NFWI Annual Meeting 2019 – Delegate’s Report

NFWI AM Bournemouth 2019

Delegates Report by Dinah Barrand (Bognor Regis WI)

This was my first experience of a National Federation Annual Meeting and I was really looking forward to attending, despite being slightly nervous about the responsibility of acting as delegate for Bognor Regis, LA Ladies, BRAS and Rustington WI’s.

I travelled the day before on the West Sussex coach from Chichester with the other delegates, a good chance to get to know each other. ‘Check in’, at the modern hotel on the edge of Bournemouth, was well organised and we all had large, comfortable rooms. The beds were huge and Melanie needed a step to get into hers. There were a couple of hours to spare before dinner and some of us fancied a quick swim in the hotel pool. Unfortunately Jan and I hadn’t taken costumes but we’d spied a Tesco sign near the hotel. After a longer trek than we’d thought we managed to buy £5 swimsuits from the sale rail, which enabled us to enjoy the lovely pool.

Dinner in the hotel was not inspiring. They served a large chunk of cold and solid bread and butter pudding for dessert. Collecting the uneaten plates the waiter asked what was wrong and we explained that bread and butter pudding should be served warm. A message came back from the chef that we were wrong and it should be cold. We explained in no uncertain terms that we were the WI and he was the one in the wrong! Bowls of ice cream were quickly sent out. After the meal Melanie briefed us on our role at the meeting the next day and I was happy to get an early night.

Arriving at the International Conference Centre the next morning the foyer was a crowded, excited chatter of WI ladies. There were lots of stands to browse before we took our seats. There was an unfortunate incident when 3 ladies toppled like a deck of cards backwards down the escalator. Luckily, despite a visit to hospital, they all escaped with bumps and bruises. A hall full of 4000 WI ladies was an impressive sight and there was a buzz of chatter with old and new friends. I was looking forward to singing Jerusalem ‘en masse’ and wasn’t disappointed – a stand out moment.

There was a packed programme and I wrote copious notes but having just seen the latest WI Life all the details are there and so I’m not going to repeat too much of that information. There are also transcripts of the speeches on MYWI.

Lynn Stubbings, National Chair, opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and giving an inspiring speech about the many activities that National have been involved in this year. She based her talk around the four ideals of the Constitution – fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice, asking everyone to reflect on these values. She spoke about the sport initiatives – Walking Netball and Bowls; the Study days at the National Gallery and the ongoing Campaigns.

This was followed by a financial report from the Honorary Treasurer Julia Roberts, the overall message being that the finances are in good shape.

Ann Jones the Vice Chair spoke on behalf of the Public Affairs team and showed a film about ‘Climate Ambassadors’. WI members who campaign in their local communities. There’s training and support for any WI member who would like to get involved.

It was then time for the first Resolution about the decline in local bus services to be discussed. This Resolution was proposed by Jackie Housham. She spoke clearly about buses as a lifeline. All the speakers impressed me – it must be nerve racking addressing such a large audience. Darren Shirley from ‘Campaign for Better Transport’ urged delegates to support the Resolution as the strength of the WI’s backing could be an important catalyst. Paul Buchanan, a transport expert, argued against the motion. He appeared quite nervous, maybe realising that his message was not being well received. His main argument was that technology could provide alternative solutions such as shared taxis. Discussion from the floor was in support of the Resolution with personal stories from WI members. More than 96%of delegates voted to pass the Resolution.

This was turning into a long morning and by the time the Guest speaker, The Right Honourable The Lord Bradley PC, took to the floor many of us were distracted by thoughts of lunch. Unfortunately he wasn’t the most engaging Speaker giving a dry account of the progress over the last 10 years of the Care not Custody coalition.

Lynn then presented prizes for various WI competitions before breaking for lunch.

We were keen to get some fresh air and meet up with the others from BRWI. We had a lovely walk along the front together with thousands of other WI members. Many ventured on the beach and despite the windy weather several went in the sea.

The afternoon was livelier. The expert Speaker for the ‘Don’t Fear the Smear’ Resolution was Rob Music, CEO of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. NFWI had been unable to secure anyone to speak against the Resolution and so a Board member outlined a possible case. There were emotional accounts from members about the devastation of the illness during the debate. It was no surprise that 97% of delegates voted in support.

Maggie Philbin OBE known for her TV work from Tomorrows World to Bang Goes the Theory gave an amusing and informative talk. She now runs Teen Tech, working with schools to encourage young people to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) with a view to working in Technology.

The afternoon came to a close with an inspirational film showing highlights of our WI year from craft days to sports tournaments, campaign marches to fetes. The soundtrack ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ had lots on their feet, singing along. It made me feel privileged to be part of such a great organization.

The Bognor Regis WI contingent!

Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and well organized day. Next year it’s being held in London and I hope to be there.

Dinah Barrand