Sue Willson wrote this report for the BHA Groups Newsletter…
Groups (and the weather) working together
Sometimes it seems as if Humanists are a combative lot of people who cannot agree about anything. However, recently five local groups co-operated to perfection. Here’s how it happened.
A year ago during the Darwin Festival in Shrewsbury, representatives from five local groups met for the first time. They came from Shropshire, Chester and Greater Manchester Humanists, Marches Secularists, and S Cheshire / N Staffordshire Humanists. We discussed hosting a public event in his birthplace to celebrate Darwin’s bicentenary. We decided that a talk given by a well-known speaker might well attract an audience that would not be embarrassingly small. This event could perhaps be part of the bicentenary festival being planned for 2009 by the local council.
Sue Falder of the Shropshire Humanists group did a great deal of the ground work, writing to several possible speakers, getting details of venues in the town, and arranging that the local theatre would sell some of the tickets. She asked for our views via email, and we had a very pleasant meeting over lunch in an excellent riverside bar in Shrewsbury. Professor AC Grayling had already been booked as the speaker, and Sue had booked his rail ticket and sent it to him. The Lord Hill hotel in Shrewsbury was confirmed as the venue, with an optional and prepaid buffet on offer. Sue then disappeared off to New Zealand on holiday, much of the work being done, and left the rest of us to it.
Perhaps surprisingly, the remaining tasks were shared out without any problems – liaising with the hotel, publicising the event, selling tickets and banking the takings in one group’s account, keeping in contact with Professor Grayling, and making arrangements for getting him from Stafford station to Shrewsbury and back again after the talk: all was going smoothly. We had another enjoyable lunchtime meeting – why not mix business and pleasure? We thought we were doing well when nearly 100 tickets were sold, and we booked the larger room available in the hotel. But it quickly became clear that nearly 200 people would be attending, and 60 for the buffet. Success in all respects, we thought.
BUT TWO DAYS BEFORE OUR EVENT, THE GREAT SNOW FELL: trains were cancelled, roads were treacherous, and a flurry of emails between us rivalled the snowflakes. What if our speaker couldn’t get out of London? What if people couldn’t get through to Shrewsbury? What if an angry mob attacked us for cancelling at short notice?
However, the weather forecasters predicted the best day of the week on Our Day, and all was well. Professor Grayling arrived in good time, and a friendly crowd of over 200 listened to the talk after 70 of us enjoyed the buffet. Many looked at our publicity displays about Humanism and our groups, and picked up leaflets. As this was our first attempt at organising an event together, there were a few hitches, including a less than perfect microphone and failing to record the lecture as planned. And with hindsight, we should have done more to ensure that the buffet provided an adequate choice for vegetarians.
The reps from the five groups are now planning another lunch together, and thinking of organising another event. And we have to decide what to do with the large surplus we made!