District Chairman Lynne, Rotary District Governor Stewart, Guests and fellow members of Inner Wheel

Here we are at the start of another new Inner Wheel year and I what a beautiful area to begin my journey.  As I travelled here I passed signs for places where I know there is an Inner Wheel presence and I realised that wherever you are, certainly in GB&I, but also in other parts of the world, you are never far from Inner Wheel friends.  

Although still a bit nervous as this is only my second Rally, I know I am among friends.

As one of the younger Districts in the Association, District 20 has given us 2 Association Presidents, most recently Joan Fitzmaurice in 1989/90 and Association Treasurer Angie Saunders. I have also enjoyed working with members from District 10 – the lovely and much missed Mavis Hughes was District Chairman with me, Members of Council Lesley Bent, Margaret Berry, Val Hellin also on Conference Committee, Tricia Harris, also Publications Committee and Linda Quinn and Pru Witter for three years as treasurer.  It has been so nice to see some of them again today.  Another connection – one of my closest friends in District 8, Carole Gunthorpe was a member of the Langport and Somerton Club.  

I am from Norfolk and as our most famous son, Admiral Lord Nelson said “I am proud to be so” – you could call me a Norfolk Dumpling or a Norfolk Broad even – both appropriate I think !  Although a very different landscape to this part of the world Norfolk does have its own beauty – very flat but with many highs.   I am a member of the IW Club of Great Yarmouth, formed in 1934.  Our claim to fame is that our Charter is No. 79 therefore we are the last of the “79ers” the Clubs formed before the Association was created in 1934.

I am a positive, half full sort and if I had a theme this year it would be: “BE POSITIVE” !  It is a word you will hear again !  So, with apologies to William Shakespeare,  I come to praise Inner Wheel, not to bury it.  Inner Wheel is a positive success story, written by women about women over 93 years and we today continue to write the story.  Over these 93 years the basic principles of Inner Wheel have not changed – we still follow the same aims and objectives.  As soon as the very first club was formed in 1924 the members were knitting, fundraising AND having fun !!  The very early Minutes of my own club record fundraising in 1935 to donate two guineas to the “fallen women of Great Yarmouth” and in October, 1942 there was no business as the meeting ended early so they could go and see “Gone With The Wind” !  But Inner Wheel members have always been “modern women” and have moved with the times, certainly leaving hats and gloves firmly in the wardrobe.

Five years ago, the famous, or infamous depending on your view, Proposal 17 was passed at the IIW Convention in Istanbul allowing us to widen our membership opportunities.  This does not mean that we have broken all ties with Rotary and I am sure that we still work with and will continue to support our Rotary friends.   But I very strongly encourage Clubs to embrace this open membership in a  positive way and welcome new members .

These new members have chosen to join Inner Wheel because they admire what we do and want to be a part of it and not just because, if you will excuse the expression, they just happen to sleep with a Rotarian.  It is ironic that while opening membership to women has been a lifeline to Rotary, loosening our link with Rotary has given new life to many Inner Wheel Clubs.  I know only too well that clubs are closing but we attracted over 600 new members in 2015/16 and some 500 last year which is very positive and encouraging and I think that reports of the death of Inner Wheel are greatly exaggerated.  Don’t you agree ?

But we must continue to modernize and move forward in order to continue to ensure a lasting and positive future by strengthening and supporting our Clubs.  Young women today are very much career women, who marry later, have their families later and probably would consider joining organisations like Inner Wheel later too.  But we must not get hung up on the “age thing” – it is after all just a number !  I have heard of one Club who have moved their meeting venue to a somewhat upmarket RETIREMENT VILLAGE, the perfect opportunity of recruiting newly retired 50+ women moving to a new area and looking to make new friends.  Anyway, Inner Wheel members think young and are positive – remember clubbing at Pryzm in Nottingham !!

Margaret Mears, an American academic, said : “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can make a difference;  it’s the only thing that ever has”.  Sound familiar ? Hold this thought – Inner Wheel “makes a difference”, a positive and valuable contribution to communities everywhere.  That is our great strength.  It’s in our DNA.  Thanks to the work and generosity of our members, someone, somewhere in the world, it may be at home, may be in another country or  continent, has food, has clean water, has had his sight restored, feels less isolated.  What could possibly be a more positive achievement or indeed lasting legacy ?  There has never been more need for volunteers than in today’s world.  Whatever our natural talents, each of us can find a way to use them to benefit others and Inner Wheel itself.

