Saturday, 29 October 2011

IoC - Pt 1 - Richmond, Virginia

Initiatives of Change” (IoC) is an organisation to bridge-building within and between communities.
IoC achieves this by providing tools that communities can use to build a dialogue with the “other”. They also have an interesting blog here.

The national director of IoC in the US, Rob Corcoran, discussed a number of these issues in a public talk entitled “Honest Conversations in Community Change” earlier this week.

Assisted by Willemijn Lambert (a graduate in conflict resolution) Rob began by describing how there was a “trust deficit” in the US, between racial groups, between society and business and between citizens and government.

Rob gave a clue as to how difficult it can be to begin a dialogue between groups by pointing out that the four most feared words in the English language are “We’ve got to talk”.

They may not be frightening for the person saying them, but they can certainly be frightening for the person on the receiving end, who may fear being blamed, rejected or having to deal with emotions that they cannot handle.

To investigate this further, Rob asked the attendees to form small groups and consider what qualities were likely to BUILD trust and what qualities were likely to BREAK trust.

In the time honoured procedure for workshops such as this, the resulting post-it notes were put on a board and then discussed.

Dear reader, if you are feeling in a participative mood, you may wish to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what you feel would build or break trust before seeing how your thoughts compare with those of the group at the meeting (which BFTF will reveal in a moment). Let’s play a little music while you ponder. . .

Ready now? The most common responses from the attendees were :

i) Honesty - this was mentioned by every group
ii) Approachability
iii) Willingness to learn
iv) Time (added by Rob as something he often finds that younger group members identify)

i) Lying
ii) Backbiting / breaking of confidentiality.

Richmond, Virginia
This is Rob’s home town in the US. Richmond was the heart of the confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-65) and then became the heartland of what was basically a system of apartheid against the black population under the “Jim Crow” laws. Indeed, it was only in 1954-55 that a series of federal judgements demanded an end to the segregated school system that operated in the South.

In response, a white protest movement, known as “massive resistance” against the integration of schools began in Virginia. This movement continued until well into the 1970s (although many of the discriminatory laws that were implemented by Virginian politicians as part of the campaign were overturned by 1970).

But slowly, surely, the civil rights movement gained ground until, in 1977, Richmond (which by then had a population that was over 50% black) gained a black-majority council and a black mayor.

This change in power structures of the town resulted in a period of soul-searching for the city, part of which resulted, in 1993, in the Hope in the Cities program which aimed at helping to heal the racial wounds of Richmond but using the techniques pioneered by Initiatives of Change.

One reason why the Hope in the Cities program was needed was described by a black civil rights activist who Rob relates as saying that

“we worked so hard to change the structures but because we didn’t change the peoples hearts we have to go back and keep going back to do it again”

This activist thought about what needed to be done to resolve the situation, to “change peoples hearts” and decided to invite the white chief executive of the city council, Mr Todd, and his wife over for a barbecue.

The barbecue allowed the activist and Mr Todd to begin a dialogue which, over time, made a real difference in the way Mr Todd operated. The extent of the difference can be gauged by the comments of another black civil rights activist who, sometime later, told Rob Corcoran that, whereas meetings involving Mr Todd had previously seemed to have all their conclusions decided ahead of time, the activist was now finding that Mr Todd was asking for the activists opinion on the issues being discussed.

That black activist who had made efforts to open a dialogue with Mr Todd had really put their neck on the line. Some other African-American activists could not understand why she was “selling out”, some even stopped talking to her. It was only really when some fruits of the dialogue could be seen (such as the change in the attitude of Mr Todd) that the black community really began to buy into the dialogue. This “movement from the other side” is critical to bringing all the players into the dialogue.

It is also helpful to dialogue when one side admits that they have a problem. In the case of Richmond, the black community only really believed that the white community was serious when the white community itself started to say that it had a problem and that the problem was racism.

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)

IoC - Pt 2 - Environmental Scan

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)

The talk now moved on to another interactive session in which the attendees were asked to form small groups and perform an “environmental scan”. This involves considering what you feel about your community in the following areas :
Past and Present – What are we proud of?
Past and Present – What are our complaints?
The Future – What do we aspire to?
The Future - What are we afraid of losing?

Rob emphasised that we could define “community” any way we wanted - town, faith, local area etc.

Once again, you may be interested in having a bash at this yourself. If so, let’s play a little music while you consider your responses

The results of the brainstorm were as shown below, one thing that was noticeable was that most of the groups had decided to define “community” as Nottingham’s Muslim community for the purposes of this exercise.

Past and Present – What are we proud of
Asian Culture
Understanding between communities
Work of our elders
Branching out of the Muslim Community to reach out to other communities
Lots of Mosques

Past and Present – What are our complaints?
Lack of inclusion.
We need to integrate with other communities.
Standards of education are poor.
Too many mosques/ too much division
Lack of opportunities for young people
We are not open minded and have a ghetto mentality.
We are not tolerant of peoples differences

The Future – What do we aspire to?
Prosperity – leading to lower crime rates
United, trustful community
To be a good British Muslim.
More integration with the host community
Eradicate the ghetto mentality (See note below)
Ensure the Muslims understand Islam (See the other note below)
Become a more inclusive community

The Future - What are we afraid of losing?
Loss of values, identity and spiritual values
Loss of trust within our community
Financial security

The note below
The Imam who wrote this added that the Muslim community was often a long way behind the cutting edge. They would move forward when the gap becomes embarrassingly wide, but are not generally leading the debate by being at the cutting edge of any social issues.

The other note below
The Imam who wrote this comment elaborated by saying that he felt that many Muslims only related the act of worship to Islam and did not implement Islamic values in the rest of their daily lives.

