At a very civilised time in the morning two coach loads of delegates and observers set off for the National WI Annual Meeting in Leeds. After an event free journey, we arrived at the hotel, checked in and went off to explore the city.The hotel was centrally situated at one end of the new millennium pedestrian bridge which is very elegant, decorated in padlocks and crossing high over the canal. The city centre boasts all the usual high street department stores set among Victorian and earlier impressive stone buildings. The thing that struck me most was the market with its high ironwork roof and the number of stalls, especially the haberdashery and craft stands. In the South we now report rare sightings of such shops and stalls. Here, there was just about everything one could wish to find. If I hadn't been living out of a backpack, I would have spent a small fortune! The evening meal was fine and the company good.
The local nightlife disturbed many of us but after a good breakfast we were off to the First Direct Arena in the University Quarter. As we waited to be allowed into the hall, the heavens opened and thousands of women streamed in and tried to dry themselves out. The hall was large but with good views wherever one was seated.Janice Langley, NFWI Chair opened the meeting by reporting on the Inspiring Women Conferences which had successfully provided links between the National, Federation and local WIs: 5000 members had attended.The WI was attracting 23,000 new members per year and 80% of the membership was now on e-mail. Janice gave a run-down on recent WI campaigns and announced that the Denman College business plan was working but the members must continue to support the college.
Diana Birch from Northants Federation gave the Treasurer's report because Stephanie Fort was too poorly to attend and had decided to retire from the position. Finances were in a healthy state following the £800,000 VAT refund and the increased revenue from WI Enterprises.It was hoped to start a pro-rata subscription for new members.
The resolution on increasing organ donation by asking everyone to make their personal decision on this matter known to their families and friends was well presented and discussed from the floor.Fewer than 5000 deaths a year can provide organs.No one spoke against the resolution but the Professor of Ethics from Leeds University wished to withdraw the right of veto from bereaved family members which at present can over-ride the donor's stated wishes. The motion was carried by a 97.82% majority.
Andrew Motion a former Poet Laureate spoke about his country family background and his introduction to poetry at school where he was influenced by the poetry rooted in the countryside of Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Andrew is now Chairman of the CPRE. He criticized the rush to build on Green Belts blaming the building developers rather than any particular government, when there are many brown field sites which could accommodate thousands of new homes. He described his Poetry Archive as " a rock in the road " of development and ended by reading his poem inspired by driving through a Mongolian wilderness.
After lunch Dr George McGavin, the zoologist described the making of some of his TV nature films in Borneo, Guyana and Papua. The footage of the scientist teaching an orphan baby orang-outang how to eat ants' nests and strip out bamboo shoots brought several people to tears.
We were then told about plans for celebrating the WI Centenary next year; these include Lucy Worsley presenting a history on TV and in theatres, Mary Gwynn writing a book on WI cookery and the WI Baton criss-crossing the UK. The next AGM will welcome one delegate from every two WIs so there will be no room for observers but it is hoped to broadcast the proceedings all day in a cinema chain and the NFWI will pay for it to be sent out via Internet. Special teacloths, mugs and scarves, a new WI pin badge, the commemorative rose, an increased prize for the annual raffle and a presence at the Great Show in Harrogate in September 2015.
Bill Turnbull the Breakfast Show presenter then entertained us with tales form Strictly Come Dancing and the hazards of morning television.Janice Langley drew the meeting to a close and we sang the national anthems ---except we were taken by surprise by the second verse of God Save the Queen! I think we had better take a quick revision course or the English football team will perform better than the WI.
It was an interesting meeting and I was particularly impressed by the Votes of Thanks from the Board of Trustees.
The local WI monthly meeting featured a topical subject for this week in June because it was about the life of an evacuee. Our speaker had brought with her lots of memorabilia and the members had entered items in the competition too. We had members who had been evacuated and we had people from families who had taken the children into their homes.Reports were made on progress by the craft group on the planned new tablecloth, on geo-caching by the walkers, on the outing to the British Museum and plans to visit Coventry. Fundraising events for the local school Life Skills flat are at the planning stage and we are thinking of entering the County Show WI competition.
Forgot to mention that we are attracting new members every month so we must try to keep them feeling welcome and interested in what we offer and also discover their strengths and appreciate them too.After all it is a two-way thing.