A damp and grey Saturday morning dawned and four SHWI ladies braved the inclement weather on the M1 North to Leeds for the WI Annual General Meeting. Over five thousand ladies were present from all corners of the United Kingdom brought together by a mutual bond and a love of bunting.
The meeting was opened, business discussed and the resolutions raised. This year, the resolution proposed highlighting and promoting the importance of making friends and relatives aware while living of your wishes after death, specifically the donation of organs and tissues. A delicate subject, handled with the decency and gravitas it deserved. All speakers were informed, eloquent and thought-provoking, even the lady tasked with the difficult assignment of arguing against organ donation found it hard not to support the resolution. The floor was opened then to members of the delegation, I think it would be fair to say there were few WI members not moved to tears as we heard tales of a mother who consented to her 10 year-old son’s organs being donated, or the lady who was able to see because of a double cornea transplant and the lady who’s donated kidney allowed her to live. With this, the resolution was passed with a 98% majority. Given that the UK has one of the highest family refusal rates in Europe, this motion has such a fantastic potential to save a huge number of lives. Following the resolution debate was a talk on poetry, literature and the importance of saving our nation’s countryside from Sir Andrew Motion. His passion for improving the housing crisis through the use of brown field sites rather than encroaching on our ever-diminishing green belt was almost palpable. The lunch break came soon after and the SHWI ladies nipped off for a refreshing beverage and cheap lunch at a local Wetherspoons. Luckily, other WIs had the same idea and the Hedley Verity pub was soon invaded by members of Tea and Tarts WI, Cambridge Blue Belles WI, Cookridge Crumpets WI, Holmfirth WI and more.
The afternoon commenced with a harrowing talk on the worldwide effects of deforestation by Dr George McGavin, failing to protect the nation’s rainforests will ultimately lead to their complete destruction, the loss of entire ecosystems and the extinction of species we have yet to discover. The knock-on effects of this would be catastrophic for us in ways we are as yet unable to imagine, but it is within our powers to prevent it. As Dr McGavin highlighted, Plan A is to protect as much natural environment as possible, which will take an immediate, co-ordinated, international effort. This is of such importance because there is no Plan B.
The next item on the agenda was exciting for all – the plans for the WI’s Centenary year. Wheels are already in motion to celebrate this auspicious event with the Baton relay underway, the history/cookbook (a double threat and a must for any bookshelf) being published, the documentary due to air and the centenary AGM to be held in the Royal Albert Hall. Each and every WI was encouraged to celebrate our 100th birthday in their own way. If any SHWI-ers have ideas for how this can be done please let the committee know! The final speaker of the day was the ever effervescent Bill Turnbull, talking about the art of reluctant beekeeping, working at the BBC, sequins and Strictly Come Dancing and how to use the punchline ‘hung like a donkey’ infront of HRH Queen Elizabeth. An entertaining, light-hearted talk to round off the day – and apparently even the most experienced of television presenters still fears the infamous WI slow clap.
Five thousand ladies singing Jerusalem rounded off the day, reminding us all that the WI is more than just making friends and learning. We are part of a movement, we are part of history, and in our own way we have the power to change the country for the better. It was a moment that brought goosebumps out on the skin of even the most sceptical delegates. Roll on our centenary and here’s to the next 100. Sam Foster SHWI Member