The Milton Keynes group began meeting early in 2014. We spent some time getting to know each other through monthly meetings in local restaurants, then in each others houses over shared food.
At present (2016) we meet once a month, but do not have a regular meeting day; meetings are arranged via an internet poll system to suit the availability of members that month. We meet in members’ houses – those who have a big enough kitchen – and we bring food to share. This enables us to enjoy the social aspect of a shared meal, but also gives us the space to discuss and debate activities. We have a small core group who are able to come to most meetings and a wider group who come when they can. New members are always welcome, as are people who are simply interested and would like to come along to a meeting and meet us before they make up their mind to join Fawcett.
Our main focus of activity is on the engagement of women locally in politics. We have carried out two major activities in this area during 2015/16:
• In the build-up to the 2015 general election, we dressed up as suffragettes and campaigned in the local shopping areas of Milton Keynes to encourage women to register to vote, and to use their vote. This was the first activity that gained us publicity, and was great fun!
• During 2015 we sat in and closely observed a number of Milton Keynes council meetings. We wanted to investigate whether the kind of gendered behaviour others reported anecdotally was evident in our local council. Our detailed observations provided surprising information about the gendering of behaviour and speech in meetings, but in unexpected ways. We reported our findings to groups of local women councillors to get their feedback, and have produced a report which analyses the data and makes recommendations for actions to enable women in MK to engage more in local politics. The report will be presented to a public meeting in Milton Keynes council offices on 17th October 2016, and has produced a lot of interest locally with requests that we speak to other groups. The report has also been fed into the Fawcett Local Government Commission. This has been our most significant activity so far, and it is generating requests for us to speak to other groups.
Our plans for 2016/17:
• We want to take our work on encouraging women and girls to engage in politics into local schools. We will be fund raising to provide every MK secondary school with a copy of Jane Grant’s book In the Steps of Exceptional Women, and offering to speak to them about the history of women’s suffrage, and its importance today.
• In 2017 Milton Keynes celebrates its 50th anniversary. We are planning to research those women who made a significant contribution to the creation of Milton Keynes as it is today, and publish their biographies: to uncover their history and their role in the development of our city. We are working with our local history and museum archivists on this activity. Our research will be presented throughout Milton Keynes in 2017.
• As a group, members attend and have attended Fawcett activities such as the AGM, the annual wreath laying in Westminster Abbey, the Women’s Library exhibition Endless Endeavours and the memorial lecture.
• We also go as a group to social and political events. We went to see the movie Suffragette dressed in our Suffragette costumes which was appreciated by our local Odeon cinema staff and customers. Since 2014 we have helped produce the annual Milton Keynes Women’s Day Dinner along with other local women.
• We have good relations with other local women’s organisations: Soroptimists, Women’s Equality Party and the Townswomen’s Guild, and hope to work with them on the celebration of women’s contribution to Milton Keynes in 2017.