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Thumbs Up for the Region Meeting of Northern Clubs in London Chilterns

SILC North Jun 23It was a thumbs up from the nineteen Soroptimists who participated in the Soroptimist International London Chilterns, Northern Group of Clubs Regional Meeting in Redbourn on Sat 3 June.

The five Clubs invited were: Aylesbury and District, Bedford, Hertford and District, Milton Keynes, St Albans and District – it was only Members of SI Bedford who sadly were unable to attend because we had changed the date. It was lovely that Associate Member and former SI London Chilterns President, Alison Sutherland, was able to join us.

The aim of holding these meetings with smaller clusters of Clubs more locally is to enable more Members to attend and find ways to work more closely together, and to gain encouragement and inspiration around Programme Action. This is a trial and the Western group of Clubs is met on 17 June The two London Clubs in our Region have been meeting separately as part of the “London Collective”. It looks so far like the trial has the thumbs up!

Members who attended are invited to click here to complete the feedback form: 

Helen Byrne led the meeting. Helen is the Region’s Membership Officer and one of the Members of the Region’s Executive sharing the Presidency this year. Other Officers supporting Helen on the day were Kate Belinis (President-Elect), Denise Powell (Treasurer) and Jane Slatter (Communications Officer).

Helen kicked things off by asking people to speak to a member of another club who they hadn’t spoken to before and talk about a Programme Action project or activity the club undertakes and which they enjoy the most/find the most satisfying and why. The room was filled with chatter very quickly – Soroptimists don’t need telling twice to talk – it turned out to be much harder for Helen to get everyone to stop their conversations, but there was plenty of time for them to be continued later.

Our speaker was Kate Belinis, SILC President-Elect, CEO of CDA Herts and a Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire – the title of Kate’s talk was  “Reaching out to Communities” (please see below for Kate’s Biography).

SILC North Helen Byrne Kate Belinis Jun 23

Kate used a few power point slides which you can download by clicking here SILC Kate Belinis 3 Jun 23 Reaching Out to Communities Kate ran us through her career using these slides – a talk which was both inspiring and amusing.

Kate Belinis has combined all her skills, knowledge and experiences gained from senior management career and community engagement to develop and deliver different models of asset based community development. Her passion for the professional and personal development of women and girls has been a key motivator to support them through their training and making the most of networking. Her current role as CEO of CDA Herts (Community Development Action Hertfordshire – see below for more info about the charity) has been to reduce health inequalities for Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) people and communities, marginalised protected groups, which has enabled her to bring diverse people and communities together to celebrate International Women’s Day.
When Kate did her degree in carpet and textile technology she was the only female on the course – something that appeared to bother the lecturers more than it bothered Kate! When she got her job in Analytical Services at Tesco she was worried that she wasn’t a scientist, but they wanted her for her people skills because they needed her to manage a redundancy programme which they knew she would do with compassion. After she was made redundant she started the next stage of her career as a volunteer, then Chair  at Stevenage and North Herts Women’s Resource Centre. This then led to a job at the University of Herts Business School, on a Women’s Returners Programme, working with Colleges, employers and women wanting to return to work.  Her first voluntary sector job on a European project delivering training to BAME communities and gaining skill at working with local councils. Kate has many roles as well as being the Chief Executive of CDA Herts. The COVID pandemic really shone a light on the health inequality for BAME communities.  She is the Chair of Herts Equality Council, Stevenage World Forum for Ethnic Communities and a number of other regional and local diversity and community engagement organisations, working for social justice and to improve the health of rural and BAME communities. Kate told us she is keen on myth busting – to understand why groups don’t access services on offer – including language and lack of trust. They need to understand the services and how they can benefit.  She was pleased how people all pulled together in the pandemic. She believes in engaging with community activists to communicate messages and told us about how they managed to increase the take-up of COVID vaccines using postcards and building trust. She uses “ABCD” – Asset Based Community Development” – the importance of citizen led support by local residents – encouraging people to look after themselves and their communities. She has been horrified recently by the statistics and news in the UK about maternity care for BAME communities.

Kate told us that she is nosey and unable to say “no” – which is how she gets to be involved in so many things (including adding being a Soroptimist in recent years!).

