Annual Council Meeting – March 2022

Great Speakers, a great occasion

Becky Warburton Reports

AFTER last year’s virtual event there was much excitement as WI members from across Surrey came together for the Federation’s 104th Annual Council Meeting at Dorking Halls.

We were welcomed into the hall with a fantastic piano medley by Gina Eason and were delighted to welcome representatives from East Kent and West Sussex to join us.

The morning began with the formal business of the day and a welcome from our Chairman Carol Gartrell. She called for members to get involved with helping to run the Federation and drew our attention to the incredibly moving and powerful Violence Against Women bunting, created by Surrey Vixens Virtual WI, which was displayed around the hall, bearing the names and photos of women in the UK who have died due to male violence since Sarah Everard’s murder in 2021.

In her Chairman’s report, Carol said we had experienced one of the most difficult and challenging years the Federation had endured. She added: “At times it has been an uphill task, with precious little joy, the shedding of many tears and a mounting list of challenges. It has at the same time also been one of the most successful as members at all levels of the organization have pulled together, demonstrating ingenuity, imagination and determination. We have all learned new skills, reached the depths of despair, but have also attained heights of elation as the fruits of our endeavours have been realised.

“I am justly proud of all our members, but especially those in the hall today. You who have led your WIs through this crisis and have persevered when it would have been easy to step back.”

During the year five WIs have closed and Warlingham Village, Fairlands and the Surrey Vixens Virtual WIs opened — the latter the first virtual WI in the country.

Sheena Landgraf, Federation Treasurer, reported that, though it had been a challenging year, we’re still in a good place. The reappointment of our independent examiner and investment advisers was approved.

Angie Leach, vice-chairman, gave a round-up of forthcoming events and highlighted that Surrey Federation is now home to 158 WIs.

Following the formal business of the day we had our first speaker, Sally Varah, with her talk A Hand Up, Not a Handout. Sally chairs the Michael Varah Memorial Fund, set up by her children to create a lasting legacy for the work of her late husband Michael, who was Surrey’s Chief Probation Officer for 16 years.

She spoke with passion about a range of projects that the fund supports, including Pitstop Football, a football team supporting homeless men and the appropriately named Birdsong project, a choral co-operation between young male offenders and students from the Orpheus Centre.

She also spoke of the Our Time art project at HMP Send, which has involved members of Send Inspired WI. The fund finances art tuition at the prison with the help of the Watts Gallery and the artists stage exhibitions of their work, which develop their presentation and budget management skills — WI members are invited to apply to visit the next exhibition in June [see Page 4].

Our next speaker was Professor Patricia Wiltshire with her talk Forensic Ecology: Thinking Outside the Box. Patricia is a forensic ecologist, botanist and palynologist, skills she uses to gather evidence at crime scenes — including the murders of Jessica and Holly at Soham. Her role in helping the police can take her from the crime scene to the witness box at the Old Bailey. Palynology is the study of pollens, spores and microscopic plankton and it was fascinating to hear how it can provide evidence vital to securing a conviction.

The lunch break gave members the opportunity to visit Federation stalls in the Martineau Hall. The afternoon session began with Carol announcing the members of the new Board of Trustees for 2022-24 [see Page 4). Carol will serve a fourth year as chairman, with Angie Leach, Debbie Playle and Jill Mulryan as Vice Chairmen. She thanked the retiring trustees, Betty Dominy, Toto James and Becky Warburton, for their support and contribution to the Board.

Carol presented the Eileen Bowler Trophy for the last time to the winners, Mary Louise Kirk (Queen for a Day essay) of Felbridge WI and Ann Malcolm (Jubilee card for the Queen) of Purley Cross WI. The endowment for this award has now come to an end.

Our final incredibly inspiring speaker was Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, one of the country’s leading women firefighters. Sabrina had a challenging upbringing; despite being homeless at 15 she continued with her schooling, sold The Big Issue to raise money to rent a flat, joined the fire service in Wales, did an Open University degree in psychology and at the age of 36 she was appointed Chief Fire Officer for the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

A turning point in her life was an incident she was called to which she thought might involve injury to her firefighter husband Mike. It wasn’t him, but the impact it had led Sabrina to look into firefighter safety and the discovery that 80% of accidents are down to human error and can be avoided. This resulted in a PhD from Cardiff University and the creation of a set of decision controls, three quick questions that every firefighter across the UK uses to help assess critical situations. These controls have won ten global science awards.

Angie Leach then took the stage to say a heartfelt thank-you to Carol for her outstanding dedication over the last three years, which had been vital to the Federation’s success.

Carol in turn thanked the Trustees and office staff, Ruth Williams, Debbie Playle, Ruth Bolton, the stewards and Dorking Hall staff, the Events, Leisure and Fundraising sub-committee for running the raffle, all the other sub-committees and Lesley Earl for the beautiful floral displays, bringing to an end a most inspiring and enjoyable day.

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