Annual General Meeting, Cardiff
It is always exciting to attend the AGM and it re-kindles my enthusiasm for the WI. Two coach loads of members travelled west to Bristol and spent the night in a hotel there before moving on to Cardiff in good time for the opening of the doors of the huge Motorpoint Arena where 6000 people spent the day.
The proceedings started with the Extraordinary General Meeting so that the new WI Articles of Association could be approved and the new constitution could be discussed and passed.It must have been galling for the Trustees to listen to members from the floor say that they knew nothing about this when for 2 years information and consultation sheets had been circulating around the federations and had been featured in WI Life. The constitution is more flexible than the former one and more geared to modern methods of communication but basically it holds good to the aims and objects of the WI movement which need to be expressed in a formal legal language.
Ruth Bond, our National Chair, described her busy schedule, drew attention to the new WI Guide, reported that we were gaining 500 new members a week and that our campaigns were gaining recognition. Although Denman College was still costing money, it had a rising bed take-up on last year and there were lots of new courses planned.
Stephanie Fort, the Hon. Treasurer, welcomed news that now the subscription was exempt from VAT it would bring in a £500,000 gain to funds and the share of the subscription to NFWI and the County Federations would be re-worked to give the individual WIs a larger share.
William Shawcross, the Chairman of the Charities Commission, praised the WI as "a model charity" and said his job was to regulate charities in order to safeguard society: there are 5000 new charities set up every year.
Presentations were made and these included the winning Makower quilt which was a beautiful piece of work on display from a Bucks member. We hoped our cheer was audible to everyone.
After lunch Griff Rhys-Jones, full of Welsh fire, talked about Britain's urban heritage under threat from de-restricted planning laws. He wanted us all to conduct neighbourhood audits and make our towns "destinations" because the high street was the local front room of a community.
The resolution about the decline of the high street was then discussed. It was introduced by the NFWI Board of Trustees which had enlisted the support of the CPRE chairman who championed local food to local shops and stressed the importance of the Great Food Debate. Partly in opposition to the motion was a very good speaker from the Retailers' Association who gave us hard facts about modern shopping patterns which could not be altered but he thought the town centres needed to be regenerated with lots of social activities and local input.
Discussion from the floor expressed dissatisfaction with the resolution. Jean Morris, our chairman queried the destination of choice phrase but the general feeling was that until the high street could offer as much parking and more free parking as the out of town supermarket giants there was little possibility of changing things and only limited action available to WI members.
The resolution was passed with an 87% majority
John Humphrys then told us about his career in broadcasting by asking for questions from the audience which he answered off the cuff. He was a very entertaining speaker and easy to listen to as we all knew he would be.
In her concluding remarks, Ruth Bond announced that next year's AGM would be in Leeds and the 2015 Centenary meeting would be very special so that as many WI members as possible could join in with the celebrations. A commemorative rose would be on sale and even a special postage stamp.
Then Jonathan Willcocks, the WI Choir Adviser led us in a song with actions to stir us all up before the closing anthems.
We had a good ride home and arrived back tired but re-enthused.I saw only one hat worn! If you get the chance to go to Leeds next year jump at it: you'll remember the experience.