An NFWI Annual Meeting Delegate’s View

NFWI Chair, Ann Jones

Carole Edwards, a member of Bude WI, attended the NFWI Annual Meeting as a delegate, representing her own WI, Marhamchurch WI, Morwenstow WI and Week St Mary Bonadventures WI. Carole wrote the following first-hand account of her experience at the Liverpool meeting, and we thought you might like to hear about it:

If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to attend the National Federation of WI’s annual conference, do go. Many delegates attended ‘virtually’ this year, and although they could watch all the speakers they missed the ‘buzz’, the atmosphere, the dynamics of 3,000 like minded women. We won’t mention the drive, but we were all sat in comfortable coach seats and were greeted at our hotel with clean en-suite rooms and a well organised evening meal.

After a comfortable sleep, the Cornwall delegates all met in the hotel foyer and walked to the conference venue. A coach was available for anyone who preferred to ride. The meeting was opened by National Federation Chair, Ann Jones.

The morning meeting was the business part of the conference, with the introduction of guests and adoption of standing orders. This was followed by NFWI Chair Ann Jones who outlined some of the challenges caused by the pandemic, including financial pressures. On the plus side, the last year has seen 26,343 new members within the National Federation. It was pointed out that the subscription has been frozen for the second year. No woman should find the membership fee a barrier to membership. The move to 96% on line mailing has saved £50,000 a year. 25% of the membership are using My WI and 25% using MCS. (This is the on line membership mailing list). The final sale of Denman has been completed. Taw and Tavy WI asked how the money will be spent? The answer was confirmed to be a new educational model for the Denman trust. The aspirations remain, as in 1944. There is to be a new recruitment competition, with the chance to win £200. The current Trustees were then introduced and the Treasurer outlined the financial transactions. Full details are forwarded to each WI. One good point, a request to remember the WI in our will. In the last year over £46,000 was received from legacies.

‘Washing line’ showing the impact of microplastics

Kate Garbers of Exeter University and The Charity ‘Unseen’, spoke on Modern Slavery and warned everyone how to spot the signs. There are many types of slavery, of both immigrants and British nationals, forced labour, domestic servitude, crime exploitation, organ harvesting, bondage (a cycle of debt). The signs to spot are : unkempt appearance, nervousness, clothing inappropriate for type of work, only travel with others and always picked up. Always report your suspicions to Modern Slavery Helpline, 08000124700, or the police on 101. Wallet cards are available from the writer.

The meeting then closed for a one hour lunch break.

The lunch break was a good opportunity to visit the many stalls, some detailing the up to date position of various previous resolutions, including a washing line (see photo), which details all the micro plastics which ‘fall’ out of clothes during washing. Chatted with many other delegates and back in my seat for the prompt start of the afternoon session.

The Resolution, Women and Girls with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), under-identified, under-diagnosed, misdiagnosed, under-supported. Women and girls presenting with ASD and ADHD are going undiagnosed. The NFWI calls on Government and funding bodies to fund research into female presentations of ASD and ADHD, and for action to be taken to improve the diagnosis process for women and girls, to ensure that they are equipped to better manage these conditions and do not suffer in silence. The NFWI further calls on WI members to raise awareness within their WIs of the issues facing women and girls with ASD and ADHD.

A wide ranging resolution which was proposed by WI members Alison Long and seconded by Rebecca; both women have had difficulty in getting their neuro differences recognised. Both made the statement that knowledge is power. The expert speaking for the resolution was Professor Frances Williams, professor of Genomic Epidemiology at Kings College, London. She explained that females are less likely to be diagnosed with neuro-diversity as all models and experiments are based on the male. Most women and girls with ASD and ADHD are more likely to have eating disorders and suffer from depression than those on the ‘normal spectrum’. Speaking against the Resolution was Professor Gillie Russell from Exeter University. She explained she was not against the essence of the resolution, only the wording. She did not like the word ‘diagnosed’. She thought a wider permissible range of what is normal, obtained from a new, redesigned model and better support is the best way forward.

The vote was then taken. I had 4 votes for the motion as requested by the 4 link WIs. At the end of the conference we learnt that the Resolution had been carried by 96.5% of the 3,000 delegates voting in favour of the Resolution.

Various awards were presented, the Lady Denman Cup (let me show you what women can do) to Janet Grey of Devon federation, the Huxley Cup to Hexham Town, Northumberland. The WIs who have celebrated their centenaries over the last year were announced.

Sarah Clarke, OBE, Black Rod

The main speaker was then introduced. This was Sarah Clarke, OBE who is Black Rod. Sarah does not do after dinner speaking, but when the invitation to speak at the WI conference was received she knew she had to accept, otherwise, her mother, a long time WI member would be very annoyed. She spoke of her youth and what had led her where she is now. Against her parents’ advice she took a degree in Events Management and Sport, working in her holidays as a ball girl at Wimbledon. She has held roles at four Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport, becoming the Championships Director at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where she was responsible for the organisation of The Championships, Wimbledon.

Sarah Clarke is the first woman to be appointed to the role of Black Rod in its 650-year history. As such, she will be known as The Lady Usher of the Black Rod. Black Rod is appointed by the Monarch on the recommendation of a selection panel chaired by the Lord Speaker. Black Rod is a senior official in the House of Lords who, as well as their famous role in summoning the House of Commons to hear the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, heads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers. Black Rod also leads on business resilience and continuity planning for the House of Lords.

She explained that you must walk your own path, listen to yourself and don’t be afraid to be cautious and bold, and everyone needs a critical friend, someone who will tell you the truth as they see it.

Sarah was a truly inspirational speaker, an inspirational woman. She was thanked by the Vice Chair, Yvonne Price.

The meeting closed at 4.30pm and most members of the Cornwall delegation enjoyed an Italian meal, eye opening scenes in lively, very friendly, Liverpool, a comfortable nights sleep and a fairly swift coach ride back to Cornwall.

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