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)

IoC - Pt 3 - Trustbuilding and Actions

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)

Rob now looked at the aspects of Trustbuilding in a little more detail by putting up a slide showing the four aspects of Trustbuilding. The slide is replicated below:

Know yourself
Discussing this aspect of trust building in a little more detail, Rob and Willemijn commented that we can all benefit from spending a little time in introspection each day, time in which we can consider whether we are contributing to and living like the community we want to live in. Rob described how he had fallen out with a work colleague for several years until, one day, while to was considering why this relationship had broken down, his conscience told Rob to think less about how he himself felt and a little more about the fact that his colleague felt that he had been wronged by Rob. So Rob called his colleague and to talk through things. The very next day the colleague called Rob and arranged to drive 100miles over to have lunch, which just goes to show how powerful the effects of reconciliation can be.

Acknowledge history and stories
Rob pointed out that if issues are not resolved, they end up being transferred, which is why race and slavery are still such live issues in the US today, 150 years after slavery was abolished. In addition, this transfer can result in the victims becoming victimisers.

Invite all to the table
Inviting everyone to the table means, by definition, that one has to engage with the “other” – which takes courage and can leave the people doing the engaging vulnerable to accusations of “selling out” or weakness. Rob pointed out to the leaders in the room that “if you want to be a bridge, you have to be prepared to get walked” and that one can spend so much time focussing on the enemy that one forgets to focus on the problem. Difficult times can make it easier to find and blame scapegoats for society problems. As Mee Moua, an ethnic minority politician in the US has commented “In our post-9/11 age, every American has been given tacit permission to unleash their anxieties on those they believe to be 'the Others'

Rob described an Initiatives of Change project in Richmond where leaders of the Christian Evangelical community met with Imams from the city’s Muslim community. As a first step, the two groups were asked to go to separate rooms for an hour and come up answers to two questions.

Q1) What can be do better?
Q2) What would we like to see from the “other”?

After an hour, the two groups came back to the table and discussed their findings

The Evengelicals said that they had not made sufficient efforts to reach out to the Muslim community and that what they wanted to see from the Muslim community was an absolute rejection of terrorism (which the Muslims were happy to provide)

For their part, the Muslim representatives admitted that they had been too insular as a community and that what they wanted to see from the Evangelicals was an absolute commitment to plurality.

Rob described how one of the Muslim representatives invited one of the Evangelicals over for a barbeque and that the conversation they struck up during this revealed that they had many areas of common ground. For example, they were both concerned about the loss of moral values and valued the family. This initial contact provided the basis for a conversation between the groups that is still going on.

The final parting comments from Rob were to ask the attendees to consider the following:
What conversations are not taking place?
Whose story needs to be heard?
Is there one step I can take to have an honest conversation?

With the “common ground” being a particular theme of BFTF, the following email was sent to a couple of the Imams at the Meeting

“. . . I noted the comments during the meeting regarding the Muslim community often being a long way behind the cutting edge of providing (and practicing) solutions to many of societies problems – and how many Muslims only related the act of worship to Islam and did not implement Islamic values in the rest of their daily lives.

One way of providing at least a partial solution to these problems is to provide leadership to the Muslim community in some of the many areas where we can find common ground with the wider society.

To pick just a few examples where the groundwork has already been done, the Masjid could :

i) Demonstrate Islam’s commitment to safeguarding the environment by only using sustainably sourced paper – and telling the congregation about this

ii) Encourage the community to take advantage of community open days and public lectures at local Universities

iii) Lobby on behalf of the Muslim community in cases where human rights abuses are taking place – and tell the community what you are doing.

iv) Lobby to ensure that legislation discouraging smoking is not watered down – and tell the community what you are doing.

v) Encourage the Muslim community to take advantage of local events where they can learn about the history of their city.

vi) Publicise to the Muslim community any reports on mosque best practice and tell the community whether the Masjid is going to implement any of the recommendations.

vii) Offer to educate the community (both Muslim and non Muslim) about the wide variety of trees that exist within a few hundred metres of the Masjid ( of course, it would be prudent to implement (i) before undertaking this action).

viii) Recommend to the community that simply changes to their shopping habits (e.g buying free-range eggs, FSC/recycled paper products, MSC certified fish)are praiseworthy actions and have the potential to make a real difference to the quality of the world that our children may live in.

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)

UPDATE(06 Nov 11)
One of the Imams replied, saying thank you and that they would incorporate some of these topics into their sermons as appropriate.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Tesco, Sainsbury's and Oxford notepads

BFTF needed to buy some notepads this week and wanted to ensure that they were made from paper that had been sustainably sourced, so as not to contribute to the destruction of the worlds remaining natural forests. First stop was a Tesco Superstore where the options were:

i) Tesco own brand, which was 60% recycled paper - not bad, but 60% isn't 100% which is what BFTF was looking for.

ii) Oxford Optic Notepad. This packaging claims that the paper "sourced from sustainably managed forests" and has a logo with a picture of a tree and the words "The Paper by Nature certificate guarantees the low environmental impact from raw materials selection to the finished product". BFTF wanted to find out a little more so went home to have a look on the Interweb for some more information. Visiting the Oxford website, BFTF found a statement that "All the paper used in the Notebooks range comes from a sustainable souce. Paper by Nature accredited". So far so good. There was a link to the Paper by Nature website and, from there to the Paper by Nature standard, which BFTF followed. The standard is a little difficult for a layperson to follow but, so far as BFTF can determine (the key bit seems to be Section B, Part 6A) , a manufacturer can pass the standard by using only 50% sustainably sourced/recycled paper. Oh dear. 50% is a long way from the website claim that "all the paper. . .comes from a sustainable source". BFTF was not a happy bunny after reading this, not a happy bunny at all.

Having discounted Tesco, BFTF tried Sainsbury's, and was delighted to find that they stocked pads made from 100% recycled paper. Result !

BFTF, being BFTF, couldn't let things lie, so sent off emails to Oxford paper, Tesco and Sainsbury's (see below). . .

To Oxford Paper :
"I was looking to purchase a number of notebooks this week and wanted to ensure that they had been produced from paper that had been sustainably sourced / recycled. So I was chuffed to find that your notebooks had a note on them saying that they were made from paper that had been "sourced from sustainably managed forests" and was further reassured by the statement on the Oxford website stating that "All the paper used in the Notebooks range comes from a sustainable source. Paper by Nature accredited"

I've followed the links to the Paper by Nature standard and, so far as I can tell (the key bit seems to be Section B, Part 6A) this only requires that a manufacturer use 50% sustainably sourced/recycled paper.

