President Denis, Rotarians, Guests and fellow members of Inner Wheel

Thank you for your invitation to attend your Conference.

Good afternoon Conference.  Confession time.  My name is Liz. I’m a Norfolk Broad and a member of Inner Wheel.

We have just celebrated 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act gave certain women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.  The fight for women’s suffrage began in Manchester when Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social & Political Union in 1903.  Manchester was apparently a hot bed of radical and liberal thinking and of course the birthplace of another women’s movement which could well have been considered radical and liberal at the time when Margarette Golding held the first meeting of Inner Wheel in 1924.  Rotary was a men only organisation and the members turned to their wives for assistance, probably with the catering, and fundraising.  The ladies formed committees and auxiliaries until IW was formally set up because they saw needs in their community which were not being addressed by Rotary.

Through its origins, Inner Wheel and Rotary are inextricably linked. Of course, for some 80 years, the essential qualification for joining IW was not, for example, being a caring volunteer or an enthusiastic fundraiser, but rather sleeping with a Rotarian.  Over the years Inner Wheel membership qualifications were relaxed to allow the female relatives of Rotarians and Inner Wheel members to join until, six years ago, a proposal was passed at the International Convention in Istanbul allowing us to widen our membership opportunities.  I want to reassure President Denis and Rotarians that this does not mean, as is often reported, that we have broken all ties with Rotary.  Indeed many Inner Wheel members have embraced Rotary and its ideals while still retaining their Inner Wheel membership.  We still work with and will continue to support our Rotary colleagues.

But is it not ironic that while opening membership to women has been a lifeline for Rotary, loosening, and I use that term advisedly, loosening our link with Rotary has given new life to many Inner Wheel clubs.

These new members have chosen to join Inner Wheel because they admire what we do and want to be part of it.  I agree that they could of course join Rotary but perhaps they do not want a weekly commitment, are not interested in the business networking side that Rotary originally offered and find meeting once a month with Inner Wheel more convenient………...and would they be welcomed everywhere ?

I joined the Inner Wheel Club of Great Yarmouth in October 1987. In May of that year the US Supreme Court had ruled that Rotary could not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender.  Two years later the Council on Legislation voted to admit women into Rotary Clubs worldwide.  Although from a business background I have been happy to carry out service and fundraising through Inner Wheel while helping the Rotary Club when asked.

As I have attended District Rallies all around GB&I I have met District Governors, both male and female, who without exception, have been very supportive of and work well with Inner Wheel in their Districts. However I am aware that many Rotarians, perhaps those who have no experience of working with Inner Wheel,  struggle with the concept of Inner Wheel, seeing it as competition rather than a partner and suggesting that it should merge with Rotary –  16,000 potential new Rotarians, of course all women, would certainly improve the stats !  And what did Margaret Thatcher say ?  If you want something saying ask a man, if you want something doing, ask a woman ?  But is it right that the only solution to Rotary’s membership problems should be closing  Inner Wheel and expecting the members to join Rotary ?

There is of course another elephant in the room.  As a single gender organisation, where does Inner Wheel fit in today’s society ?  Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, as an association we can function as single-gender but I know that some Rotarians are not comfortable being associated with a single sex organisation and would like to see links between us severed.  They would probably also question the invitation extended to me to attend and address this Conference. But later at this Conference we have a Welsh Male Voice Choir – would it sound the same with female voices as well ? 

I can only appeal to them “to live and let live”, allow Inner Wheel to continue its valued work and its link with Rotary – which has been so successful for over 90 years.  Working together at Club and District level Rotary and Inner Wheel achieve so much.

You must also remember that Inner Wheel is an international organisation and is growing in Asia where because it is  women only  is one of the few organisations women can join.

Inner Wheel members have learned to adapt over the years, leaving hats and gloves in the wardrobe, changing to evening meetings and embracing new technology and social media and here’s a thing, it is now our turn to change and adapt as I am sure Margarette Golding would have approved.

We all know the problems facing Inner Wheel and other voluntary service organisations like Rotary but reports of the death of Inner Wheel are greatly exaggerated.  President Denis has spoken of the Rotary 2 campaign and its aim of taking the Rotary movement forward and we acknowledge that if Inner Wheel is to survive and prosper we must do the same.  Young women today are career women who marry later, have their families later and will probably consider joining organisations like Inner Wheel later too.  We have investigated and recommended forming New Generation Clubs and e-Clubs and if that is what younger women think can work for them then we must offer them the opportunity.  They may not be able to meet for lunch or dinner regularly but they can communicate and stay in touch by email and social media and meet from time to time for, say, a fundraising event.  It is perhaps scary for oldies like me and of course Inner Wheel not as we know it but unless we try it we will never know if Inner Wheel can continue to exist in another form.  Change is vital to ensure continuity.  We have the iPhone, iPad – what about iWheel ?

