Pat Butcher’s Ideal AGM

Following the tradition of having our AGMs online over the last couple of years we met on Zoom with a great turnout of Belles to conduct our WI business of the year and craft some BBWI-themed macrame earrings as well. Members received their crafting kit in their 2022-23 member pack by post or collected at our March meeting.

Our AGM is a great chance to review our year and have a collective reminisce with Alison (the existing President) hosting proceedings aided by other members of our committee team. Our first vote supported all members willing to stand for committee in 2022-23 and those helpful souls are Alex, Anne x2, Christel,  Claire, Jess, Lara, Muireann, Rebekah, and Sarah. Very sadly this was to be my (Alison’s) last meeting as President with our Secretary Lisa and committed committee member Kiki also stepping down.

We didn’t have any bylaws to review so swiftly moved on to Christel our Treasurer with our financial review and statement. Each member had the chance to review our audited accounts prior to the meeting as communicated via email and Christel’s financial statement was proposed and accepted.

Next up was our annual chance to vote in a new charity beneficiary for our bi-monthly raffle and we had a three new proposals in the mix as suggested by members. It was a close vote but we voted in new charity Abortion Support Network. They will receive the proceeds of our bi-monthly charity raffles for this present WI year.

Lisa our Secretary gave us a rundown of our membership stats and most popular meetings for the year followed by a brief review with pictures from each Club Officer sharing what we’ve managed to get up to outside of meetings – which as usual has been rather a lot!

I then gave the customary President’s Address for the year-

“I do love doing this address because it makes time for a moment of reflection and that’s something I’ve personally got out of the habit of doing so let’s see if you get similar feelings of pride, awe, happiness, respect and being inspired all over again as me when hearing about what we’ve been up to over the last 12-months…

Can anyone remember the facial yoga we performed via Zoom back in June last year? Our instructor seemed ageless and we all pledged to keep up the good work though the most I’ve done since is the occasional rubbing of temples. A personal surprise hit for me was our talk by Sober Girl’s Society – it was truly empowering to learn of the tools we could employ to bat away social stigma and improve body and mind. I know many Belles swapped favourite booze-free drinks ideas and some bravely sharing their own experiences with alcohol too. The only meeting I missed was our Pride Picnic in August where Belles celebrated diversity together by Tower Bridge. Photos of this even made it into WI Life magazine and we were the cover stars on the national WI annual review report too. Lara’s badass friend told us all about roller derby and how many bones she has broken representing the UK in the sport in September, followed by soothing, hilarious and creative collage-making in October. The end of the year saw us learn about things we could forage and eat in London and make some fantastic origami seasonal decorations with the god of paper-folding coaching us online from Sheffield. We had planned on meeting in person in January 2021 however Omicron put paid to that so we held our drag bingo night via Zoom instead with a fab turnout of Belles. We had to come up with a meeting on the fly, after, for the first time ever, our speaker failed to show in February and thankfully quizmaster Iain stepped in to rescue us. Note to new committee to stash a back pocket meeting or two in our files! Learning how to be helpful when communicating with deaf people saw our speaker Nathalie tested with so many questions we overran in March and last month saw our first indoor in-person meeting in over two years hosted by Bianca Road Craft Brewery. This meeting was both a great location and a chance to meet some of the new Belles that have joined us on the way during our time mostly online.

It has been no small feat to continue to make all these, and more, wonderful things happen for another year in a challenging environment and I must thank the fabulous volunteers who have been involved with our committee and helpers off of it. We have continued to adapt as things have changed with a continuous desire to do things together as we have seen with our clubs review and also weekly group chats during live viewings of Bake Off and Pottery Throwdown and Friday night dancing on Zoom. We’ve had a chance to be involved in a few local community events this year outside of fundraising stalls and this has been something we’ve historically not done too much – Bankside Open Spaces Trust requested our bee badge kits and stall-holding expertise at their summer event last year, a bunch of Belles planted a whole bunch of tulips in celebration of local historic babe Ada Salter, Life in Art have been giving us free art classes and Elaine and Lara made impact and contacts with a presentation on women’s safety in Southwark.

To have done so much with such energy and creativity can perhaps look easy from the outside and that’s maybe why it could be assumed our volunteer organisers are taking everything in their stride when in fact we actually reached a crisis point recently needing help to continue to run our group. Due to many changes in circumstances we lost a lot of our lovely committee over the last year with more as you have heard, including myself, stepping down tonight. Thanks to members and past-committee coming back on board we can form our new committee for 2022-23, consolidate what we do and keep BBWI on the road. Although a committee is formed each year in a ceremonial way at our AGM, new faces are needed throughout the year at any time. It would be great if members could look upon being on committee as a kind of WI national service (to give a bad analogy) or even better as the full, super deluxe version of the WI you can buy.

It wasn’t an easy decision to propose and then vote on the idea of our mixed mode of online and in-person meetings. Committee revisited this and the permanent venue challenge discussions so many times before it was agreed to ask the membership to consider 5 in-person and 7 online meetings as our preferred sustainable and accessible option going forward. Your feedback when voting was invaluable and the fact we have a strong membership of 45 so far this year is excellent support to this decision. Thank you for your flexibility and willingness to embrace these changes to support our WI.

This might be an extremely dating thing to say and I guess it depends on your own definition of the word but hearing all we’ve done out loud I do think, ‘Wow the Borough Belles are cool!’, and having never been a cool kid at any point in my life these last three years as leader of our group may well have been peak ‘cool’ for me. The fact that the Borough Belles are often re-posted, referenced and talked about by the national organisation makes me hugely proud that we reflect some of the desired face of the WI and that our way of ‘inspiring women’ is also the future of the organisation. Less about preserves, rousing hymns, hierarchy and precision sponge cakes and more about the solidarity of women, friendship, teamwork, paying it forward and self-discovery. Thank you for having me as your President and long live the Belles!”

Our following vote using Zoom polls for President supported the top team of Alex and Jess for 2022-23!

Having completed our official business we had the opportunity to chat with each other while crafting our BBWI-themed supremely dangly macrame earrings.

Helen’s macrame earrings as sported by her lamp!
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