I have to say that 50% seems to be a disturbingly long way from the "all paper" stated on the Oxford website, and from the statement on the product packaging. I'm sure I've got the wrong end of the stick somewhere and am hoping that you can explain where I have misunderstood the Paper by Nature standard."

Update(13 Nov): Following a little email tennis, received an email from Oxford that included the comment:
". . . All paper used in Oxford Notebooks is from a sustainable source . . "

which sounds great, but BFTF wanted to find out exactly what Oxford meant by "sustainable", so asked them the following :

. . . When you say "sustainable", what do you mean? Do you mean FSC certified (which would be a good thing)? Or PEFC (which would be a less good thing)? Or IS014001 (which does not guarantee any kind of sustainability really)? Or something else? . . .

Update(17 Nov): Received a response from Oxford Books saying that their products are "made in numerous factories all of which have different certifications" and requesting a product reference so that they could give the correct infomation. BFTF hasn't done this yet, but hopes to in the next few days, inahallah.

To Tesco:
"I was looking to purchase a number of notebooks this week and wanted to ensure that they had been produced from paper that had been sustainably sourced / recycled. I noticed that you have a line of notebooks that are made from 60% recyled paper.

I just wanted to say thank you for making this effort but I'm afraid that when I know that 40% of the paper is NOT sustainably sourced, I get a bit nervous.

So in this case, I'm afraid I have made my purchases from Sainsbury's, who have a line of notepads made from 100% recycled paper. I hope that, at some point in the future, Tesco is able to offer notebooks that are made with 100% FSC certified / recycled paper."
Update(03 Nov): Tesco emailed back saying that my comments had been registered as a suggestion with the buying team and that "Hopefully, you will soon see 100% recycled Notepads within our stores"

To Sainsbury's:
"I was looking to purchase a number of notebooks this week and wanted to ensure that they had been produced from paper that had been sustainably sourced / recycled. I initially visited Tesco, but they did not have any pads that were made from 100% FSC certified/ recycled paper. They did have a line of notepads by Oxford that were certified as conforming to the "Paper by Nature" standard, but this (so far as I can tell) only requires manufacturers to source 50% of their paper from a sustainable source. So I was chuffed to find that Sainsbury's do a line of notepads made with 100% recycled paper. Well done and please keep up the good work."
Update(03 Nov): Sainsbury's emailed back. Understandably chuffed, they commented that they had "forwarded your comments to our team of buyers who’ll be delighted to receive them". This comment makes BFTF recall the words of a number of guests from NGO's like Greenpeace who have told the BFTF radio show that the people in the communications and marketing departments at retailers and manufacturers are not soulless automatons but are living, breathing, feeling people like you and I. And they will react to customer comments in just the same way you or I would if we were in their postion.

You can find other small examples of consumer activism in the "sustainability" page on this blog.

If you are finding that a retailer is falling short in an ethical area, why not email them and let them know what standards you expect. Many guests on the Building for the Future radio show have pointed out that only a few emails need to land at a company HQ before the staff there start getting nervous. It would be great if readers could give an example of where they have challenged retailers in the comments section below.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Interview - Hannah Cross - Probation Service

The BFTF radio show was chuffed to have the opportunity to talk to Hannah Cross from the probation service this week. Hannah was promoting a new initiative from the probation service called the “Community Mentors” project.

More about that in a moment, but lets start at the beginning of the interview. . .

BFTF asked Hannah about the origins of the probation service and Hannah explained how it had begun as the work of missionaries in the 18th century who were charged with giving guidance to offenders who were released into the community. Later, the practice became a matter of statute and courts employed “probation officers” to fulfil this role.

BFTF was a little confused about the difference between “probation” and “parole” and Hannah explained that offenders are allocated a probation officer soon after they enter the criminal justice system and the probation service stays involved until well after the offender has completed their sentence, offering help and advice to integrate them back into the community and steer them towards a stable, crime-free life.

In contrast,"Parole" is the term of a report that we write when individuals who have been given long term sentences are due to come out of custody. Its called a "Parole Report" In addition when people come out of prison they are subject to supervision with a Probation Officer which again can be referred to as "Parole or more commonly "a licence"

Hannah went on to explain that one possible source for my confusion is that the US (and thus US made TV crime dramas) use the term “parole officer” to describe the same job that “Probation officers” do in the UK. Hannah suggested that perhaps BFTF should watch a little less Prison Break. . .

One surprise to BFTF was that the stereotypical image of a probation officer is a big imposing ex-army type, so it was a surprise to hear that Hannah, who was the exact opposite of the stereotype, had been a probation officer for several years and had to deal with offenders right across the scale from those who were serving community service sentences to those who were serving life in prison. She explained that a probation officer might typically have 60 offenders allocated to them at any one time and that, without exception, she had found all the probation officers she had worked with to be dedicated individuals who were genuinely concerned with giving offenders the help and support (in conjunction with other agencies) to nudge their lives back to the straight and narrow. Achieving success in this was one of the most satisfying parts of the job as a probation officer.

Moving on to the COMMUNITY MENTORS project, Hannah explained that mentoring was a very effective method of reducing the likelihood of re-offending as well as helping offenders achieve purpose and live as a part of a stable community. In addition, the time spent with mentors was often the only part of the week where an offender was able to talk to someone who was able to give the offender 100% of their attention.

The project aims to recruit some 20-30 volunteers over the next year or so from Nottingham’s faith communities.

Encouragingly, the Probation service has found a number of Muslim organisations interested in promoting this initiative, including Karimia Institute and Himmah.

After training, volunteers are allocated an offender to mentor, typically giving 2hrs of mentoring time to the offender every week for a period of 6-12months. After this time, the mentor would be allocated another offender. Hannah emphasised that, whilst it would be great if mentors could pair up with offenders from similar cultures, this was not mandatory and there was the flexibility to accommodate the preferences of the mentor. In addition, mentors could be of either gender.

