Conference of Not Eat Ham

5th November 2009

Vegetarian food, parties and inspiring campaigns, Damian reports. Nottingham has always been famous for Robin Hood and his campaigns for justice for the poor, so where better to hold Friends of the Earth’s Local Groups Conference? Among the leafy glades and lawns of Sherwood Forest (cunningly disguised as the campus of Nottingham University!) we spent the weekend of September 12–13 at the East Midlands Conference Centre, networking with, and being inspired by, hundreds of fellow FoE members from across the England/Wales/ Northern Ireland network.

Manchester FoE sent along a nine-strong contingent to join the fun, our group comprising familiar faces such as Ali and Graeme as well as newbies such as myself, Damian. On arrival we were brought up to date with national FoEʼs activities by Executive Director Andy Atkins, who informed us of how we are adapting to the shortfall in funding due to the recession, while still being empowered to carry on with our campaigning activities.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Open Space sessions, which gave us the opportunity to discuss our own ideas in round table sessions spread across the centre and in a marquee outside. One of the sessions I attended was How do we aim at a zero waste society? chaired by Samantha from the Leeds group; here we discussed the problems with plastics recycling and how some local authorities are more ahead of the game than others in promoting composting of kitchen waste. As a result of this I signed up to the Waste mailing list, where Iʼve learnt lots of useful information about anti-incinerator campaigns–for example, how local councils sometimes end up having to compensate incinerator firms when waste is recycled rather than sent to be burned.

After some vegetarian Thai curry it was time for the Earthmover awards. We all know about Manchesterʼs triumph in the campaigns category for Clean Air Now, helping to support the TIF bid process. I would also like to congratulate the Leeds campaigners (best group), the group at Penistone for winning the community project category with their Energy Project, and David Longthorn of Hull FoE who won the individual award for setting up and managing wildlife areas in the city. The evening drew to a close with drinks in the bar, music in the marquee and a massive barn dance in the main hall–please take your partners for a Cumberland Square Eight!

Next morning, after the Annual Review, there followed the Motions Debate, chaired by North-West board member Dave Coleman. All eight motions submitted to Conference were passed, including committing FoE to have policies on population growth and geo-engineering. The rest of the conference was devoted to seminars and workshops about our current campaigns. I learnt a lot about the food sovereignty concept and how important it is that local authorities promote allotments and source food for schools etc. from local sources. We had a discussion called Chewing the Cud where we exchanged opinions about the ideal mix of arable/livestock to give the most sustainable results under British conditions.

Finally, and all too soon, it was time to leave and return to Manchester. It wasnʼt all bad news though as along the way I had got to know members of the High Peak and Bradford local groups as well as Dina from Warrington FoE who is co-ordinating the Wave in London on December 5th. When I first heard about Conference, being a new member of the group I had thought it would be full of complicated technical debates about the details of campaigns, but itʼs not like that at all–there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to have a chat with like-minded people and make their own contribution. Hope to see some of you at Conference next year!