IT IS lovely to see so many friendly faces and I am so pleased that you have come today despite the many current challenges that have deterred others from attending.
Since our Autumn Federation Meeting a year ago, when we met in large numbers celebrating what we saw as the end of Covid, we have certainly moved into a post-Covid era. But what a world, not at all what we had expected of the hoped-for new start. Instead, we have been rewarded with huge rises in the cost of food, fuel and housing and the war in Ukraine and its terrible consequences.
The Federation, having survived Covid with finances secure and a fine-tuned staff team, had many wonderful ideas of what we might offer members. The reality has been rather different.
On the positive side three members have recently joined the Board as Trustees. Please welcome Jan Jenner, Ann Robertson and Shirley Wood. We also welcome Dorinda Brittle as our Publicity Officer. It’s great to have members taking on Federation roles, coming with new ideas and skills and asking probing questions, ensuring that the Federation constantly re-appraises its mission.
A key issue that has been identified, though occurring largely as a result of external forces is the fall in membership, and consequently the number of WIs.
The current Federation membership stands at around 7,000 with 158 WIs. The retention of current members, and the recruitment of new ones, is therefore high on the agenda.
But perhaps, even more critical than this is the need to recruit more Trustees, particularly as Chris Butterfield and I step down in March 2023, Chris after more than a decade as a trustee.Thank you Chris.
The Federation is also in need of members to sit on its sub-committees and to take on Federation roles. Positions that need filling include the Chairmen of Events, Leisure and Fundraising and the Home Economics, Craft and Gardening sub-committees, although they are currently being most ably run by Lynne Simpkins and Meriel Sexton — thank you.
We are also seeking a Federation e-newsletter Editor and people to train as Independent Financial Examiners. Expressions of interest are most welcome! This lack of volunteers is not I believe an indicator of apathy, but often of illness, encroaching years, work commitments and family and caring responsibilities.
A second challenge is the lack of participation of members in Federation organised events and workshops. Look around you. In the past we have filled this 700-seater hall. Today we have only 250 members here, the balcony is closed and the aisles have been widened in a bid to create a more intimate environment.
But why? Today we have an excellent and varied programme of speakers and performers chosen to reflect the range and scope of the WI objects covering education, campaigning, entertainment, and featuring a women, AJ, who has broken into a man’s world.
Why such a low attendance? Fear of Covid, cost in these turbulent financial times, distance, health, other calls on time or simply making up for lost time?
This is where you come in. Please let us have your ideas. Talk to a trustee or an adviser. Drop a message to the office. What do you think are the inhibitors to participation? Let us know what the Federation can offer you. We have an attractive and varied programme of events and workshops coming up — please will you spread the word?
I see the same issues emerging in charities and organisations that depend on volunteers across the county. Our current experience is not unique. Will this change? Can this change?
The objects of the WI: education, sustainable development and advancing health through campaigning and local engagement in our communities, within a welcoming environment of friendship and fun, puts the WI in a unique position. No other women’s organisation can claim the WI’s heritage and the legacy it leaves behind.
The WI speaks on behalf of women, about the issues that uniquely affect them, and consequently has the ability to make a real and positive difference to the lives of women.
Today we may be relatively few in number, but we are big on influence. We have a voice, an enthusiasm and I venture to say the passion to inspire others.
When you go home, celebrate and share your experience, motivate fellow members to get involved and take an active part. Be visible in your community, sing the praises of the WI wherever you go. The future of the WI is in our hands. Together we can make a difference, we are women, we are the WI, we are the inspired!

Carol A. Gartrell
Federation Chairman

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