Kate is the Chair of The United Women’s Group which, with the Stevenage World Forum has celebrated International Women’s Day since 2007. At the first one she had to manage the challenges of a threat on the life of an Iraqi Speaker – demonstrating how good she is at managing crises. The events were run at North Herts College in Stevenage – connecting groups, especially from BAME communities, with the college who wouldn’t think it was for them.

Kate is keen on “discoverables” and not “deliverables”. She has a passion for diversity which she describes as “magic”. A word that also describes Kate’s talk – it was indeed “magic“.

After this we had an interactive Programme Action Session (Programme Action is the Soroptimist terminology for our projects).

Quite a few Clubs have embraced “Orange Day” on the 25th of the Month.  The Soroptimist UK Programme Programme Action Committee has joined the UNiTE campaign, a day to raise awareness and take action to end violence against women and girls and   As a bright and optimistic colour, orange represents a future free from violence against women and girls. This goes alongside “Orange the World”16 days of activism to end gender based violence 25 Nov to 10 Dec.

We heard from SI Hertford, SI Milton Keynes, SI Aylesbury and SI St Albans.

We heard how SI Hertford had “Oranged” their Quiz night last year – with an orange theme, info cards on tables and everyone wearing something orange

The Club had also held an “Orange café” events on the 25th of month at Mudlarks, a horticultural and gardening community charity supporting people with learning disabilities and mental health issues. Members of the Hertford Club wear orange as a talking point with other customers and have found it has been good for the Club Members to meet up too.

There was an open conversation about choosing different venues on a thoroughfare, perhaps near school where Mums may gather. It is good to get people get chatting at the orange cafe events and they found that if someone volunteers to take group a photo it is a good catalyst for conversation. A point was made that sometimes you can feel you are talking the the ‘wrong person’ but the conversation can make them the ‘right person’

We all agreed that where Councils have gained “White Ribbon” accreditation we need to work alongside the campaign, not try to compete with it. White Ribbon has the same aims as orange the world, to end violence against women and girls, and can probably engage men and boys better than we can (White Ribbon is a charity engaging men and boys to end violence against women and girls). We need engage with local authorities to help them to understand oranging as well as White Ribbon.

SI Aylesbury had success with a local church turning orange. They also held a mini conference on domestic abuse.

We all agreed that we must persevere as things can be a ‘slow burner’ which you can build on and you can sow seeds to be reaped later…

SI St Albans have had success with Orange the World 16 Days of Activism and want to be clear about the aim so people understand why we are doing it – the same applies with the “Orange café” events.

Before lunch we briefly covered SI London Chilterns Region business. Denise Powell, Treasurer, reminded Clubs that it’s the time of year to pay the levy to the Region.

Helen Byrne, Region Membership Officer announced a “New Members” event on Thu 24 Aug at 7.30pm on Zoom – to be run by Region to help new Members to understand the “bigger Soroptimist picture”. Clubs are asked to nominate new Members and information will be sent to Clubs. She also reminded people we need a Secretary and Benevolent Fund Trustee.  Helen encouraged people to join the Region’s Executive/organising meetings on Zoom to find out more, and for volunteers to be on a “Go To” list so they can be asked to help the Region if required on an ad-hoc basis.

Jane Slatter, Region Communications Officer asked Clubs if they wanted to continue with “Dear Diary”, the calendar of events from around the Region and beyond. She wants to review it because she doesn’t receive many events from Clubs to publish. The Members at this meeting said they wanted to keep it and wanted a relaunch (not a WhatsApp group). Perhaps Clubs need to decide who will submit for their Club and we can send them a reminder of the due date each month? The new name RED was suggested “Region Events Diary”. We will also ask the Western Clubs about it at the 17 June meeting.

We then had a break for lunch, people had brought their own lunch or could pop out and buy something locally. Refreshments were available in the hall. It was very relaxed and enjoyable because there was plenty of time for people to chat more over lunch and also to go out for some fresh air and sunshine.

