Welcome to Acton Bridge Women's Institute

National Federation of Women's Institutes Annual General Meeting
Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 11 June 2003

Report by Judith Pardoe, President, Acton Bridge WI

The sun was shining and the photographers were out in force as thousands of women milled around outside the Albert Hall, all of us receiving a 'goody bag' from the sponsors of the event, Flora pro.activ. Cheshire Federation had seats in rows K and L with an excellent view of the platform, which was decorated with sunflowers.

The 82nd AGM began with Jerusalem played on the powerful Albert Hall organ by Ian Curra, Royal School of Music, this was truly awe inspiring - over three thousand women singing with real passion!

Chairman Helen Carey began by welcoming us all, including her twin sister.

The adoption of standing orders was passed unanimously.

In her Chairman's address Helen ranged over many initiatives including the survey which is presently being sent to all W.I.'s. This is most important, as it will give information about members which will enable us to target resources more effectively. Helen is of the opinion that the survey will reveal that we all enjoy travel, food and wine! However, she added that you can't generalise about W.I. - we all always full of surprises. The updated Constitution was voted on unanimously, and the Vision document will be presented to us shortly. Helen urged us to look at different ways of attracting women - even a virtual reality W.I. where women meet on the Internet.

Five members ran for W.I. in the London Marathon, they were sponsored in this Year of Health by Flora pro.activ.

Helen pointed out that fifteen hundred W.I.'s don't take even one copy of Home & Country, although this publication is a valuable way of finding out what is happening in W.I. as a whole. Information on how to take part in the debate on GM crops and food will be with us soon. On Monday 30th June, five members of Suffolk East W.I. will be taking part in University Challenge on BBC2.

The Hon. National Treasurer Jill Cobley from Devon Federation presented the 2001/02 Auditors Account for National Federation and Denman College. She was pleased to report that we now have a net inflow of 156,600 surplus rather than a deficit, which demonstrates the effectiveness of changes. There has been an increase of 52,000 in Denman College funds.

The adoption of Auditors Accounts for 2001/02 was passed. Helen thanked Jill and everyone else for their hard work in turning our fortunes around.

The appointment of Auditors Messrs Knox Johnson for 2003/04 was proposed by Gwent and passed unanimously. The Annual Review for 2001/02 was also adopted.

Resolutions on Public Affairs Issues.

Children's diets, exercise and health moved by East Witton W.I. North Yorkshire West Federation.

Sir Alexander McCrae, Chairman of National Heart Forum has evidence of furring of arteries in children as young as two years; at age twenty, as many as one in three will be affected. Poor diet consisting of chips, cakes, biscuits, salt and sugar with as many as a third of all children not having any fruit or vegetables all contribute to 'modern malnutrition'. Less time is available in school for physical activity, and the danger of children walking to school and playing outside after school reduces exercise opportunities still further. We need a raft of measures, including a concerted approach by Government and the public to restrict advertising of damaging foods to children. There is presently a Private Members Bill which will move to ban advertising of unhealthy food to children.

Imogen Sharp, Dept of Health responded that the Government provides infant formula free to a million families, plus help with breast feeding. There is free fruit for children 5/6 years in schools, but she added that some children don't even know how to peel a banana.

Lancashire Federation put forward that many members felt responsibility for nutrition lay with the parents in the home, and not solely with teachers at school. A better way would be to target young parents and teach them about good nutrition.

Guest speaker Amanda Ursell, a qualified dietician, warned that children will be dying before their parents as the diet of some children is so bad. We now seem to have "children's food" which consists of fizzy drinks, chicken nuggets, chips, etc. Children should have food to boost their health, including fish to boost brain power and freshly cooked vegetables. Food is often taken on the run, with parents finding no time to prepare food for the family. She added that if we followed the old rules of eating good basic foods, we would all be a great deal healthier, with less need to take drugs to counteract our unhealthy lifestyles.

The vote on this Resolution was passed with a 94% majority, 6,665 for, 390 against. In accordance with your wishes, I voted for the Resolution.

Resolution 2. Vocational training of young people. Moved by Gosforth W.I. Cumbria - Cumberland Federation. Seconded by Eskdale W.I.

The delegate asked "Where have all the plumbers and electricians gone?" She wished the Government had the same enthusiasm for apprenticeship schemes as it did for University places.

Our apprenticeship scheme has to be finished by age 24. Often young people take time to realise what they want to do, and therefore the age limit can prevent young people from joining the scheme. Wales has a different scheme to England called Adult Modern Apprenticeships, which allows for older people to benefit.

Gaynor Field, National Officer, Learning & Skills Council, said they have as many as 250,000 people participating in modern apprenticeships, and by 2004 they hope they will have even more places. There is more information on entry into employment on www.realworkrealpay.co.uk.

A number of people asked to speak from the floor with experiences of modern apprenticeships, some with very good feedback, others saying the paper work and jargon in the scheme were incomprehensible. Teachers and careers advisers should be more proactive in pushing modern apprenticeships, and the age limit should be removed, as many people are made redundant and would welcome a chance to start an apprenticeship later in life.

This Resolution was passed with a 99% majority, 6977 votes for and 80 against. Again I voted for the Resolution, in line with your wishes.

Barbara Gill, Chairman of Denman College, was the next speaker. She talked of the many challenges they had to turn around the deficit in the accounts. Maintaining the grounds and building to ensure that Denman remains the jewel in the W.I. crown is the priority. A decision to increase outside ventures to help with funding was promoted with a video (made by Helen's son Chris). The website has been updated, and you can now apply on line, and they also take credit cards. The college would like to refurbish the Denman mural "A Country Housewife" but so far this has not been possible. She stressed that we must all work together to secure a future of Denman College.

