Chair’s Report 2021

Introduction

A reminder that his AGM covers the two-year period since April 2019 due to the postponement of last year’s AGM during the CoVID-19 pandemic – my apologies for the necessary length of the report.

As the implications of social distancing became clear, we acknowledged that much of our 2020 Action Plan had become impossible to fulfil, and the Branch committee worked together to find solutions to some unprecedented challenges. Subsequent activities took place under the terms of the Coronavirus Act, with personal safety being the number one consideration. The majority of recent events have therefore been online, with just a single physical event squeezed into one of the false dawns between lockdowns.

To begin with I shall run through our activities and other occurrences during the reporting period, with reference to each role that comprises the current Branch committee, before covering our relationship with Humanists UK, and outlining our plans for the future.

Branch Committee and Activities

To read a little about the present incumbents of each committee role, please refer to their biographies here.

The Executive Officers of the Branch are myself, Nick Senior, as Chair, Negar Ahrafi as Vice Chair, Charlotte Woodworth as Treasurer, and Sebastian Gahan as Secretary.

We’ll hear more from Charlotte when she gives her financial report at AGM Item 4. Please note that, as the Treasurer, Vice Chair and Secretary were all appointed mid-term, we’ll take the opportunity to ratify their appointments with a vote at Item 5.

The Branch Constitution can be found here for your scrutiny and approval.

Arguably, our highest profile activity as a committee is to organise a few events, and the role of Events Lead is obviously key to making this happen. Over the past 24 months, as a Branch we have put on 48 events of various types – i.e. to two events every month. Of these, 26 were physical events and 22 were online events, with 5 of the events being organised jointly with Chester Humanists.

To give a flavour of the range of our events, some were public talks, with speakers including prominent humanists, various rights campaigners (human, animal, environmental and equal), authors and musicians, with other events being less formal social-type events such as games nights, organised walks, visits to places of interest, quizzes, music nights, Xmas parties, coffee mornings and pub nights.

Having alluded to the importance of the Events Lead, huge thanks to Jo for her hard work while she was in the role. But we had to struggle through most of the past year without one, spreading the tasks of organising events between ourselves. So we were relieved when Sophie Colligan made contact and offered to help us out – much gratitude to her. I’m sure she’ll be happy to listen to anyone’s suggestions for future events.

Speaking of future events, don’t forget tomorrow evening’s Zoom talk on LGBT+ rights with Peter Tatchell!

Which segues nicely into the area of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. A Diversity Lead Daniel Northover – was recruited at the last AGM. A diversity strategy was devised, and presented to the 2019 Humanists UK Groups Annual Meeting. Acting on feedback received, our latest plan introduced a quarterly focus on a particular protected characteristic: LGBT+, race, age, and sex & gender – I’ll let you know this time next year how that went. Incidentally, last quarter’s focus on disabilities was partly the result of some lessons learned from earlier casework, particularly on the topic of hidden disabilities and neurodiversity.

Also around two years ago, the Branch also appointed a Community Lead with the stated aims of ‘supporting the development of non-religious pastoral support in and around Liverpool, and ensuring that we meet the Charity Commission’s guidelines on Safeguarding’. Stephanie, who took on the role did an admirable job in cajoling HQ into producing a comprehensive corporate safeguarding policy, which I now think is excellent. She undertook the Humanist Care pastoral care certification training (along with Daniel) and hatched plans to find a role as a nonreligious pastoral carer in prisons and/or hospitals. Stephanie also sat on the Liverpool interfaith forum and she was a vocal opponent of any form of inequality and discrimination. Sadly for us though, she decided she must relinquish her role six months ago, feeling that the central charity did not match her appetite for pastoral care in the community rather than within institutions, and that not enough was being done to harness the spirit of young people.

On the plus side, we have had our community presence noticed at several local public demonstrations, on the Liverpool SACRE, and at two Remembrance Day Ceremonies. We’re also working on a partnership with the charity Liverpool Cares to connect our volunteers with individuals who may otherwise be lonely and socially isolated.

My personal feelings are that we have much to offer the local community in terms of support for the nonreligious. There is a growing crisis of mental ill health, poverty and domestic abuse, and all too often it feels like the only NGOs seen trying to address social issues are religious in nature. Now that the pandemic may be past its peak, we must certainly begin to focus on how we can plan for more effective community outreach and – more importantly – be able to bring those plans to fruition. Recruiting the right volunteer to lead on this will be a key step.

As well as volunteering as Branch Secretary, Sebastian also fills the role of Social Media Lead. His first task was to compose the Branch’s Social Media Policy, and he has since overseen a healthy and regular presence on various sites: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In the past year, we have also developed the Branch website https://liverpool.humanistbranches.uk and we maintain a Meetup subscription for listing upcoming events. It’s become apparent that many new members discover us first on Meetup. The total number of Humanists UK members in our area is now 1,381 – it was 666 at the previous AGM – that’s an increase of 715: more than doubled!

