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NWR Anniversary Conference reflections

from our Chair of the Board of Trustees, Josephine Burt

With 150 delegates this year, we were half our usual size for a national conference, but the buzz of chatter and the warmth of the greetings made up for the diminished number of members (as anticipated due to COVID-19). From a show hands about 10 percent were first time conference goers, and another 40 joined in the key speakers via zoom.

It was an honour to welcome our new patron Jasvinder Sanghera who spoke to open the conference and again on the Sunday. She speaks with such passion and honesty about her experiences and will be a huge asset to NWR. I particularly liked her exhortation to focus on the commonality of women, which needs to be at the heart of initiatives, as we try to recruit new members and establish new groups.

The key speakers gave different presentations reflecting our anniversary theme , the 1960s and some favourite topics of members – history and genealogy. From Valerie Singleton’s entertaining talk to the audience, to the illustrated presentations from Peter Liddle and Nick Barrett.

Valerie Singleton spoke about making bold approaches and taking opportunities in the world of television at a time when it was not easy for women to make progress. This led her to extraordinary travels all over the world, including one early trip to Kenya for lunch! Oh to have a job like that!

Peter Liddle’s fascinating talk was part detective story and part painstaking historical and archaeological research, illustrating the steps taken in locating and finding the skeleton of Richard III in a Leicester carpark! How would the story have developed if the location had been under a municipal building or a multi-storey block of flats?

While Nick Barratt’s presentation was on genealogy and family history, it was rooted in the research for the television programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ and its subjects. We learnt that some personalities have backgrounds so bland that a programme is impossible, and also that the surprise and emotion shown at points of revelation are genuine. Many subjects are astonished at their antecedents – because they expected either higher or lower status and were disappointed when the opposite was found. Who could have predicted the humble history of Jeremy Clarkson or Danny Dyer’s royal connections?

My outstanding workshops were on drama improvisation and family history from inventories. The drama improvisation was great fun and got us moving about throwing angry cats, knives and babies (all thankfully imaginary!) at one another before developing into storytelling. Our facilitator, Rachel Thorn, is the daughter of a local member, and I am definitely going to follow up on this activity for an area event. Inventories were often attached to wills, and Mary Bodfish illustrated how lists of households items could reveal the status and lifestyle of the deceased.

The enthusiasm and knowledge of the hosts of my wraparounds – to the Jewellery Museum and on the canal boat trip – highlighted the variety of experiences available in Birmingham.

Without doubt the much deferred anniversary conference was a great success. Not quite how we planned to celebrate this significant milestone originally, but it was so good to be together again. The trustees congratulate the organising committee who held fast during two earlier dates and the staff team led by Natalie who delivered a superbly professional event. I received many expressions of enjoyment of the programme and pleasure, from members, at being reunited with friends at last.

As a veteran of eight NWR conferences (small fry compared to many members!), this was a very special one, both delightful and memorable. Not least because the experiences of the lockdowns and COVID mean that members appreciate so much more that NWR is a national organisation. I am now filled with enthusiasm for the Newcastle conference in 2022 and look forward your company.

Josephine Burt
September 2021