More than 40 Friends, including some from Quaker Meetings in the area, gathered in Bolton for our first meeting this year, on 4th March. Members were present from North Scotland, Derbyshire and nearly all Area Meetings between.
Northern Friends Peace Board members had been busy since our meeting in York last November. Three different working groups had met recently and brought a number of proposals for consideration. The first, was to develop and offer to Quakers and other groups workshops on the theme of ‘Building Peace Together – Making Space for Hope’. An exercise from this workshop formed part of our opening session in Bolton, with Friends identifying growing points and places where hope is being made real in our various communities. We shall be piloting and then promoting this workshop in the coming months.
A second working group has been meeting for a number of years, arranging activities and resources under the banner of ‘Sustainable Security’, its most recent being the conference last year on the need for engaging with the media with a different narrative about peace and security (see report here ). The group hopes to be able to develop practical workshops on the same theme and is already in conversation with one group of Friends to take this forward. We are also hoping to explore closer collaboration with the Ammerdown Group, which has done some important work in recent years on Rethinking Security , with a view to supporting or offering workshops on that theme.
Finally, a small group had spent some time last year looking at how to promote the idea of alternative employment in and around Barrow in Furness, where Trident-replacement submarines are to be built. With the decision by the government to go ahead with the replacing Trident, the group will be exploring the broader issue of arms conversion and sustainable employment alternatives, as well as encouraging Friends to put pressure on the UK government to take an active and constructive part in the imminent UN negotiations towards a global nuclear weapons ban treaty . NFPB agreed to support Janet Fenton, one of our members, who will be in New York during the UN discussions.
As at other NFPB meetings recently, Friends used some of their lunch break to carry out an act of public witness, on this occasion in solidarity with the NHS march in London that same day.
As well as hearing reports from Meetings across the North, NFPB members heard from two speakers in the afternoon. Hannah Larn is half way through her year as a QPSW Peaceworker, being based during that time at the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace in Warrington. Hannah gave an informative and engaging talk about her work, ranging from organising a tour for the boyband Mr Meanor to communicate its peace message in schools, to facilitating workshops for young women in Liverpool.
Our second speaker, Tim Gee, came to us having been consulting with a number of Meetings and other groups in the North, around proposals for centrally managed Quaker work on the issue of forced migration. As well as responding to the suggestions and questions Tim brought to us, we heard from a number of members of the anger and distress they felt at the way that those seeking sanctuary in this country are treated by the asylum system. It was agreed that we should draft a statement of concern on this.
Earlier in the day, Friends heard that financial support for NFPB had increased last year. The resources made available will help us take forward the new projects and continuing work described above. Thank you to all those who have contributed.