I do appreciate how hard it is to get the recognition and respect that we deserve, get the name of Inner Wheel out there and attract new members.  In the past we had to rely on mostly uninterested and uncooperative local newspaper editors but now we have websites, Facebook – our Facebook page has over 400 members - and Twitter.  Could  we this year, every Club, every one of us,  join in a common objective, be pro-active and make a positive effort to enhance our public image, shine out,  be recognized for our amazing work.  I know it’s hard but it is vital.

Dare I say – “try a different way of doing things” ?  I am sure we all know that longstanding member who, when asked “you must have seen many changes in your time”  replies “Yes, and I have resisted them all !”  

Remember too that many so-called “rules” are just traditions.  Think outside the box, do something in addition to the usual meetings to which the local community can relate and at the same time create recruitment opportunities.  I have found some interesting ideas  just by reading District Magazines and Club Newsletters :

 One District organised a bulb planting campaign.  Why not try a similar initiative at District or Club  level planting bulbs or trees to help the environment and at the same time put Inner Wheel on the local map – this would also be a wonderful opportunity of getting clubs to work together, supporting IIW President Kamila’s theme of “LEAVE A LASTING LEGACY”

 Create a community award for adults or young people – the latter would fit well with the general motion for the IIW Convention dealing with getting our message across to schools

 Service – we have  been invited to collaborate with Rotary and other organisations in easing the problems of dementia.  Inner Wheel can play an important, valuable and positive role here and at the same time get our name and wonderful reputation OUT THERE !

Although not one of our aims, Inner Wheel members are mistresses of the art of fundraising, always finding new and innovative ways of doing it.  I have the privilege of choosing a charity for this year and I am asking you to support Children’s Hospices.  My goddaughter recently had a little boy after a very difficult pregnancy and birth but thankfully he is doing absolutely fine, growing strong and healthy.  Not every family is so lucky.  Rather than having a central fund I would like you to contribute to YOUR local hospice. Fundraising is of course vitally important, but we can also support them with practical help and personal service, for example assisting at events and with gardening.  I am sure that Clubs will all know their local hospice but District Chairman Lynne has details.  I would be grateful if Clubs could let me or the office know when they make a contribution to their hospice.

As mentioned, earlier this year, Inner Wheel was approached by Rotary to be part of a new initiative called the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge Group with other voluntary service organisations, such as the WI, Royal Voluntary Service, Soroptimists, Lions and the Royal Masonic Benevolent Society aimed at helping to ease the problems of dementia.  I know that many Inner Wheel members are already involved as Dementia Champions and Friends, helping  in many ways. By coincidence I had already chosen Alzheimer’s Research UK to receive the retiring collection at the Service at Conference.   There was a time when we would say that we had all been touched  by cancer.  Nowadays very few of us have not been affected  by dementia in our family, among our friends and indeed in our Inner Wheel Club.  When I read that deaths from dementia-related illnesses had now surpassed those of cancer I felt we had to help.  Mother Teresa said : “I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a pebble across  the waters to create a ripple” and I would like to think that  Inner Wheel can be part of that ripple.

Conference is of course back “home” in Bournemouth next year, from 19th to 21st March.  We are planning what I hope will be a successful and enjoyable event - it will be hard to follow  Zena’s great Conference in Nottingham with that Robin Hood.  I wondered if perhaps Ivanhoe came from Bournemouth ?  Or some other man in tights ? All I can find is Max Bygraves and the idea of him in tights oh no – don’t let’s go there !!  This is also the third and final year for the IIW Happier Futures – Better Lives project and I hope that we will  be able to present a nice cheque to the GB&I choice, Young Carers at Conference.  I look forward to welcoming you there.

It will be a great honour to represent the Association at the Convention in Melbourne next April  which as always will be interesting and allow us to meet fellow members from across the world and the chance to visit Australia  at the same time is very exciting.   I am sure I will meet some of you there too.

Another Inner Wheel year has begun, new projects, hopefully new members.  A big thank you to those taking office, thank you for all you do in the name of Inner Wheel.  Thank you for supporting me this year.

What do I hope for in the year ahead ?  That we all enjoy working as a team as Presidents Thelma, Trish and Zena have encouraged us, that we embrace open membership, we continue to move forward and meet the challenges of the modern world and live up to IIW President Kamila’s theme, “leaving a lasting legacy”.

Thank you for the amazing warm welcome I have found in District 20 and for all your good wishes for the operation on Monday.  

Inner Wheel is special, a women’s organisation, run by women for women who are caring, giving, doing and loving.  I echo Maya Angelou when I say :

“We are Woman. Phenomenally.  Phenomenal Woman. That’s us”

Let the adventure begin.