President’s Address 2020

When I said yes to the question “Will you be President” I had no idea what lay ahead. 

It was a bit like saying yes to my ex-husband’s proposal, it didn’t pan out as I thought it would but I don’t regret either.

I’ve looked back at what I said at the beginning of my first meeting last November. 

“As a WI need to continue to move forward with new ideas, new directions and recruiting new members building upon the legacy of the last 10 years. With a big nod to Dinah and the last committee we will continue with the Bits on the Side and the green/eco-friendly agenda and we need to be seen in the community.”

It all started quite well, as a committee we had a bit of a team build in Sarah’s craft room going through the Christmas crafting evening planned for November. Sarah commented “Sue is showing us how not to do it, she’s obviously not listened”. If crafting was a prerequisite of being a President, I certainly wouldn’t be in front of you tonight.

The committee really bonded as a team in December pulling together the Christmas party and I felt myself relaxing a bit as I talked at the end of the meeting. 

As your new President I was encouraged by your support of proposals I made extending our support of our local charities into a second year and our WI stepping away from the South Rife Group.

So far so good…. 

January saw the departure of some friends who decided not to renew their subscriptions and the arrival of new members.  New members bring with them new thoughts, ideas and experience and that’s key to ensuring the continued growth of a WI.

Plans were a foot for Bits on the Side, coffee mornings were running, the sub groups were meeting up, the walkers were walking, the netballers were net balling.

Big thanks to Sarah who started her new upcycling sub group (even I managed to make a bag out of a t-shirt)

Those members who came to the February meeting found themselves not only involved in the challenge of life drawing but my own personal challenge as your model.

I cannot thank you enough for the reception I got when I walked in after telling you a little white lie that the model was running late. No one walked out my biggest worry!! 

As I said at the time please take it as a compliment to you all that I felt comfortable enough to bare all in front of you all.

Thank you for the kind, supportive messages after and to Katie for organising the collection of drawings as a birthday surprise.

None of us realised as we left the hall that evening that would be the last time our WI would meet although I assure you, we will meet again, as soon as we are allowed.

A week later my mother passed away and I thank the committee and those members who supported me during that difficult time.

2 days after the funeral I found myself on a WhatsApp chat with the committee on a Sunday morning trying to make the decision as to whether the March meeting would go ahead the following Tuesday.

My head was all over the place, I couldn’t think straight and whilst the cancellation message came from me, it was the committee who came together and made that decision, the right decision. To be honest, it was a relief, I think I would have crashed and burnt if I’d had to front that meeting.

A week later we were in Lockdown and what does a WI do in Lockdown? I couldn’t find that manual but what we did was we kept in contact and supported each other. 

The telephone team was key in those Lockdown days, we chatted, found out who needed shopping, prescriptions picking up, who had run out of books and I even sourced some rotted horse manure for a member. 

My thanks to Debbie, Karen, Jan and Georgette who took their turn on the phones but special thanks to Chris Hunter, Joyce, Gina and Kate who were on the team all the way through with me.

I once said I’d only be President when I knew every member’s name. We all agreed that we got to know members and found out so much as a result of those phone calls. 

Well done to Kate who whilst talking to Jan Aitchison, found out she had website experience and recruited her as another web admin, joining herself and Karen who’d also agreed to be an admin earlier in the year. My thanks to you all and also all of you who’ve contributed to the website via your words and photos.

One of our WIs biggest success over the past couple of years is the Walking Netball group providing fun, laughter, friendship with a bit of exercise. My thanks to Annie who has recently stepped down as organiser of the group and to Sue Gooch who has volunteered to take over. Annie showed great energy and commitment to the group and regularly promoted the benefits of Walking Netball.

 Additional thanks to Ann McLean the group coach who has been tenacious in her pursuit of Netball England to get the group net balling again.

The past 7 months have seen our sub group leaders looking for alternative ways for groups to stay in touch and meet up, thanks to you all.

Particular thanks to Jan Marsden who has upped the ante on her walks with weekly rather than monthly walks. She has spent a lot of time pre walking and planning ensuring they conform to government restrictions and in addition WI guidelines. Members have really welcomed the opportunity to catch up and walks paths they didn’t know existed.

Like myself, the committee didn’t expect to find themselves in this surreal committee world. Their support has been so welcome and vital to me on a personal level. It’s really disappointing that all their suggestions and time planning events have not come into fruition. But they are there ready and waiting for the new normal.

Lesley re-joined committee last year bringing a reinvented edition of the Buzz with her. Unfortunately, she had to step down from committee in June due to the increased working hours health professionals have had to endure. My thanks for her commitment and input.

In her place Georgette was elected to committee and brings with her previous experience of being a WI secretary and on the Middlesex Federation Board.

Debbie steps down from committee this evening, her second time on committee. This time firstly booking and looking after speakers and this year as Secretary. She has a great organisational ability and gift for writing minutes. Her support has been invaluable to me as President and on a personal level. That week after the cancellation of the March meeting I was on my knees and she told me to take a step back for a couple of days and she would look after things. I took her advice and think I slept for a couple of days. Thank you, Debbie.

Joyce, Sarah, Chris, Kathryn and Georgette have agreed to stay on committee with me and once again I thank them all.

So where do we go from here? I honestly can’t see us being able to meet until possibly April so we need to embrace Zoom. Our monthly meetings will include Zoom speakers who I hope will engage and entertain you.

There will be opportunities to get together in groups of 6, fingers crossed restrictions do not change as soon as I say this.

The committee and myself will continue to look for ways to keep you engaged and in contact BUT as I so often say this is your WI and we need your input and suggestions.

Talk to us, tell us what you would like to see, bring us your thoughts and idea.

We are a strong WI with officers and a committee happy to continue in those roles. There are a number of WIs lacking that commitment and possibly won’t survive these surreal times. We are not in that position and I will strive to ensure we retain our position and our members.

It just remains for me to thank Debbie for putting together the excellent Committee Report and ask for any questions on the report. I therefore propose the report is adopted and ask for a show of hands for your agreement.

Sue Harris