One of our fab committee members, Bex, went to a WI convention at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in March. She had a fantastic day and has written this blog post to share it with us....
It was 05:30 on a misty Saturday in March. I was seriously questioning my decision to book an early train to London but little did I know quite what the day had in store. From coffee, cake and conversation to suffrage, solidarity blankets, swans and security guards, it all had one thing in common: I wouldn’t have experienced any of it if I hadn’t joined the WI!
The Royal Albert Hall organised the three-part talk, entitled ‘The WI: Past, Present, Future’, as part of its ‘Women and the Hall’ and ‘Talks and Screenings’ series. Members from across the country joined together in the striking North Circle Bar for three inspiring and informative talks from three wonderful WI women:
It’s quite well-known that early leaders of the Women’s Institute were also involved in the suffrage movement. So it’s no surprise that one of the primary aims of the Women’s Institute was to give women the tools to become partakers of public life. Lady Gertrude Denman, national chairman, wrote ‘Procedure at Meetings’ to teach members how to run meetings – it’s apparently a very serious book!
Democracy and self-governance is at the heart of the WI.
In fact, WIs were voting by secret ballot at a time when Parish councils were not!
The jam and Jerusalem stereotype doesn’t do justice to the hard work the WI puts in to campaigning on important issues and there’s no shying away from tricky issues. The first resolution was encouraging adequate and affordable housing, the second was in favour of female representation on Parish and District councils, and by 1922 the WI was raising awareness of venereal disease, then campaigning for research into AIDs and HIV in the 1980s.
This longstanding tradition of campaigning remains relevant today with 2017 resolutions on Plastic Soup and Alleviating Loneliness. A number of newer WIs are embracing “Craftivism” – the combination of craft and activism – to raise awareness and bring women together. The Shoreditch Sisters’ have some great examples and channel the media attention they receive into raising awareness and promoting the causes they believe in: in 2008/9 they took part in Tara Scott’s ‘Embroideries’ campaign and created a vulva quilt to raise awareness of FGM. More recently Shoreditch Sisters have created a solidarity blanket to not only raise awareness but also to stand in solidarity with the women being held in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. This year they’re working with Bloody Good Period, a charity which provides menstrual supplies for asylum seekers, refugees and others who can’t afford them.
I’ll finish with one of my favourite anecdotes of the session: how Lynne Stubbings, NFWI Chair, ended up joining the WI. Lynne told us how she’d moved to a new town and was invited to go along to a WI meeting. Reluctantly, she attended with the intention of getting to know a few people and slipping away, but 38 years and a few months later…. She’s not only still a member but NFWI Chair. There have been plenty of other roles at local, federation and national level, and lots of training to go along with it between those two points. What a motivating and relatable story!
I left the session feeling immensely proud to be part of such a wonderful organisation and inspired to play my part in its future. It was a day of trios and there were 3 key aspects of the WI which really resonate with me:
As for the swans and security guards… that’s another story for another blog post!