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Region Meeting of Western Clubs in London Chilterns – a hit in the heat!

 West SILC Jun 23 waveWe had a great turnout with 41 people attending the Region meeting of Western Clubs in London Chilterns Region on Saturday  17th June in Bourne End. The event was a great hit in spite of the heat! Members came from these 5 “Western” Clubs – High Wycombe and District, Newbury and District,  Oxford and District, Slough Windsor & Maidenhead, and Thames Valley plus Region Officers from SI Hertford and SI St Albans. Our hosts, SI Thames Valley, had 12 Members there and their warm hospitality helped to make the event run smoothly.

We had guests from other Soroptimist Clubs including as far afield as Madurai in India. Latha Abiruben was visiting family in London and joined us so that she could spend time with Members of the Oxford Club which SILC West Kori sales Rose Simbohas a Friendship Link with SI Madurai. Judith Williams from SI Bridgend was a guest too. Rose Hutchinson from SI Stratford-upon-Avon brought lots of beautiful hand-made items, including cushions, toys, tea towels and more! to sell to the group in aid of the Kori project – SI Thames Valley’s key project supporting women and girls in Kori, Sierra Leone. Rose’s table top shop proved very popular raising an amazing total of £265.50 on the day! Rose Simbo, member of SI Thames Valley and lead of the Kori Project is pictured here proudly with just some of the goodies. We also welcomed the sister-in-law of a Member of SI Slough Windsor and Maidenhead. It was a really lively and friendly event and everyone appeared to enjoy their time together.

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 Northern group of Clubs met on 3 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:

Intro West SILC Jun 23Helen 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 Jen Simpson (Federation Councillor), Kate Belinis (President-Elect), Pam Robertson (Programme Action Officer) 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 already buzzing so this was even more reason to indulge in some great conversations. Soroptimists don’t need telling twice to talk and there was plenty of time for conversations to be continued later.

West SILC Jun 23 OKOURKIDSSue Granshaw from SI High Wycombe (pictured here on the right) introduced our Speakers – Lynn Bartley and Tony Churchill – founders of “OK Our Kids”   There is lots of information about the charity on the website so please take a look. It included endorsement of their work by John Campbell, Chief Constable, Thames Valley Police. The couple are based in High Wycombe and supported by Rotary International. The charity’s mission is to empower children in the UK so they can deal confidently with the challenges and dangers of staying safe at home, school and in the community. Their book “Watch Out” is aimed at children age 5-11. It includes 34 topics OK Our Kidssuch as internet awareness, diversity, first aid, stealing, modern day slavery. The books can be used as a teaching aid and they would like to get the books to every child in the UK. “Purple Pup” is the series of booked for vulnerable younger children age 4-7. They also created a game called “Mistakes and Ladders” which is a fun way to learn and talk about serious issues and has sold 1000. There is also a purple pup toy (Lynn is holding one in the photo. He has 1 yellow ear to remind children that there is always someone there to listen. Tony told us that half a million children/year suffer abuse in the UK. The NSPCC is following up on 27000 children a year who suffer from abuse and neglect which will impact them for life.  As always at Soroptimist events there were lots of great questions. Support from Rotary is currently mainly in the Home Counties but has also extended to Wales (with Welsh language publications), Peterborough and Scotland. Clubs could buy the books and take them to schools – they are accepted better by schools with a presentation/explanation of the resources. Teenagers are not currently included – Lynn and Tony wanted to start educating young children so they are empowered to act later. The link with Rotary was an easy one because many Rotary Clubs have reading programmes in schools. Their books and games are so popular they are running short of stock and need to do another print run. However they need some funding before they can do this as they only charge an amount which just covers costs so don’t have any profit to fund upfront costs  So if anyone can help…. They were made “Coronation Champions” by Queen Camilla which they are rightly proud of. It was great to hear from Tony and Lynn about the amazing work they are doing and they would love to have support from Soroptimists. The Region is making a donation of £75 to the charity as a thankyou. The work really chimes with the Soroptimist ethos of “Educate, Empower, Enable”.

SILC West Christine CorlessOur Programme Action session started with Pam Robertson, our Region’s representative at UKPAC, introducing Chris Corless (pictured here) providing an update on the Specialist Domestic Violence Court Observations Project. Chris is the lead on this project for Soroptimist UK Programme Action (UKPAC) – Chris was previously a member of SI Lichfield but has moved recently and we are now very fortunate to have her as a Member of SI Oxford in our Region. Most Clubs at the meeting had participated in the project. The Report has been printed and is available online. It is being launched to media organisations week commencing 19 June and then we can all help to get the report to the people who can implement the changes highlighted and get it into the local press. It will be sent to Police and Crime Commissioners, Police Chiefs, MPs, Ministers and more. At least 4000 hours have been spent on it.

