Observer’s Notes from the NCFWI ACM – 30 October 2012
Spinney Theatre, Northampton
The Lead in
I made a promise to immerse myself into WI life this year and broaden my learning about the WI. So I signed up
to attend the NCFWI ACM, as I got a real buzz out of attending the NFWI AGM earlier in the year. In particular, I
was really looking forward to hearing this year’s speaker, Dr Nick Barratt.
A couple of days before the event, I got a call from Sue Kendall to ask if I would write an article on your behalf
and to relay the events from a first timer’s perspective! So, I hope you enjoy my take on the evening and that this
gives you a flavour of a great evening!
Armed with notepad and pen and accompanied by my Walgrave WI friends, we arrived at the Spinney Theatre in
plenty of time on a crisp dark night. Ladies note…. it’s a car park full of women drivers so allow yourself plenty of
time to park and get into the packed arena!
The last time I was at the theatre was a couple of decades ago at the Christmas sing-along with the Yetties! So I
was pleasantly surprised to see how the theatre had modernised, with ample facilities and the staff were really
With hundreds of WI members milling around, it was great to bump into friends, especially those made recently
through the exchange of the WI Baton. The yellow agenda doubled up as the entry ticket and delegates
representing WIs voting on your WI’s behalf, had blue tickets.
This was also an opportunity to order your interval refreshments, buy raffle tickets for a bursary at Denman or win
a host of generous prizes, which would be drawn later. A round of applause for the ladies who volunteer their
time to steward and assist on the night, which included my mother in—law!
WI Enterprise and Northamptonshire Country Markets set up their stalls and were making good sales on their
tempting offers of delicious cakes and pies, jams and chutneys. This was a timely reminder of Christmas around
the corner and to support your own WI Enterprise!
The stage was decked boldly with giant rosettes of red white and blue leading to the central feature proudly
displaying the British Flag! Thanks to Sue Kendall who put together a montage of highlights from the year, which
was showcased on a giant screen! The floral feature was well thought out with displays of gold, silver and bronze
individual displays, expertly crafted by Hunsbury Hill WI!
The auditorium was packed and the stage was set for the Board to start proceedings. This included Lynda Beck,
Chairman, Anne Robson, Treasurer and Jackie Andrews, Secretary, who were seated amongst our hard working
Board of Trustees who have done a great job and have worked tirelessly on our behalf.
Lynda Beck welcomed delegates, guests and speakers to the 93 Annual Council Meeting. She was delighted
to introduce our speakers Dr Nick Barratt and Ruth Bond, NFWI Chair, who was in attendance this year to
present an update on the year’s events. This was a bonus as I’d already seen Ruth at the NFWI AGM earlier in
the year and was inspired by her work on our behalf.
Jackie Andrews then informed us of some housekeeping and safety notices, including making sure handbags
were stored safely to prevent hazards! Wonder if there’s a protocol for the rest rooms when it’s an all-female
attendance – well - nearly all, as there were a handful of men in the audience!
Then it was time for the audience to proudly sing Jerusalem, led by Natasha and accompanied by Brenda on the
piano. We all paused for thought for the disaster of Hurricane Sandy and to think about all those affected.
The Business End
Adoption of Standing Orders were carried and minutes of the last ACM meeting of the 25 October 2011, was
approved and adopted with no matters arising.
Anne Robson, Treasurer then gave us an update on the current finances and likened some of it to a Mary Quant
quote “Having money is rather like being a blonde, it’s fun but not vital!” – she said it was true in part, but that’s
where she and Mary part company as money is vital – money makes the world go round and we need money to
keep up appearance. Last year she was optimistic but this year we were doing well, despite the recession. This
was due to host of reasons including arranging good events, trips, courses and gift aid.
Looking forward she announced the pooling of fares towards the cost of the AGM for transport and attendance
towards next year’s contributions. She strongly urged Treasurers of WIs to attend workshops, especially if newly
appointed, as it “Helps us to Help You”.
Anne then paid tribute to Lynda for her genius in seeking sponsorship and different ways to raise money which
has helped in improving technology and working conditions for staff in completing the garden and the upkeep.