But with apologies to William Shakespeare, I come to praise Inner Wheel, not to bury it.  You probably imagine that Inner Wheel members spend their time drinking coffee and gossiping –  knit and natter also known as  stitch and bitch – but that is not so.  We are also women of action, ordinary women doing extraordinary things and women who inspire – Inner Wheel members in London not only raised substantial funds after the Grenfell Tower tragedy but were there at the site, day after day helping the victims in all sorts of practical ways.   Our magazine features Inner Wheel members sky diving, parachuting, wing-walking, climbing mountains, cycling hundreds of miles, helping in food banks and women’s refuges, just a few examples.  I was supposed to do a zip wire descent at Bournemouth last week but to my huge disappointment it was cancelled and you should see Inner Wheel celebrating the end of conference.  We are mistresses of fundraising and in 2017 raised just under £1.5m.

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”.  The Rotary International theme for 2018/18 is “Rotary : Making a Difference”.  Well, that resonates with Inner Wheel members – we make a difference too, a positive and valued contribution in the heart of our communities everywhere.  Volunteering as Inner Wheel and Rotary do is a vocation but it also boosts our own well-being also giving us a feel-good factor.

It is said that people don’t seem to want to “belong” any more.  But the idea of “belonging”, the true friendship of belonging is at the heart of Inner Wheel, a great comforter, especially in times of crisis and need as many have experienced.  It is very difficult to explain or describe this bond but we know and recognise it.

President Denis, we were delighted that you and Penny were able to join us at our Conference in Bournemouth. “My husband and I” are  equally delighted to be here with you in Torquay.  I bring greetings on behalf of the Association Executive Committee and Inner Wheel members all over Great Britain and Ireland and wish you a very happy, successful and enjoyable Conference and may Rotary International in Great Britain & Ireland flourish for many many years to come.

To its members, Inner Wheel is special, unapologetically a women’s organisation, run by women for women who are caring, giving, doing and loving and we are proud of it and indeed our connection to Rotary – long may it last.

We must stay positive – I quote Maya Angelou :

Just like moons, just like suns,

With the certainty of tides

Just like hopes springing high

Still I’ll rise.  Irise.  I rise.

Inner Wheel and Rotary will rise.

President Denis, Rotarians, Guests and fellow members of Inner Wheel

Thank you for your invitation to attend your Conference.

Good afternoon Conference.  Confession time.  My name is Liz. I’m a Norfolk Broad and a member of Inner Wheel.

We have just celebrated 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act gave certain women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.  The fight for women’s suffrage began in Manchester when Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social & Political Union in 1903.  Manchester was apparently a hot bed of radical and liberal thinking and of course the birthplace of another women’s movement which could well have been considered radical and liberal at the time when Margarette Golding held the first meeting of Inner Wheel in 1924.  Rotary was a men only organisation and the members turned to their wives for assistance, probably with the catering, and fundraising.  The ladies formed committees and auxiliaries until IW was formally set up because they saw needs in their community which were not being addressed by Rotary.

Through its origins, Inner Wheel and Rotary are inextricably linked. Of course, for some 80 years, the essential qualification for joining IW was not, for example, being a caring volunteer or an enthusiastic fundraiser, but rather sleeping with a Rotarian.  Over the years Inner Wheel membership qualifications were relaxed to allow the female relatives of Rotarians and Inner Wheel members to join until, six years ago, a proposal was passed at the International Convention in Istanbul allowing us to widen our membership opportunities.  I want to reassure President Denis and Rotarians that this does not mean, as is often reported, that we have broken all ties with Rotary.  Indeed many Inner Wheel members have embraced Rotary and its ideals while still retaining their Inner Wheel membership.  We still work with and will continue to support our Rotary colleagues.

But is it not ironic that while opening membership to women has been a lifeline for Rotary, loosening, and I use that term advisedly, loosening our link with Rotary has given new life to many Inner Wheel clubs.

These new members have chosen to join Inner Wheel because they admire what we do and want to be part of it.  I agree that they could of course join Rotary but perhaps they do not want a weekly commitment, are not interested in the business networking side that Rotary originally offered and find meeting once a month with Inner Wheel more convenient………...and would they be welcomed everywhere ?

I joined the Inner Wheel Club of Great Yarmouth in October 1987. In May of that year the US Supreme Court had ruled that Rotary could not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender.  Two years later the Council on Legislation voted to admit women into Rotary Clubs worldwide.  Although from a business background I have been happy to carry out service and fundraising through Inner Wheel while helping the Rotary Club when asked.

