Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A very personal report on the AGM in Liverpool

As a WI beginner, I was a little apprehensive about my first AGM. Browsing through the agenda, I noticed not only was I expected to sing ‘Jerusalem’ (not a problem – I’d been practicing) but also ‘Land of my Fathers’ - in Welsh!

Anyway, minor concerns aside, I settled down in the Liverpool Echo Arena and surveyed the scene… My West Yorkshire posse were close by and thoroughly reassuring throughout the day. All around, women - dressed for the occasion mainly in frocks or suits, some in hats. (I felt slightly underdressed in jeans, but I am pregnant so my current wardrobe options are limited!)

The meeting kicked off with the expected rendition of Jerusalem, and was followed by a brief introduction from Ruth Bond, our chair. I was pleased to learn that the WI gained 21,000 new members last year and 102 new WI’s were created.

Financially, I learned that the WI is solvent (always a relief). There was a slight drop in income from subscriptions and advertising, but Denman College revenue and product sales were up.


We were given a quick update on current campaigns. I learned that the 2010 resolution for improved food labelling has seen some success, with many retailers signing up to a voluntary code, but the WI will continue to campaign until this is mandatory.

The ‘Care not Custody’ campaign continues to receive support from the press and government and we learned that Ken Clark has put aside five million pounds for schemes to divert mentally ill adults and young people from the courts to hospital.

The ‘Fast Fashion’ campaign tackles the issues around our desire for cheap clothes. We all like a bargain, but the flip side can be sweatshops, child labour and overflowing landfill sites - not nice. The WI suggests swishing (a Baildon Belles favourite), sewing and asking retailers what they are doing about the problem. I also have a tip: buy less but buy better (justify your humongous net-a porter order with the thought that these super-expensive designer clothes will last a lifetime).

I was also impressed to learn that Liverpool WI are supporting the ‘SOS for Honeybees’ campaign by training as beekeepers and have a hive on a city centre roof! Maybe this is something we could copy in West Yorkshire!

Also mentioned was the proposed abolition of cheques in 2016. I realise that this is a huge issue for many members and so can report that the WI believes cheques should only be abolished if a suitable alternative can be found.


We had three good speakers but my favourite by a long way was Erwin James. Having read his column in the Guardian for years, I was really looking forward to hearing him and he didn’t disappoint. He was a charming flirt with his female audience, and despite his horrible crimes, he had us all feeling sympathy and compassion for both him and his cause.

I didn’t realise he was born in Yorkshire, and was genuinely touched by his account of a tragic and neglectful childhood. Admittedly, I am a bit of a softy and my pregnancy hormones are out of control, but I had to wipe away a tear when he talked about growing up in a home in Ilkley and longing to live in a house with a family like ‘normal people’. The main message I took away was that two thirds of prisoners re-offend, and our society prefers the idea of retribution to rehabilitation.

The second speaker, Dr Rita Gardner, talked about the importance of geography, and although it was a very worthy subject, I wasn’t particularly gripped.

Sir Steve Redgrave was the final speaker, and once we’d sat through his ‘isn’t Steve Redgrave a great bloke’ promotional video, I found him reasonably interesting on the subject of Fairtrade. As well as promoting himself, he also managed to plug his own Fairtrade clothing line (available in all good stores, very reasonably priced – hmmm…) Some good stuff too though, and hopefully it reminded us all how worthwhile it is to choose Fairtrade products.


So, I’ve saved the most exciting bit until last… I expected the voting on the resolutions to be fairly staid and routine. I reckoned that the most dramatic possibility was me mixing up my colour-coded voting cards – how wrong I was!

The first resolution passed off peacefully enough, with 6097 for and only 138 against (not unexpected: it’s hard to find many people who are opposed to libraries!) Then the excitement started…

The second resolution was about proposed mega farms. We’d discussed this in advance at our meeting, and it’s fair to say that Baildon Belles and the other two WI’s I was representing were not entirely comfortable with the ambiguous wording. I think it’s reasonable to sum up our position before the AGM as being: mega farms are possibly not a good thing for animal welfare, but we’d like to know how a mega farm is defined before voting against it.

