As a keen gardener by the start of February I always begin looking forward to my garden coming back to life after the winter months. Within the WI after the Christmas celebrations in their various forms, January can often seem rather long and dreary especially if the weather does its worst, and I know a number of WIs choose not to meet at all. Now, as with my garden, come February there are once again things to look forward to, and increasing signs of activity within both the Federation and the Institutes.
As you will see, over the coming months not only are there many popular events on the calendar for 2018 such as the annual Art & Craft and Home Economics days, but also all the exciting centenary celebrations as well. We are also offering sessions on finding out about new ways of communicating within your own WI, how to advertise it to the wider community such as by setting up a website and how to go about doing this. There are also going to be meetings to learn more about the resolutions which are chosen to go forward to the Annual Meeting at Cardiff in June, and to find out about what is required of those who have agreed to act as delegates.
Hopefully as you read this letter you too will be feeling spring is on the way and that there is a lot to look forward to as a WI member.
Welcome to 2018 and a momentous year for West Kent Federation. April 15 1918 saw the formation of the then named West Kent County Federation in Maidstone with representatives of the nine institutes meeting with Mrs Madge Watt, one of the founders of NFWI. I wonder if those ladies could have imagined how big the Federation would become and that it would still be going strong 100 years later?
Watching the news there is often little to cheer us up, so let us wholeheartedly embrace this milestone in our WIs history. Many people are working extremely hard to ensure some fantastic events for you to attend, and hopefully within your own WI there will be something happening to mark the centenary as well.
We should also be aware that it is not just a big year for the Federation, but also for a number of our WIs who are also reaching the 100th anniversary of their opening.
A lot of reasons then for West Kent members to celebrate so make sure you read your West Kent News or the Federation website for information on all that is going on, and thus ensure you don't miss out on the fun.
December already. I can't believe how quickly this year has flown by. West Kent Federation has certainly had a busy twelve months as we seek to update our systems and to better provide what you, the members, want. Thanks to the hardworking sub-committee members who arrange a wide variety of events.
The results of the West Kent questionnaire filled by so many WIs have provided the Board of Trustees with much to think about. The increasing spread in terms of locations and ages is undoubtedly throwing up new challenges, but is equally showing how relevant the WI continues to be for so many women. Now with our thoughts also on 2018 and the West Kent Centenary, I and the rest of the Board of Trustees look forward to continuing in our aim to ensure there is a WI for everyone.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a peaceful Christmas
November already and as you can see from our front cover we are firmly focused at Ethel Hunt Lodge on events in 2018. I hope as many of you as possible will come to Tunbridge Wells in March to the ACM to hear Floella Benjamin and Hilary Howarth. Floella is a joyous and inspirational speaker who I heard speak in her role as Chancellor of Exeter University, and has achieved in many different fields. Known to many for her television work, she is also a Life Peer, set up her own highly successful television production company, has spent the last 25 years campaigning on behalf of children and recently started "Touching Success" which aims to give young people the chance to meet role models who have achieved success in their chosen fields.
Hilary Howarth, new to the NFWI Board of Trustees this year, also impressed those of us who heard her at the Annual Meeting in Liverpool when she proposed the resolution on Plastic Soup. It will be great to have a first hand update on this resolution and also on the work of the NFWI.
Finally all the events for our centenary celebrations are in place and I want to record my thanks to all those who are voluntarily giving their time to serve on the organising committees. There are so many exciting things planned for 2018 concluding with ever popular 'Carols' which is going to be at All Saints in Maidstone on December 2018. A wonderful church with lots of space, it seems very appropriate to conclude our centenary year in Maidstone where our Federation was first established.
Walking on the beautiful beaches of Wales, during our summer holiday, one couldn't help noticing the amount of plastic the tide washes up. Likewise, when unpacking my shopping I never cease to be appalled at the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging that one gets.
