Friday, 10 June 2011


Just back from a two day trip to Liverpool were I attended the NFWI AGM along with more than 4,500 other women.

I travelled to Liverpool with the crowd from Suffolk West, delegates and observers. Tuesday afternoon we took a ferry across the Mersey, and back! Must admit we didn't do much singing, but it was a lovely afternoon. Unfortunately it did rain on the way back towards Liverpool, but it dried up and the sun came out as we arrived back on the Pier Head. Our group were staying in an hotel near the airport so after the ferry trip the coach then took them to their overnight accommodation. As I had booked late I was staying in a different hotel and took the opportunity to explore Liverpool.

I  managed to visit a gallery in the Walker Art Gallery, and saw the exhibition 'Dare to Wear' Dresses and corsets made of glass.

 From there I walked to   Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral which is known locally as Paddy's Wigwam.

My walk then took my along Hope Street, a road lined with beautiful large houses, many of which are now boutique hotels and restaurants.,_Liverpool

Anglican Cathedral
I continued until I came to the Anglican Cathedral, much darker and somber compared to the more modern Catholic Cathedral. It is situated high up above the city with magnificent views towards the Mersey. Also along side it is the graveyard with is deep down in what appears to be a quarried area.

I continued my walk back into the city centre - there was so much more to see but by this time the feet were feeling just a bit tired. Definitely need to return to do some more site seeing.

I went into the Albert Dock area in the evening is search of a restaurant. The Albert Dock has  been regenerated, and now has restaurants, bars, hotels and galleries. Every bar and restaurant was full of women, yes WI members everywhere. The waitress in the restaurant said she had never seen so many women in the place. Over dinner I chatted with three women from Sussex.

Yesterday morning needed yet another early start. Shared a breakfast table with women from Worcestershire Federation, before heading off to buy a picnic lunch for later in the day. Then it was off to the Echo Arena for the AGM.

Coaches were pulling up at the drop off point and swarms of women were closing in on the various entrances to the building. Quite an operation to get 4,500 people in to their seats. I queued up on the riverside with friends from Suffolk East Federation. Luckily everything was really well organized and it didn't take long to get in. It was quite a breezy spot on the banks of the Mersey.

Echo Arena Liverpool
The meeting got off to a good start with the singing of Jerusalem. Ruth Bond, National Chairman, then spoke about her two years in office, giving details of some of the events she attended in her first week. She explained that she spends a great deal of time away from home and even on the days she does get home she often arrives home very late. A comfy pair of shoes are essential as she often has to dash from one event to another. Ruth explained that in 2015 the WI will be celebrating its centenary and they hope to hire the O2 Arena in London, but as this will be a very expensive venue tickets will cost more and they will need 15,000 women to fill it, is it possible? She would like feed back. Despite meeting many famous and influential people she stressed that she and the other members of the Board of Trustees are just ordinary women like all WI members. She spoke passionately about sisterhood and friendship in the WI.

Aleathia Mann, Honorary Treasurer, then presented the financial statement. She was pleased that membership continues to rise as many of our costs are increasing but as many are fixed costs an increase in membership does really help with increasing funds.

The first guest speaker of the day was Erwin James, Guardian columnist and former prison inmate. He spoke clearly and without notes, giving us an insight into his upbringing and subsequent conviction for murder. He explained that he had taken the opportunity offered to him in prison to continue his education and found that for once in his life he found something he was really good at, English language and literature. He was encouraged to take a course in Journalism and he obtained his degree through the Open University. While still inside he began writing a column for the Guardian Newspaper. Since his release from prison he has continued to write a column and has written several books. He has also become involved with the Prison Reform Trust and is one of their trustees.

Marylyn Haines-Evans, Chair of the NFWI PA Committee gave an update on the campaigns, see her report on the NFWI website link below.

The debate of the resolution, Closure of Local Libraries then started with expert speakers both for and against. Once the debate hit the floor, it did seem as though most members were more concerned about literacy, possibly something to do with the guest speaker, but still did make one consider if we had the correct resolution. After an orderly debate the voting took place and the result would be announced later in the day after the count had been confirmed.

We then had an update on Denman College by Anne Harrison, NFWI vice chairman and Chair of Denman College.  Anne explained that there had been extensive renovation works in the guest accommodation and that the shop and reception areas had been changed and improved. She then went on to explain that the heating system in the house were approximately 80 years old and in desperate need of replacements. Plans are being made to install Photovoltaic Cells and a new heating system, but this will be a very expensive project. She has asked all members to help raise the funds to finance this project, by selling cups of tea for £1. She would like us to have tea/coffee mornings selling cups of tea/coffee at £1, inviting friends and family. If we all do just a bit, we should be able to raise the necessary funds quite quickly, so if I invite you around for a cuppa, don't forget to bring some cash with you.

After a sandwich lunch outside the arena with Julie, our Federation Secretary, the afternoon session continued with the introduction of the new NFWI Trustees.

The meeting then went on to the debate on the second resolution on Proposed Mega Farms. 
Helen Browning
We had two very good speakers on the subject, Helen Browning, Director of the Soil Association spoke first. She is an organic tenant farmer, with 1,300 acres, with a mix of livestock, dairy and  beef cattle, pigs and arable land. She spoke really well and was very passionate about farming, but does believe that farmers do need to expand to be profitable. When she and her father started farming a farm needed either 100 milking cows or 100 acres of arable land to support a family. She thinks the same applies today, her farms supports one family per 100 acres of land.

Peter Kendell
Then the NFU president spoke and again gave a very powerful argument this time against the resolution. The debate continued from the floor and all seemed to be well until the chairman announced it was time to vote. At which point one of the members got to the floor and asked for the meeting to move on to the next agenda item. After some confusion, as the microphones had been switched off, she was finally allowed on to the stage to make the proposal that the meeting move on to the next item. The purpose of this was that the feeling in the hall was that the resolution was very badly worded and if it were voted on would either leave us with a resolution which may back fire on the WI if passed or if rejected would mean we would not be able to redraft it and present it again in the near future. By passing it over means that if the WI feel strongly about the topic it can be reworded and presented to the meeting at a future time.
After this was proposed a seconder came forward and again there was a debate from the floor. By this time the atmosphere was electric and the delegates sitting around me were asking if this happened every year, no - this was quite unusual. The proposal was passed with a large majority and much pleasure from the members.

Here are links to the soil association the NFU with their comments on our meeting.
Dr Rita Gardner

After all this excitement we than had another very interesting presentation by Dr. Rita Gardner, CBE, Director of The Royal Geographical Society. She gave an illustrated talk on landscapes and was both entertaining and informative. 

The final guest speaker was Sir Steven Redgrave, he had been invited to speak in his role as Fair-trade Ambassador. We watched films one about his time as a sportsman and another about his work sourcing fair-trade cotton for his clothing line. He then spoke a little about Fair-trade. Unfortunately after so many excellent speakers he really wasn't very good. He had not prepared his talk and kept stumbling over his words and kept repeating himself. One good point was that he hasn't been lucky in the ticket ballot so no Olympic tickets for his family as yet, so in that respect he was just like the rest of us.

As you can read, it was a busy few days in Liverpool, but very enjoyable. A Yorkshire born girl, living in Suffolk, had supper with women from Sussex, breakfast with Worcestershire, queued with Suffolk East, met fellow Women reaching Women promoters from Somerset, Jersey, Berkshire and Huntingdon chatted to Somerset and Anglesea and sat in the arean amongst a friendly group from Lancashire. Of course mustn't forget the coach load of friends from Suffolk West.
I am sorry if I have missed out anyone from another county.

If you would like to read more about our AGM click on this link.

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