Jam & Jerusalem: County members head to Wales
The sun shines on the Gloucestershire members as they attend the unpronounceable town on Anglesey
We were very lucky. The road wasn’t closed, we arrived at Cheltenham Spa Station to find a train waiting – an earlier one than that we had planned to catch; there were no delays on the journey and the sun was shining. The only slight hiccup was on our arrival when we discovered that John Lewis was not yet open. But we found a coffee shop to while away the time in the sunshine until our meeting started – the NFWI Annual Meeting, and we were waiting for the doors to open at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, capital city of Wales since 1955, 50 years after the first WI in Britain was established. That was on Anglesey, in Ll an fairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwillanantisiligogogoch, usually referred as Llanfair PG. Today, however, the Welsh contingent would be in good voice, putting the rest of us to shame by proudly pronouncing it aloud, in full.
Our Annual Meeting is an important event for WI members. The business is conducted by the National Chairman, most ably supported by the General Secretary and the fount of all WI knowledge, and the various trustees report on the NFWI finances, Denman, the past year’s activities and those planned for the following year. Delegates and observers representing every WI in England and Wales attend, as do our 399 WI advisers who have a section all to themselves and make their presence felt every year with a loud cheer.
The first 23 WI advisers, originally called Voluntary County Organisers, VCOS, were appointed in 1918 to help organise the movement which in the previous 12 months had seen the number of institutes grow from 199 to 760. After a three-week training course at Burgess Hill during which they were instructed in such matters as the ideals and aims of the movement, propaganda, programme planning, and the roles of committee members they set out, immediately recognisable in their brown corduroy uniform, complete with felt hat, to organise, advise and support established and newly formed WIS across England and Wales.
THIS MONTH’S EVENTS ARE:
August 17: Inter Federation Bowls match against Avon at Frampton on Severn
One hundred years later they are as important as ever. They are still trained by National but their title, training and appearance have changed with the times and reflects their changing role. (I don’t think ‘propaganda’ is still on the agenda). They now have less to do as organisers of a much more able and confident membership and act more often as friendly listeners, able to answer any questions about the WI and help WIS to solve their problems. They are identified by a simple green and white badge; the brown uniform has gone.
In addition to the business we have, of course, the resolution debate. To tell the truth, there was little debate about this year’s resolution: Mental Health Matters. It is clearly an issue which deeply concerns members and an overwhelming 98% of votes were cast in favour.
Guest speakers are always a highlight of the Annual Meeting and this year was no different. Dame Stella Remington addressed us in the morning, fascinating us with tales of her career, from her schooldays to her time as Director General of MI5. Her inside information on petticoat elastic in India was very entertaining whilst, more seriously, she gave us a better understanding of the work of the security services today. Huw Edwards spoke after lunch (for which John Lewis was open) and he too amused and informed us in equal measure. Anecdotes from his work as a journalist and broadcaster made us laugh, while his frank speaking about the link between mental and physical health and about the dangers of modern technology, especially for the young and the vulnerable, reflected our concerns.
‘Jerusalem’, ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ and the National Anthem brought the meeting to a close. We now look forward to our 2019 Annual Meeting in Bournemouth. Will the journey be as smooth, the business so efficiently conducted, the resolution as important to members, the speakers as good and will the sun be shining? Of all this there may be some doubt. What is not in doubt is that the venue will be full to capacity and the WI advisers will be there to cheer us on.
Madge Watt in 1918, wearing the uniform of a WI county organiser