After months of planning our Regional Conference 2022: Progress Not Perfection, finally took place on Saturday 14th May 2022. It was a truly beautiful spring day – warm and sunny – which showed the delightful location at Brocton Hall Golf Club to its very best advantage.
It was fantastic to have a “full house” of 100 attendees and so heart-warming to meet friends old and new and put bodies to Zoom-Faces. “I didn’t realise you were that tall. I’ve only ever seen your head!” was one of the more memorable comments I got!
Our Mistress of Ceremonies Sue McGlynn (SI Burton upon Trent & District) soon had everything under control and the mood in the room was incredibly upbeat. The planning team’s stress soon evaporated as we got going. President Judith Carder (SI Stafford) welcomed delegates and and a Roll Call of clubs was taken. Apart from members from our region’s clubs, we were delighted to welcome sister-Soroptimists from Buxton, Kenilworth and Solihull.
We were very honoured that our first speaker SIGBI International President Maureen Maguire (SI Portadown) had joined us from her home in Northern Ireland. Her journey had been incredibly fraught, and given that her presentation was entitled “Flexibility – The Key To Success” it’s fair to say that she’d “walked the walk” to get here.
Maureen began by presenting the prizes for the Regional Photographic Competition held earlier this year. The winners were:
First: £100 Janet Carleton of SI Stafford, Second: £50 Chris Corless of SI Lichfield and District and Third: £25 Nichola Balmer of SI Lichfield and District. All prize monies will be going to Soroptimist activities or charities as chosen by the winners.
Maureen went on to talk about flexible mindsets when dealing with change and disappointment. We’ve become used to moving goalposts during the pandemic but the lessons learned will stand us in good stead for the future. Positive attitudes enable us to confront and maximise opportunities and achieve new types of success in different ways, while having a Plan B and a Plan C is always good practice.
The International President’s Appeal for 2021 – 2023 is Opening Doors To A Bright Future and Maureen gave us a fascinating update on the projects already under way or in the planning stage. Maureen hopes to have an ODTABF project on each of the five continents (funding permitting) so look out for that…in the meantime:
- Over 2000 women will be registered on the project by late Summer 2022
- Literacy, health, business & leadership training on offer
- Free Access to community health services
- Tuk-Tuks hired to take pregnant women to their clinic appointments
- Great cooperation from the Commune and Village chiefs
- Knowledge empowers through innovative technology project
- Girls and women in Kanungu District
- Health, training, literacy deliverables
- SKYE Tech Club – 40 women
- 9 vulnerable women-led households with children
- Ultra-poor graduation programme
- Advanced English course for 5 vulnerable women
Carys Davina Grey-Thompson, Baroness Grey-Thompson, DBE, DL, better known as Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Welsh politician, television presenter, former wheelchair racer, and member of SI Middlesbrough was our next speaker. Tanni spoke off the cuff in a really natural, warm and witty way about her childhood, life and various careers.
She got her name “Tanni” because her elder sister Sian was disappointed at how “tiny” she was at birth – she was expecting a ready-made playmate it seems, and Tanni pointed up how accepting her school peers were of her spina bifida, virtually ignoring it and accepting her fully. As she said, “children are very accepting – until we teach them not to be.”
Tanni’s first wheelchair – which medical professionals had advised against – opened up her world. Her Dad, an architect made few changes to the family home being determined that this was not the only place Tanni could ever live. Both her parents were vocal advocates for her mainstream education, and when her local school told them “we don’t take people like Tanni at our school”, that served to ensure that she definitely went mainstream and was offered all the choices a good education brings.
Sport was important in their home, especially rugby, but Tanni was “bad” at sport. She tried swimming, basketball and other sports until someone suggested she try wheelchair racing. She was definitely underwhelmed by this idea but gave it a go. And while it’s tempting to say “the rest is history” that would be wrong. She found a good club with quality coaches but for the first few years Tanni won nothing until she finally won her last race as a junior.
Tanni gained a place at Loughborough University where she studied politics. She felt that if it was good enough for Seb Coe it was good enough for her. The competition and ethos were VERY tough indeed – to the point of being ruthless, though Tanni went on to say she has seen many improvements in the care and nurturing of the individual athlete since her time there.
Tanni is very proud to be a member of the House of Lords where she’s a crossbencher. “Politics is for losers” she’d told one of her lecturers at Uni. He subsequently sent her a card saying “Well done Loser” when she entered the House of Lords. Her daughter told her teacher that she’d got a job collecting tickets at Westminster Tube station which caused some confusion at a parents’ evening.
Tanni explained that what the House of Lords does is not “boring but technical”. They have recently pushed back on the Police Bill which would effectively prevent people protesting outside Parliament. For Tanni, that’s precisely the place people should be protesting, and while the noise levels, especially from bad drummers can be maddening, for her it’s part of a viable democracy – assuming only Grade 4 Drummers and above are allowed to play that is!
Tanni has not personally encountered ableism or misogyny in the House, but it does exist and women from all parties try and support each other in developing resilience. She was less sanguine about sport however where she has encountered many, many deeply misogynistic men.
Sport has given Tanni a platform to make a real difference, but she couldn’t have achieved it without her husband Ian, her daughter Carys and other family. Her grandad’s motto was “aim high even if you hit a cabbage” and is a good one for her life.
She regaled us with tales of the 2012 Olympic bid and how the French team was so certain of success that they held a champagne party the night before the announcement and invited the UK bid team to join them. Whoops! She told us about her broadcasting career as a “commentator’s expert friend” and how Steve Cram dropped her in it one time on BBC 1 when all the cameras failed and they had to fill time on air. Without warning he asked her: “So Tanni, tell us about the history of the paralympics then…” So she started at 1948 and had to keep going from memory until the cameras rolled again!!
