The Chairman, Cdr Andrea Crook RN, opened the meeting by welcoming Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, The Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Vice Presidents, Trust Officials and 110 Guests.
Her Royal Highness expressed her pleasure at being present at the AGM once again and said how good it was to know that so many members supported the Trust in so many ways, and noted how well attended the Trust’s AGMs always were; in addition, she said that the excellent range of guest speakers always added to the occasion, broadening both the interest and knowledge of the audience.
Her Royal Highness said that an increasing number of the Trust’s members were embracing modern technology. The recently updated website was attracting an ever growing number of visits – over 1,200 a day – making contact with both potential beneficiaries and benefactors. The Former Wrens Facebook Group also continued to grow, and now had over 2,500 members. It was proving to be a particularly successful means of enabling old colleagues to reconnect, exchange views and photographs, encourage participation at social events and also make new friends across the world. She was also aware that there would be a percentage of former Wrens who are not computer-savvy, and that is where the “people-net” still came in, with other charities and organisations remaining good networks of communication for all.
Her Royal Highness highlighted the letters of gratitude that were received by the Trust; these reflected the wide variety of assistance available; assistance that can sometimes be expensive and needed to be shared among charities. She was very grateful for the almonisation process that helped attain the very best level of service for such joint beneficiaries, and the generous support that was extended. She also thanked members for their donations and fund-raising efforts, and was grateful for the generous legacies which were also received.
In conclusion, Her Royal Highness said that the Trust could not do what it did without the voluntary assistance of its supporters, whether caseworker, donor, committee member and Trust Official, fundraiser or unsung helper. She extended her thanks to them all.
Cdr Crook presented the 72nd Annual Report of the WRNS BT on behalf of the Central Committee. She went on to highlight the most significant points.
2013 had been another busy year for the Grants Committee, who had continued to meet fortnightly to ensure that beneficiaries received prompt assistance. Grants totalling £305,448 had been shared among 275 beneficiaries, including 19 residing overseas.
The graph on Page 8 of the Annual Report depicted the age breakdown of those the Trust had helped over the past 3 years, and it was noticeable that a significant proportion of applicants were in the younger age groups.
The overall number of recipients of regular weekly and annual grants in force continued to show a gentle fall, which was reflected in a small reduction in Amenity Grants and Annuity Payments. With the exception of regular grants, the next highest spend was on Primary Debts and Arrears, a marked increase on the 2012 disbursement.
The Chairman drew attention to a request for assistance mentioned in the report. It was for support to a former Wren, now in her 50s and suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The Trust provided the daughter, who acted as the main carer for her mother while still attending college, with assistance toward the cost of driving lessons, along with an amenity grant of £500 to meet their immediate needs. The case had recently been reviewed and, as there had been a significant delay in our member obtaining the full State benefits to which she should be entitled, the Grants Committee had agreed to award a weekly grant, to remain in place until the situation was resolved.
The Chairman said that while the number of beneficiaries was lower in 2013 than predicted by the Actuarial Review, the Trust had experienced an increase in the number of grant applications in the early months of 2014, above that for the same period last year. This may have reflected the fact that some applications had taken longer than usual to work through the system before reaching the Trust; or the impact of the increase in State Pension age, or cutbacks in spending by Local Authorities and other charities. Any of these factors could affect the ability of beneficiaries to obtain timely assistance from other sources.
Overall, the Trustees remained confident that the Trust’s Strategic Plan, as based on the 2010 Actuarial Review, was well founded.
The Trust was enormously appreciative of those who remembered the charity in their wills, and details of the generous Legacies and In Memory Donations received were provided at pages 16-17 of the report.
The Trust was also extremely grateful to the members of the Association of Wrens for all that they did on its behalf, including fundraising.
The Chairman also recognised the important role that the Association of Wrens played in bringing the Trust to the notice of potential beneficiaries. In addition, she said the Trust was often asked by members or their families if the Trust could provide contact for those feeling a little socially isolated now that they were not as mobile as they used to be.
Looking further ahead, in conjunction with the Association of Wrens and with the support of the RNRMC and the Royal Navy, the Trust was committed to the WRNS100 Project Group. This group had been formed to plan a number of events to celebrate the centenary of the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1917. Planning was still at an early stage, and more information would be available in due course.
Cdr Liz Walmsley RN opened by saying that 2013 had turned out to be a very good year for the financial health of the Trust. This had been largely due to a significant increase in legacy income and a reduction in overall expenditure.
