The WI AGM 2011 – Liverpool Echo Arena

Thursday, 9 June 2011 § 0

On Wednesday, June 8th, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes held its Annual General Meeting at the Liverpool Echo Arena.
WI members at the Liverpool Echo Arena

Around 4,500 members attended the event, including Buns & Roses Vice President Gemma Rathbone, who gives us her account of the day.
West Yorkshire at the National AGM
I was asked to attend the AGM alongside the press team, so that the media would have a member on-hand to talk to. As it turned out, those present were mostly interested in the farming resolution, so I didn’t have to do much, but it was still an excellent day and it was good to be “backstage” and see both sides of such a huge event.
As with many WI meetings, proceedings started with the singing of Jerusalem. Hearing all those women belting out “I will not cease, from mental fight” was so powerful and moving.
Singing Jerusalem
Chair Ruth Bond then addressed the meeting, speaking on the strength of the WI (21,000 new members in the past year) and the importance and influence that we have as an organisation.
We heard a financial report and it was interesting to realise the similarities between our own Institute and the National Federation. We both face the same challenges, just on different scales!
There was also mention of the proposed abolition of cheques, as this is something the WI is concerned about.
The WI Board members on stage
Erwin James was the first guest speaker of the day. Now a Guardian writer, Erwin had a difficult start, leaving home at just 10 years old and turning to a life of crime. Jailed for murder, his time in prison was a turning point, and helped him make a better life for himself. In light of the WIs Care Not Custody campaign, highlighting the treatment of those with mental illness in prison, it was a fascinating talk.
Then, on to more news about the WIs campaigns: Country Of Origin Labelling, protecting honeybees, promoting ethical fashion and legal aid reforms. The WI has done some mazing work in these areas, and many more, in the past year and efforts are continuing.
And so to the first resolution: library closures. On the surface this is a fairly straightforward matter, but there were several issues to consider.
We heard from those who had proposed and seconded the motion, and an expert speaker for and against the resolution. Then there was time for questions and discussion from delegates. There were many excellent points made and it was an informed and interesting debate.
Votes were cast and the result was announced later that afternoon: 97.79% voted for the resolution. That’s 6,097 WIs that want to campaign against library closures.
To finish off the morning we heard how Denman College is doing, and the news was good! More support is always needed though, so every member should seriously consider taking a course there or even using the college as a B&B if ever they visit Oxford.  A fundraising challenge to bring Denman’s heating and water systems into the 21st century has also been launched, so expect to hear more about that in the future!
We then broke for lunch and had chance to mingle with fellow members before heading back for the afternoon session.
The debate on the farming resolution was the first item for the afternoon, and this proved to be rather interesting! Again, we heard from the proposer and seconder and expert speakers on both sides of the debate, before moving to an open discussion.
There were many concerns raised, not least that the wording of the resolution was not clear enough. Many members felt that the distinction between large or “mega” farms and “factory” farms was not clear enough, and as such, were not able to happily take one position or the other.
As the vote was about to be made, there were rumblings and shouting, and even slow hand clapping! It turned out members wanted to abandon the vote and move on, but procedures had to be followed and there was some discussion on the appropriate steps. In the end, the motion was passed that we move to the next business, so there was no vote on the resolution!
This may sound like an anti-climax, but considering it was agreed by almost every delegate and none of the concerns had been successfully addressed, it was the right thing to do. The issue will be re-visited at a later date.
A much more relaxed afternoon then followed, with talks from Dr Rita Gardner on landscapes and Sir Steve Redgrave on his work as a FairTrade Ambassador.
To close, Ruth then spoke about the future of the WI, and in particular the centenary in 2015. There will be a lot going on over the next few years and it is up to every woman to make the most of the opportunities that membership affords us.

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