Central Board’s Vice-President, Tanya Noon, opened the International Women's Day, 8th March 2023, setting the scene and sharing personal stories. Over 100 women gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire to celebrate in a co-operative way.
This was our 5th face to face such event with one online during the pandemic and we believe they get better and better all the time and we are booked up almost as soon as we open the bookings. We have a team of organisers and everyone knows their role and what to do - events like this take a lot of organising and thanks to Lesley Nolan, Karen Bevan and the team. (Jody Meakin, Marta Foley and Kim Partington)
Elaine Dean invited and introduced two incredibly inspiring keynote speakers who have spent their working careers breaking through glass ceilings both in the Houses of Parliament and in the European Parliament.
Rt.Hon. Dame Margaret Beckett has been MP for Derby South for 40 years this June and has held many government roles including two firsts: first female Foreign Secretary in Tony Blair's government and first female leader of the Labour Party albeit temporarily after the untimely death of John Smith. Margaret spoke about her road to the top of the Labour Party and how she thinks her greatest achievement for women was the National Minimum Wage because it brought so many women into line with men's pay.
Our second keynote speaker was another dame - this time Dame Pauline Green former Chief Executive of Co-operatives UK and Leader of the Socialist Group of MPs in the European Parliament. In 2012, International Year of Co-operatives, Dame Pauline had opened the United Nations in New York and during her time as President of the International Co-operative Alliance she had actually met and been photographed with Nelson Mandela. She didn't set out to have a career in politics - she started out as an officer in the Metropolitan Police.
Jane Avery, President, introduced two Ukrainian women to give their stories of how they had been helped to come to England.
This was a highlight of the day which moved most of the audience to tears was an account by two Ukrainian women, Ludmylla and Anna of how they had to flee their homeland at 15 minutes' notice along with two children and a child and mother respectively. They spent 36 hours packed like sardines in a darkened train travelling across the vast country of Ukraine, never knowing if they would be struck by rockets or mortars. They finally arrived in Prague where they didn't speak the language and found it hard to adjust. They heard about the resettlement in the UK plan and came to England helped by a colleague, Lisa Dobson, from Central Co-op who acted as their sponsor. They were found housing accommodation by Central Co-op where they were also employed in the local co-op store. It was a remarkable and moving story and although we have all seen many such stories on the news over the last year it is very different to hear two women giving a graphic account of death and atrocities. It was harrowing in parts but at least they are safe now. However, their other families are still in Ukraine.
We also held workshops during the day on subjects such as the menopause, positive thinking & changing perceptions, floristry art and the co-operative project in Malawi.
There was plenty of time for networking especially over the lunch hour. Unfortunately due to the weather - snow! - we were unable to do actual memorial tours but groups were shown videos about different memorials and received presentations by the volunteers at the Arboretum.
Central Co-op's dynamic CEO Debbie Robinson wound up the day and everyone had a goody bag to take home containing such items as a small bottle of Prosecco, a carton of orange juice, some Malawi nuts, a tube of hand cream and a bunch of daffodils.
A wonderful event and we are already thinking about what we can do next year.
Blog written by Elaine Dean and Tanya Noon.