The format is to hear the person who proposed the resolution, then have an expert for and one against. Personally, I was very persuaded by the speaker for the resolution (Helen Browning – director of the Soil Association and an organic farmer herself) and didn’t really warm to the personality or arguments of the speaker against (Peter Kendal, president of the National Farmers’ Union).

Then it all started to happen. Just as I was getting ready to vote, juggling red, green and white cards in my sweaty nervous palms, chaos erupted. Person after person stood up from the floor, saying that we shouldn’t vote on such a badly worded resolution. The poor chair was not happy about this, and with obvious unease, said we had to vote. Oh, but no, the audience weren’t having any of that. In the end, a new motion was proposed by the floor, and we effectively voted not to vote on the resolution! Confused? I was!

Apparently this was the first time ever in the history of the WI that this has happened, and I was certainly excited to be there and see it unfold! From a personal viewpoint, I was happy not to have to vote. I had a feeling that if a vote had been forced, it may have gone in support of mega farms, which I felt slightly uncomfortable with given the ambiguity of the resolution.


The meeting was rounded off with a talk about Denman College and we learned a lot more about some of the brilliant courses they run. I felt so inspired that when I got home, I suggested Baildon Belles offer an annual bursary to encourage members to attend courses, and we’ve agreed to provide £300 each year to a worthy candidate.

Denman College also announced the launch of a fundraising initiative. They want us to help them sell a million cups of tea and raise £5 per member. More information on this will no doubt follow.

The meeting ended with an encouraging speech from the chair, Ruth Bond. I especially liked the quote she gave from Roosevelt: ‘The world is run by those who turn up.’

She also reminded us that the WI will be one hundred years old in 2015, and planning has already begun for the centenary celebrations.

Finally, a performance by ‘The Harmonies’, who looked great and sang very nicely, but unfortunately no longer have an agent or a record deal. Oh well, there’s always the X Factor, ladies.

  • Feeling extremely young all day*, and hearing someone loudly ask one of my West Yorkshire colleagues: ‘She’s not WI is she?” Repeat after me: ‘Oh yes I am!”
  • Being looked after by the West Yorkshire gang and sharing childbirth stories over dinner.

  • Singing ‘Land of My Fathers’ in Welsh. Sorry Wales – I was awful.

* I am quite categorically not young – I am almost 40 and my bones ache.

Sara x

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Printing, rock and roll style

Our last meeting combined old-fashioned printing with a dash of rock and roll, courtesy of Tony, star of Bradford band Terrorvision.

Tony confessed to nerves, but rose to the challenge of teaching a room full of noisy women a range of printing techniques. We carved designs in blocks of wood, chopped paper with a guillotine last seen near Marie Antoinette's head in the French Revolution, and printed our designs in old-school printing presses.

Despite some people pioneering a unique style of back-to-front text (you have to carve the letters as if seen in a mirror or your writing is the wrong way round - obvious when you think about it), the results were splendid, and we all went away clutching a handful of Easter cards.

Our next meeting is this Thursday and we'll be twirling our skirts, clicking our heels and swishing our hair like a herd of highly-strung Spanish ponies - we're learning flamenco!

See you there,

Sara x

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

We've come a long way, baby...

Today is International Women's Day, and although we've achieved a lot, there's still some way to go.

We have it pretty good in the UK, with women represented professionally at all levels, the choice to have a career or a family or both, and less and less overt sexism than in previous generations.

However, and I quote from the International Women's Day website: "The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men."

So, have a look at Lucy Mangan writing in the Guardian for a funny but (in my opinion) very true view of why we still need a 'wimmin's day', and Mariella Frostrup, writing very movingly and eloquently in the Observer.

Here's a smattering of Mariella: "The fact that 700,000 people will experience domestic violence in the UK, and 90% of them are white British females, that there are sex slaves imported daily to this country who live lives of abject terror, that equal pay is still not a reality nearly four decades after the act enshrining it was passed, that the conviction rate in rape cases still hovers around 6.5%, that only 12% of the UK's boardroom seats (as compared to Norway's 32%) are occupied by women, are just a small smattering of reasons why women's rights should remain a priority even here in the UK."

