This spring the National Federation of Women’s Institutes is holding a series of conferences for WI Presidents up and down the country. The Inspiring Women Working Together Conferences are a chance for representatives of every WI in England and Wales to get together, hear more about what the National Federation does, and form links with WIs we’d never normally meet.
Although I’m two weeks past my presidency, the committee was nice enough to still let me go, so on Friday I headed up to Ascot in Berkshire to see what it was all about.
As with every large WI event I’ve ever been lucky enough to go to, there’s something amazing about sitting with hundreds of other likeminded women. As many Hampshire WIs were represented, it was a chance to catch up with some people I already knew, as well as meet many others I didn’t. Personally I was also thrilled to see representatives of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire WIs there, many from of the villages around my hometown.
The main bulk of the day was made up of short talks on everything the NFWI does: these varied from those about how it manages finances, how it’s governed by charities law and how it communicates with its thousands and thousands of members to the more fun stuff like how the Craft and Cookery Committees work. And the fact that the two NFWI trustees on the Cookery Committee will be making, in their own kitchens, cake for all 5000 attendees at the 2015 AGM celebrating the WI’s 100th birthday.
If there was one thing I learned, apart from how amazingly friendly WI ladies are, it was what an amazing resource the WI Moodle is. This online learning system has been going since 2008 and is a free resource any member can have access to. It provides information about anything and everything WI related. If you want to learn how to make pastry or sew on a button, the Moodle knows. If you want to become a Federation financial advisor or trustee, the Moodle knows how you go about doing that too. Although I knew it existed, I never knew just how much was on there and I know I’ll be using it in the future.
At the end of the day there was an open forum where any attendee could ask questions or make comments. It was great to see that many of us had the same things on our minds. We all wanted to know more about the centenary celebrations next year but we also raised concerns about making sure the WI is a welcoming place for all women. Several questions were asked about increasing the diversity of women represented in WI literature, particularly to show women of all ages working together, women from minority backgrounds and positive representations of women with disabilities. Although I was terrified of speaking up in front of so many people, I managed to take my turn and ask what steps were being made to increase the numbers of female speakers at NFWI events after my experiences at the Cardiff AGM last year where all four speakers were male.
All in all it was a great day. I met some really interesting women, found out about a whole host of resources available to all WI members and even found myself chatting to several members of the NFWI Board during lunch. I even had a chance to meet NFWI President, Janice Langley, who was lovely and talked to several of us about the challenges of not just starting up new WIs, but keeping them going. It was a great reminder that the WI is more than just the Sotonettes, or even just the Hampshire Federation. And it made me even more excited about the WI’s 100th birthday next year.
Hannah (2013-14 Sotonettes President)
If this has got you inspired to attend a national WI event, why not consider going to the Spring Council Meeting later this month. More details in our blog post here.