Antarctic pioneer tells of chilly challenges at Norfolk Federation Women’s Institute annual general meeting in Norwich

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity Aston MBE. Felicity is pictured with Wendy Adams. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The physical feat of crossing the wilds of Antarctica alone was nothing compared to the mental and emotional challenges of a living in an isolated community for years on end, according to explorer Felicty Aston.

Ms Aston, 39, has spoken about her experiences on the southernmost continent at Norwich's St Andrew's Hall today (Tuesday, March 28) as part of the Norfolk Federation Women's Institute's annual general meeting.

She said: 'It's such a special place, and it's my pleasure to share that experience with people who may never get the chance to experience it for themselves.

'The biggest challenge was the fact that you are in a small community of about 20 or so over the Antarctic winter, which last for seven months. And you are completely cut off over that time.'

Ms Aston, 39, spent a continuous three summers and two winters in Antarctica, and became the first woman in the world to ski across the continent alone.

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity Aston MBE. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan


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She was the keynote speaker at the AGM, which attracted more than 600 women from across Norfolk.

Wendy Adams, federation chairman, said she was delighted with Ms Aston's appearance at the event.

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She said: 'She's such a role model for women. She has achieved some wonderful things in what is such a hostile environment, so it's fascinating to listen to her speak.'

Mary Dorrell, a federation trustee, said the WI's membership was growing and the charity remained as relevant as ever.

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity Aston MBE. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

She said: 'It's a place where you can have fun, make friends and learn about all sorts of new skills - everything from walking netball to public speaking.'

Mrs Dorrell said the WI also had real influence and could campaign on a variety of issues.

She said: 'If the WI speaks out about something, people do listen.

'For example, we've just met with the Norfolk Bus Forum to talk about how to improve services for people going to and from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.'

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity Aston MBE. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Planning has already begun for the federation's centenary celebrations in two years' time, which will mark 100 years since it was formed in 1919.

Other speakers at the AGM included Sarah Cross from the JonEgging Trust, which promotes teamwork and leadership among 13 to 16-year-olds, and Jane Whitbread from the charity Schoolreaders.

Life at the limit

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity

The Women's Institute AGM at St Andrews Hall in Norwich where one of the guest speakers is Felicity Aston MBE. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Ms Aston doesn't like to say no to a challenge.

The explorer and former climate scientist has pushed herself to the limit in some of the world's harshest environments and has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her efforts.

In addition to her Antarctic exploits, Ms Aston was part of the first all-female team to race across the Arctic Canada in an event called the Polar Challenge, and she was part of the first all-female British expedition across the Greenland ice sheet.

She has also walked across the ice of Lake Baikal and competed in the gruelling Marathon des Sables, which involves running six marathons in six days in the blistering heat of southern Morocco.

Ms Aston now splits her time between the UK and her new home in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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