As I have attended District Rallies all around GB&I I have met District Governors, both male and female, who without exception, have been very supportive of and work well with Inner Wheel in their Districts. However I am aware that many Rotarians, perhaps those who have no experience of working with Inner Wheel,  struggle with the concept of Inner Wheel, seeing it as competition rather than a partner and suggesting that it should merge with Rotary –  16,000 potential new Rotarians, of course all women, would certainly improve the stats !  And what did Margaret Thatcher say ?  If you want something saying ask a man, if you want something doing, ask a woman ?  But is it right that the only solution to Rotary’s membership problems should be closing  Inner Wheel and expecting the members to join Rotary ?

There is of course another elephant in the room.  As a single gender organisation, where does Inner Wheel fit in today’s society ?  Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, as an association we can function as single-gender but I know that some Rotarians are not comfortable being associated with a single sex organisation and would like to see links between us severed.  They would probably also question the invitation extended to me to attend and address this Conference. But later at this Conference we have a Welsh Male Voice Choir – would it sound the same with female voices as well ? 

I can only appeal to them “to live and let live”, allow Inner Wheel to continue its valued work and its link with Rotary – which has been so successful for over 90 years.  Working together at Club and District level Rotary and Inner Wheel achieve so much.

You must also remember that Inner Wheel is an international organisation and is growing in Asia where because it is  women only  is one of the few organisations women can join.

Inner Wheel members have learned to adapt over the years, leaving hats and gloves in the wardrobe, changing to evening meetings and embracing new technology and social media and here’s a thing, it is now our turn to change and adapt as I am sure Margarette Golding would have approved.

We all know the problems facing Inner Wheel and other voluntary service organisations like Rotary but reports of the death of Inner Wheel are greatly exaggerated.  President Denis has spoken of the Rotary 2 campaign and its aim of taking the Rotary movement forward and we acknowledge that if Inner Wheel is to survive and prosper we must do the same.  Young women today are career women who marry later, have their families later and will probably consider joining organisations like Inner Wheel later too.  We have investigated and recommended forming New Generation Clubs and e-Clubs and if that is what younger women think can work for them then we must offer them the opportunity.  They may not be able to meet for lunch or dinner regularly but they can communicate and stay in touch by email and social media and meet from time to time for, say, a fundraising event.  It is perhaps scary for oldies like me and of course Inner Wheel not as we know it but unless we try it we will never know if Inner Wheel can continue to exist in another form.  Change is vital to ensure continuity.  We have the iPhone, iPad – what about iWheel ?

But with apologies to William Shakespeare, I come to praise Inner Wheel, not to bury it.  You probably imagine that Inner Wheel members spend their time drinking coffee and gossiping –  knit and natter also known as  stitch and bitch – but that is not so.  We are also women of action, ordinary women doing extraordinary things and women who inspire – Inner Wheel members in London not only raised substantial funds after the Grenfell Tower tragedy but were there at the site, day after day helping the victims in all sorts of practical ways.   Our magazine features Inner Wheel members sky diving, parachuting, wing-walking, climbing mountains, cycling hundreds of miles, helping in food banks and women’s refuges, just a few examples.  I was supposed to do a zip wire descent at Bournemouth last week but to my huge disappointment it was cancelled and you should see Inner Wheel celebrating the end of conference.  We are mistresses of fundraising and in 2017 raised just under £1.5m.

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”.  The Rotary International theme for 2018/18 is “Rotary : Making a Difference”.  Well, that resonates with Inner Wheel members – we make a difference too, a positive and valued contribution in the heart of our communities everywhere.  Volunteering as Inner Wheel and Rotary do is a vocation but it also boosts our own well-being also giving us a feel-good factor.

It is said that people don’t seem to want to “belong” any more.  But the idea of “belonging”, the true friendship of belonging is at the heart of Inner Wheel, a great comforter, especially in times of crisis and need as many have experienced.  It is very difficult to explain or describe this bond but we know and recognise it.

President Denis, we were delighted that you and Penny were able to join us at our Conference in Bournemouth. “My husband and I” are  equally delighted to be here with you in Torquay.  I bring greetings on behalf of the Association Executive Committee and Inner Wheel members all over Great Britain and Ireland and wish you a very happy, successful and enjoyable Conference and may Rotary International in Great Britain & Ireland flourish for many many years to come.

To its members, Inner Wheel is special, unapologetically a women’s organisation, run by women for women who are caring, giving, doing and loving and we are proud of it and indeed our connection to Rotary – long may it last.

We must stay positive – I quote Maya Angelou :

Just like moons, just like suns,

With the certainty of tides

Just like hopes springing high

Still I’ll rise.  Irise.  I rise.

Inner Wheel and Rotary will rise.

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