What can meeting my MP really achieve? WI member Jill shares her inspiring story

"What I thought would be one day out of my life has become a very interesting permanent feature!"

Hope for the Future supporter and member of the Women's Institute, Jill Bruce, shares how, through working with her MP, she became a WI speaker on climate change. From being refused a meeting with her MP in London to now working together to put forward policy suggestions to the Government, Jill's story is certainly one of transformation. 

Jill and a fellow WI member at the 2016 mass lobby at Westminster.

Jill and a fellow WI member at the 2016 mass lobby at Westminster.

When National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) invited us to the Climate Coalition rally in Westminster in the summer of 2015, I and 2 WI friends thought “it’s one day out of our lives, let’s go along”. We arrived at the rally to find just one other person from our constituency, Angela, a marine biologist. We soon became friends and decided to work together. Our MP, Bernard Jenkin, had agreed to meet us on the day but we were so far away from the Houses of Parliament, on Lambeth Bridge, he couldn’t reach us on the day, so we arranged to meet him at his surgery in Colchester later instead. That gave us time to plan our meeting. We asked Public Affairs at NFWI what we should ask for and they suggested a local issue, or ask for a public meeting. We couldn’t think of a local issue at the time, so decided to ask for a public meeting. At the rally we had been given lots of leaflets from many organisations, but the most useful was the questionnaire results from NFWI, showing that of 1,000 WI members, 74% were concerned about climate change, with most worried about flooding, the effects on wildlife, and what problems we are leaving for future generations. The other really useful resource we found that day was leaflets from the Royal Society, the most eminent scientists in the world on every topic, including climate change. I got more information from the Royal Society, read it all, and picked out a few points to raise with Bernard, and practiced what I would say with my friends till I was really familiar with it all. Our appointment went really well, Bernard was well informed, he had clearly been well briefed by his researcher, but my Royal Society brochure ensured I could easily answer all the points he raised, and he snatched the WI results from my hand; MPs really care how we vote! He shook our hands when we left saying “very good lobbying” and readily agreed to our request for a public meeting, suggesting speakers, a venue and a sponsor. He attended the public meeting we then organised staying for over 2 hours, chairing and speaking, and talking to all the delegates, only leaving to go to another large public meeting about a proposal to build another 24 thousand homes in our area.

Bernard Jenkin giving his response to the public meeting. 

Bernard Jenkin giving his response to the public meeting. 

We focused that meeting agenda on our constituency, Harwich and North Essex, so had a
speaker from Essex Wildlife Trust, another from the Environment agency for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex as well as the Professor of Environment and Society at Essex University and an Energy and Environmental Engineer to talk about how buildings can be better built to save energy. We all learned a lot and made more useful contacts.

We had a follow up public meeting a year later, which Bernard chaired again, and a third for the Show the Love campaign in February 2017. Bernard was unable to attend on that occasion due to the death of his father, but he sent a supportive letter to be read at the meeting, and met us again afterwards, this time offering an introduction to his policy forum.

I am now working with his local policy forum on a fourth public meeting, which Bernard will chair again. The aim of the meeting is to have expert speakers on Energy, Transport, Housing and Food each put forward 2 or 3 sensible policies, and after questions and a panel discussion, for the audience to vote, using keypad voting, on their preferred policies. This output will be sent to No. 10's policy forum. We know that following this summer’s election result the Conservatives have realised they’ve lost touch with their electorate, this seems a great opportunity to tell them what we think they should be doing. The meeting will be held 6-8pm Friday 27th October, University of Essex, Colchester. If you would like to attend, look for it on Eventbrite!

Thanks to all I've learnt along the way, I’ve become a WI speaker on Climate Change, and had my first booking to speak to a local WI in August, and I already have another booking for next year, so what I thought would be “one day out of my life” has become a very interesting permanent feature!

Each time we’ve met our MP we’ve ensured we were well informed and had something new to tell him. He will always challenge what we say so we make sure of our facts, and practice what we will say. The vested interests in big business who want to keep us burning fossil fuels have very professional lobbyists who will research carefully and practice before they see our MPs, and they will keep on seeing them again and again, so we must do the same to counter their arguments.

Our MPs know that we are not being paid to see them, or to say what we say, that we are doing it all in our own time, at our own expense, because we care so much on this issue, and that is a
huge trump card for us, but we still need to keep on reminding them. Out of sight truly is out of mind, so we do try to do something for every Climate Coalition week of action, and Show the Love campaign, and knowing that others around the country are doing the same with their MPs at the same time makes us confident that we will push climate change higher in their priorities.