Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Singing for Joy

Guest blog by Susan Collins (Isle of Man Federation) about the IOMFWI Choir's experience in the Singing for Joy competition on 11th October in Shrewsbury

The weekend before last, I had the most amazing weekend with the IOMFWI Choir in Shrewsbury for the first heat of the centenary choir competition.  Everything ran like clockwork: the flight left on time, our coach was waiting at the airport, the hotel and theatre staff couldn't do enough for us, and everyone from National was extremely welcoming and well organised.

We may not have secured a guaranteed place in the final but it was a fabulous experience for us all and we sang our socks off!  We left the theatre on a high- being ‘in it to win it’ was only a very small part of our two and a half year journey. Our emphasis has always been on fun and friendship, which we have in abundance- one choir member even persuaded her son to feed us all that evening! Thank you Deirdre Berriff and son Michael for a lovely meal, and if we’re passing The Old Three Pigeons at Nesscliffe again we’ll be sure to call in.

Our choir had very humble beginnings, with just twelve ladies attending the first meeting to decide if the Isle of Man WIs could enter a choir in the Singing for Joy competition.  Many of us were just like the lady in Joyce Grenville’s sketch ‘A Terrible Worrier’, who had never done a rabbit herself but had seen many a rabbit done.  We had seen many choirs perform but we didn’t read music and had never been in a choir before… but what the heck, there was no audition necessary!

The same was also true of our conductor, Karen Elliott who, whilst being a well-respected soloist with an extensive repertoire in oratorio, had never conducted before. However, she decided to pick up the baton and give it a whirl. It is her hard work and professionalism which built the choir we have today and her dedication and enthusiasm which keeps it going and makes it all so much fun. She even keeps her fringe unfashionably short so that we can see her face- now that's dedication for you!

Karen Elliott, Conductor

Under Karen’s guidance the choir membership grew steadily and our repertoire increased. Soon we felt confident enough to perform in public- firstly at Federation events and then in the community.  Such is the reputation of WI that once word of the choir got out the invitations started to arrive and we have performed in shopping malls, churches, residential homes, community halls and even the local museum.

The choir is generating such good will that when it became known that many of the halls and homes did not have a piano, the ladies of the local RC church organised a coffee morning and presented the choir with a cheque for £500 to help us buy a keyboard.  The local newspaper ran an article about this and a local business, Manx Telecom, picked up on it and decided to donate a further £400 to help us equip ourselves to entertain in the community. They have also asked us to sing at the presentation evening on 1st December.

Without the Singing for Joy initiative the IOMFWI Choir would never have been formed, and the opportunity to get out in the community as ambassadors for the WI would have been lost.  There are definitely no losers in the Centenary Choir competition – even on day one we thought we were reaching for the moon, now we are ready for infinity and beyond…….

Monday, 20 October 2014

Research and Campaigns Officer, Gabrielle Bourke, discusses the WI’s recent visit to the NHS Blood and Transplant Tissue Centre in Speke.

The most dramatic moment of the NFWI Annual Meeting back in June was when WI member Jenny took the microphone, and implored members to pass the resolution on Organ Donation because she was only able to see the stage that day from receiving cornea donations, just weeks beforehand. Though 4,000 people singing along to Jerusalem is a closed second, to be fair!

Tweet from the AM debate

Each year thousands of people have their lives transformed through donations of tissue. Skin is used for burns victims. Heart valves and bones, tendons and cartilage can all be used.  Tissue donation also suffers some quirks: women are less likely to pledge to donate their eyes rather than their hearts, for example. People can give their consent to donate ‘any of my organs and tissue’ by ticking the first box of the registration form, but one kind of tissue donation – from eyes – is also listed alongside the organs.

A NHSBT Organ Donation Registration leaflet

The BBC ran a documentary about the Tissue Centre in Speke, just east of Liverpool, a few weeks ago. Information has power: there was a spike in Organ and Tissue Donor registrations after the show was aired.  Along with NFWI Public Affairs chair Marylyn-Haines Evans, I was privileged to visit the Tissue Centre in Speke recently, to get a better understanding about the centre, its work and how it helps donors and recipients alike. 

Speke Tissue Centre

We were met by Kyle Bennett, who’s worked for NHSBT in tissue services for 14 years, and he walked us through the stages of tissue donation, all the way from donation and consent to recipient. Other tissue banks only collect a few types of tissue, but the centre in Speke is unique. It’s the only multi tissue bank in the UK and the biggest in the EU.

Collecting tissue from recipients happens in a different way from organ donation. Many families who were asked to donate their loved ones’ organs were also asked about tissue, and most of them generously said yes.  But if someone is suitable to donate tissue only, consent for their tissue will be asked for over the phone. NHSBT has links to hospitals all over the country (and coroners, nurses and police), who inform bereaved families that tissue donation might be possible. NHSBT also has a presence in a dozen or so of the biggest hospitals throughout the UK. 13 specialist nurses make the calls to families to discuss the options. Because tissue can be kept for many years (10 years for heart valves, 5 for skin), the need for different tissues waxes and wanes. But the window for collecting tissue from a deceased person can be as short as 24 hours, and demand can spike with certain kinds of injuries (Kyle told us about the 7/7 attacks in London having an impact, for example). It’s up to NHSBT to manage the demand for tissue and make sure families are called when they are needed. The nurses who make these calls are specially trained, and consent from families is high.

