Friday, 30 November 2012

A Week of Change

It has been quite a week! From the royal endorsement of an exceptional Gardening in Schools project, to a debate on reforming to the women’s justice system, to the NFWI's new home for its archive material at the London School of Economics.

The role of food education in creating a good school food culture is the remit of the Gardening in Schools Champions Group, of which the NFWI has been a member since March this year. Convened and run by Garden Organic, the Champions and other interested parties met at Carshalton Boys Sports College to see the gardening and cooking, two of the many facets that make this school an exemplar. One of the key elements for success in this field is determined and supportive leadership, which Head Teacher Simon Barber gives in abundance. This was evident as he showed us around the school garden, restaurant and home economics room, where students were happily and keenly engaged. 

The boys were all ready and waiting to welcome HRH the Prince of Wales, who was accompanied by Chef Jamie Oliver. Jamie Oliver has already done much in recent years to bring school meals to the forefront of concern, and he is ready to do something more about their standards in a big way. The School Food Plan is being compiled by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent of LEON, who were also there, taking heart from this school where it has been proven that changes for the better in 'school dinners' can happen.

And change should also happen in women's prisons in Scotland, according to Dame Elish Angiolini, the first woman Solicitor General and the first woman Lord Advocate in Scotland.  Currently the President of an Oxford College, Dame Elish gave the annual Prison Reform Trust lecture, during which she shared shocking statistics including the following: at any point in time 1 in 4 women in Scotland’s prisons are on remand and only 30% of them actually go on to receive a custodial sentence; also 75% of custodial sentences given to women are for six month or less, which is not effective in reducing re-offending.  In the prison she used as a case study, 80% of women have mental health problems and 60% were under the influence of drugs at the time of the offence; women’s offending is often complex and if anything, Tuesday’s lecture served to highlight the need for better co-operation across the health and criminal justice sectors.  24 of the 27 recommendations that Dame Elish’s recent Commission made have been accepted by the Scottish government. Overall, she feels that the imprisonment of women could and should be reduced. I know the Prison Reform Trust echoes this sentiment, but this is an area in which progress has been slow coming.

It also took time to assemble the NFWI archive at the Women's Library, housed at the moment in London's Metropolitan University. Volunteers have been instrumental in making this happen, beginning some ten years ago when the archives were retrieved from the damp garage at the WI's college, Denman.  WI member Anne Stamper and her helpers did a magnificent job, which has continued until now, when those archives are to be moved to the library at the London School of Economics.

A visit to the LSE showed where the contents of the Women’s Library will be housed and stored, in relevant ambient conditions for some items. There is much of the WI's history to be seen, but on this visit I was enthralled to see a letter written by Mrs Pankhurst to Kier Hardy, in pencil, explaining how she and her fellow suffragettes were force fed.  She even drew a diagram of how the tube was put down their throats. I also found a pamphlet written in 1643 by midwives of London bemoaning the fact that with the Civil War raging their business was suffering because there were fewer babies to deliver!  War must stop, they protested, or else we shall be out of work. Today we are protesting that there are not enough midwives…

And now I shall depart for Denman and the WI Real Jam Festival. With a Christmas Fair also taking place, and cookery demonstrations by inspiring chefs and bakers, including Paul Hollywood, this is an event not to be missed.

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