A blog post by Katie Frost, Cocktails & Pages Officer
On the 11th June 2016, I headed out to the NFWI’s AGM in Brighton. It proved to be a beautiful sunny day, a thoroughly fascinating experience and an all-round great day out! From Pimm’s at lunch, resolution debates and inspiring speakers, I would recommend the day to all. Amusingly, by being potentially the youngest person there, I became a mini-celebrity with plenty of other representatives keen to talk to me to ask how we promote the Belles and what our age demographic looks like. I was happy to share and they were definitely impressed with our numbers!
The day started with a resounding rendition of Jerusalem in true WI style, which was only slightly embarrassing when I didn’t know the words! This was followed by an introduction from Janice Langley, the NFWI Chair and our illustrious leader, and the rest of the Board of Trustees. Janice is a brilliant character and ran the day well, keeping us all in check and definitely producing a lot of laughter from the audience. A few stats for you…currently there are 226,402 NFWI members nationally across over 6,300 WIs – not bad at all!
Now on to the interesting part…this year’s resolutions. For those of you who didn’t attend the Borough Belles AGM, we voted for ‘Appropriate care in hospitals for people with dementia’ and against ‘Avoid food waste, address food poverty’ after a healthy discussion. On the day, my mind changed for each one numerous times with members from the floor and the organised speakers all presenting convincing arguments for both sides. So what was decided?
‘Appropriate care in hospitals for people with dementia’ was the first debate and what a debate it was! There were many emotional contributions and lots of questions asked of the resolution. Should we have a broader scope? Should we be pushing for more? Is this covering up the NHS’s shortcomings? Or is this a good start? Does this just simply allow dementia patients to have those who they need around them? After a fascinating discussion and voting procedure this motion was passed with 79.4% of the vote and I very much agreed with this decision in the end!
‘Avoid food waste, address food poverty’ was the second to be discussed and again there were many arguments for and against. Ultimately, I was unswayed and agreed with our Belles decision to vote against…however, I appeared to be in the minority after the motion was passed with a huge 82.7%. One of the key arguments was focused around the notion that there has already been a big change since 2002 as supermarkets are more accountable. From this, Tesco has already committed to re-distributing all left-over good quality food. Conversationally, laws have been passed in Belgium and France to enforce supermarkets to have links with charities. Should we focus more on education on cooking? Do we need to focus more on household waste as supermarket waste is only 2% of all food waste? Is addressing food waste a long term viable solution for food poverty? We can action existing resolutions, do we already have too many similar resolutions?
The day also saw two very inspiring and educational talks from the BBC’s Rona Fairhead (Trust Chairman) and Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza.
Rona talked about what the BBC can do as such a large corporation to help promote resolutions and gave examples such as domestic abuse being currently addressed in the Archers. In the future, the BBC will have less money as TV licenses will be free for over 75’s and they need to be able to continue all the work they do without compromise, which will be one of Rona’s biggest challenges. An example of this work is the BBC’s current partnership with the government to provide every year 7 child in the country with a micro:bit to help them learn how to code. Ultimately the BBC wants to become an enabler of people rather than just a dispenser of things: “Just because you are at the top doesn’t mean you are useful”.
Baroness D’Souza started with the basics on the House of Lords – What is it? What is it for? “The Lords are parliamentary worms who take all this rubbish from the Commons, that disappears in the darkness of the House of Lords and it comes out six months later more fragrant and appealing than when it went in.” In basic terms, Baroness D’Souza explained their function to us as revising and scrutinising legislation and holding government to account. Baroness D’Souza did not hold back in this talk and gave us her very honest opinions, which were fascinating! A key point made was that the House of Lords is too big to fulfil its role and sometimes peers are appointed not for expertise reasons but rather to win favour with political parties. Currently there are 800+ members (only the Chinese congress is bigger) and there is no cap at all, so if we aren’t careful it could keep on growing and growing when it could easily run with only 450-500 members. Baroness D’Souza expressed her disappointment that there are currently £20 million total costs on expenses and travel per year! The Lord Speaker suggested some solutions that she thinks would counter-act the above: at all times the House of Lords should be no larger than the House of Commons; there should be no political majority and at least 20% peers should be crossbenchers or have no affiliation. But can these actually be implemented?
Focus for this year
There will be challenges ahead for the WI – technology, time and tradition – with the message being ‘we can’t be complacent’! I think we are ahead of the game on this one 🙂
Prior to 2006 the NFWI did not have contact details for all their members which just seems crazy. They recognise now that they need to use all methods of communications, not forgetting those who don’t have Internet (which is good for us Belles!) Coming soon there will be a website that will have a dedicated members only section – including resources and lists of projects.
One final note…The NFWI will be sending out a Census form for members to complete so they can find more about us to make sure the WI is everything we want it to be. So when you see this come your way please do take the time to complete it and send it back.