West SILC Jun 23Next Pam Robertson introduced the topic of “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 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 “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. 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. Pam’s advice is to do what suits your Club. There are promotional materials in “The Hub” for members to access on a “Trello Board” – just search for “Orange” in the Hub online Library. Pam had attended the UKPAC meeting the week before and updated us that the focus of UKPAC is Violence Against Women (includes the Specialist Domestic Violence Court Observation Project), Women’s Safety and Climate Challenge. She encouraged us all to read the UKPAC monthly blogs about ending violence against women,

Helen Byrne then led the group through some of the Region’s business. Officers’ reports had been circulated at to Clubs at the beginning of June and Clubs were reminded that it’s the time of year to pay the levy to the Region.

Helen announced an “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). 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 also asked the Northern Clubs about it at the 3 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, to sit outside in the sunshine and indulge in retail therapy at the Kori Project table top shop.

Membership Session – Helen Byrne in her role as Region Membership Officer. Helen started by going through a letter from Dishi Attwood, SIGBI Membership Director – it includes lots of ideas and Clubs are encouraged to read it in the online-Hub.

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:SI Thames Valley has the Kori Project which everyone in the Club can easily get involved in. By describing it through a bulleted list of the activities the project involves, including how the activity helps women and girls, helps potential members easily see at a glance how to get involved and what a difference they will make.:– Knitting baby items for newborns, blankets for children and larger blankets too for older members of the community(they always need any spare wool too).-They collect bras and knickers so women are treated with dignity as women without these items ( which can be hard to get in Sierra Leone) are often attacked or sexually abused.– They raise money so they can pay to transport goods to Sierra Leone which will include equipment for schools – they are currently looking for school shelving and tables. Their support for the local women’s Refuge includes donating toilet paper, tissues, toothbrushes and sanitary products. This on-going project is to provide items for women who arrive at the Refuge with nothing and helps them settle into the Refuge and gives them dignity and boosts their self esteem.They also asked the Refuge what the women needed as gifts at Christmas and were able to donate gift vouchers for shops of their choice.They donate money for redecorating and for garden toys for the children.It is worth consider other ways to promote the project e.g. An idea was that they could advertise for contributions – or the Club could contact local business women to see if any of them might want to sponsor a consignment of be willinh to seek donations from companies.SI Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead enjoy holding “knit and natter” events which make a difference for the local hospice. Potential members don’t have to be knitters to join in and will.learn more about the hospice and the Club’s support when joining in.  The Club also support Age Concern Windsor with lunches and entertainment for the elderly 2 Tuesdays per month.
Listing some of the tasks involved in running the event could help potential and new members see how to get involved. It is also important to think through and highlight to potential members what a difference these activities make for the elderly and perhaps the satisfaction members get from doing it as this is what makes potential members need to hear and what will make them get excited about joining in.SI Stratford Upon Avon make washable sanitary pads for the Kori Project in Sierra Leone. They just cut out all the pieces which are sewn together by the women themselves in Kori. This “cutting out” session is an inclusive activity for members of all abilities so new members could easily join a session and help whilst also learning about the issues being addressed.SI Oxford – Barbara shared that though she had done some activities in her first year as a very new member she had only really understood Programme Action when she went to her first SIGBI conference in Belfast – something some members from other clubs agreed with. She then understood that with every member who does a little, collectively it makes a big difference.SI High Wycombe packs Christmas boxes and bowls of household items for their local women’s Refuge. They also support project Azalea with packs of new pants. Rangers and Guides have also joined in to support the Club.SI Newbury make pillowcase dresses for “Action Through Enterprise” in Ghana. Everyone can easily join in with cutting, sewing and pinning. The Club also support the Elizabeth Fry half-way house in Reading providing bowls of household items for leavers. Again potential members can easily be encouraged to contribute items although it would help them to add in an explanation of why the household items help, how often these are needed and what challenges the women have in finding accommodation when they leave.Regional Councillor Jen Simpson rounded up the meeting with a bullet point summary of takeways:
  • We had participated in, what felt like, a positive experiment and got to know each other better
  • We had learned from our speakers
  • We had been updated on Programme Action and the Specialist Domestic Abuse Court Observation project
  • We had learned more about Orange Cafes and more Clubs want give it a go
  • We had an update on Regional Business and 6 people signed up on the “Got To List” to help Region on an ad-hoc basis
  • We learned more about how to make Programme Action key to the engagement of members

Jen said she had felt “joy” – the event had satisfied her curiosity and she was leaving feeling inspired! (thanks Jen!)

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.