She explained that the Trust had 4 main sources of income: legacies, interest from investments, grants from other charities, and donations. Legacy income would clearly be expected to fluctuate from year to year and could not be anticipated; in 2013 it had risen by £98,907 compared with the previous year, bringing in £201,964. While clearly very sad to lose these ladies from its flock, the Trust was nevertheless extremely grateful to them for their thoughtful contributions to the continued work of the WRNS BT.
2013 had also been a good year for investments. The Trust had set an income target of £140,000 – this was exceeded by £9,123, which represented a rise on 2012 of £2,381. The value of the investment portfolio also rose significantly following the continued recovery of the stock market and some well-performing investments, achieving unrealised gains of £222,647 and an end of year value of £3,650,331.
The Trust was as always grateful to the members of the Association of Wrens who continued to support the Trust through collection boxes, or fund raising within their branches; also, to the Dauntless Association for their very successful 2013 reunion at Hayling Island, which allowed the Trust to raise over £3,400; to Rita Sayers at Services Wrendered for her continued support; and to the RNA and all those others who had so kindly made donations to the Trust.
Grants made to beneficiaries had fallen by 6.7% in the year, as the number of cases submitted once again fell slightly. There had been no changes to the fixed rates of regular grants, but the complexity of applications received continued to increase. Fund raising and publicity costs also fell due to less expenditure being incurred on the Anniversary book, and a lower proportion of staff time spent on raising the profile of the project.
Governance expenditure (made up of legal, audit and accounting fees, meeting expenses and 20% of the General Secretary’s employment costs), represented the expense of ensuring that the Trust complied with various regulations.
Overall, taking into account all assets and liabilities, the Trust had closed the year with a balance sheet figure of £4,004,236, representing an increase of £401,493, or 9%, on 2012.
The Chairman asked those eligible to vote to approve the list of those nominated for office in 2014/15. She said that there was one nomination for Vice President: Mrs Janet Crabtree had been and continued to be, a long term supporter of the Trust and the Association of Wrens, two nominations for new Trustees – Mrs Barbara Hines and Lt Cdr Katharine Hutton and one nomination as a Serving Representative – Lt Jane Pizii. The motion was carried unanimously.
Cdr Ellie Ablett MBE, RN who had joined the service in September 1993 and currently, was Commander Logistics, HMS BULWARK, the Fleet Flagship. Cdr Ablett had established a professional network for women – the Naval Servicewomen’s Network, whose motto was “Share, Inspire, Empower”.
Cdr Ablett opened by saying that it was a real pleasure to be invited to speak at the AGM. She found it particularly heartening to hear that the Trust was flourishing and continuing with its good works. She said her aim was to introduce the audience to the Naval Servicewomen’s Network (NSN), explain why it was founded, what had been achieved, and what its future aspirations were.
The NSN had been launched on International Women’s Day on 9 March 2013. The NSN was a professional network for women serving as regulars or reservists, in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines Band Service and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Its mission was to promote an inclusive organisational culture across the Services, to share experiences and to inspire and empower women to achieve their ambitions. Cdr Ablett said her small team were enthusiastic volunteers with busy day jobs, and was sure that the audience would agree that they were making an important contribution to the cause. Although a voluntary organisation, the NSN was endorsed by, and accountable to, the Second Sea Lord.
Cdr Ablett said that she was keenly aware of the changes that had taken place since the integration of the WRNS into the RN in November 1993, and the strange dichotomy that was faced today, some 21 years later. Great inroads had been made during that time. With the first women now joining the Submarine Service, only direct combat roles such as RM Commandos remained out of reach. Achievements in gender diversity were benchmarked alongside the most progressive companies in the country, and the RN was placed in the Top Ten Public Sector Employers for Women in 2013. Cdr Ablett said that on the face of it, equality of opportunity for all was alive and well, and debates about gender capabilities appeared largely redundant. The last remaining bastion – service in combat roles – would be reviewed by 2018.
Cdr Ablett said that despite all of this, women remained a small minority in the service; representation at senior levels was low, and the Navy (along with the Army, and to a lesser degree the RAF), had seen a significant decline in female recruitment, which would itself further reduce female representation over coming years. Women presently accounted for some 9% of the regular Naval Service of just under 34,000 people; around 16% of the Royal Naval Reserves, and 6.7% of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Some branches enjoyed a much higher representation – over a quarter of Logistics Officers and Ratings were women, but this in a small branch which formed just 9% of the Royal Navy overall.
While statistics appeared to show broadly proportionate levels of promotion based on gender, fewer women were in evidence further up the ranks, which meant fewer in contention for higher promotion. There were only 44 women of Commander rank, out of a quota of 983. There were 7 women in the rank of Captain out of 260, and no Commodores. At Warrant Officer and Senior NCO level, representation ran at around 5%.