It’s not all responding to accidents however. Sometime NHSBT staff are on the lookout for specific tissues to fit a particular patient. Sick children may need bones of a certain size, for example. The tissue centre also works with donations from living patients. One of the nicest aspects of hip replacements is how it goes on to help others: The bones removed from 3,000 hip-op patients last year made ‘cement’ used in the hip replacements for other people. It works better than a synthetic product! Donations of the amniotic membrane from women undergoing elective caesarean sections help with eye operations. The consent nurses must switch from asking bereaved families to these living donor cases frequently, so need to be well-trained and able to balance the different aspects of their role.

Once tissue has been donated from a patient, NHSBT gather up more information about the donor, screen the donation and make sure it’s safe to use. The information is then all independently checked and verified.  This process can take up to three months, so the tissue is stored in NHSBT’s facilities. Some tissue can’t wait three months to be processed for use, like skin and heart valves. These gets processed as soon as possible, stored in liquid nitrogen while the information gathering and verification go on.

Storing tissue in liquid nitrogen

Then the tissue itself is checked, processed and goes into freezer storage, ready for use. The site in Speke has a bank of freezers, all hooked up to two independent monitoring systems keeping them safe. Kyle’s phone alerts him to when any abnormal temperature is recorded.

Kyle walked us past the state-of-the-art labs where the tissue is processed, making guesses as to who was working as some staff are wearing scrubs and facemasks, making them all look alike! Each stage of the tissue processing has a different grade of cleanliness. The labs at the centre are sterile to a much higher standard than any operating theatre in Britain. Sterility must be strictly maintained, otherwise donors’ precious gifts are compromised. It’s the cleanest place in the country by far.

A lab

And then the donations are sent to hospitals to be used for the people who need them. Staff turnover at the centre is low, and you can understand why. Every day, they make a difference.

The lesson for WI members is that as well as finding the time to talk about organ donation, they should talk about tissue too! Families every day in Britain are asked about donating their loved ones’ tissue. The reality is that if you want to be a donor, it’s not up to you. Kyle’s team can only start their work when your family carry out your wishes. So let them know today!

More information about tissue donation is available here on the NHSBT Tissue site.  If you want to sign up to be an organ or tissue donor, click here. Once you’ve told your family about your decision, show us who you told through our Big Conversation craft project.

A big thank you to Kyle and his team for showing us around. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Solemn commemoration

Report on our visit to the commemorative service of World War One in Westminster on August 4th 2014

This guest blog is written by Hilary Haworth, Chair of Education and Current Affairs committee in Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes

What a privilege to be able to take part in the commemorative service for the Centenary of the outbreak of World War One, late in the evening of August 4th.  Lynn Foster and I were there representing the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes.  We were slightly outclassed from the start, joining the queue that snaked around the outside of Westminster Abbey just in front of two leaders of the British Sikh community and just behind Harriet Harman, MP.

Once past security, there was a real sense of vigil from the very beginning.  We were spared the voice- overs and interviews which the BBC feels obliged to conduct over the organ music at such occasions as we filed in through the Great West Door, past the stunning floral border to the grave of the unknown soldier, and on to our seats.

After we had all lit our candles and once all the great and the good had processed in, there was a true silence inside the Abbey; only the hum of a helicopter outside served to remind us not only of the intensity of the security operation in progress, but also how changed is our world from that of 1914 when planes were called upon to defend us which appear impossibly flimsy today.  The organist played an improvisation on the harmonies of the hymn tune Aberystwyth very softly as the Duchess of Cornwall arrived, which led wondrously well into the only Congregational hymn of the evening Jesu, Lover of my soul.

The music throughout the service was particularly well chosen.  I shall never forget the sense I had of  ‘inhabiting’ the sound of Vaughan Williams’ Kyrie, as its tendrils were sent coiling around the Abbey by a choir utterly in command of its repertoire, its ensemble and its acoustic space.  Another sound that will stay with me is the very human ‘last breath’ sigh of a hundred or so candles being blown out at once around me.

Unafraid of choosing European composers as well as British, the designers of this commemoration were also courageous to choose not only the more ‘obvious’ readings and reflections.  It acknowledged that not all perspectives on the war accord with those we are used to hearing in the voices of the major poets of the time; we are befuddled, now, by the foolhardiness in the Rose Macauley poem read by Dame Penelope Keith, or the buoyancy in a letter home from a soldier just off to the front - but both of these would have been genuinely felt and made perfect sense at the time. 

The final silence, in as much gloom as TV cameras can tolerate, was also perfectly solemnly observed.  We were treated to a final and magisterial bit of Bach (the C minor prelude and fugue BWV 546) from the organist before spilling out into a darkened Parliament Square with our now strangely misshapen candles.  Rushing for the last train, Lynn and I only had a few seconds to chat to Diana Birch and our other friends from National who we met on the way out, and we probably paid the light tower Spectra less attention than it deserved. 

It was an honour to attend this ceremony on behalf of the WI, and an occasion I shall have cause to remember for many years to come.  I am really grateful for yet another wonderful experience that would never have come my way if I had not become so involved with the WI.

NFWI Vice Chairs Lynne Stubbings and Diana Birch, and Head of Public Affairs Rachel Barber, attended the service, on behalf of the NFWI.