In terms of what kind of person would make a good mentor, Hannah suggested that people with life experience would be valuable. In addition. Mentors should be non-judgemental, understanding of people in difficult situations a good listener.

Two events have been organised at which people interested in this project can talk to the people involved and decide whether this is something that would like to pursue further:

Thursday 27th October, 6- 7.30pm - The New Art Exchange, Hyson Green

Tuesday 1st November, 7- 8.30pm - Trent Vineyard, Lenton

For further information, contact :
Hannah Cross, Volunteer Mentor Coordinator,
Nottinghamshire Probation Trust,
9 Castle Quay, Castle Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 1FW

Links :
Nottingham Probation Service

Recent Home Office Research

NB: This is a summary of the interview, a more detailed post will be. . .er. . . posted once the audio file has been transcribed, inshallah.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Interview - Ben Ayeliffe - Greenpeace (2006)

One of the earliest interviews on the Building for the Future radio show was with Ben Ayeliffe from Greenpeace back in 2006. With much of what Ben said being as relevant today as it was then, it seems like a good idea to put it online here on the blog. . .
One of the topics covered early on was the effect that small individual actions can have, when they are performed by lots of people. Ben gave the example of GM food, saying. .
“In the past I’ve also worked on the GM foods campaign and I think that more than anything else was an example of consumer power really and here we had a technology which was unproved it was untested. In Greenpeace’s view it was playing with nature at a very fundamental level and we had these big powerful American companies telling us we were going to eat this food, we were going to enjoy it , we were going to like it and there was nothing we could about it and yet almost overnight as soon as shoppers and consumer around the country really realised what was going on and said hang on we don’t want GM foods, the supermarkets reacted overnight and pulled GM from the shelves and that was in 1998 and today you can go to a supermarket and you won’t find any GM foods and yet you know, supermarkets are full of organic foods which Greenpeace believe is a decent alternative so that was a cracking example if you like of just how strong consumers can be.”
BFTF dug a little deeper into this area by asking how many letters, emails etc it typically took for the head office of a company to start getting nervous. In response, Ben commented that . . .
“I think actually it’s a lot less than your average person on the street might think. I would say that every little counts. I remember that we heard sort of off the record from one of the big retailers that for every letter that they receive from a customer on an issue they consider that there are another 1,000 people out there who feel the same way but haven’t taken the time to write so it might sound a mundane thing to do, and a slightly pointless thing to do but believe you me, the effect of people badgering supermarkets and companies in general really is phenomenal they don’t like having to justify their positions which many you know positions which people might find unpleasant or wrong to the people that shop in their stores.”
This is certainly valuable information and BFTF hopes that it gives people the confidence to challenge retailers (and other organisations for that matter) if they are not acting in an ethical manner.
Moving on, the interview next tackled the subject of fish, asking Ben’s opinion on fish that had been caught long distances from the UK. His feeling was that . . .
“Really I think it’s quite simple you should really only buy locally caught fish and if it doesn’t say where it was caught on the label you should ask the retailer, and if they can’t tell you then the chances are that it’s come from half way around the world, it’s been flown over at great cost and. . . that does have a big impact on the environment.”
Another topic that gets a lot of coverage is that of sustainably sourced paper, so BFTF asked Ben for an overview about why should we care where books and stationery and printer paper is made?
“I think people really should care because paper grows on trees really and the paper that you buy, and the newspapers or the books that you buy, the paper will more often than not come from forests which are again a bit like fish, really under threat and we’ve seen that 80% of the world’s natural forests have been completely destroyed and the remaining 20% are under threat from industrial, and in many cases illegal, logging. Certainly in paper you find that an awful lot of the original source of this paper, the wood pulp, comes from areas like Finland and Finland has the last remaining natural European woodlands and this is really … it’s completely devastated up there, it’s massively under threat from illegal logging. The Finnish government is heavily involved in the industry and they’re making a lot of money by throwing up saw mills, they’re in conflict with the local Sámi people who herd reindeer in these snow forests, and a lot of the time this paper will end up here in the UK and what Greenpeace has been doing is saying to the industry well look, this is crazy, you have to get a more responsible paper policy and what we’re encouraging them to do as Greenpeace is to stop buying paper which is sourced from threatened forests throughout the world, and buy FSC paper. The FSC is the Forests Stewardship Council, and basically they can guarantee that the wood or the paper that you use comes from responsible and sustainably managed forests and they will be … these forests will be basically … they have a future … they’re not going to be completely logged out, so we think this is a sensible long term way to go about getting new paper, and we’ve been running a book campaign recently so we’ve had people like Quentin Blake on side spreading the word through the publishing industr … people like J K Rowling who wrote Harry Potter, has also joined the campaign … that the books that they write need to be printed on this FSC paper and FSC and recycled paper, the paper that has already been used. And this has had a really big impact and already we’re seeing about a third of the UK publishing industry has agreed to go FSC, which is great news. “
BFTF felt that this was fantastic news, to which Ben said . . .
“It really is. And again it’s down to the fact that your average person in the street doesn’t want their paper or the book that they read at bedtime to come from trashed rainforests.”
Ben also reinterated his earlier message about individual action by saying . . .
"We’ve seen the Amazon up in smoke, the paradise forests of South East Asia are being felled to make plywood which is sold here in the UK which is sickening really, it’s stuff that makes advertising hoardings, and again I’ve said this before, consumers really will be amazed at the power that they have over the companies involved in this trade; they don’t like to be associated with illegal destruction of rainforests and people can vote with their wallets, they can stop shopping at certain DIY shops say, or at certain bookstores, and that has a really big impact. . . I think there’s a great deal to be said for kicking up a fuss and asking questions in these sort of places because it really puts companies on the spot.”
One tactic that BFTF had heard some companies were adopting was to gain certification to the ISO14001 environmental standard (which does not actually mandate any specific environmental policies) and then use this as “evidence” that they were acting in a sustainable manner. BFTF asked Ben for his views on this, particularly in relation to paper producers such as APP. .
“Again this is the thing, you speak to people like APP and they’ll tell you that it’s legal and sustainable, well their view of legal and sustainable I think would be very different from the average person’s view of what is legal and what is sustainable. Beyond people like APP we’ve seen within the timber industry that things like illegality, corruption, violence, human rights abuses is rampant really, and because of that we, Greenpeace say that the only way that you can be sure that you’re getting wood or paper that is legal and sustainable is to look for the FSC logo and demand that from whoever you buy your flooring from, your garden furniture, your books, anything like that, because otherwise these very shady timber companies do have a rather different view of what you or I might think of as legal and sustainable, and for instance we did an exposé recently on a company big Malaysian logging company operating in Papua New Guinea, and whilst they were telling people in the UK who were buying their timber to make plywood that it was completely legal, we actually went out and sent researchers out into Papua New Guinea, and found that they were paying the local police force to beat up people … when they said they managed the forest, what they meant was that they were sending bulldozers in, so what a logging company thinks of as sustainable isn’t always really sustainable, so look for the FSC logo"
Taking a wider perspective, the interview now looked at some the other places the Ben had worked . . .
“Certainly I was in … a few years ago I was in southern Tanzania which is quite a strong Muslim areas within Tanzania, and we were doing some research on fisheries, and I was amazed at the fact that these communities have been here for hundreds of years and manage to live in a relationship with the natural environment that we just don’t do here and it was a real eye opener to see how these fishermen would go out and they’d bring in huge hauls of fish but they wouldn’t completely kill off the fish in that local area, they would do it in a responsible and sustainable sort of way, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to places like South East Asia with Greenpeace and I’m always amazed, certainly going to places like South East Asia, at the vibrancy and the passion of local non Greenpeace groups out there who do care very passionately about the same sort of issues that we do, so be it illegal logging or genetically modified foods, that passion is out there. I think where we’re lucky here in the UK is that we actually have quite a well developed consumer and activist network which is perhaps missing from those areas, but that’s not to say that the people don’t care as passionately as we do, because I think they certainly do"
Having talked earlier about individual action being a way to influence governments, the interview now moved on to asking whether individual action could also influence governments . . .
“I think it does work and what I would say is keep your eye out for stuff that Greenpeace does because we do quite regularly ask people from around the world to act on a specific issue, so be it say write to the president of Thailand say on a certain issue, we can generate thousands and thousands of letters and emails. . . .I think Indonesia is a good example and we highlighted, I think it was in 2004, how again it was shockingly enough it was timber that had been illegally logged out of Indonesia that was coming to the UK as plywood so we got on the backs of the industry here in the UK, we got on the backs of the government here in the UK and told them to send a message to the logging industry and the government in Indonesia that what they were doing was not acceptable, and now you can see that the, certainly from speaking to people in the timber industry here in the UK, that the way that the Indonesians are operating is different, there’s a notable difference in the way they operate with regards to the legality and to going towards FSC say, and this is all down to the fact that people here in the UK and around Europe and around the world took the time and the effort to get involved in the activity so that Greenpeace and other campaigning organisations had on this issue so every little does help.”