The Finance Committee and Board of Trustees were thanked before the 2011/12 accounts were adopted and
It was the turn for the Chairman’s address and Lynda thanked Anne for her commitment and for balancing the
books. Lynda said what a wonderful and eventful year it had been with the Baton Exchange, Queen’s Diamond
Jubilee and the ultimate celebration at Holdenby on the very first day of summer, when it was blooming freezing!
It has indeed been a special year and the bus advertising; free attendance campaign has been very successful,
which ends in January 2013. Lynda reminded us of the importance of advertising and using the WI Moodle and
the website to showcase individual WIs.
And don’t forget to have your say on the draft Constitution – make it a part of your discussions at your meeting as
the work of the WI has changed and it’s time to modernise so this is a springboard for taking us into the 21
Looking to the future, 2015 will be the WIs centenary and our federation will be celebrating three years later. So,
there’s much planning to be done and to get those little grey cells working and come up with something very
Lynda’s speech was a great round up of the year’s events and it was indeed sad to say goodbye to her as she
has been the face of the NCFWI since I’ve joined. And on a personal note, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her friendly
approach and enthusiasm for all things WI.
Thanks was given to Lynda and her very supportive husband Chris and good luck on their next adventure to
The Challenge Cups
Next the Challenge Trophy 2012 was introduced, which was the High Flyers poem and handy craft. There were
a total of 18 entries, all displayed on stage. Congratulations to Brixworth WI on the winning entry.
It was then time to launch the Challenge Trophy for 2013, which was a short sketch on the theme of the WI
Resolution (since 1918). Details and criteria will be sent with the December newsletters.
The Membership Challenge 2013 was launched which was for increased membership annually by the largest
percentage. Again details and criteria will be included in future newsletters. The challenge would run for the next
three years leading up to the centenary and the Baton would be awarded to the winners for the year.
The ACWW Project for the coming year was to raise £2,400 for Rain Water Harvesting in Sri Lanka. Rain plays a
vital role in the survival and the project would look to raise awareness and educate people on how to save/collect
water to improve health and their financial status will improve as a result. Labels will be sent to WIs, which
should be pasted to water bottles for the collection of funds towards this very worthwhile cause.
Ruth Bond, Chair of NFWI was welcomed. This is her fourth year as National Chair and if you have a chance to
read her blog, you will know just how busy her working life is and it’s amazing how she finds time to fit everything
The Chairman of NFWI – Ruth Bond
Ruth opened her speech by saying she was delighted to be here, she had been welcomed by Northamptonshire
three years previous but had memories of her car being stolen from the car park along with a few others!
She had taken this opportunity to visit our super-eco office and thought it was “splendiferous” – our challenge
was to use that word if entering the scrabble tournament!
Ruth said “to succeed you have to be the itch; you can’t scratch away until it’s healed”. She gave as an exciting
overview of her very busy schedule and made us aware of some of the campaigns and concerns. She has been
invited to the Royal College of Midwifery to make a presentation on how to run a successful campaign. She met
Deborah Meaden from Dragons Den at the Stock Climate Care campaign and got involved in a last minute
perpendicular climb because she likes to “Have a Go”! She does have to sit in on a lot of meetings but the
highlights have included an invite to the House of Lords for a Reception hosted by the Centre for Mental Health
on the “Care, Not Custody” campaign. She visited the River Room and told us that the wallpaper is as it appears
on TV, very dank and green! But the outlook over the Thames is delightful!
Ruth reminded us of the importance of archiving records and said that the NFWI has been seen as the perfect
shining example of how it should be done.
Ruth would also be nipping into No 10 Downing Street to see the Prime Minister, to raise awareness of the
“Dementia Friendly Community Champions”, for which Angela Rippon is the Chair. All organisations are being
urged to acknowledge that there are dementia sufferers around us and they should live in the community.
As for the future, there have been 144 new WIs this year, which means a great increase in membership. So the
future can take you wherever you want it to go. There has been no less than 500 new members ever week and
these numbers has given her the confidence that our members will be there supporting the continuation of the
WI. Denman is in the balance, so making sure you support it and attendance at courses is crucial.
