Group Representatives Annual Meeting in London
Report by David Warden
Humanists UK hosted the Group Representatives Annual Meeting (GRAM) in Islington, London, on 28th October. Twenty partner groups were represented, plus about five "branch" groups (also known as "sections").
This was the first time UK humanist groups had met in person since the pandemic. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, reported on his recent telephone survey of partner groups. His findings painted a concerning post-pandemic national picture of group decline in terms of the number of groups, numbers of "bums on seats" at humanist events, and ageing in terms of active participation and volunteering. There are about 30 partner groups, some of which are down to single figures in terms of participation, although one or two manage to buck the trend with attendances of around 40 people per event. Humanists UK is attempting to address this situation by planting new branches /sections, about 11 of which currently exist or are in the pipeline, which will benefit from greater support from Humanists UK; greater, that is, than the support which can be given to partner groups which are autonomous and self-governing, apart from a light-touch partnership agreement with Humanists UK. It remains to be seen whether Humanists UK branches/sections will be able to reverse the general trend of decline in local humanist groups. Andrew contrasted local groups with the "rapid" increase
in the number of individual members and supporters of Humanists UK (now around 113,000) but he reiterated the strategic commitment of Humanists UK to developing and supporting local humanist communities, in addition to its networks of celebrants, pastoral care workers, school speakers, other sections such as LGBT and Defence Humanists, and campaign work.
More positively, it was acknowledged that the impact of local humanist communities should not simply be measured by attendance at group events. Impact can also be assessed in terms of local recognition, for example through participating in interfaith events, civic remembrance services and Holocaust Memorial Day events, school visiting, university chaplaincies, and "blue plaque" campaigns to get recognition for historic humanists. Some humanist groups, including West London and Greater Manchester, reported that they are involved in support for refugees and asylum claimants while others, such as Dorset, raise money for food banks and other charities.
Faith to Faithless, the Humanists UK section which supports "apostates" and those who have left high-control religions, had an afternoon slot to report on their work. One of the points which came across quite strongly was that local humanist groups are not always as welcoming as they might be. An ex-Muslim said that her local humanist group had not responded positively to her offer of a talk about leaving Islam and other ideas she put forward. On the other hand, an ex-Jehovah's Witness said that her local humanist group had been very welcoming.
More great photos here by Alavari Jeevathol ("AJ"), Chair of West London Humanists (used with permission).
Thumbnail image: Alavari Jeevathol ("AJ"), Chair of West London Humanists, Uschi Ensel, Plymouth Humanists committee member, and Daniel Northover, Leeds Humanists Inclusion Lead.