End of an era but group’s work lives on

BPW Morpeth members campaign in the town for improvements to suffragette Emily Davison's grave.'                Left to Right: Evelyn Hudson, Eileen Mortimer, Joan Appleby, Lillian Buckland, Isobel Smail, Brenda Bell, Eileen Brown, Dorothy McBryde and Margaret Hutton.
BPW Morpeth members campaign in the town for improvements to suffragette Emily Davison's grave.' Left to Right: Evelyn Hudson, Eileen Mortimer, Joan Appleby, Lillian Buckland, Isobel Smail, Brenda Bell, Eileen Brown, Dorothy McBryde and Margaret Hutton.

A LONG-RUNNING Morpeth women’s group has folded, but its work will continue at a regional level.

The town’s Business and Professional Women’s group (BPW Morpeth) has decided to close after 53 years of local, national and international service.

Members took the difficult decision in December due to a lack of new and younger membership coming through and the demands of twice-monthly meetings.

Former President Sue Ashmore said: “It is very sad, but really we wanted to quit while we were winning and not just fade away.

“The main reason is that everybody in the club is getting older and it was the right time to leave it.

“It is just the club in Morpeth that has closed, the regional BPW will carry on and some of the same people will come along to those meetings. We are going to have four seasonal meetings a year.

“It is quite a time commitment if you want to do it properly and as a club we met twice a month through the year, which is an enormous thing for people to do. By having just four meetings during the year that will be better for people.”

She added: “We have been talking about this as a club for a good six months, but it is sad. I feel particularly sorry for one of our founder members Dorothy McBryde.

“She is 96 and she said she always thought the club would go on after her.”

BPW was first formed in the United States by Dr Lena Madesin Philips in 1919 and spread to Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1938.

Morpeth did have an early club, which closed in 1947 for reasons unknown.

However, it was reborn in 1958 when Isobel Smail was approached by her mother’s friend Nancy Anderson, who was a member of BPW UK.

Initially, 18 members joined the Morpeth and District group, meeting at the Black Bull pub, but it proved so popular that within a short time there were 80 members and a waiting list.

The club was set up to help working women achieve their full potential and play a part in the civic life of Morpeth and beyond.

Mrs Ashmore said: “When they started the club in 1958 things were very different for women, with a lot of inequalities.

“I have been a member for 30 years and even when I first joined women couldn’t have a mortgage. We ran a series of houses specifically for women to give them the opportunity to have housing, and obviously we have always been campaigning for equal pay for women.”

Other campaigns have focused on issues such as child care, rape, domestic violence, education, female genital mutilation and health, particularly the indignity of mixed wards in hospitals.

Recently, members have helped to tighten the law on establishing lap-dancing clubs, and in the past few months they have been calling for measures to prevent sex trafficking in the build-up to the London Olympics.

One of the more unusual campaigns over the years was one to prevent bras being made in Burma.

“Years back, we campaigned to stop Triumph bras being made in Burma, and Rutherfords helped us with that,” said Mrs Ashmore.

“Somebody found out the private address of the Managing Director in Switzerland so everybody got postcards to send to him.

“The Swiss postal service got fed up and complained and so he said they wouldn’t make bras in Burma any more.

“We just didn’t think it was right because of the human rights issues in Burma.”

The group was involved in many global projects and several members attended international conferences, while the Morpeth club formed a twinning arrangement with BPW Warkworth in New Zealand.

However, there were also plenty of local projects, such as a campaign to improve Suffragette Emily Davison’s grave and establishing the Morpeth Talking Newspaper for Blind People in honour of the 40th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation in 1993.

“When it was the Queen’s anniversary, the National President of BPW challenged clubs to do something to mark it so the Morpeth club started the Talking Newspaper,” said Mrs Ashmore.

“That has now outgrown us because it has been so successful and Morpeth has carried on doing it as a town, with other organisations coming on board, keeping going the thing we started.

“That will be one of our legacies.”

The club has also hosted numerous social events, jumble sales, debates, charity evenings and parties, as well as supporting an annual public speaking competition for young people.

In 2009 the Morpeth group and Northern Region hosted the annual BPW National Conference and Mrs Ashmore was elected National President.

Morpeth member Margaret Trotman said: “It is just very sad that after all these years the club has closed.

“I have been a member for 28 years and I’m going to miss it very much.

“BPW has been very good for me. I have done things I would never have thought of doing, even just giving a vote of thanks. I couldn’t have done anything like that without the club’s help and guidance.

“It has given me confidence and helps people by example.”