The Lady Denman Cup was presented to Tentcombe W.I. which is featured in the April edition of Home & Country. The Elizabeth Bell Trophy was presented to the five W.I. members who ran the London Marathon for W.I.

The Home & Country draw of 1,000 for the largest increase in subscriptions to the magazine was won by Anglesey Federation.

Lunch time brought thousands of women streaming towards the Albert Memorial to have their lunch sitting on the steps in the bright sunshine. It was amusing to watch passers-by looking on in amazement, as totally oblivious to the London traffic hurtling towards them, they ambled across the road, chatting away and stopping mid road to call back to Elsie to hurry up! Tourists had to include W.I. in their pictures of the Albert Memorial as we sat on every step available - a swarm of women.

Lunch over, we went back to work.

Care of Older People (this was changed from Care of the Elderly) moved by Sheringham Evening W.I. Norfolk. Seconded by Little Snoring W.I.

Brian House, Chief Executive of the Abbeyfield Society, spoke of the difficulties to be faced in the future, when fewer people are contributing to taxes; how are care homes to be funded? Endowment policies on homes are not viable, pensions are less than people hoped for, and older people are finding they can't support themselves in their old age, whereas the Government has always relied on the majority of people being able to do so. Volunteers and carers are getting scarcer, often due to bureaucracy.

Clare Consul, Department of Health, admitted that 50,000 care home places had been lost, but new ones are coming on stream. The Government knows that the vast majority of people want to live out their lives in their own home. Proper support is needed and the Government is putting in the funding. A delegate from Clwyd suggested that a transparent audit trail might help people to see where the funds were being spent.

Members from the floor expressed a need for better Resolutions with more room for debate, as most Resolutions are obvious.

This Resolution was adopted with a 99% majority, 7,051 for and 72 against. I voted for this Resolution, in accordance with your wishes.

Constitutional Ordinary Resolution 4. The decision of the unincorporated federations to become incorporated. Moved by the Chairman and adopted.

Guest Speaker David Mills - The Post Office.

David Mills, Chief Executive of Post Office Ltd, was mopping his brow and feigning fear that we might heckle him, as happened three years ago at Wembley to Tony Blair. He said our support has influenced Government Policy regarding getting benefit money paid at post offices, and invited delegates to e-mail him at david.j.mills@postoffice.co.uk with suggestions for maintaining the effectiveness of post office services. There are eight and a half thousand rural post offices in the country, and 150,000,000 has been budgeted over three years to underpin the finance of the rural network. In a bid to retain the post office network, post offices can be found in a variety of places, including a funeral parlour! David was thanked by Tracy Sortwell of Huntingdon.

Community Challenge.

Charlotte Foster brought us up to date. Three hundred projects have been submitted. An Activity Document will be mailed to all in June, so we can all share in worthwhile projects.

Result of Postal Ballot of Election of NFWI Board of Trustees 2003-2005.

The names were read out and members introduced by Jana Osborne, the General Secretary, as follows :

J. Cobley, Devon
B. Gill, Leics & Rutland
A. Harrison, North Yorks West
A. Jones, Anglesey
J. Langley, West Sussex
F. Mansell, Gwent
J. Pope, Norfolk
S. Roberts, Lancashire
F. Saltmarsh, Huntingdon & Peterborough
S. Peters, Cumberland West

Guest Speaker - Dr Mike Stroud.

Mike Stroud qualified as a Doctor in 1979. He has an OBE and Polar Medal.

Antarctica has no wildlife on it, but the seas around are rich in wildlife. Penguins predominate, and fortunately for them, polar bears live in the Arctic! The ice can be three miles deep in places. Dr Stroud began his journeys to the poles with the British Antarctic Survey, who needed a Doctor. This is when he started to learn about the history of exploration of the Poles, beginning with Captain Scott in 1912. Robert Swan had a vision of repeating Scott's journey, without the dying bit. Roger Mears wanted to test what was possible without any help, and succeeded in walking 900 miles. Dr Stroud didn't do any walking on his first trip, but soon after met Sir Ranulf Fiennes, who asked him to join him in a walk to the North Pole, as his original partner had dropped out. The trip raised 2.2 million for charity. We heard how on another walk of 1,800 miles there and back to the South Pole, they each lost three stones in weight, even when eating five and a half thousand calories a day. His theme was that we all have it in us to achieve far more than we think, and women especially have a great deal of stamina and fortitude on long journeys.

Closing Address:

Helen Carey thanked everyone for their support, and wished the new team all the very best. She said Community Service and local action are part of the W.I. ethos. Changing our image is up to us: Helen thinks the Calendar Girls film, out in September, will give us a great opportunity to promote ourselves, so she urges us to be ready with new ideas too, and be brave enough to change if it means we will attract new members to come and join us and 'make a difference'. We don't necessarily have to sing Jerusalem or sit in serried ranks; we must change, but still keep some of the old. To sum up the W.I. - it's about fun, enlightenment and friendship, education and empowerment. Helen said she has enjoyed her four years as Chairman. Her husband observed that if she was driving through deepest Somerset and broke down, there would be bound to be a W.I. member nearby to help her.

Helen was thanked on behalf of everyone, by Barbara Gill, from Loughborough, and received a standing ovation from the floor. Barbara has since been elected the 17th Chairman of the NFWI.

Because we had all enjoyed singing Jerusalem at the beginning, we sang it again! followed by Land of Our Fathers and God Save the Queen, a rousing end to a fantastic experience. Thank you so much for sending me as your delegate.

Judith Pardoe, June 2003

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