Tanni’s approach when she was a professional athlete was to focus on her areas of weakness because that’s where you make the most gains. It’s an approach she’s definitely taken into all the other areas of her life too.
Sarah pre-recorded a video for us as she’s based in Washington and couldn’t be with us. Her presentation was a very timely and relevant one which picked up on the theme of misogyny and how it plays out in the media and online.
She suffered appalling trolling and abuse from pro Scottish independence supporters for several years while performing the role of Scottish political editor – to the extent that the BBC had to provide her with a security guard.
Sarah was doing her job of presenting a balanced picture of the arguments but as the daughter of former Labour party leader John Smith, she had his politics attributed to her by people who accused her of bias. The vitriol of the “keyboard cowards” was frankly terrifying and has followed her to some extent to the United States. That said she will have a lower profile while she’s there as her audience will be in the UK rather than domestic. So let’s hope she gets some respite.
The definition of a professional is that they make hard stuff look easy. That’s very true of Sarah who’s so polished and professional. She told a very personal story without self-pity or drama. It was quite upsetting to listen to at times, but we all learned so much from it and thank her for her openness and honesty.
After an excellent lunch we need to get the blood flowing again and Reena Tailor from Bollywood Dreams Dance was more than up for the task. Bollywood Dreams is a UK based company specialising in everything to do with Bollywood Dance and is the largest Bollywood Dance organisation in the West Midlands. Set up over a decade ago by Artistic Director Reena Tailor, Bollywood Dreams provides dance training, professional performances and educational workshops.
Teaching more than 180 students a week, they have taught at over 500 schools and performed at hundreds of venues nationally and internationally; taking absolute pride in “making your Bollywood Dance Dreams come true.” Reena’s high energy but accessible approach caused much laughter and enjoyment and generated all the energy we needed for the final speaker of the afternoon.
Major Kathy Betteridge is Director for Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery at The Salvation Army, based in London. She spoke eloquently and movingly on the subject “We are not for sale”.
- An estimated 40 million people are held in slavery worldwide (2017 Global Slavery Index)
- There are more slaves in the world today than were taken from Africa during 300 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade
- After drug trafficking, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world (United Nations)
In 2022 the figures are probably significantly higher.
Kathy told us of the history of the Salvation Army and its work in this area including its success in raising the age of consent to 16 in 1885. She went on to describe Modern Day Slavery and TSA’s activity in helping combat it and supporting survivors.
Traditionally slavery is illustrated with images of chains and imprisonment, but frequently people are not locked in, not in chains, but they are still trapped, unable to leave, working long hours for little or no pay, perhaps held by fear for their own safety or for the safety of their families; often living in harsh conditions.
Modern slavery covers situations of exploitation that a person can’t refuse or leave because of threat, violence, coercion or deception, which includes forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, debt bondage or forced marriage.
Victims of human trafficking are often forced to do things they don’t want to do. Traffickers use threats, violence and methods of control to exploit people who are vulnerable. Victims can be trafficked for:
- Forced Labour e.g. working in a factory, restaurant, farm, car wash, building site, or nail bar
- Criminal Activity e.g. begging, theft, illegal drug dealing, County Lines, fraud, cannabis growing
- Sex Industry and Prostitution
- Organ Removal
- Forced Marriage
- Domestic Service
Kathy explained how to spot the signs and what to do about them.
- Victims of MDS may be fearful of authority of any kind
- There are sign that they are being controlled
- They have often been recruited with false promises
- There are often language barriers
- They may say they are just visiting but they don’t know their address or the address of the place they work
- There may be children around who are not at school
- They have little self-determination or control over their own lives
- There may be high security measures in the places where they are living. For example, locks on the outside of doors,
- They receive no, or minimum pay
- They work very long hours
- They have poor physical and mental health and possibly an unkempt appearance
- They are often working without the appropriate PPE e.g. car washes
- They may be tattooed or branded
- They live in high density, multi occupancy housing
In other words they are hidden in plain sight.
TSA’s current services are delivered under the 2020 Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC) through a network of sub contractors and volunteers, and they have supported over 15,500 people since 2011.
British victims doubled in the last year owing to forced criminality, and county lines. Traffickers systematically target and exploit vulnerable people – people with mental health problems, no secure family networks, who are homeless, and may have substance addictions.
Dan’s Story is particularly harrowing but at the same time hopeful. Thanks to intervention from TSA he is turning his life around.
Finally Kathy told us how we can help:
- Raise money for the TSA’s Victim Care Fund
- Volunteer as drivers, support volunteers or chaperones
- Signpost and promote their work
- Lobby elected officials
- Help provide interview practice
- Identify job opportunities
No doubt there will be other ways and we will work with Kathy to identify these, but while we do the message is clear. Anyone can become a victim of modern day slavery.
Finally, Kate Moore CH MBE of SI Stafford gave a brief summation of the event, before Regional President Judith closed the conference and bade everyone farewell.
And now to start planning for 2023!
Special thanks go to:
- Our wonderful speakers
- Conference Planning Team – Christine Corless, Maureen Little, Nichola Balmer (SI Lichfield & District), Alison Elsmore and Katie Taylor (SI Stafford).
- MC – Sue McGlynn from SI Burton upon Trent & District
- Speaker Hosts – Lynn Shiel (SI Tamworth), Jackie Prince (SI Cannock & District), Pam Mundy (SI Sutton Coldfield) and Karen Whitworth (SI Lichfield & District)
- Greeters & Marshalls from SI Stafford
- Photographers – June Coupland and Heather Stern from SI Stafford
- The staff at Brocton Hall Golf Club