Anyway, to celebrate our achievements as women, and to give our support to women around the world who aren't as lucky as us, we're going to the pub tonight. We'll be at Twelve from 8pm - please join us!

Sara x

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

In these shoes……I don’t think so!

Recently at work, during a meeting with a client I had a wake-up call. Lately, I had been thinking that there must be more to life, something else out there – I was having a mid-feb crisis!
So, I arrived to meet my client and as I walked into his office he laughed (out loud!). I smiled (doing that trying-to-be-in-on-the-joke thing) and carried on. My client then announced that he was going to buy me a new pair of shoes.
I work in the quarrying industry advising quarry operators on planning and geology issues. I don’t work in fashion. However, when I questioned my client as to why he was going to buy me some new shoes, he said
“Well, we had a bet as to whether you would turn up with your holey shoes on and you did, so I agreed to buy you a new pair of shoes!”
At that point, I had hoped that the ground would swallow me up.

I advised my client that he didn’t need to buy me any shoes. Then I looked down at my shoes, really looked at them and they were shocking! They were old and tatty but I thought that as I work in an industry full of men who wear overalls all day, who’s really going to notice! When I meet with professionals (or women) I wear my nice shoes! But somebody did notice and I was mortified.
That’s when I decided that walking in the same pair of (holey) shoes does get hard after a while and every now and then, it can make you feel a bit miserable. So I decided to change things. I instantly went on the Internet and bought a new pair of shoes– I needed them. I also bought some stilettos (which I didn’t need). I’ll probably never wear them and will have to bring them to the next swish party, but they are fabulous! All the same, it made me feel a bit more optimistic.
Somebody once said “A pair of shoes can change your life - just ask Cinderella”…….well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?
Jessica x

Monday, 31 January 2011

Vintage fashion and cocktails!


Our meeting last Thursday was a vintage-lovers dream. Caroline Brown from the House of Rose and Brown in Saltaire talked about her life, her shop and her passion for vintage.

We now know that to be vintage, clothes have to be at least 25 years old (murmur of shock from the audience as it dawned on us that half our wardrobe is 'vintage': i.e. not been cleared out since the eighties). We also know to avoid fakes by looking out for hand-stitched labels and double-interlocked hems (or something).

Caroline then gave us a sneak preview of the new stuff she'd brought for her fashion fair on Saturday. We fell over each other to try it on and then bought most of it. Highlights included a dress printed with boats and automobiles purchased by Diana, a fabulous red taffeta cocktail dress grabbed by Sally, a sequinned butterfly top to Sam and umm... a silver lurex bolero to me (not too sure I'll get that much wear out of it...)

The committee and helpers made jugs of cocktails (raspberry cosmopolitans and old-fashioned) and we munched on vintage-style cupcakes. We ended the night with even more cocktails in the pub afterwards. All in all, a great meeting and a brilliant start to 2011!

Sara x

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Inspiring Women

Hello and welcome to our blog!

For our first post, we've been mulling over the WI motto of 'Inspiring Women'. Everyone needs a role model (or several) to remind us what we can achieve, or just to make us feel good about the way we are. So who are the women that you find inspirational?

I've kicked off with my own list of inspiring women, and I hope you'll send me yours. In no particular order, here goes:

1) Vivienne Westwood (for eccentricity in old age and a recent conversion to eco-warrior))
2) PJ Harvey (for being an amazing musician with incredible style)
3) Shami Chakrabarti (Director of Liberty - the civil liberties group, not the shop)
4) Mary Portas (strong, stylish, successful, despite a really difficult childhood)
5) Peggy Olsen from Mad Men (yes: I know she's not a real person)
6) Hadley Freeman (my favourite Guardian journalist)
7) Claire Rayner (for frank advice as an agony aunt and generally working for women's causes)
8) Jo Brand (funny, feminist and feisty and seems like a really nice person)
9) Camilla Batmanghelidjh (founder of Kids Company)
10) Kate Moss (for looking cool without trying)

Don't be shy: email me your own list of inspiring women and we'll add it to the blog.

Sara x