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The party from North Yorkshire West federation arrived at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath full of anticipation of a momentous event. Some, like me, had never attended an AGM at the Albert Hall before, others were ‘old hands’ but all were excited at the prospect of the day ahead. We were certainly not disappointed!


Just as at our monthly meetings, the business was done first, standing orders and financial statements read and approved (you will be pleased to know that the NFWI is in good financial health, although Denman is still on a slightly precarious footing)


Perhaps the part to which people were most looking forward began when the royal party arrived at about 11am. HM The Queen, HRH The Princess Royal and HRH The Countess of Wessex arrived to great applause and all seemed genuinely pleased to be with us. They looked wonderful, and it was especially touching to see how the Princess Royal was obviously solicitous for her mother, ready to help her if necessary. They were welcomed by Janice Langley, the NFWI Chairman. The centenary baton arrived with due pomp and was received by The Queen, and then we were linked by the wonders of technology to Anglesey, the site of the first WI in 1915. The royal visitors presented the Denman Cup, the McKower competition prize and the Huxley cup to the winners, and they in turn were presented with a Centenary fruit cake each. Then came the spine-tingling moment everyone who had attended before had told us about, 5000 women singing Jerusalem with all their hearts.


The Queen’s speech set the tone for the other speakers of the day, she spoke of the changes for women over the last century, with the WI as a constant yet evolving presence. Posies of flowers, containing WI Centenary roses, were presented to the royal party by three WI granddaughters (one of whom was charmingly shy) and then they left the stage to join Julie Clarke and the cake-makers Anne Harrison and Pat Tulip –did you see the photograph on the front page of the Telegraph the next day? Our Julie is a real celebrity now!


The other speakers during the day followed the theme set by The Queen, albeit in different contexts. Janice Langley spoke of the strong and often formidable women who shaped the WI.


Lucy Worsley, TV presenter and Chief Curator of the unoccupied London Palaces, talked about the history of the WI which she has been researching for a TV documentary to be shown later in June. She was an animated and entertaining speaker- I think her documentary will be equally fascinating.


Baroness Tanny Grey-Thompson spoke of her own life, demonstrating triumph over adversity in every sentence! She advocates having an aim and a dream and never being afraid to try.


Helena Morrissey CBE had the afternoon speaking slot (when the ‘nodding off’ began to afflict some!) and spoke of her 30% Club- a campaign to get more women onto the boards of companies. She has certainly broken through the glass ceiling, but has not pulled up the ladder behind her!

The Public Affairs Resolution put to the meeting was ‘This meeting calls on HM Government to remove the distinction between nursing care and personal care in the assessment of the needs of individuals in order to advance health and well-being’. Delegates had been informed of an amendment to this resolution on the coach! The amendment proposed changing ‘nursing care and personal care’ to ‘health care and social care’. This was not a good start, since the amendment had to be voted on before the debate on the resolution. The amendment was intended to define the types of care more precisely, in line with the usage in existing frameworks, and was carried. The resolution itself was more problematic. After listening to the speakers for and against, several points became clear to me. There are indeed many problems with the existing system, and these issues must be addressed. However, the resolution as it stands is not specific enough and does not provide smart and achievable goals. This was the majority view in the Hall, and when the proposal was put to move to the next business, this was carried.  Therefore there was no vote on the resolution. It will not disappear entirely, but needs a lot more discussion before it is fit for purpose.


Lighter relief was supplied during the afternoon by the Bleadon Belles, the winning choir from the Singing for Joy competition, and the students from Kingston University School of Fashion who modelled the knitted garments they had designed in collaboration with WI members. The styles were different, to say the least, expertly modelled by four girls and one hunky boy!


We ended the day with Jerusalem again, and the Welsh and National anthems, and then back to the hotel, weary but still full of excitement. The final touch was added to the event when the hotel staff asked us to sing Jerusalem again for them in the dining-room after breakfast the next day. And so home to North Yorkshire- after a truly wonderful experience.