Review: Humanism in Action Conference

This year the GRAM (Group Representatives Annual Meeting) was cancelled and Humanists UK organised an interesting three day online event, open to all, which we posted about here.

Our Secretary Tony Brewer attended some of the sessions and shares his thoughts below. 

I watched/participated in four of the Zoom sessions: 

The One Life Course 

IT provision and use 

Attracting the next generation of humanists 

Campaigning and supporting locally. 

The sessions were well organised & the speakers generally were at least competent. Typically there were around 30 participants in each session (surprisingly few). My overall impression, based on the attendees who were visible via Zoom, was that the UK humanist community is rather male, stale & pale. But maybe this was not a representative sample.

The One Life Course was presented by Luke Donnellan, Director of Understanding Humanism. He said that this course is pitched at a fairly introductory level and is designed for people with little prior knowledge of humanism. Luke likened it to the C of E ‘Alpha’ Course. It is specifically designed to encourage discussion about the material covered.
It consists of six sessions, all delivered online: 1 The meaning of ‘One Life’; 2 The role of science in understanding humanism; 3 Humanism & ethics; 4 Religion & the role of faith; 5 World issues; 6 Humanism in everyday life. Jeremy Rodell, from South West London, described his experience of running the course. They promoted it via Meetup and their own address list and ran the sessions two hours per week for six weeks. He stressed the importance of including breakout discussion sessions of five-six people each, including a chair/facilitator. He recommended running a taster session before the course to get people interested and a social event afterwards to encourage participants to stay involved.

The IT Provision & Use session was presented by Andrew West, Director of IT. He gave a rapid review of the IT facilities maintained by Humanists UK on behalf of groups, sections & branches: specifically the unique group email address that is used to identify the group and give access to the central IT services, the files & folders that are maintained on the Team Drive, and each group’s dashboard that is also on the Team Drive. I was impressed by the extent of these services but when I accessed the SELHuG section of the Team Drive I couldn’t see much of what Andrew had described, but that’s probably due to my unfamiliarity.

Attracting the next generation of humanists was presented by Glenn Hicks, Coordinator of the Young Humanists Section. For me, this was easily the best presented & most interesting session. He stressed that we are competing for young people’s time & attention – we must go to them since they won’t necessarily come to us. Young people have many hot topics and we need to address these topics through the ‘humanist lens’. For example, they are much more interested in international issues such as climate change and immigration than humanist marriages or religious privilege. It is essential to be active on social media, with a FaceBook page as a bare minimum, plus a presence on Instagram and Twitter. We need to be present in their activities, so we might offer speakers for student groups and invite students to our sessions (as we do). Online events are good, with speakers or discussions and social events (free beer!) always attractive. Glenn stressed that it is not enough just to invite young people: they need to be publicly welcomed and acknowledged, positively brought into discussions, and thanked privately afterwards. 

The session on Campaigning and Supporting Locally was presented by Richy Thompson. I expected it to focus on ways in which local groups can improve their membership and their offerings, based on the experience of groups around the country. Instead, it seemed much more focused on how local groups and branches can support the campaigns run by Humanists UK. For example, groups can bring humanist issues to the attention of local agencies, such as MPs, councillors, local government services, schools, hospitals, and local media. Humanists UK has written guides on how to go about such activities and also tables that show where the British political parties stand on humanist hot topics. 

Inevitably, as with any conference, it was a bit of a mixed bag, some parts useful other parts less so. But it was all interesting and I felt that my time had been well invested.