Tellingly, the female recruit intake had reduced to just 8.7% compared with 20% in 2001, and there was now a higher percentage representation at Leading Hand than at the Able Rate. Cdr Ablett said that in the context of national female educational success and increased participation of women in the UK workforce, this was particularly puzzling.
Cdr Ablett said that she had first become aware of these statistics through the dedication and ground-breaking work of Cdr Walmsley, who through her role as the Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the Naval Service, identified actual and perceived barriers which had eroded the impact of successes in delivering diverse and exciting employment opportunities. In particular, Cdr Walmsley had found complacency and a lack of awareness of the facts; the pervasiveness of stereotypes of the role of women; lack of obvious senior role models; challenges of fitting in while still being yourself; and career paths which were unappealing to women. What Cdr Ablett found particularly interesting today was how many of these issues were becoming gender-neutral by also impacting on the retention of young men joining the service.
Cdr Ablett said it was well understood that, for a variety of reasons, women in every employment sector tend to end their careers earlier than men. She was thoroughly heartened that this was steadily improving in the Navy, even if the draw of domestic responsibility did have a part to play in early exit. This had been a focus for management action in the Services, with considerable effort being expended on improving support for parents – both women and men – which was paying dividends.
Cdr Ablett observed that the welcomed and strong focus on motherhood in particular, meant that less attention was given to address the other reasons that drive women to leave the Service early. Her personal epiphany about the work-life balance was: what if work was what the Service tried to improve? While the life-element would always be a challenge for both sexes, it may be that if women saw an upward path, and could visualise themselves enjoying a longer career and achieving their potential, they may be more willing to find a way to stay. This meant identifying with senior officers and ratings, and being inspired and encouraged to make their own way to accede to those higher roles. It also meant that those senior officers and ratings needed to take women seriously as their potential reliefs, and not simply make assumptions about them as potential mothers or wives.
Cdr Ablett said that one of the main successes of the NSN over the previous 18 months had been to legitimately open debate, and start to change attitudes among women, and among men, about what inclusion and diversity was really about. Official sanction for the NSN was a powerful tool but could not be taken for granted; the NSN had to work hard to avoid negative perceptions of being “whinging females” by encouraging good conversations on the issues, and upholding the integrity of the chain of command.
Cdr Ablett said that networks tended to be defined by the needs of their target audience and were inherently flexible. Her vision for the NSN was based on encouraging women to engage positively with their own career progression, giving them access to development opportunities; and to allow contribution to development of policy. A first annual report to 2SL summarised what had been done, and tried to measure how effective the NSN had been:
Membership – NSN’s resources open to 3,600 Servicewomen, with some events open to men. Servicewomen could complete a Membership Form and in return receive email newsletters and early notification of opportunities and events; however, membership was not mandatory and signing people up had not been a priority for the first year of operation – although over 100 women had formally engaged since the NSN was launched, just under a third of whom were ratings. A more concerted membership drive was planned.
Cdr Ablett said that with the NSN having made such a positive start, it now had the following intentions and aspirations:
To establish an internet presence.
To increase the participation of ratings in the NSN.
To increase senior leadership support and advocacy of the NSN.
To increase participation in the Recruitment Initiative.
To continue to build on the NSN’s connections to the benefit of both Servicewomen and the Naval Service.
Annual Conference – 2014
With this event taking place the day after the WRNS BT AGM, Cdr Ablett said that 2SL had agreed to open the event for the second year running; in addition, 1SL would be attending all afternoon and would deliver the closing remarks. This clearly demonstrated senior officer commitment. Guest speakers included Air Vice Marshal Elaine West, Kathryn Nawrockyi of Opportunity Now, and Charlotte Sweeney, a diversity and coaching consultant. The conference would include a workshop on techniques to maximise the Servicewoman’s potential in the workplace, dedicated networking sessions and exhibitions highlighting training and development opportunities.
Rounding up, Cdr Ablett said in the best tradition of the WRNS, today’s Servicewomen were routinely achieving amazing things in the maritime domain. It was not enough to simply do their job; Servicewomen owed it to themselves and to the Service to encourage more women to join and more women to stay on for longer careers, to take opportunity to share the Service’s vision of new capabilities, professionalism and quiet confidence, which combined powerfully with the country’s heritage as a seafaring island nation. Cdr Ablett said that it was her hope that the NSN would be able to play some small part in inspiring women (and men) to help themselves, help each other and help their Service achieve that vision.