Local Groups’ Conference 1997 - Chester

Friday 2 October saw me taking a day off work, spending the morning travelling to Chester, arriving around noon and gatecrashing a gathering of Firemen in the Dining Hall! After deciding to get settled down in my room, lunch proper turned out to be a very acceptable vegetarian buffet. But are prawns and salmon vegetarian? Much discussion here, the first of many - it could be said that the most highly intelligent debates of all took place around the dining tables. Sorry, I don’t mean to imply that all the official speakers were anything less than inspiring - awe-inspiring more like. The theme Small Actions, Big Changes was a brilliant slogan and we must live up to its challenge. On Friday afternoon, newcomers were welcomed in a couple of different ways. First by Lucy Agate playing “mum” to everyone and secondly Breaking the Ice included a welcome glass of wine. Some of the staff surgery/workshops I attended were Is your wormer up to scratch - a light hearted look at food and biotechnology, a hot topic. It made me thing about veggie boxes a little more closely.  Sustainable Development was mind boggling. There is a lot of work to do to convince the powers that be that we’re not talking about economic growth. Ploughshares discussed how far activists should be prepared to go to put across the point. The many and varied presentations were brilliant and inspiring - ranging from the victorious Larne group’s depiction of a seagull, a heron and other species (all rather large, made of cardboard and not easy to transport to and from Northern Ireland) to the hilarious presentation of the story of Farmer Harmer, the flax, the butterflies and some remarkable hard-drinking rabbits! Our friend Tim Sander’s moving look at opencast mining was chilling in its simplicity and horror.

Saturday afternoon was designated as Knowing me Knowing you which involved various physical activities such as football, riding very strange tricycles/quadcycles or just making our presence felt in Chester at a demo at the nearest Shell petrol station along with the famous Shell Demon. Impressive too were the plenaries including the John Preedy Memorial Lecture given by Ed Mayo and Charles Secrett’s inspirational address. This is what FoE is all about. maybe big changes may start in our lifetime? Mention has to be made of the Saturday evening party (at which a few disgruntled real Ale drinkers had to make other arrangements, apparently involving a local off-licence), the dancing was good and we all boogied on down, me until 2.30am and others till around 4am, after which Sunday breakfast was quite a surprisingly civilised affair. Our high point came later in the Motions Debate. Liz Sharp’s motion, roughly paraphrased, was planning made easier and it was a brilliantly presented delivery, and of course, carried unanimously. Pausing only to recycle our badges, we headed off home only to find the coach to the station oversubscribed so our last goodbyes were delayed until the second run landed at Chester Station. we eventually parted with cries of “See you in Trafalgar Square”. And we did!

Besides the activities mentioned in this newsletter, Sheffield Friends of the Earth organised a coach to take people to the London  Road Traffic Reduction Bill rally which featured speakers such as  Charles Secrett and  Ben Elton. The group also attended two stalls where we sold more merchandise and raised the group’s profile.  The food  campaign was inaugurated with a small action on the Moor about genetically modified food. The long standing transport campaign group helped university students from York with air pollution work, tried to organise a meeting with Mainline and have contributed to the government's discussion on integrating transport. To reach a wider audience we have started work on developing a web site so that any one with internet access can read about our group. Campaigning also continues on opencast mining.

Elaine Heron
Transport Campaigner