Last Saturday 2nd March, Friends of the Earth local groups from across the West Midlands met at the Birmingham Midland Institute for their Regional Gathering. The attendance was impressive, with around 40 volunteers representing Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Redditch, Dudley, Rugby, Stafford, Herefordshire, Leicester and Crewe coming together to discuss local group campaigning. It was my first time attending a regional gathering and I found it useful to hear the different and inventive ways in which local campaigners try to get their messages across effectively.
The plan was to get away from our own fellow local group members for a few hours, and get familiar with campaigners from different groups. This meant we could share ideas and experiences with campaigners with various levels of experience and engage in some campaign brainstorming. Some of the national staff updated us with how various campaigns were progressing and how much effect they have had on political and public opinion at a local and national level over the last year.
It started off with Quentin, who runs the national Friends of the Earth Bee Cause, giving a talk about what the campaign achieved in 2012 as well as some of the more recent developments regarding new research and the banning of certain pesticides, such as neonicotinoids in garden centres. It gave an opportunity for all campaigners to learn how to develop the Bee Cause in 2013 and bounce ideas off each other.
Clean British Energy and Friends of the Earth’s new ‘Make it Better‘ campaign were also on the agenda, and most of the issues raised about tackling these campaigns were mutual ones, adding to the feeling that everyone in the room shared the same goals and that it was really just methods of campaigning which were being discussed.·
Campaigners also discussed techniques for contacting and lobbying local MP’s and to get them to commit to things such as de-carbonisation targets or a national Bee action plan. We were treated to a dramatised mock meeting between an MP and campaigner, acted out by Chris Crean and Alastair from Friends of the Earth Redditch, which enabled the groups to identify possible pitfalls and opportunities when talking to MP’s, without a hint of cynicism at all!
We left the regional gathering with a better understanding of other local groups and their efforts, made some friends and contacts, as well as getting a lot of great advice and information from each other to more effectively engage people with the environmental issues we all face.