One of the NFWI's two resolutions this year concerns "Plastic Soup", the microplastic fibres shed from synthetic clothing with every wash, and forming the main contributor to microplastic contamination of the oceans. I read recently that a second huge plastic rubbish dump that covers 400,000 square miles - four times the area of Britain, has recently been identified in the Pacific Ocean, a scary thought indeed.
However, I take heart from an article that appeared in The Times Newspaper on 9th June. Headlined "WI to rescue seas polluted by plastic" it noted that our past campaign have included equal pay for women and an anti-litter campaign that resulted in the 1958 Litter Act.
The Wi has an impressive track record on making a difference with it's campaigns and I hope that will be the case this time as well, because it is an issue that is going to increasingly affect all our lives. Let us all read the information issued by NFWI on this resolution and find out ways by which we can help make a difference too.
Exciting times at Ethel Hunt Lodge as we can now contact all WIs electronically. The new computer system is finally up and running and although the broadband speed is far from ideal, we will be seeking to do as much as possible via email. However all those WIs still prefer paper will continue to be catered for as I promised at the ACM in March.
This autumn will also see the installation of a new accounting system for the Federation, investigation of a new system for ordering tickets for events, digital training for those who are interested and finalising the plans for the Centenary celebrations of next year, so lots going on !
I am also delighted to announce a new member of the archivists team. Sheila Harris of Matfield WI is going to be working alongside Chris Klempau and Ann France. Sheila has a long association with the WI being the daughter of Anne Harris, a former National Chairman and still, we are delighted to say, a member of the WI. Some of you I know enjoyed meeting Anne when she and Sheila joined us on the trip to the Annual Meeting at Liverpool in June.
Finally, a very big thank you to all those WIs who filled in the questionnaire the Trustees sent out at the end of April. To date 114 have been received at the office, a marvellous 63% of our WIs. We will be publishing the results and telling you how we plan to respond to the issues raised in October.
Attending the Annual Meeting at Liverpool in June with 63 West Kent members was a lot of fun and was a wonderful opportunity to meet people and exchange ideas. We also debated the two resolutions both of which were passed, one on the scourge of Plastic Soup and the other on the issue of loneliness, something that sadly affects so many people including WI members.
On your forms answering the question 'what does the WI mean to you?' many people have said friendship. This is certainly true for me too, but while a lot of us also have a strong network of family and friends as well, not every member is in such a fortunate position. As was correctly stated in the discussion about loneliness at Liverpool you can be lonely in a room full of people, not just when you are on your own. I do hope all institutes aim to ensure that all their members feel welcome and part of the meeting. In August when not all institutes have a meeting it is important that those living on their own are not forgotten. I have heard of one WI that holds a monthly Sunday lunch having learnt that members living alone said weekends were often the hardest times. As WI members we are well placed to play a role in supporting others. I very much hope we will all rise to the challenge in whatever way we can.
The year seems to be passing by so quickly probably because there is so much going on at present within the Federation. Plans are proceeding apace for all the Centenary celebrations being held next year, with all the organising committees (we have a separate one for each major event) starting to look for more helpers, so please get in touch with the office if you are interested in getting involved. In addition, as you will see from the calendar in West Kent News, the sun-committees are organising a wide range of activities and events for you to attend this year all of which will be advertised in the West Kent News and on our Facebook page.
At Ethel Hunt Lodge builders have been improving the access to the loft space so that we can more easily make use of this badly needed storage. Also, the installation of the new computer system is ensuring that communication both within the office itself and with the institutes will become easier in the future.
Finally, I know you have been bombarded by talk of the General Election for what seems like months and may well be fed up with all such talk, but closer to home don't forget to submit nominations for the Federation Board of Trustees to serve from March 2018.
P.S. - If anyone knows of a sign writer who could update the 'Role of Honour' boards in Ethel Hunt Lodge please contact the Federation office.
What a wonderful response there was to the appeal for the Medway Foodbank at our Annual Council Meeting at Tunbridge Wells. WI members, in my experience, are always so good when it is a question of helping others and I'm sure this year's resolutions at the Annual Meeting in Liverpool will likewise see a very positive response from West Kent members.
