This week we’ve got two calls for action: an online feedback form for anyone who attended the AHS Convention (and anyone who didn’t, but fancies influencing future AHS policy nonetheless) and our new Small Victories initiative. These are both likely to induce high levels of excitement so make sure you’re sitting down, put on some Enya and get to it.
We’ve also a new debate between Exeter AHS and Exeter Evangelical CU at the foot of the newsletter. The Executive is currently busying itself with a detailed summary of the AHS Awards and finalising the results of the BHAConQs contest in collaboration with Young Humanists and the BHA. So look forward to that,
All in all, I hope the first week back has gone smoothly for all and that revision isn’t getting y’all too down! Peace, brothers and sisters.
How did you find the AHS Convention? Was it a delight, an unforgettable whirlwind of information, levity and joy? Or was it a bit meh? We’re interested in your experiences and your feedback, so we’ve put together a slick online survey to help you do so. It should take less that 10 minutes to complete so please do give it a go.
There’s even a mystery prize for those who participate!
What’s the biggest thing your society has done this year? Something probably springs immediately to mind: a debate, reason week, a big charity event or a guest speaker who attracted hundreds of students, perhaps,
But what about the small things? The little improvements and gradual changes which really make your society grow?
Chris Malburn, stealthmaster President of the AHS, wants you to send us your small victories. A little more exposition on what this involves can be found on the website, here. You can tweet at us using #AHSVictories, post at us on Facebook, or email us at the usual address. Each week we’ll be celebrating the best small victories with the whole AHS; if you want a shout-out for your society, get your game face on and get involved!
Upon hearing about the death of Sir Terry Pratchett I felt the world had lost one of its great minds. I’m a huge Pratchett fan: having read his books since I was a small child, I always found them interesting and sort of knew they were funny, but it took getting a little older and wiser to understand why they were so amusing sometime. Terry’s humour was clever like that. I also had the privilege to attend the British Humanist Association’s (BHA) conference in Leeds where Terry received the Humanist of the year award in 2013.
When I heard the news I thought, “What better way to send Terry off than to show that humanists can do death too?” After all: “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” It occurred to me that this would be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the good life of a great man. A man who has left behind not only a wealth of literary works and a rich universe containing the Discworld – precariously perched on the back of four elephants, who themselves stand on the back of Great A’Tuin the turtle – that we can all inhabit simply by turning the pages of his books, but also a legacy in ethical and compassionate charitable and social efforts including supporting assisted dying, and raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.
We took this opportunity to raise some money for Alzheimer’s research UK, elevate the campaigns within the humanist sphere that Terry felt were important, and also managed to convince our university and our local paper to cover the event. It was fantastic to see Sheffield University’s Secular and Atheist Society and Barnsley Skeptics get in touch and ask if they could borrow the idea, and then put on similar events of their own too. It does seem that Terry had touched the lives of many in the skeptic community in a positive way.
I felt honoured to read the very speech that Terry sent the BHA at the 2013 humanist of the year awards to open proceedings; it was a moving speech in which Terry’s brand of wit and wisdom shone through. We then watched “Terry Pratchett Shaking Hands with Death”, and “The Colour of Magic” to honour his commitment to many causes he held dear and the legacy in literature that he left us. We also supplied “sausages inna a bun” from Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler courtesy of Fanaki’s Cafe and Cassandra Chatfield. The AHS volunteers as always were essential to running a successful event and helped with putting up posters, taking a register and talking to guests.
We had people from all over the local community take part including members of Lancashire Secular Humanists and other local groups, with whom we’ve become friends, worked with in the past, and plan to partner with for future events. As ever on a Thursday we rounded off the evening with Singing Skeptics, our by-now-legendary karaoke tradition and even encouraged members of the public to join in who subsequently were interested in joining the society.
I sincerely hope that this event celebrated the life and work of Sir Terry Pratchett as we hope he would have wanted it; with humour, reflection and a feeling of only slight embuggerance. And always remember: “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away” – Reaper Man.
Glen Carrigan is Founder and President of University of Central Lancashire’s AHS Society
Last July, as the newly elected president of the University of Sheffield Secular & Atheist Society I decided to attend the AHS’ AGM in Liverpool. Among the many interesting ideas that floated around that weekend, the prospect of organising a regional convention really caught my attention.
However, as our society that was pretty much on death’s door and had a non-committed committee, this idea would probably turn off anyone but the most enthusiastic and ambitious of people. So count me in!
After a successful series of events in the first few weeks of the academic year and armed with a new committee, it was time to set the plans in motion for a convention.
Step 1: Check with the Students’ Union what our options are. Answer: “Whatever you want to do is fine by us, just keep us up to date. Also, don’t forget to apply for our grants.” Okay then: let’s dream big. Instead of just holding a half day or full day convention, why not make it a weekend? We decided on a social event for Friday evening, guest speakers and a dinner on Saturday, workshops and seminars on Sunday.
Step 2: Set a date. We decided on February: early on in the semester and not too close to the AHS Convention. A weekend. 13th-15th February. We already imagined a fun superstition bash on Friday the 13th. But then some hardened romantics discouraged us from holding a convention on Valentine’s day. The week after it is! We confirmed our first speaker, who came back to us two weeks later to say he couldn’t make that weekend due to another commitment.
[Editor’s note: guess the expletive!]
Third time’s the charm: the weekend of 27 February to 1 March.
Step 3: Decide on a theme. We wanted a convention with talks that were somewhat connected. Apostasy, blasphemy, free speech… these were topics that kept coming up and seemed relevant, so that’s what we went for.