It’s worth mentioning that this interview was recorded back in 2006, and the overall status of the wood and fishing industries may have changed since then. You can get up to date by visiting

Friday, 14 October 2011

Report - The Mosques in Communities Project

A report entitled “The Mosques in Communities Project” has just been published by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and Faith Matters. It contains a wealth of useful guidance and examples of best practice. The report is based on the results of 15 face-to-face interviews and a further 37 postal surveys of Mosques around the country.

MINAB believe this report to be “the start of a process of outlining good practice and we therefore hope to build on this work.” They also recognise that “many mosques around the country are engaged in excellent community work in a number of areas and we would ideally have liked to have listed the depth and variety of the work that they undertake”

The first part of the report provides recommendations based on the research conducted. Whilst pretty much everything was of value and can only help to improve the performance of mosques, a few of the recommendations are particularly worth mentioning.

Transparency and Communication.
Transparency is clearly an issue of some importance, as without transparency there cannot really be trust. To ensure transparency of the Mosque administration the report recommends that “there should be quarterly meetings where the congregation has a chance to meet the Executive Committee so that they can engage, question, challenge, assess and advise the Executive Committee on its general performance”.
Regarding communication, the report recommends that “Members of the mosque committee and service users may want to consider developing an effective communications system for open dialogue, suggestions and for concerns to be shared.”

It is well known that fact that many mosques do not conduct their sermons in English can result in many, especially younger people, being unable to understand what is being said. To address this, as well as to ensure that Imams can communicate with the wider society, the report recommends that “Imams from overseas (and who have recently come to the UK), be provided with support so that they are able to speak English equivalent to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Level 7. “

The report points out that sectarianism “builds invisible walls around communities” and suggests that these can be brought down if “Imams from other Schools of Thought have been invited to speak in the mosque”. The problems of sectarianism also mentioned in another BFTF post here. BFTF also worries that, sadly, a barrier to this happening is peoples ego’s (as discussed here)

Engagement with the wider society
The report notes a number of mosques who are working hard in this area and distils the advice down to a recommendation that mosques “may want to consider social action days for helping the homeless, recycling community campaigns, ‘helping your neighbour’ and supporting local clean up campaigns.”

Examples of best practice include the Noor Ul Islam mosque (London) who participate in an annual ‘Big Spring Clean’ event which involves the local community getting together to clean up and paint local streets.

Another beacon mosque is Husseinieh mosque (Bristol) which has been able to use the local Safer Neighbourhood officer to “develop programmes for local residents to visit the mosque. This is incredibly helpful in drawing away some of the stigma that may be attached in going to a place of worship that is different to the religion and beliefs of some of the residents“. With commendable foresight, the mosque has also “ inviting the local Neighbourhood Watch group to use the mosque and its facilities. This has allowed the mosque to win over the trust and respect of socially active local residents. It has also enabled the mosque to engage with active neighbourhood opinion formers.”

It was a wish to engage with the wider society more effectively that provoked mosques in Bristol into forming the ‘Council of Bristol Mosques,’ 2007.

