4th of June at 9:30 a.m. saw me emerging out of Kensington tube station exit onto a sunny London street. Lots of beautifully dressed, be-hatted and coiffured women walked down the road alongside me, toward the Royal Albert Hall. For about half an hour everyone gathered outside the doors patiently, waiting for security clearance. As I walked up the stairs, I realised I had been placed in a velvet clad box with another twelve delighted women, just outside the champagne bar! We were over the moon!
Janice Langley, NFWI Chair started the meeting and we settled down for a fun day, there was a real buzz around and lots of smiling faces. At some point the queen turned up, dressed in grey blue with a beautiful brooch, she was accompanied by two family members, Princess Anne and the Sophie, Countess of Wessex. We weren’t allowed cameras at this point.
Then we were lucky enough to have Lucy Worsley, the TV historian, giving us a historical whirlwind tour of the WI. She spoke of the suffragettes, even a woman called Edith in Anglesey, who wielding a can of petrol set a house in flames, many years ago, to illustrate her point about equality for women, but we also heard how it all started with the Canadians who then exported the WI idea to us. Monthly meetings started in someone’s shed, by a Canadian called Madge, with concise notes taken that included the words ‘only one type of cake’! I considered how the Borough Belles would have failed the test what with all our delicious cakes!
Lucy spoke a lot about the campaigning WI, a truly radical, political organisation. Through the WI women historically experienced democracy for the first time. They didn’t yet have the vote so this was their first experience of it. It was egalitarian and equal, with maids often being given tea and cake by their mistresses, within the same WI meeting. As a result people thought the WI was a dangerous affront to the social order of the time. It was in fact truly radical.
She spoke about the resolution, put forward right here at the Royal Albert Hall, in 1934, asking for fair pay for women. And spoke about Blair’s infamous performance one year!
We then voted on the resolution, ‘Failing to care – assessment of need in long-term care’. The meeting ‘called on HM government to remove the distinction between nursing care and personal care in the assessment of the needs of individuals, in order to advance health and wellbeing’. The change of just those two words means that the language gives a clearer description of the issues. We had two expert speakers to inform of us on the implications of the resolution.
The resolution wasn’t voted on because the second resolution to move onto the “next business” was proposed and passed.
Many WI’s across the UK were beamed in, including Devon WI, who were dressed in historical costumes! They looked fantastic!
There were inspirational speakers such as Tanni Grey-Thompson who spoke to us about being a top wheelchair athlete and a cross bench MP in the house of lords, an inspiring story about female empowerment and aiming high. Also Helena Morrissey, CEO, Newton Investment Management and 30% Club founder a very successful woman in business who also happened to have nine children!
A wonderful day in magnificent surroundings.
P.S. If you’d like to find out more about the centenary AGM, and more about the history and impact of the WI, there are a couple of great BBC articles: