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SWANS WI: Carole Slater Interview

South Newton, Wishford and Stapleford (SWANS) WI member, Carole Slater (Inset) ‘got us connected’ and movingly shared with her WI parts of her life during one of their virtual meetings. Her talk was entitled: Work, Widowhood and Covid. All the members all wanted to know more – Carole graciously submitted to an ‘interview’ and set out below is a transcript of their conversation that they wanted to share with love to all Wiltshire Federation WI’s hoping that every single one of you and your families are staying safe and adapting to this much spoken of ‘new norm’.

Good afternoon Carole, I am looking forward to our conversation and learning more about your life. I hope I don’t throw too many questions at you. I always like to start at the beginning. Tell me where were you born and brought up?

I was born and brought up in Bristol, leaving there in 1964 to follow the career of my late husband – Stuart.

Did following your husband’s career mean working in Government Service?

Not until my daughter was older then I pursued a career During when I served in many aspects of the Defence organisation with my last ten years of service working in Tidworth and London; managing service family’s accommodation. To me this was an absolute gem of a posting and suited my personality ie communication with both families and the military. My day to day duties were in the care and maintenance of the family home, including meetings all issues that can affect a family, liaising and discussions with contractors, a varied workday. I could be dealing with drains in the morning and visiting senior military personnel in the afternoon. Overall, for me an interesting, rewarding and satisfying end to my career, before retirement.

From knowing you I know how amazingly caring you are – how did this translate into life after retirement?

Upon retirement, which I found difficult to readjust. I decided to visit Age Concern, as it was then, to see what opportunities there were for those recently retired to help with the community, With the result that I was invited to Join Age Concern and become a volunteer presenter on behalf of the charity; visiting many and varied locations informing local communities on the services and opportunities offered by Age Concern. During my time with the charity one of their clients, asked me to consider helping the local Branch of the Parkinsons Society, as their chairman. I felt it inappropriate to join an organisation I knew nothing about, but agreed, in the first instance I would perform the duties of Hon Secretary. This I did, becoming Chairman at their next Annual General Meeting elections. I supported the branch for three years, only to return three years later to serve for another three years. This again, whilst not personal caring was rewarding in the caring that went into the organisation of the local branch and supporting its members. The Branch is set up for those with Parkinsons, their families and all those affected by the condition. If in some small way I helped with my skills, then my job was done. The Branch is still in existence, but, as yet no cure has been found for Parkinsons, which is the hope and ambition by all those affected. The next step I registered with an Administration Agency in Salisbury, where I was involved with many aspects of the business community. One of the assignments was working with a new Charity, set up with EU funding, with the aim of helping those with mental health issues to have the opportunity to visit a safe haven within the city and to encourage social enterprise activities. There are many forms of caring, not only caring for individuals but caring for a community group, in ensuring those who use the service are cared in an environment that is safe and supportive. This was so at the Greencroft New Alliance – there staff were dedicated to helping their clients and the clients enjoyed their visits to the Butcher Row Centre.

So many people and organizations have benefitted from your skills and care, but how has your personal life impacted on your outlook?

Married life started in Bristol in 1958 with 45 years of marriage. During this time, I followed my husband in his career and moved to various locations within the UK with his last move being to Shrewton; where we lived until he was 70. I was widowed in 2004 and whilst, I had been active during the time since my Husband’s retirement in 1993. His loss was difficult to bear, but life goes on and I continued with my retirement and the leisure activity Stuart and I had shared since 1972, caravanning/Motorhome. This past time enabled us to travel extensively in the UK and Europe. The time spent with the Caravan Club (East Dorset Centre) was with friends and acquaintances who also enjoyed the pleasure of each other’s company. During this period Stuart and I were involved with the management of the club including committee appointments, organising weekend, and holiday activities. Another role with a caring element.

I can understand your loss of Stuart was very difficult and everyone deals with such devastation differently. How have you been able to cope?

Widowhood has been fulfilling in many ways. From my perspective on life the best way to move forward once widowed is to keep active and remain in contact with those you know and meet along the way, and there have been many instances that I am pleased I followed my convictions. The majority of my time since living on my own is because of no grandchildren etc., I have become, virtually a full time volunteer, not only for the Caravan Club, Parkinsons S&D, Greencroft New

Your vast role with charities and appeals have been invaluable. Can you expand on them and give your view on working as part of a team?

The majority of my time since living on my own is bealso have involvement in local politics, ie Parish Councillor for Shrewton and Parish Clerk for Stapleford, where I now live. Both these commitments have produced the opportunity of being involved with the local community and again the opportunity to help where able. My most recent commitment has been with Wilton Rotary. This has given me much pleasure and enjoyment; indeed, I have even taken part in a world record attempt, which was recognised in the Guinness Book of Records in joining the longest human representation of a text. The text said: ‘For over thirty years, Rotary and its members have been committed to fighting to eradicate polio across the world’. The results of all this effort has resulted in the incidents of Polio has been to drastically reduce the cases being reported throughout the world in the last thirty years.

As for the importance of contributing to team efforts, generally, my individual contribution has been in the position of lead. I am the first to admit a good leader is only as good as those they are leading. Well I must have had some excellent followers over these years and as long as you recognise everyone is different and their need to be respected is the corner stone of all I do. What I hope my friends and colleagues will confirm it has been a pleasure to collaborate with me in making a difference. Indeed, the Rotary moto is ‘Service above Self’ – this motto explains the reason as to how I like to live my life. Oh, and yet again I have been privileged to be nominated and elected as President of Wilton Rotary during the past two years, this has been an absolute joy, especially, ladies, and I was the first Lady President – truly it has been an honour.

Tell me how you came to join the WI

I moved from Shrewton in 2016 to Stapleford to house share with my daughters; a move that has proved enlightening and enjoyable. We now have a family of alpaca, who give us much pleasure. Joining WI, the reason why I joined SWANS, was due to Cygnet Vicky Archer, she visited my home to welcome me to Stapleford, and during the conversation she invited me to join WI. Never having been asked before and to be given the opportunity was encouraging to say the very least, and I am so pleased I did, they are a lovely group of ladies and their meetings have been both informative and entertaining. I am saddened to learn that Denman is closing, as I had my first visit there in 2019 for a New Year event. It was lovely and again a very enjoyable experience. Overall, WI has enabled me to have a greater understanding of the work of the charity and all that it stands for. WI is recognised for its caring role and for that they must be congratulated.

We are far from being done with a world-wide pandemic. How have you been able to cope with the isolation?

I like a good many of the ladies in the WI were in the vulnerable age group, but, living in the area we do – it appears, we have been less affected than others, but, that does not mean we have not been affected. During the lockdown period, I have maintained my contact with members of the WI, Wilton Rotary, Till Valley Link (Community Transport) Charity, my church and my friends – so I again count myself extremely lucky; all this communication has been either by phone or Zoom. Zoom has been used extensively by many people who would never have thought of using this new technology – in my view, the IT has been so successful, because it is easy to use and the fact you can see and talk to one another helps to boost contact and decrease isolation.

You are such an inspiration Carole, can we just finish with your wish for a better future?

Those who are troubled can find peace and the peacemakers’ of the world recognise the worth of all of its citizens and we can all live in harmony without fear of oppression, poverty and destitution. With the pandemic the world is a vastly different place and we must all recognise that and work toward, as the Rotary International Toast says: ‘Peace the world over’. That is my wish.


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