Membership Session – Helen Byrne – Helen introduced a participative Membership activity in which we split into groups, mainly by Clubs, to consider your Club’s Programme action in Membership terms i.e. which activities could engage potential members and if so how best to describe it so potential members can understand how they could easily get involved and how their involvement would make a difference for women and girls.Programme action can be quite complicated to understand so how we describe it to potential members is very important.The headings were:• Your Club action.• What can new members do/how can they get involved?• How does this work make a difference for women and girls?The groups shared examples:

Preparing and donating “moving bags” for women moving into their own accommodation from the women’s refuge. New members can be involved be contributing items to the bags. This gives a opportunity to learn about the experiences of women in the refuge leaving a domestic abuse situation. It is also a practical way to support individual women at the refuge. The evenings when they put the bags together are fun too.

Smalls for All donations of lightly worn bras and brand new pants. Asking female friends if they can donate bras – recycling and the bras go to Africa and are donated to women so that they gain more respect and dignity that reduce risk of attacks. Pants are also now being provided to girls in need in the UK.

Home-Start Pancake race, St Albans – a Home-Start activity which the club supported. Two members promoted activity by leafleting local shops and businesses and this brought in more local business engagement and raised more funds for Home-Start, helping women and children in the area. Leafleting was a task that we could ask a new member to do.

Quiz evening – new members can join in easily and it is a fun event that raises money for club charities supporting women and girls.

SILC North Jun 23

To wrap up Helen explained that this way of doing Regional meetings in smaller groups was to give members a chance to meet and chat with members in local Clubs. A feedback form will be sent out with the Eventbrite follow up message which we encourage people to complete to help with planning for next year. Feedback within the meeting was positive with members saying the shorter journey, low cost, shorter day so not such a big commitment and the meeting feels less formal. The meetings done in this way are also more accessible for members with health concerns. Helen and the organising team received lots of positive comments and thanks for the event – a “thumbs up” all round as in our closing photo!

A number of Members of the Region will be attending the Soroptimist International Convention in Dublin in July and hope to meet up then – “Challenge the Future”

The next SI London Chilterns Region meeting is the AGM on Zoom Saturday 7th October 10am to 1pm – details will be sent to Clubs.

We were also reminded that bookings are open for the SIGBI Conference London Fri 3 – Sat 4 Nov at Friends House, Euston Road, London NW1. People can book for 1 day or both and timings mean that Members of our Region can travel there and back in the day.


CDA HertsThe Region made a donation to CDA Herts to thank Kate for speaking and arranging for CDA Herts to sponsor the event. CDA Herts stands for Community Development Action Hertfordshire. The charity has been helping communities and delivering projects and services for over 50 years to help improve life for both rural and urban Hertfordshire. It brings together people and communities, champions the disadvantaged and provides advocacy for minorities and excluded groups. It provides support for voluntary organisations in need of infrastructure and resources.

Kate BelinisKate Belinis – Biography

Kate is a Member of SI Hertford and District. She has been Club President for the last 2 years and is President-Elect for London Chilterns Region.

Kate is the CEO of CDA Herts since 2006. She has worked in Hertfordshire and London for many years as CEO in the voluntary sector in community development/engagement; criminal justice system, employment and governance training. . Prior to her voluntary and community roles, she worked in the private sector for 20 years in the analytical/testing of retail products and quality assurance sectors.
Her passion is in the development of sustainable communities and their infrastructure needs to enrich their communities and quality of life. Her work and networks cover rural affairs, health and social justice and the support of marginalised people and communities including the protected groups.  Kate has been involved in numerous forums and networks during the pandemic and continues to advocate on health inequalities and communities not having a voice at the “top tables” for people and communities from Black Asian Minority Ethnic Refugees and Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.  In 2018 Stevenage Rotary awarded Kate the Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of her community cohesion work in Stevenage. CDA Herts won the 2022 High Sheriff’s award for their work with Jobs Pathway, a recruitment agency for ex-offenders and the COVID Recovery Black Asian Minority Ethnic projects.
Kate continues to maintain as an active volunteer Trustee and is Chair of Stevenage World Forum for Ethnic Minorities;  Herts Equality Council and MENTER (Minority Ethnic Network in The Eastern Region) and committee member of Friends of Ware Priory and British Royal Legion Women’s Group.
Her interests are diverse communities, multiculturalism, Women’s groups, education, heritage.
Kate was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire in 2011 and is an Ambassador for Herts Community Foundation.