ALBERT HALL 4th June 2015
The day had dawned sunny and bright as the ladies gathered in Brackley to board the coach to London. Our journey was uneventful and we arrived in good time to go through security and find our seats in the Albert Hall. Northampton had done well and we were all seated in the Grand Tier boxes with an excellent view of the Hall.
As the Queen, The Princess Royal and the Countess of Wessex were due to join us the singing of Jerusalem was delayed until after their arrival so the meeting began with the Financial Report.
In 1915 the annual fee was 2/- (10p) which was equivalent to 2% of annual income, in 2015 the annual fee is £36 and this is also equivalent to 2% of annual income. We are in a secure financial position embarking on the next 100 years.
Following the Financial Report the Royal Party arrived to loud applause and cheers. The Queen wore a powder blue coat with a matching hat and a flowered dress. The National Anthem was sung. The Queen was invited to receive the Centenary Baton and a live link was established with the Anglesey Federation. This caused some amusement as there was a five second delay between the Hall and Anglesey.
There followed a presentation of the Denman Cup by Her Majesty and subsequent awards were presented by Princess Anne and Sophie Wessex. Jerusalem was sung with great zest and posies were presented to the party by three young girls before the Royal Party and Board Members retired to the Foyer for coffee and cakes.
The Board having departed with the Queen the Chair, Janice Langley, was left to ‘hold the fort’! She gave a speech on ‘What does the last 100 years mean to us’. New women were encouraged to play a role in public life and the Women’s Police Force was also formed in 1915. Police women were not allowed to carry truncheons only umbrellas!! There have been ups and downs during the 100 years but the objects of the WI remain the same today. We need to spend our money wisely and well and need to think of ways to engage with women who have limited time.
Our first speaker was Lucy Worsley who is an English historian, curator and television presenter. She gave an amusing and informative speech on the history of the WI. It was one place where the social divisions could come down for at least half-an-hour! She has just finished making a programme – 100 years of the WI – which will go out sometime later this month on BBC2 called “Cake Makers and Trouble Makers”.
Next came the Public Affairs Resolution. This proved to be an extremely interesting part of the day. It started with an amendment to the wording of the Resolution:
“This meeting calls 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 words nursing care and personal care were proposed to be changed to health care and personal care. This amendment was debated, questions and comments were taken from the floor, and it was voted on. I personally did not believe that this amendment was what the members of Aynho and Croughton WIs had discussed and therefore took the decision to vote against the amendment. The amendment was passed.
The Resolution as amended was then debated the expert witness coming from the MS Society. Before a vote could be taken on the amended resolution a proposal to ‘move to the next business’ was voiced.
There were various speakers for this proposal with very compelling views put forward eg; the resolution is not worthy of what we could be achieving; it is not smart and not specific; not realistic; robbing Peter to pay Paul. Points from the floor included: time is needed to consider the change of wording of the resolution; confusion of implications of resolution; Wales is a devolved assembly; need more time to improve wording.
We were made aware that voting to ‘move to the next business’ was a serious step to take and that if passed no vote would be taken on the amended resolution. A vote was taken and the proposal was carried. I voted for the proposal.
It had been a long morning and we were pleased to escape to the sunshine and lunch taken on the steps of the Albert Memorial.
The afternoon found the Board Members devoid of their ‘fascinators’ and we all settled down to listen to the winning choir, The Bleadon Belles, sing “Singing for Joy”.
There followed another live link, this time with a rural WI in Devon who are twinned with a Town WI in Cheshire.
Our first speaker of the afternoon was Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. She was amazing, interesting, entertaining and inspiring. Her message was don’t be afraid to try and aim high!
Our third and final live link was with the Heaton WI, Stockport, at the War Museum. I have to say that this was the first time that the WI had tried these live links and they worked quite well.
The General Secretary then introduced the new Board of Trustees for 2015/17. There had been 23 candidates for 12 places. Our very own Diana Birch had stood down.
Our third speaker of the day was Helena Morrissey CBE, CEO of Newton Investment Management and founder of the 30% club which advocates having at least 30% females on the Boards of large companies. Again, a very interesting person who has achieved much while bringing up 9 children.
Finally the Chair gave a round up of the day. The sentiments of the WI remain the same after 100 years. We must be prepared to change taking the WI into the future and trying to make it the best it can be. The Resolution is not lost it is an opportunity to rethink and represent. There is still six months of 2015 left to celebrate 100 years of the WI.
Finally, finally we had a fashion show by students of Kingston University London who had worked with members of the WI.
We were a very tired bunch who eventually arrived back in Brackley complete with our finger of WI Centenary Cake! Indeed a day to remember.
Deborah Gibbs, Aynho WI