads and the Courtauld Agreement does set down rules in this area but excess is creeping in again and the use of plastic carrier bags is increasing once again.  Rubbish of all kinds can now be recycled; albeit some local authorities recycle much more than others, but too much still goes into landfill sites.  Putting out the rubbish now means that we have to think what we're doing – one bin no longer fits all.     All this household waste, never mind that of commercial plants, industries, airlines, transport and much more, contributes to the excess carbon dioxide that is bringing the climate inexorably nearer to this tipping point.

The NFWI, as well as many other organisations, have been calling on the government for many a year to take action on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and lately, nothing much seems to be happening, which is what we say in the letter:  "To create jobs, more secure energy systems and less pollution, investing in a massive energy-efficiency drive and a programme to expand renewables are just two of the more obvious steps that could benefit the economy and the environment".

Last week I also learned of the benefits that many children are receiving when their school incorporates gardening into their teaching.  Food Growing in Schools, a large body of work in which the NFWI has had a small part, set out its intentions at a gathering in London's City Hall.  First of all, it must be a campaign of celebration: there is a need to engage all schools with the idea of food growing in schools.  Secondly, there needs to be a policy emphasis for this to happen.  Many departments – education, health, food, rural affairs and agriculture - should recognise the impact of food growing for learning. There should be an online hub with resources available for all those who want to make this happen, and businesses should continue and extend their support for food growing in school.  One supermarket in particular does this with its voucher scheme for gardening tools. 

Promotion of food growing by school leadership teams is a key element in the whole process; e.g. they should use food growing as part of a whole school approach to food, health and well-being, and integrate it into the curriculum and work with other schools, especially those in close proximity and with their local communities.  Last but by no means least, there should be clear connections made between food growing in schools and food- and land-based careers.  For some, this will not be something new.  My own father, a science teacher before the days of the national curriculum set up a vegetable garden with pupils in the school grounds where he taught, and this was instigated again at the next schools where he was a Deputy Head and then Headmaster.  I have a brother who is a horticulturist, so it must be in the genes but nowadays, a career in horticulture or agriculture is not something that is top of the list with either pupils or careers advisers.