One of the relatively few joys of being chairman during these covid times has been to write my monthly column. It has been an opportunity for me to introduce myself to you and to share with you some thoughts about the world as I see it, its issues and challenges, and the part that the WI has and can play in making it a better place for our fellow members, families, friends and communities. What I am very aware of however is the lack of opportunity that I have had, in the words of Hammerstein in the song from the iconic musical ‘The King and I’, of ‘Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.’

In recent days, despite the month’s long extension to the final lifting of lockdown restrictions announced last night, but hopefully gone forever by the time you read this, the opportunity to get to know you now seems possible. It has been good to meet many of you at your own Zoom WI meetings and to share in your enjoyment of the online events put on by the federation and ‘Denman at Home’. It has been wonderful to be able to accept an invitation from Ockford Godalming WI to judge some classes in their Craft and Produce show in October, with a packed schedule that tells me that their WI is, in the words of Lynne Stubbings ‘Open for Business’. It was a truly heart-warming experience recently to join the Federation’s camera group for coffee, a walk around Effingham Ponds and an outdoor lunch in a café, a first for me to share in the joy of relative normality, and to meet a trustee face-to-face, only the second since March last year. It was even better to see Betty looking so well, and as full of wacky ideas for federation events as ever, many of which we will act upon! Tomorrow I will meet my own WI, Deepcut and Frimley, for what will be our first meeting, a BBQ in the park. I cannot wait. I do sense a real and lasting return to the fellowship and fun that the WI offers us all, and that we have so missed, despite all your wonderful and imaginative ways that you have devised to offer an alternative experience. To meet in person once more will be very special!

Autumn 2021 will be a critical period for the federation as we set about the serious business of electing the Board of Trustees that will lead it for the period March 2022 to 2024. We were recently inspired at the NFWI Annual Meeting, by HRH Sophie, Countess of Wessex, a member of my other WI, Bagshot, who described women as ‘strong, brave and capable’, by Dame Cressida Dick, the first woman to lead the Metropolitan Police, who exhorted us to ‘do good, make a difference, empower, help, encourage and to give courage to women’ and Lady Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, whose motto for her coat of arms is ‘Women are equal to everything’. Do you share in these aspirations? Do these words inspire you to do more?

As you, the SFWI members, elects the board that will lead your federation well into this decade, it will also be your opportunity to shape the future of your federation, your chance to participate in the election of your representatives and even to step up and let you voice be heard. Have you read the articles in the July and August editions of Surrey WI News about what the federation does for its members? Can you see a role for yourself in shaping the federation to meet the needs and interests of its every changing membership profile and the challenges all women face? I have always believed that opportunities only arise once in life, so one must take them. This philosophy has served me well, and has taken me on many unexpected journeys, including becoming the chairman of your federation. This is your opportunity now, so please take it.

I could not resist ending this column with the final words of Lynne Stubbings, in her parting speech as Chair of the NFWI. What an extraordinary job she has done, and in such difficult circumstances. Thank you, Lynne, we are in awe. Well done and good luck! ‘We as WI members should be loud and proud, and not keep the WI as a best kept secret’ and that we should do this in such a way that others are inspired to say, in those immortal words of the mother of director Rob Reiner in, ‘When Harry met Sally’, ‘I’ll have what she’s having!’

Carol A. Gartrell
Federation Chairman

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