We need to be flexible and look at meeting patterns, which will have to change – the new Constitution will uphold
WI for the coming decades but flexibility is the key. There is no doubt of the supremacy of the WI in England and
Wales and that the WI is an organisation of its time, and we should thrive because of our ethos of Women
Lynda thanked Ruth and urged women not to rush out to the car park to check if their cars were safe!
The New Board
The new Board of Trustees for 2013 was introduced - Gwen Blackburn, Diane Bradbury, Shirley Corke, Margaret
Foster, Sue Kendall, Yvonne Reid, Anne Robson, Anne Rodwell and Anne Seckington.
Lynda thanked outgoing members for their support Carolyn Libby, Gillian Smith, Linda Pugh, Fiona Mckenzie and
There are still a couple of places available to be co-opted on the Board of Trustees so please let WI House know
if you’re interested as many hands make light work.
Lynda gave thanks to her hard working team and offered a special thanks to her husband Chris, for his support
throughout and for doing the household chores whilst she was away so often. She also thanked Hunsbury Hill
WI for all their help and support and to all the members for their support and kindness. Lynda said “it’s been an
honour and a privilege to be your Chairman”.
It was then time for an interval then the raffle and prizes were drawn and presentation made for the awards:
Memorial Bursary – Evenley WI, Millennium Bursary – Braybrooke WI, County Bounty Draw, Pipewell & Rushton
WI, Denman Draw – Kings Sutton WI
Pauline Duff Trophy, Milton Malsor WI, Challenge Trophy, Blisworth WI, Spencer Arms Cup for Darts, Hunsbury
Hill WI, Skittles Trophy, Great Billing WI, Winners’ Cup for Scrabble, Dawn Osborn.
Celebrations for WIs :
90 years – Boddington WI, Brixworth WI, Glendon WI, Long Buckby WI
75 years – Newnham WI
25 years – Abington WI
New WI Advisers – Margaret Foster and Diana Birch
The Genealogist – Dr Nick Barratt
Dr Nick Barratt then took to the stage to present his talk on Geneology. Nick’s probably best known as the
researcher for his work on television, on a variety of programmes from “House Detectives”, “Who Do You Think
You Are” and “Hidden House History”. His published work amongst many includes “Tracing the History of Your
House” and “Genealogy Online for Dummies”.
Nick began by giving us some background about his rise to fame. He told us he obtained a PhD in state finance
and fiscal history from King's College London, then worked as a Medieval Historian for the National Archives
Public Record Office. Nick then joined the BBC as a Specialist Archive Researcher in 2000. During this time, he
worked on the graveyard shift - woe betide anyone who interrupted him as Nick used this as useful study time.
On one such occasion, someone walked up to the desk and asked for help as he was having trouble reading a
document from 17 century English. It was a survey of houses in Norfolk during the 1650 English Civil War.
When Nick looked into it, the document explained who owned the land, the rentable value and gave an insight
into the house. This is what led to the idea for “House Detectives” as it unfolded an insight into the houses at that
Nick sees his role as trying to redress the balance between the reality versus that which appears on television!
It’s not quite as easy as is portrayed on the small screen - you know the type - when the presenter walks up to
the bookshelf and just happen to go straight to the book that just happens to have the family tree within it, which
just happens to be signposted the right page and then with a bit of research, there it is – voila! All nicely sewn up
in a brown paper envelope! As if by magic, the envelope is opened to reveal the family history and ancestors’
spring to life before your very eyes and all in the space of an hour’s viewing! The reality is it takes years of
research and hard work and sifting through document after record and filming to get it edited down to an hour’s
Nick’s road to Damascus moment came, whilst transposing over hundreds of hours of Medieval Latin whilst
working on his PHD thesis. There was a large majority of people who were passionate about finding out about
their past and wanted Nick’s help in chasing their ancestral roots. He noticed there was something that drives us
to chase this, there is an enthusiasm about our past to find out where we are from. There is a desire to find out
who we are through the eyes of our ancestors and to see a family face or to know if we have academia or royal
connections! The past gives us explanations of why we are like we are so we want to build a picture of our family
He told us it was amazing how celebrities don’t give accurate information about their dates of birth! The census
and parish records are resource which can be used to inform on addresses, house history, social circumstances,
occupation, which gives you a broader picture of a simple family history. It also helps you to understand the
community in which our ancestors lived both locally and nationally.