Meanwhile, during Ramadhan the Wessex Jamaat Mosque (Portsmouth) has been operating a “‘bring a friend day’ where children all bring one non-Muslim friend to the Mosque to break the fast.”

Engagement with the wider society also means dealing with conflicts. The report notes that parking issues, especially on Fridays, can be a real source of friction and states that “It was suggested that parking has the greatest impact on perceptions and opinions and it is usually a key theme, which can possibly even win or lose elections at a municipal level”. The report goes on to recommend that “mosques need parking advice and information that they can provide to worshippers so that local impacts are minimised.”

Wessex Jamaat Mosque had suffered two examples of negative campaigning and had managed to resolve both of them.

In the first case (involving a campaign by the BNP against the proposed building of the new Mosque) the outreach work that the mosque had been performing resulted in the local community supporting the mosque and its building plans.

The second case involved a local Councillor (who also served on the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE)) who left a meeting when the Imam of the Mosque led a prayer in the Council Chamber, returning only after he finished . The Council held an emergency meeting and agreed to suspecd the councillor. However, Wessex Jamaat Mosque responded “with a letter asking others to forgive him as they had. This remarkable response by the Mosque prevented a further escalation of community tensions and showed the real value of tolerance and forgiveness.”

There is a lot more worth reading in he report, but BFTF hopes that this post has covered some of the main themes. You may wish to ask your own mosque whether they could implement some of the initiative that the report describes.

Firstly, BFTF sent an email to all the local mosques (such as BFTF had email addresses for).

Secondly, BFTF sent emails to Faith Matters and to MINAB thanking them for the report and asking what advice they had for ordinary members of the Muslim community who had tried to get (even very simple) initiatives underway in their local mosques but found the mosque reluctant to take the (very simple) practical steps that were required (even when the mosque says it thinks the initiative is a good idea)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Interview - Spring Lane Farm Shop (2008)

One way of reducing the amount of fossil fuels that are used in transporting fod produce is to buy fruit and vegetable that are grown locally. In fact, wouldn’t it be great if we all had a local farm from which we could buy fresh vegetables – ideally so fresh that sometimes they were only picked from the fields a few hours earlier? Wouldn’t it be even better if this produce was cheaper that buying from supermarkets? And wouldn’t it be the best if this allowed us to offer farmers an alternative to selling their produce to the powerful supermarket chains?

Happily, many of us can do exactly this by buying from “farm shops”. These are shops that often sell produce from an attached farm, or provide an outlet to a number of local farmers. You can find them in the yellow pages, or on the internet.

To find out more about Farm Shops, BFTF interviewed Mark Spencer, who is the owner of the “Spring Lane Farm Shop” in Nottingham.

The interview came about because the work colleague of the programme presenter used to take orders for produce from work colleagues prior to a visit to the farm shop.
This was almost the perfect scenario as she the farm shop was close to her house and she was coming to work anyway so there was no extra mileage incurred (there is no point in trying to prevent emissions from food lorries by making a 30mile round trip to a farm shop for some eggs and broccoli).

One of the attractions of Spring Lane Farm shop was the free range eggs that they offered. We asked Mark about the ethos that he had regarding the treatment of the chickens laying these eggs. . .

“At the end of the day you know I think to be a farmer you have to love animals don’t you, and we just really treat our animals as we think they’d like to be treated. . . it’s our responsibility to look after them and to make sure their life is as enjoyable as it can be”

Mark went on to describe the conditions that the chickens lived under. . .
“Basically there’s a thousand chickens in one shed and when I tell you that shed is actually on wheels. At night time we lock them in so that they’re safe from foxes, and then they’re let out every morning. They’re fed a diet pretty much of solely cereal based food. We also feed them a little bit of like a granite grit, which assists with their digestive system and helps them break down the food to give a stronger egg shell, and then once a year we sort of move (the shed) across the field because they actually graze the grass all around the shed immediately, they can strip that part of the field almost back to the soil so we move the shed a bit further, so that they’re again surrounded by grass and we can then reseed the bit where the shed was and keep them moving like that. They’ve got five acres to walk in. That’s actually twice what they’re meant to have under the Soil Association free range egg rules if you like. It just happened that was the size of the field that we’ve got so they’ve got five acres for a thousand chickens to walk round in, and they do actually make use of all of that field. It’s quite humorous to watch them, when you let them out in the morning they’ll literally spread themselves right across that field to all four corners. There is a lot of space for them to walk round. The expression ‘pecking order’ is very much applied to chickens and they will fight if you keep them too close together, that they bully each other and they’ll fight over food so the more space you can give them the more room you give to their, to the chickens if you like at the bottom of the pecking order to escape their bullies. There are strict rules for egg production and if you label your egg as free range you have to have met those criteria. They have to have so many square metres per chicken to range in, and also the sheds have to have so much room for the birds to sleep in at night and to, and so much space for each nest box as well, so any of those eggs that are for sale in the supermarket will meet the strict criteria but they may have been produced on a larger scale, in a shed that maybe has 20,000 birds in it rather than a shed like mine that’s got 1,000."

After this fascinating snippet of information, BFTF went on to ask about the pricing and freshness of his eggs. . .
Well if I were producing for a supermarket they’d probably be paying me between 60 and 80 pence a dozen. So I think at the moment our large in the shop are £1.40 a dozen, which is obviously cheaper than the supermarket sell them for, but that’s obviously a much bigger premium to me as a producer, and I mean at the moment we’re pretty much running hand to mouth with the eggs. Certainly at the weekend we’re selling the eggs collected on that day. Some of them are still warm as they’re going into the boxes”

BFTF had heard that Spring Lane Farm Shop even took returned egg boxes and reused them, again cutting down on the environmental impact of the farm:
“We do, we have to buy them so we’re always grateful for anybody that brings the egg boxes back. The ones that we sell obviously are all papier mâché biodegradable, but there’s no harm in recycling the egg boxes and using them again and we appreciate those customers that take the trouble to bring them back”

Mark then talked about the differences between British and foreign eggs. .
“I would say is that those eggs produced in the UK will be of higher quality than those that you buy that were imported. You’d be astounded at the amount of food in general that is imported into this country, and shipped from all over Europe and, particularly Eastern Europe now as the EU gets bigger, a lot of food products coming from Eastern Europe."

