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Women’s Institute votes to launch a campaign to rescue local shops

Call to action over disappearing high streets is carried at annual meeting despite criticism of ‘vague’ wording

The Women’s Institute yesterday voted to make retail regeneration its next major campaigning issue to end the “crisis” of the continuing decline of the UK’s high streets. More than 4.000 members representing the 212,000 strong national membership agreed to make the shops on their own doorsteps their first port of call.

Some criticised the “vague wording” of the pledge and its failure to reflect the practicalities of modern-day shopping and the needs of the elderly and infirm. The resolution needed a two-thirds majority to be passed and was backed by 87% of members (5,266 for and 758 against). But many associations voted in favour “reluctantly” while others chose to abstain.

Every year the organisation chooses an issue for its members to campaign on both locally and nationally. Previous causes given its backing include calls for more midwives and the Care Not Custody project demanding an end to inappropriate detention of mental health patients.

But members questioned the wording and meaning of the new resolution, which urged “every member of the WI to support their local shops and make the high street their destination of choice for goods and services”.

Many stood up to protest that it was not fair to expect elderly people or those in rural areas to change their shopping habits, calling for free parking and “a level playing field” with superstores to help draw people back to town centres.

Citing changes in shopping patterns, boarded-up shops and the prevalence of charity shops and pay day lenders, the motion called on “all decision-makers to work collectively, at all levels, to help bring an end to the decline of our high streets and to ensure that high streets flourish and provide a focal point for local communities”.

Marylyn Haines Evans, chair of the public affairs committee and proposer of the resolution, said: “We are not calling on our members to boycott online shopping or to stop using out-of-town shopping centres and major supermarkets. What we are asking is that they go first to their local shops.”

Actor Griff Rhys Jones told the meeting: “These high streets are our front rooms, our drawing rooms. We should look after them and make them interesting.”

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