A few social media statistics:

  • Over the last 24 months our Facebook group membership has risen to 495 (was 382) and our Facebook page now has 553 (up from 371) followers.
  • Our account on Twitter has a following of 780 (was 422), up 358 in the last two years.
  • Our membership on Meetup has increased by 202 over 24 months, now standing at 407 (from 205).

So, some steady growth across all platforms.

Our regional Young Humanist Ambassador – Jenny Goldman is also President of the Humanist Society at the University of Liverpool. She has learned that annual freshers’ fairs provide a great opportunity to recruit members for the society. The society has hosted several socials which created a space for humanists to meet at the university, including some looking for advice on how to let religious family members know they no longer believe in God. Attending the fairs also made humanism – and Humanists UK – visible within the student community.

Just before lockdown, they hosted two Faith to Faithless (FtoF) events at the university –  firstly a training session on how better to support apostates in Britain, then a panel discussion where apostates who had left different religions shared their experiences and answered audience questions.

During lockdown, when it became unfeasible to continue student society events, Jenny was able to get involved in some online national events that would otherwise have been held in London. These included hosting a social after the Darwin Day Lecture, and attending an interfaith discussion on ‘Covid19 & Faith’ with a group of young Muslims.

And so, on to Harry Aydin’s role as Apostate Support Lead, which involves working closely with Faith to Faithless to put on local events for apostates to meet like-minded people and find sources of support local to their settled location. As we just heard, this partnership will also put on local university panel discussions, lectures and other public events, and generally do its best to raise awareness about the unique needs of apostates within community groups and services across the Liverpool City Region.

The Branch has also been proud to provide written support for a number of apostasy-based Asylum support cases over the past two years, and we’re very pleased to be able to report a 100% success rate.

Humanists UK Policy & Membership Matters

By way of updating the status of the Branch Pilot described in our previous AGM: the project was deemed ‘successful’ and Humanists UK did indeed invite Liverpool to remain as one of its branches. They have since offered local branch status to one more humanist group, Chichester.

Our Branch has been involved with national campaigns such as opposing public funding for discriminatory faith schools, the need for nonreligious pastoral care in the UK Armed Forces, banning so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’, animal welfare, and ticking the ‘No Religion’ box in the 2021 Census.

We have organised trips to attend the Humanists UK 2019 Annual Convention in Leicester (2020’s was cancelled due to the pandemic), and the Holyoake Lecture by Robert Peston in Manchester.

The Branch is provided with impressive Remembrance Day wreaths to place at local ceremonies, and our volunteers have ‘hotline’ access to mental health counselling courtesy of Humanist Care.

Amongst our membership we have 12 celebrants; 4 pastoral carers; 3 school speakers. If anyone would like to know more about these services, please feel free to ask Sophie in Item 6, (Other Business).

I mentioned earlier the increase in membership since previous AGM; I think it’s worth explaining what ‘membership’ actually means, and how this impacts on the relationship of a branch with its ‘members’, particularly in terms of communication. The Branch is an integral part of the central charity, so all members of Humanists UK living within the footprint of the Branch (see map here) are deemed to be Branch members. We know how many there are but, due to data protection law, we don’t necessarily know who they are, nor do we have access to their contact details. Please note that all direct communications between ourselves and our members have to go via HQ. For this reason, we try to communicate as much as possible through our social media accounts and website.

Since the last AGM there have been a number of changes to Humanists UK Community Services, of which we are part. A Community Development Coordinator (CDC) was appointed but resigned after a few months. The post was later filled on a part-time basis until the pandemic hit and the CDC role had to be furloughed. It is unclear what the future of this role will be, which is disappointing as it certainly provided a strong channel of communication to link branches with the central charity.

Future Plans

Take a look at the Branch Action Plan for 2021 (here) which illustrates the nature and frequency of activity and use of resources that we’ve factored in. We will certainly be revisiting our community outreach plans once society returns to ‘normal’ (whatever that will mean) and we’d love to recruit an enthusiastic volunteer who can help build connections with people, communities, like-minded groups, NGOs, local government and services.

Attendance at our events has sometimes been disappointing. We understand that there are lots of reasons for that and we’re hoping to soon be in a position once more where we can plan and publish our programme of events much further in advance. We’re always on the lookout for topics that might appeal to a wider audience, and local members’ feedback would be really useful in that respect.

On reflection, it sometimes feels like we’ve done pretty well just to keep things alive; at other times it feels like we have so much untapped potential. Where do our members want us to be along that continuum? And what – if anything – could they bring to the party to push their local branch to bring the aspirations of its members to fruition? As a committee we must consider all possible means of communicating with our members to gain a proper feeling of what they want and need from their local branch. And who may be willing to volunteer their assistance, and in what capacity?

I’ll finish now by expressing my sincerest thanks to all our Branch volunteers for their much-appreciated and valued contributions. I know that this gratitude is also felt by Teddy, Humanists UK’s Director of Community Services.

Nick Senior, 14th April 2021

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