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Humanist groups shrinking and ageing but still fighting

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").

Chrissie Hackett from Bristol Humanists - one of the organisers of GRAM this year

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.

Uschi from Plymouth Humanists - wearing her Sunday Assembly tee shirt with the slogan "Wonder More"

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.

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Nov 06, 2023

I agree with Richard Scutt. Although I personally love an intellectual discussion, virtually none of my friends, most of who are graduates, would ever go to hear a talk. They would rather go to see a film or listen to music. I think younger people in particular like to do something. They get lots of discussion on social media. They are more likely to be interested in a protest or an activity to help other people.


Richard Scutt
Richard Scutt
Nov 05, 2023

Regarding shrinking membership I am afraid Humanism is suffering from a bad (possibly terminal?) case of intellectualism. The majority of members come into this category though I do not regard myself as an intellectual because I had no university or other advanced education except in engineering.

I discovered Humanism when I was about 60 (24 years ago) having googled "atheism" when I first had access to the internet and was thrilled to find this school of thought which seemed to fit me well. I joined BHA, as it was then, (now Humanists UK) and then Dorset Humanists. I entered enthusiastically into their activities and took Humanism into many Dorset schools for the first time. At all the schools, even rathe…

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