On the weekend of August 16 – 18, 2019, we had chosen to return to the beautiful surroundings of Minster Abbey, near Ramsgate, Kent, for our conference and after settling into our rooms and enjoying our first meal, we started considering the theme, ‘Co-operatives – Working Together for Change’.  Graham Davey introduced the subject, looking at different examples of successful co-operatives.  There were different patterns of ownership of the firm and use of profits but they all rejected the capitalist principle of ownership by share-holders who invested in order to gain unearned income.  Most of the co-operatives cited also followed strict ethical principles.

Graham went on to consider what changes we wanted to see and identified two that seemed to be all-important.  One was the climate crisis and the other was inequality in the UK and in the world.  He pointed to hundreds of groups working for change that are listed in the Housman’s Peace Diary and outlined three reasons for joining a group: 1. They give you assurance that you ae not alone in wanting a particular change; 2. They lobby those in power on your behalf; 3. They develop expertise that you can use to engage effectively with MPs and managers.

On the Saturday morning we watched most of a long and excellent DVD by David Attenborough, ‘The Truth about Climate Change’.  In the second part of the morning, some people joined a conducted tour of the Abbey ruins while others relaxed in the garden.  After lunch we held the AGM and the minutes of this are available on request.

After a short break we welcomed our main speaker, John Halladay of the Canterbury Greenpeace Group.  His subject was ‘The Perfect Storm – the combined forces that caused it, the combined forces that may stop it’.  He started his illustrated presentation with examples of successful nonviolent direct action against Shell and Volkswagen one of which brought him a conviction for criminal damage and another, a fine.  In each case the purpose had been to get publicity and force those in power to confront an issue.

John went on to look at the subjects of Greenpeace’s recent reports.  They had concentrated on habitat loss and the consequent threat of extinction faced by some 27,000 species of plants and animals.  The causes of habitat loss are the over-use of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds (partly caused by generous subsidies to farmers); the draining of wetlands; the destruction of forests; seismic blasting and mining for rare minerals in the ocean floor; drilling for oil in new fields; plastic pollution.  The current Greenpeace campaigns are on the oceans, forests and climate change and John spoke briefly on each.

His presentation was well illustrated and there was lively interaction with all members of the audience.  He mentioned other national organisations that, like Greenpeace, are working for change and encouraged us to support them.  His final message was a reminder that nonviolent direct action works.

Saturday evening was scheduled as social time and there was plenty of informal chat while some of us wrestled with two cryptic quizzes that Keith Taplin had brought.  On the Sunday morning we had hoped to watch the final part of the David Attenborough DVD but Jeff and Jody White had had to leave early and had taken it with them.  The other available DVD available posed a technical challenge that our experts were unable to solve with the Abbey’s equipment but we had an interesting session sharing information about our ‘simple’ life-styles, all recognising that we could and should do more to reduce our carbon footprint. After lunch and thanks to the Benedictine nuns who had looked after us so well, we left for home.

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