As I'm writing to you in April I don't yet know if the resolutions will be passed at Liverpool but I sincerely hope they are. Loneliness in particular strikes a chord with so many, and who better than the WI to provide friendship and support when needed?
Meeting WI members, I never cease to be amazed at how ,much they do, not just within the WI but elsewhere as well. Here in West Kent we aim to be a very active federation, staging lots of events and trying to react positively to members concerns and wishes whenever we can. In order to do this we need to be prepared to stand up and undertake roles not just at institute level but also by serving at Federation level as well. We will be sending out nomination forms for serving on the Board of Trustees from March 2018, thus giving you plenty of time to find out what undertaking such a role involves. As a board we are constantly reviewing how we can make such roles less onerous and would be delighted to welcome some new faces to our ranks. Do consider coming to join us and help us create an efficient and effective way of working as we prepare to make the Federation ready for the next 100 years. If you are interested or can persuade a friend who you think would be an asset then we would be delighted to welcome you as an observer to one of our monthly meetings. Please contact the office at Ethel Hunt Lodge for more details or phone any one of the trustees to have a chat about what the role involves. We look forward to hearing from you!
There is so much happening within the Federation at present, with our busy programme of events for this year and planning the centenary celebrations for next year, that it could be easy to lose sight of the longer term picture of what we want the West Kent Federation to be like going forward.
As I said in my speech at Tunbridge Wells, I want ours to be a WI for everyone and that is why it is really important that we find out your views. In the April end of month posting, every institute should have received a short questionnaire that we would like discussed and filled in either at your May or June meetings. The return, via post or by email, to Ethel Hunt Lodge so that we can collate what is said and then consider how we can best respond to the findings Please do take part as we really do want it to be your WI.
Another way you can influence the way the Federation operates is to become a member of one of our sub-committees, become an adviser, or even a trustee. It is always possible to come and observe at any of our meetings, just email or telephone the office to arrange a visit. We really would love to hear from you.
It was lovely to see so many of you at Tunbridge Wells last month for the Annual Council Meeting. As those who attended will know the dates were announced for the major events being run by the Federation to mark West Kent's centenary, and they are also included in this month's edition of the West Kent News.
I hope as many of you as possible will come to at least one of these celebrations as 'taking part' is so important if we are to ensure the continuation of the WI for the next 100 years. Taking part can be at all levels from helping to make the tea, serving on your institute's committee, joining one of the Federation committees, or the Board of Trustees.
The Trustees hope all WIs will do something during 2018 both to celebrate the centenary of the West Kent Federation and to draw to the attention of non-members that the WI is still very much alive and flourishing, and playing an important part in the life of local communities.
It is not only at institute and federation level that we have a role to play of course. Nationally the WI has a long and proud tradition of campaigning on issues that can have an effect on the lives of many in our society. Each year we vote on the resolutions to go forward to the Annual Meeting for discussion and I'm pleased to announce that this year saw a marked increase in the number of West Kent members who voted. As I have already said "taking part" is an important aspect of being a WI member at all levels.
At a meeting of my District earlier this year a major topic of discussion was the best method of communication between the various WIs. In Tonbridge District we cover a wide range of membership in terms of both size and age, including Hildenborough Afternoon formed in 1919 and now down 10 members and South Tonbridge formed in 2015, with 100 members. Inevitably the different generations favour different methods of communication. For some, the simple matter of using iPhones and laptops is a foreign land to others who still prefer the written word.
I know my District is not alone in seeking to find the most satisfactory way of sharing information. The Federation Office is in the process of installing a new and up to date computer system to facilitate our communication with members. Hopefully this will cut back on the multiple pieces of paperwork which are sent to unfortunate WI Secretaries each month. However, we are also very aware that we have a responsibility to ensure that all members can stay in touch with us by whatever means suits them best, and will try to continue to provide such a service.
I look forward to seeing many of you at Tunbridge Wells on 23rd March.
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