Women's Equality Party Conference

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As soon as I signed up to go to the Women's Equality Party Conference earlier this year, I knew I would want to write a blog post about my experience. I also knew it was likely to be a hectic and intense weekend so I decided I would blog as I go and see what happens as when I write about an event after the fact I always end up missing out vital bits.

Friday 25 November

05:30 - It's my day off and somehow I'm getting up earlier than I normally would. When I booked my tickets I really didn't consider the fact that if the coach is leaving Victoria Coach Station at 9am then I have to be at Victoria Rail Station by 8:30am at the latest. Luckily I had the sense to pack last night so all I have to do this morning is brush my teeth, shower, dress and put some make-up on.

09:00 - And we're off! I made it to London in plenty of time so I popped into WHSmith to pick up a magazine for the journey and stopped off at McDonald's for a spot of breakfast. I've got just over five hours on here, but I've brought plenty to keep me busy. I decided to get the coach instead of a train because it was £11 for a return ticket instead of around £80. It takes quite a bit longer, but I think you'll agree it's worth it. 

15:00 - Made it to the hotel. I do love a Premier Inn. The beds are so huge and comfortable. And I've got it all to myself! I've got about an hour before I need to leave for the venue so I think I'll have a little lie down. I may have taken lots to do on the coach, but I ended up feeling travel sick so books and magazines were not my friends. 

17:00 - I've registered and picked up my conference pass and programme so I'm good to go. I'm volunteering with the registration team at 6pm so I'm going to miss the start of the evening, but it's a good way for me to meet to some of the other people attending the weekend. Right now though I'm off to grab some dinner from one of the many food stalls that are available.
19:00 - The amount of people coming to register has started to slow down so Celia has let us finish our shift early and go to watch the speeches. First up is Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women's Equality Party. Next we have Justina Kehinde, a spoken word artist. Finally we hear from Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig, co-founders of the party. Their speeches are inspiring and informative and I don't feel like I'm at a political party conference. I feel like I'm a Girlguiding event like so many I've been to before, surrounded by guiding sisters who want to change the world.

23:00 - I've just got back to my room. I had no intention of staying for the Open Mic Night as I knew I was going to be tired from the journey and wanted an early night so I would be raring to go on Saturday morning. It was Sandi Toksvig's fault. She made me! At the end of her speech she said, "Dare to this weekend do something you haven't done before." So what did I do? I decided I was going to go up on stage in front 1,500 people and talk about my passion for Girlguiding and the work we do to give girls and young women a voice. I don't know what possessed me, but I did it and it was amazing! While I was waiting for my name to be called and I was shaking more and more, I just kept thinking back to sixth form where we had to do an assembly to the whole school. I planned and prepared it with my partner, but I bottled out of actually going on stage and reading it out. I've always regretted not seeing it through and now I feel I've redeemed myself. I can't even remember what I said. I like to think it was really profound and inspiring, but I probably just rambled.
Saturday 26 November 

- I set my alarm early so that I could have breakfast at the hotel before leaving. Pancakes and crumpets, plus I wrapped up some pain au chocolat to take for lunch. Slimming World would not approve, but I'm away for the weekend so it's time to treat myself. It's really, really cold out so I wrapped up warm for the walk to the Metrolink. There are so many steps in Manchester! I've already been to the to the bar and asked for the random request of a cup of hot water so I could make my lemon and ginger tea with honey. It turns out I was not the first to do it so I don't feel as strange now. Sitting here picking my workshops for this afternoon while waiting for the day to kick off. There's so much to choose from and I wish I had a time-turner so that I could go to all of them.

09:45It's great to see Girlguiding represented as Liddy Buswell, one of our Advocates, sits on the panel of the breakout debate 'Building a man's world: how WE can shift the balance.' I am always so in awe of our younger members who have the confidence and knowledge base to do something like this. I wouldn't have been able to at their age. 

12:30 - For the first time at a party conference, a panel of senior representatives from the Lib Dems, the Conservative and the Green Party have taken part in a cross-party debate on collaborative working. And I missed it! I've heard it was refreshing to see and provided a glimpse of what could be possible for the future. I'm trying to see if it's online anywhere. I made sure I wasn't going to miss this though. Sophie has taken to the stage once again for her debut conference leadership speech and by the end there's not a dry eye in the house. "Equality is better for everyone, only when it makes space for everyone." Sophie has also asked us to call, email or tweet our local MP to ask them to vote to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women and domestic violence on Friday 16th December. I'd like to ask now that you do the same. If you don't know who your local MP is, you can find out here.
13:30 - Change of plan for this afternoon. I had planned out the six workshops that I wanted to attend, but I went into the first one and it was so crowded that I couldn't actively take part as much as I would have liked in the half an hour we had. I decided to go for a wander and have found myself on the mezzanine overlooking the main hall where there are talks going on all afternoon. I doubt I'll stay here until 4pm, but at the moment I'm learning a lot. 
16:00 - I decided come back to my room for a couple for hours. The conference is closing at 5pm to prepare for tonight's comedy fundraiser and if I'd waited until then to leave, I would have had about ten minutes to chill out before needing to leave again. At least this way I can get some bits done. I've made the rookie mistake of getting under the covers to warm up. I won't want to go back out at this rate.

00:00 - Just got back after an amazing night at the Comedy FUNdraiser. Hosted by Sandi Toksvig with stand-up from Jenny Collier, Ada Campe, Cally Beaton, Yuriko Kotani and Sara Pascoe, I think I can attribute the pain in my side to laughing so much. It's either that or the dire buffet that the venue put on. The comedy line-up was followed by music and dancing until late, but me being the sleepy, bed-loving type that I am decided to quit while I was ahead and come back to the hotel.

Sunday 27 November

09:30 - So glad I was able to sleep in later today. I arrived at the conference a little late this morning, but I don't think I missed too much. Today is all the party business and discussions. This is the part where I feel I have a lot to learn about politics and the processes and procedures.
12:30 - Business, business and more business. We've already voted on the motions relating to our Constitution and now we're debating and voting on our core policies. We're also welcoming the new members of our Steering and Policy Committees who we voted for yesterday. It's not as varied as yesterday's programme, but it certainly isn't dull. We're helping to shape the future of the party and even when we are disagreeing, there is nothing but respect for others in the room. 

16:30 - I can't believe it's over. As everyone was leaving I decided to go and thank Sandi for the little push she unknowingly gave me on Friday night. I told her that her words had given me the courage I needed to get up on stage and she said, "You see, you can do it! And next year I want a motion from you." I'm not sure I want to commit to that Sandi.
18:00 - On my way home after a fantastic weekend. I'm not due to get back to London until gone 10pm and then I have to get the train to Swanley and walk home. Don't tell anyone, but I'm wearing my PJs under my coat (it's no worse than the time I went to Guides with my PJs on under my Leader uniform) so I can just brush my teeth and climb straight into my bed when I get in. I didn't even bother with make-up today as it would've have been just something else to do when I get in. Starting to wish I'd booked tomorrow off work, but I'm going to try and have a nap on the way home. My brain has so much it needs to process. I've been a member of the Women's Equality Party for over a year, but this weekend has felt like it was just the beginning.
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