Browsing and understanding can unearth amazing discoveries about your ancestors and this was the ethos of
“Who Do You Think You Are”. People use journeys into the past to make decisions about where to go in the
The aim of the series was to make ten programmes on British Social History using celebrities as presenters. The
challenge was for these celebrities to agree to do this, which was a big ask at the beginning. Now celebrities are
queuing up to be part of the programme. A lot of celebrities seem to use this as a spring board when their
careers are taking a nose dive!
It all began with categorising a list from 150 interested celebrities which was then shortlisted to 25! This was
soon narrowed down again once the criteria was informed i.e. the caveat that they are not allowed to talk to
family and friends about it and if interested then there is no script. And finally, the celebrity never gets to see the
outcome of what’s in the brown envelope until it is being filmed – there is only one take, so what you see is the
genuine reaction and adds mystique to the show.
The range displayed goes from shock, emotion, crying, happiness and scandal, so they are never sure how
celebrities are going to react! For example when Nick had to break the news very cautiously to the soprano
Lesley Garratt that they had unearthed a murderer in the family, she said “Fantastic”!
So, once all the hours and hours of filming has taken place, it is then down to the magic of editing and the voice
over for the narrator is added. So when you see the programme, it is the very same time the celebrity gets to see
it themselves – there is no opportunity for them to request any scenes to be edited!
He told us that it is difficult to keep consistency and gave us an example of Ian Hislop – the story had the military
theme showcasing his mother’s side of the family! Ian walked in the shoes of his grandfather to the frontline
during the Nazi invasion of Jersey and experienced history where it happened with the whistle blowing and the
bayonets shot then walking slowly towards the enemy line! If you ran the other way, you would be seen as a
deserter and would be shot anyway.
Research then led to exploring about his paternal grandfather who was from Scotland. There happened to be
two names matching the same description who had signed up for the same regiment. It took months of research
to narrow it down to who was the right ancestor. In desperation, the researchers went back to the source of the
information – Ian’s cousin and asked him how he knew about details of the grandfather. He slowly walked to a
set of drawers and pulled out the medals from their grandfather! So, if you ask the right question, you get the
right answers! Sometimes, it’s just luck that will give you the answers you are looking for.
He finally referred to Bill Oddie and the theme was around the industrial revolution. Bill wanted to find out about
his mother to know about his family history so he could understand himself and his bouts of depression. He
blamed his mother for some of his health problems growing up.
As a result the emphasis of the programme shifted from the industrial revolution story to focussing on
understanding Bill’s personal heritage.
When Bill was doing the big reveal from the brown envelope, he unearthed three key documents - his mother’s
marriage certificate, a birth record certificate for his sister who he knew nothing about. Following this a death
certificate issued 5 days after her birth was revealed!
His mother had been placed in a mental institution as her mother-in-law blamed her for the death of her
grandchild. Bill’s mum was sectioned to the institution for the rest of her life. However, as the drama unfolded it
proved that Bill’s mother was actually suffering from post-natal depression and was tragically put into the asylum
as they didn’t understand the symptoms.
This piece of information has helped Bill to look at this mother differently and himself . The audience really
connected with the mental health element and gave them an appetite to discover who we really all are.
Dr Nick then ended by saying that we should all explore our history and encouraged everyone to keep recording
and archiving, especially in this day and age where everything is digitalised, computerised or in iCloud land!
The Records Office are coming under financial pressure and people are not using the valuable resource
available. He urged us to look at ourselves and of the legacy we are passing on! We need to keep it going as
we are the link between the new computer generated age! If we are not careful, we will be the lost generation.
Your gravestone could simply be a QR Code – if you lose your password, what then? Does your life become
eradicated! If you don’t do it, no one else will and it will be too late!
Dr Nick was thanked for a fantastic presentation and for making us sit up and think! The WI are at the forefront of
archiving, let’s make sure we continue this into our personal lives.
For the finale, Hunsbury Harmonettes “from the community, for the community” delighted us with renditions of
songs from Mamma Mia, then ended on the Rhythm of Life! Everyone then joined in to sing the National
It was a memorable night, with a fantastic line up of speakers and entertainment, whilst ensuring business as
usual ran smoothly and to time!