WI members from all over Hampshire crowded into Portsmouth Guildhall for Hampshire Federation of WI’s Spring Council Meeting on 19 March 2014.

Chairman Brenda Fletcher welcomed members and honoured guests to the meeting and introduced The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Lynne Stagg, who in turn welcomed everyone to Portsmouth, extolling its history and inviting all present to visit the new Mary Rose Museum.

After five years as treasurer, Vara Williams presented her last financial statement, and was delighted to announce that the Federation had enjoyed an encouraging year with the result that the accounts were showing a surplus.

Guest speaker, Suzie Philips, Climate Action Change co-ordinator for Cool Communities, advised members to be vigilant in their energy consumption. An audience participation ‘heads or tails’ quiz on the subject produced some surprising results and made members realise that perhaps they could do more to save the planet! With this in mind Hampshire Federation have this month launched a Small Steps campaign where WI’s throughout the county will compete to see how by how much they can reduce their carbon footprint.

Valerie Stevens, European Area President of the Associated Country Women of the World (“ACWW”) gave an impassioned presentation of her work. The three main functions of ACWW are that it embodied an international voice; provided a helping hand; and extended the arm of friendship, embracing women from all over the world. Valerie’s next trip, visa permitting, will take her to Siberia, but not before she and husband George (who valiantly managed the production of various slides Valerie used to illustrate her talk) have heeded the Lord Mayor’s advice and paid a visit to the Mary Rose Museum.

Members were reminded of the various sub committees activities and proposals for the WI centenary celebrations in 2015.

During the lunch break, members and guests had a chance to go around the various tables promoting WI activities, and catch up with old friends.

The afternoon guest speaker, Geoff Holt MBE, delighted everyone with an interesting and inspiring talk about his life. Speaking from his wheelchair he explained that an accident at the age of 18 had left him paralysed. Sailing had, up until the accident, been Geoff’s passion, and he had hoped to make his living from sailing. With wry humour, and not a trace of self-pity, Geoff described how he had coped with the altered circumstances of his life. He described how he had married Elaine and had a son, Tim. Like any father Geoff wanted to share his love of sailing with his son and this provided him with the motivation to return to the sea. There was hardly a dry eye in the audience when Geoff proudly showed a picture of him and his young son sailing together. Geoff’s achievements since that day are legendary. He was the first disabled person to sail unassisted across the Atlantic Ocean (2009/10). He has been awarded various honours including receiving the MBE for “Services to Disabled Sailing” in 2010. Geoff was also justifiably proud that also in 2010 the Yachting Journalists Association voted him Yachtsman of the Year.

The meeting ended with entertainment from Tim Austin OBE, singing and playing his guitar while accompanied by an impromptu HCFWI Skiffle Group and a large audience of WI members.

Drawing the meeting to a close, Chairman Brenda Fletcher thanked the Board of Trustees and WI advisors for their invaluable support, Vara Wiliams, for her role as treasurer over the last five years, and the office staff at WI House for their cheerful efficiency.