Moving on to the vegetable side of the operation, Mark gave an outline of the produce that the ho pstocked:
“ Well at the moment we’re producing all of the potatoes that go through the shop as well as quite a few cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and my next door neighbour he’s doing all the carrots, parsnips, leeks and some cabbage for us as well. There’s a fair spread of vegetables there which are grown within three miles of the shop I would have thought."

Homing in on potatoes, we mentioned that the potatoes from the shop seemed to be cheaper and better tasting that those of supermarkets – and allowed us to support the local farmers. .
"Well, it’s very kind of you to say that. We do grow varieties that are better in taste than looks. Maybe some of the supermarkets do focus on how good they look on the shelves rather than how nice they taste on the plate. We’ve tended to stick to the older varieties that we think are better tasting, and our customers have got used to."
We asked Mark about this policy on use of pesticides, given the current popularity of organic produce. . .
“The truth is chemicals are very expensive and we really don’t like to use anything that we haven’t got to use and if there are other methods of weed control for example, doing that mechanically, we much prefer to do that than we would use a chemical to kill weeds. And again obviously I’ve got children myself and they’re eating the vegetables I’m growing, so it’s quite important to us that they’re the best quality that we can produce. We don’t do organic ourselves, but I think there is a market out there for organic produce. You do get a much lower yield (with organic produce) and it’s whether the consumer is willing to pay the extra price for receiving food that’s not produced using any chemicals, and again that’ll be right for some people but not for others. That’s for consumers I suppose to choose isn’t it. We very much try and grow it with the minimum use of pesticides that we can, but we do use pesticides.

BFTF asked Mark about so-called “food miles” and what he thought of them . .
“It’s becoming more of an issue, certainly, when you think about the environment, and environmental schemes. I always think it’s quite strange that this government want to pay me to plant trees and hedgerows and to take grass out of production so I don’t have as much beef, but they then allow Brazilian farmers for example to take up the rainforests and then to spend aviation fuel shipping beef over to this country. We’re very keen to source everything as locally as we can if we can’t do it ourselves, not only from a point of view of the distances travelled, but the nearer (the farm) is to the shop the fresher the produce becomes, and the taste, of course, is depreciating the longer it is since they were picked.”

We then asked Mark about his feelings about supermarkets, particularly as they have such a large market share and have been accused of bullying farmers. We wanted to know if he had seen any benefits to working outside the supermarket system?
“We don’t produce anything for supermarkets at all. They tend to deal with much larger farmers than ourselves and we wouldn’t be able to compete, it wouldn’t be economic for us to grow the produce we do and to accept what they’d be willing to pay us. Really you ought to speak to someone who is producing for a supermarket. I suppose they’re a business and they’re there to make money, but it sometimes feels as though they like to squeeze every last penny out of the producer and take the largest margin that they can. Of course some of these producers have put in a lot of capital to get their businesses to a size that’s viable, and they’ve borrowed a large amount of money, they’re almost trapped because they can’t go to another supermarket because there are clauses in the contracts that stop them dealing with other people, so they (supermarkets) do have tremendous power."

We asked Mark what his advice to consumers would be in terms of where they bought their produce from. . .
“The one thing I would say to all consumers really is that they should think long and hard where they source their food from and if they go to a supermarket then ask that supermarket where the food is coming from. Is it produced in the UK and how far has it come from? What they purchase has a direct impact on the countryside around them."

Finally, Mark gave a comment that brought home the human dimension of farm shops as opposed to supermarkets when he said:
“That’s the beauty of going to a farm shop in that you often get to speak to the chap that’s grown the produce.”

BFTF certainly learnt a lot from Mark’s comments and we hope that you, dear reader, have also found something of interest in his comments.

Be a “Locavore”
In a similar vein to some of the points mentioned in Marks comments, the “New Scientist” magazine recently ran an article on being a “locavore”. Far from being some kind of extinct retile, “locavore” is a term coined up some two years ago by Californian Jessica Prentice (author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection). She and some friends decided to only spend a month only eating food that had produced within 100 miles of San Francisco. On her website she challenged others to do the same. Many took up the challenge and some are still going!
In fact, eating only locally produced produce has become so popular that “locavore” was voted Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.
The New Scientist articles looked at the reductions in a persons “carbon footprint” that could be achieved by eating locally produced food and found that Western Europeans are each responsible for emitting around 12 tonnes of CO2 per year. Of this flying contributes about 1.6tonnes (showing how a few hours at 30,000ft can have a disproportionate effect on one “footprint”) while food accounts for about 2 tonnes.

The CO2 contribution from food comes not just from its transport but also from its growing (manufacture of pesticides, heating of greenhouses etc) and processing (converting lettuces into bags of “salad leaves” etc).

Eating only food that was grown locally and not processed or packaged saved around 0.7tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

Opting for locally grown organic produce (or going vegan) can save another tonne or so. So just by changing the way you buy your food you can reduce your carbon footprint by OVER 80% !! Now, that’s what I call an incentive!

This post is based on a BFTF interview with Andy on Radio Dawn 107.6FM in 2008, which was also subsequently used as the basis for an article in the Invitation Magazine.

Interview kindly transcribed by Ali Marsden.

Interview : Andy Guy - Dairy Farmer

BFTF is sure that you have all heard of children who think that milk milk comes from ASDA, not from cows.

Perhaps this article can help to correct any such misconceptions by providing an insight into the life of one of Britain's Dairy Farmers.

The farmer in question is 2005 “Farmer of the Year” Award winner Andy Guy who, together with his other half Sue, run a specialist dairy farm with some 110 cows on around 80 hectares near Southwell in Nottinghamshire.

As part of the LEAF network (linking Environment and Farming) they are champions for farming and have had visits from groups as diverse as Anglican Bishops and School children.

