At the recent Friends of the Earth 2012 conference at Imperial College, London, our Co-ordinator, Andy Durling, was invited to make a slideshow presentation about Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth in support of its nomination to receive an Earthmover Award in the Group of the Year category. Our group did not win the award, but the nomination was very well received by the conference delegates, and the presentation is a useful historical document in its own right and summarises all the group’s achievements to date since it started up 6 months ago. Click on the link below and enjoy!
Our Co-ordinator also made a little speech to conference to go alongside the slideshow presentation:
How does a new local group start? As Phillip Henslowe, the hapless manager of the Rose Theatre says in the film Shakespeare in Love, in response to his creditors asking him how the new play is coming along, “I don’t know, its a mystery” but “strangely enough it all turns out well”. Why did I agree to become the group’s Co-ordinator? I’m still working that out! And how did that first Welcome meeting back in March bring so many people together in so short a space of time? And how did it lead immediately to a sequence of well-attended monthly meetings that have put on several campaign stalls in quick succession and managed to put on a major film screening that packed out the local town hall, which led directly to Eastbourne Borough Council now about to introduce bee-friendly policies throughout the public spaces it maintains? I don’t really know but strangely enough, it’s turning out well! No doubt a mixture of intuition, cunning, sheer bravado, creative chaos, serendipitous happenings, pure luck, and synchronicity is involved. But I also have a strong sense of pushing at an open door because of an idea whose time has come. And I do think that the Bee Cause is an idea whose time has come. It was a cause that was immediately and enthusiastically adopted by our group and which helped to foster an esprit de corps very quickly, also helping the group gain credibility with the local community very easily, a local community that I was surprised to learn contains a large number of beekeepers and bee guardians, of both the conventional and unorthodox variety, many of whom had extensive environmental networks of their own, which I could tap into easily, through Twitter, Facebook and other social media especially. Plus dressing up as bees is a very fun way of getting noticed very quickly and generating a few laughs along the way! I never thought I would end up at a local festival decked out as a bee and standing alongside a bloke from Greenpeace decked out as a giant fish (the biggest codpiece I ever saw!). The two of us got some strange looks, I can tell you!
But not all our group development was based on the Bee Cause, effective though that was. I think we really cut our campaigning teeth on the battle to try and win hearts and minds concerning the Shepham Wind Farm application in Polegate, near Eastbourne. The anti-wind farm opposition was very vocal and active against this wind farm and many in our group were passionate in their wish to defend the wind farm and wind power in general. The Yes to Polegate Wind Farm campaign was not started by our group but some of us became key members of it, and together with wonderful back-up from our Regional Co-ordinator, Brenda Pollack, we held many campaign stalls and engaged in many bouts of letter-writing to the local papers, and to the local councillors, many of whom were clearly ignorant of the most basic facts about wind power and who were mistakenly under the impression that there was a majority view amongst the local public that was against both the Polegate Wind Farm and wind power in general. We found that the opposite was true and it was immensely encouraging to receive such overwhelming support from the public at all the campaign stalls we held in the local shopping areas. All this definitely helped to bring the group closer together and made us battle-hardened very quickly! The wind farm application has been temporarily withdrawn now because of the local planning officer’s objections, but battle will probably be resumed in the near future when the application is resubmitted, and I know that my group will be up and ready for the fight once again, shouting “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”
But whatever the madcap antics of us at a local level, our efforts would not have succeeded without the sustained and whole-hearted enthusiasm of the back-up from head office, especially from our Network Co-ordinator, Nikki Packham. I know that, as Co-ordinator, I could not have done what I did without having that constant back-up, that never-failing source of help and advice and occasionally a shoulder to cry upon and confess to when things get a little difficult! Thank you, Nikki!
This is such an exciting time for the group now that we have been invited to support a motion about to go to the next full Eastbourne council meeting to support the aims of the Bee Cause. Now we have the challenge of squeezing 6 months of Bee Cause campaigning into a 3 minute presentation! Just as well we have FoE annual conferences in which to practice this magical art!
But my greatest reason for optimism is the strength in depth of Friends of the Earth itself. A few weeks ago we had a new lady, Frances, come along to one of our monthly meetings. She had been a paid-up supporter of Friends of the Earth for 40 years, ever since it started, but she had never been an activist in any local group until now. She was so happy that there was a local group for her and now she was retired she felt she had to do everything she could to help it flourish. She has since become one of our most reliable and active members. That our group can draw on such long-standing wellsprings of support as that lady is indeed a bright omen for our future as a local group.