Power of the WI in evidence at annual WI meeting in Bournemouth

PUBLISHED: 09:56 09 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:56 09 June 2019

WI annual conference in Bournemouth

WI annual conference in Bournemouth


Margaret Collingwood of the Norfolk WI reports from the federation’s National Annual Meeting in Bournemouth

WI annual conference in BournemouthWI annual conference in Bournemouth

Four members of the Norfolk Federation of WIs set off for the National Annual Meeting in Bournemouth as solo travellers and returned with 76 new friends. These 80 members were representing the 152 WIs in Norfolk at this meeting - one of the highlights of the WIs calendar year.

Bournemouth was full of sunshine and laughter, both inside the International Conference Centre, and out, as 4,000 WI members gathered to celebrate the wonderful organisation that is the WI.

In the main foyer was a busy information fair, with stalls ranging from campaign information, craft ideas and digital updates, but the main business of the day took place in the arena.

Every member of every WI has their say each year on the important issues that need debating, and we vote on these issues at the annual meeting. In 2008 a resolution proposed by a Norfolk member called Care Not Custody was passed, 
enabling the WI to campaign on this important issue. The first headline speaker at this year's annual meeting was the Rt Hon. Lord Bradley of Withington, chair of the Care Not Custody Coalition, a national organisation. We were delighted to learn that in the last 10 years 92% of liaison and diversion services are working in the criminal justice system throughout the UK, and by 
the end of the year this will be 100%. We feel very proud to have started this process, here in Norfolk. The debates for this year centred on two proposed campaigns. The first was "A call against the decline in local bus services". Following the successful result of the voting on this resolution today, WI members will be calling on the Government to tackle the huge cuts in local bus services, predominantly across rural areas.

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This resolution is very dear to Norfolk members' hearts. The Federation acts as the independent Chair of the Norfolk Bus Forum and Mary Dorrell, a Norfolk trustee, is the current chairman. While Norfolk is generally well served by buses compared to some areas, in a county the size of ours difficult choices have to be made about investment in routes. The Federation are concerned that these may be made on the basis of economic added value rather than peoples' well-being. We welcome any campaign that recognises the impact that changes to bus services can have on people's access to services, their social inclusion or isolation. This all ties in with previous national campaigns that are concerned with mental health and alleviating loneliness.

The second resolution Don't Fear the Smear, calls on WI members to tackle some of the barriers preventing many women attending cervical screening, by raising awareness of the screening programme and the benefits of attending. It is estimated that cervical screening currently prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths. However, this figure could be 83% if all eligible women attended. Rob Music, CEO of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust told us that if we can eradicate this disease "lives won't be lost and families devastated". Both resolutions were passed by a vast majority, and information will soon be sent out to WIs and the campaigning can begin. I was pleased to be invited to join the National Board of Trustees at lunch, when I was presented with the Federation's Centenary Certificate, although a little sad not to be joining my fellow members for an impromptu picnic on the beach.

We all looked forward to Maggie Philbin, broadcaster and CEO of the award-winning organisation Teentech, who was the headline speaker in the afternoon. We remembered her from her days of Swap Shop and Tomorrow's World. The main focus of her talk was to introduce her work with TeenTech, bringing together schools and leading industry technology mentors. The 4,000 women in attendance were not fazed by a story of teenage boys who proposed a project to develop a condom which changed colour according to the STD it came across!

As ever, the meeting finished with a rousing chorus of Jerusalem and I echo the sentiments of Lynne Stubbings, chair of the National Federation, when she said it had been a fantastic day and wonderful to see so many WI members coming together in Bournemouth.

Tired but happy, we returned to our hotel for drinks, dinner and the camaraderie that only the WI can offer.

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