Step 4: Set a budget. At this stage, with only one speaker confirmed, we hardly knew what our expenses would be, but we did know where we’d be able to get funds. Between the Union’s grant, our society’s bank balance and the promise of an AHS grant, we already had some idea of what we could play with. We also decided to try and get ourselves some sponsorship. A friendly email, which included several sponsorship levels, was sent to dozens of companies and organisations. Most of them never even bothered to respond to us. In the end, we had 4 sponsors, this pretty much doubled our budget and didn’t even take into account ticket sales.
Step 5: Get ourselves some more interesting speakers. We thought it would be important to have a convention that wasn’t full of old white men on the podium, however interesting they may be. With one speaker in the bag, I set out to find others. As I’ve been friends with David Fitzgerald for a few years, I casually asked him if he’d be interested in giving a talk providing we’d somehow get enough sponsorship to fly him over from San Francisco. As it became clear the cost would be too high, I didn’t pursue it any further.
Until, one evening, I get a message from David asking if we’re still organising a convention and if we’d be interested in having him if he paid for his own plane ticket, we would just pay for his expenses in the UK. Why yes! Yes we would be very interested. Moral of the story is aim high + don’t ask, don’t get. That was two speakers. We researched other potential speakers, sent out friendly emails and less than two weeks later we had a full roster. Easy!
Step 6: Venues. The main venue to arrange was the Saturday. Unfortunately, as this was going to be an event that was open to the public, we couldn’t get a free venue from the university. Lecture theatres came with a significant price tag and porter charges on top of that. Ouch. But then, the university has a couple of really nice halls, which are surprisingly good value for money and no porter charges…
Mappin Hall it is! We decided to keep the Sunday workshop there too, out of convenience. That left us with finding a venue for the Friday and Saturday social. For Saturday we wanted a nice 3 course dinner, with the option of some entertainment, at a student-friendly price. It took me a while to find a place which didn’t have expensive room rates and I lucked out with a nice little cafe in an ideal location. The Friday evening venue was more of a miss than a hit. The pub we chose was a bit too loud and not very conducive to good conversation. Sorry.
Step 7: All the little stuff, aka sleepless nights. Marketing, chasing speakers for info, designing posters and programme booklets, setting ticket prices, selling tickets (Eventbrite, the Union’s ticket system, …?), arranging refreshments and food for speakers and volunteers, finding a free photographer, updating budgets, collating info packs for speakers, confirming attendees and volunteers, getting lanyards, figuring out the social media, putting the schedule together, liaising with the Union, dealing with the weirdos who screamed class warfare when there weren’t concessions for OAPs… All of this while still doing a degree and having a job, whoop-dee-doo.
With the wise words of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce in the back of my head I was ready. “Remember the three key words for any Slayer Convention Organiser: Preparation… preparation… preparation.”
(“That’s one word three times.”)
[Editor’s note: it is a good word]
Step 8: 9.45pm Thursday, less than 24 hours before the start of the convention. An email from Maryam Namazie arrived, saying she couldn’t make it due to illness. She had a replacement, Amal Farah, lined up but at a significantly higher cost (last minute train ticket and childcare). This would eat through our contingency budget and then some. Frantic phone calls to other committee members, messages to anyone we could think of who would be able to help us with an alternative. By 11pm we hadn’t managed to find a cheaper suitable replacement. We needed to make a decision fast: do we blow our budget on a guaranteed quality speaker or do we wait and keep searching? I picked the former, chose security as I needed to be able to sleep. This turned out to be the right decision.
From there on, it was pretty much plain sailing. A few little hiccups, hot water urns turning up late and a volunteer not turning up at all were the worst things that happened, which probably went unnoticed.
Attendance was a little lower than what we had hoped, but we had a fine and interested crowd. The speakers were all more than great and everything ran on schedule. I managed to convince Andrew Copson to show up on Sunday morning at 10.30am instead of his scheduled time of 11.30am (you will respect my authority, Andrew Copson). We still managed to come in on budget and our attendees were generous in giving us kind words.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with how the first ever Sheffield Freethought Convention turned out. Now I just hope it won’t be the last.
Sylvia Broeckx is the President of Sheffield Secular and Atheist Society, Regional Officer for Yorkshire and the Humber, Director of Hug an Atheist and general overachiever. Sheffield’s convention was amazing and we should all be very jealous.
You can see more photos of this amazing convention at https://www.flickr.com/photos/131877355@N05/sets/72157650870630307/
The UK’s grandest and greatest Humanist gathering
Check the Convention webpage by clicking the banner above for information about the amazing speakers and to book tickets. If the student rate (which is generously discounted!) is a little too steep at the moment, you can pay in installments too!
The #BHAConQs competition is officially over! Commiserations to anyone who didn’t enter before the deadline. Entries are currently being judged by the AHS, BHA and Young Humanists: look out for the winning questions in an upcoming newsletter.
Interested in social media? Humanism? Oh give over, you’re probably screen-surfing between this newsletter and Facebook. There’s a conference designed with you in mind held in Bucharest between the 24th and 26th April, specifically addressing translation of social media initiatives to public policies with punch. As in clout, not fruity booze. Though that may also be present.
Find out more by clicking the above banner, or head to the event’s Facebook page!
Daylight Saving Time? More like Debating Session: Terrific!
That’s the only debate-themed DST acronym I could think of which was publishable. if you can think of a better one, please send it my way.
This week we had two videos for you: a recording of a debate at Exeter between AHS members and members of the Evangelical Christian Union on the motion “This House Believes that God is a Delusion”, and a recording of a debate between UNASH’s Richard Acton and Adam Darley, a theology PhD student.
Unfortunately the latter has been taken down from youtube; to reproduce the event any interested parties should find Richard a student of theology, chain them in a room without any food, water or windows and observe them for several hours through cameras.
In the meantime, Exeter’s debate can be found here!
As ever, please send any reports of your society’s events to firstname.lastname@example.org.