The local Federation of Women’s Institutes in Northern Ireland was represented by their Federation Chairman, Elizabeth Warden from Newtownards when the National Federation in England & Wales recently celebrated their centenary at their annual meeting in the Royal Albert Hall, London.
The special guests HM The Queen, HRH The Princess Royal and HRH The Countess of Wessex, all active members of the organisation, were greeted by the 5,000 members and friends who packed the spectacular venue on Thursday 4th June.
The theme for the meeting was “The WI inspiring women for 100 years”.
To mark the anniversary a baton had travelled around 18,000 miles between the 69 Federations starting in the Isle of Man and was presented at the meeting to Her Majesty by representatives from the Surrey Federation.
The current Chair of the National Federation, Janice Langley from West Sussex, welcomed the Royal visitors to the meeting and remarked on the close connections that the organisation had always had with members of the Royal family. She was delighted that HRH The Duchess of Cambridge was seriously considering joining her local Institute which would hopefully help to lower the perceived age profile of the WI.
The Queen expressed her good wishes and paid tribute to the farseeing ladies of Anglesey who, in 1915, in the midst of the First World War had formed the first Institute. She wished the National Federation every success for the coming years. The Royal visitors were presented with bouquets which included the new majestic rose named inspiration by three granddaughters of WI members and were able to sample one of the 44 celebratory cakes which had been made and included 176 eggs and 26 bottles of rum. No wonder it appeared a little difficult for the guest of honour to cut!
The initial annual membership fee had been 2 shillings which over the years had risen to £36. The organisation continues to flourish with a current membership of approximately 212,000 members.
The WI is embracing modern technology and had three live broadcast links during the meeting with Institutes in Anglesey, Great Torrington in Devon and the Social Lites in Cheshire.
One of the guest speakers was Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who, although wheelchair bound for many years, is a very amusing and truly inspirational lady. She is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and has adopted her Granddad’s motto of “Aim high even if you hit a cabbage”.
Predictably the meeting closed with the singing of Jerusalem which was adopted as the National Federation’s anthem in 1924.
Elizabeth reflected that it was a wonderful experience to be present at such a wonderful meeting and to compare it with the Annual Meeting of our Federation in Northern Ireland which is held in March.
“Here we have a different anthem, A Countrywoman’s Song, our motto is Women Involved in Family, Fun and Friendship and we may not be as active in using the strength of our united voice to campaign on various issues.
“Both organizations, however, certainly include many members who are truly Inspirational Women,” she added.