North West Humanists conferences

John Coss of the Greater Manchester Humanists writes:

In the spirit of continual improvement we are trying something different this year. For the past three years our annual conference has taken place in the autumn – but there have always been difficulties finding a three-day slot which doesn’t clash with other significant humanist events taking place elsewhere in the country, and this has often meant that some invited speakers have been unable to join us.

So the three-day conference will now be moved to spring each year – the next, therefore, being in 2015. We expect this will be held in Cumbria, with Kendal the most likely location, and we are confident of securing a very attractive line-up of speakers.

In 2014 we are organising one or more One-Day Conferences, the first of which is scheduled for Saturday 28 June in Warrington, with the theme: Humanism and Education. We aim to maintain the standard of previous conferences – for feedback from participants see

The booking fee is reduced for earlybird bookings received by Monday 9 June.

7 June: Birmingham Humanists 50th anniversary conference, ‘Humanism: the way forward’

Saturday, 7 June:  ‘Humanism: the way forward’, a day of talks and discussion to celebrate the Birmingham Humanists‘ 50th anniversary, with speakers including Kate Smurthwaite, 10.30am–3.30pm. The meeting takes place at the MAC, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham B12 9QH. Cost: £10. You can book by sending a cheque, made out to Birmingham Humanists, to Carolyn Sugden, 37 Devonshire Road, Birmingham B20 2PB, or by making payment to their PayPal account (

10.30 coffee & cake
11.00 Prof Colin Campbell
11.45 Pavan Dhaliwal (BHA)
12.15 Short presentations: Uganda Humanist schools, Sunday Assembly, etc.
1.00 Lunch
1.45 Workshops
2.30 Panel
3.15 Kate Smurthwaite
4.00 close

The fee is £10 (concessions £5) and it promises to be an inspiring day!

April meeting report

Sue Falder reports:

Humanism and RE

At the April meeting, Chris Smith gave an account of her experience as a humanist rep on the joint Shropshire Telford and Wrekin SACRE. She detailed the legal situation with regard to RE and daily worship, and defended the presence of humanists on what is essentially a committee of religious representatives whose main concern is that religion continues to be taught. She pointed out that through BHA campaigning the word `humanism’ now appears in GCSE RE syllabuses, and our representatives can continue to press for inclusivity in the wording of local syllabuses, which are the province of the SACREs in each authority, for instance suggesting words like `lifestance’  be used as well as or instead of `religion’.

Now that the two authorities have separated, Simon Nightingale will be attending the Shropshire meetings, and he and Chris hope that they will be able to argue for full inclusion onto the SACREs rather than continuing simply as observers.

Simon gave another Sunday morning talk as part of the Mike George Show on Radio Shropshire recently, in which he reflected on the changing face of RE teaching in his lifetime and the need now for real recognition of the multi-cultural nature of children’s experience.

Dying Matters Week 16th – 22nd  May

Dying Matters is a broad-based coalition set up by the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) to raise public awareness of dying, death and bereavement, to support the implementation of the Government’s End of Life Care Strategy. The BHA is a part of it.

The Dying Matters Coalition mission is to promote awareness and support changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards dying, death and bereavement, and through this to make a ‘good death’ the norm. Everybody – whatever their age or state of health – needs to talk about their wishes towards the end of life with their friends, families and loved ones. The earlier we talk about it the easier it is emotionally and practically for everyone.

One of the facts publicised is that 70% of people say they don’t want to die in hospital, but 60% actually do.

Members tried answering a Dying Matters quiz which tested our knowledge of the practical and legal side of preparing for your death or dealing with anothers – including the average cost of a funeral (£2549) and statistics on organ transplant and donation.

Sunrise conference – groups, leadership and activism for humanists, and humanist chaplains

Sunrise logoThe Sunrise Conference focuses on skills, leadership and activism for humanist groups, bringing together leaders from across the country to share knowledge and experience.

The conference is taking place 4-5 September at the University of Leeds. More information can be found on the conference website at including a list of the guest speakers already confirmed.

There will be training for humanists interested in volunteering as humanist chaplains. This entails providing pastoral support to non-believers in institutions such as universities, hospitals and prisons. Full training will be provided at the conference and on going support will be provided via the support network launching in September.

Please also visit the Chris Worfolk Foundation at

A.C. Grayling on Darwin and the Darwinian Controversy

A C Grayling 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!

Group news 2008: Groups celebrate the Darwin connection

In 2008, discussions and speakers covered a variety of subject areas: Can science explain faith?, Islam: benign delusion or radical threat?, Transition Towns, Peak Oil and its consequences and Religion and the Law.

Then, for Darwin’s birthday, the group arranged an event which drew in people from five other humanist groups and resulted in the formation of an area committee which organised a bigger event for the centenary in 2009.

Over 30 members from six different Humanist Groups gathered in Shrewsbury on the 14th February to celebrate the week of Darwin’s birth in the town of his birth. Meeting up at the Morris Hall, site of the Bell Stone which is reputed to have been the stimulus for Darwin’s interest in geological change, the thirty or so visitors split up into smaller groups for a guided walk taking in the places related to Darwin’s years in the town.

Outside the old Shrewsbury School, now the library

Outside the old Shrewsbury School, now the town library. (Click on the thumbnail to see the picture.)

The group re-assembled to warm up and have lunch at the Armoury pub on the riverside and then in the afternoon they gathered back at the Hall to talk about inter-group links and preparations for next year’s bi-centenary celebrations.

Lunch in Armoury pub


Left to right: Bob Churchill from the B.H.A. with leaders of five groups: Connor Birch, Bishops Castle Secularists, Allan Muir, Chester, John Cross, Manchester, Sue Willson, South Cheshire/North Staffs, Derek Woodvine, Shrops.

Left to right: Bob Churchill from the B.H.A. with leaders of five groups: Connor Birch, Bishops Castle Secularists, Allan Muir, Chester, John Cross, Manchester, Sue Willson, South Cheshire/North Staffs, Derek Woodvine, Shrops.