BFTF kicked off the interview by asking Andy for a little more information about LEAF. He told us that
“LEAF is a charity which promotes environmentally responsible farming and so it’s a farming system means that we try to consider the environment with everything that we do on the farm”

Andy then went on to describe the type of cattle that he had on the farm.
“We keep about 100 milking cows, pedigree Holstein cows, that’s the black and white cow that you’re probably familiar with...”

At this point BFTF jumped in, sure from it's primary school education that black and white cows are in fact called “Fresians”, but Andy explained that
“A Holstein is a development on from a Friesian. A Friesian is more of a dual purpose cow. It produces quite good beef but quite good milk, but in these days of specialisation farmers have improved the breeding over the years and created almost a new breed and that’s the Holstein cow, which is really a specialist milking cow”

Now thoroughly confused, BFTF asked whether the cows we saw wile driving up and down the Motorway were Fresians of Holsteins? Andy patiently explained that
“Mostly these days they’ll be Holstein cows … still some Friesian cows about … they’re not a rare breed or anything like that … but mostly they’ll be Holstein cows these days”

Having got that cleared up, the conversation moved on to how the cows spent their time...
”During the winter we keep them in the building. When the grass stops growing and the ground starts to get muddy and that kind of thing you can imagine 100 cows going through a gateway or getting to a water trough it makes a pretty good mess so it’s a necessity really to keep them in but actually they’re quite soft as well and I think they really appreciate it once the weather gets really wet and windy. They don’t mind cold but they don’t like rain and wind so once the weather gets really grim in probably late September or early October they’ll be housed for the winter and we’ll provide them all their dietary needs and things in the farmyard."

And what might these housed cows be eating ?
“In the winter they eat silage which is basically pickled grass and that makes up probably three quarters of their diet and the rest we balance up just like you and I do they need a balanced diet so they have to have all the right amounts of protein and energy and that kind of thing so we balance it up with other sources of protein and energy so they’ll get a little bit of soya and whole crop wheat silage which is silage that we’ve made out of wheat during the summer time, sugar beet pulp, that kind of thing. All natural vegetarian stuff - The days of feeding them fish meal and meat and bone meal and things are long gone … we’ve learned from mistakes in the past”

BFTF wondered whether this was the case for all farms and were told that
“It’s illegal and barmy to feed them anything but wholesome vegetarian stuff nowadays so you could be confident that any of the milk or dairy products that you’re buying in well any shop in the UK, as long as it’s come from UK sources anyway, is produced to those sort of standards. - The UK dairy market now is pretty well regulated and nearly all the dairy farmers are producing to what’s known as the national dairy farm assured scheme and your listeners will be familiar with the little red tractor logo I suspect and that’s what we need to produce to in order to meet that tractor logo standard so nearly all the producers are working to those standards now, you can be confident that if it’s bearing that symbol then it’s responsibly produced these days.

Having got an outline of the way he cows were looked after, it was now time to turn our attention to the milk. BFTF first asked for a little introduction to how the market had changed from the days of the Milk Marketing Board,
“It’s changed a lot since those days, the milk marketing board was a monopoly and was operated by the government since, well really since the 1930s and it was brought in to produce a stable market and a regular supply of wholesome milk and dairy products. It was brought in for a good reason but these days monopolies are not really the thing that any government supports, that’s not a party political statement, any government would work against a monopoly I think, and so the market was deregulated and nowadays there’s lots of people and lots of companies buying milk from dairy farmers and processing it and selling it on to the supermarkets, but supermarkets are making up probably something in excess of 80% of the market place now. They sell retail most of the milk and dairy products so it’s a slightly out of balance market I think, we’ve got four or five big supermarkets buying all of the milk from thousands and thousands of small farms and unfortunately that does have an impact on the dairy farmer. It’s very difficult to negotiate a good price with such a big organisation like that.”

Moving to a sustainability point of view, BFTF asked how comsumers could support dairy farmers in such an unfair market?
“The biggest thing you can do is vote with your feet, or at least with your purse anyway. If you’re buying liquid milk then it’s nearly certainly to come from British farms because it’s very difficult to transport it very far, but you can make a big difference when you’re buying yoghurts and cheeses and things like that and if you make sure that those are British produced and they’re either carrying the little red tractor logo or they say on the label that they’re produced in Britain from British milk then that makes a difference and sends a message to the supermarket because ultimately what the supermarket wants is to sell products, they don’t actually care very much whether it comes from Brazil or Venezuela or New Zealand or England.”

Andy felt that this kind of action really did make a difference, saying that
“at the end of the day I think what the supermarket is most interested in is what goes through the till at the checkout - They don’t care what you buy as long as you buy so Buy British “

Touching on another, BFTF asked about organic milk and it's alleged benefits,
“Of course. Well organic is another farming system and it’s a strictly regulated farming system, there’s a rule book that goes with it and the result of the rules that are applied to farmers means that output from farms is generally lower than it would be under conventional techniques and therefore produces a more expensive product at the end of the day. Now we’re not organic and we’re farming in a way which we believe is environmentally responsible and the welfare of our animals is very high on our list of priorities so I think ultimately it all depends on why a consumer or a buyer wants to buy organic products. If they’re buying them for environmental or welfare reasons well I personally don’t believe that organic milk is any better than my own. My milk is wholesome, there’s no antibiotics in the milk that we sell ... no residues or anything like that and it’s a wholesome product, but at the end of the day it’s up to the choice of the consumer isn’t it. If they want a product that’s produced in a particular way and they understand what those rules mean then I think they can buy that product, it’s a free market isn’t it?

And what is Andy's view about "Food Miles"?
“Food miles really don’t work do they if you’re going to import an organic product all over the world especially if it’s something that can be produced perfectly well in this country. It’s different if you’re importing mangoes or something that doesn’t grow here, but if we’re talking about milk and cheese really it should be produced here shouldn’t it? My own feeling, we don’t buy organic products ourselves because we’re consumers of course as well, we don’t buy organic products because I don’t really feel that they’re better than the conventionally produced products.”

Moving to something completely different, BFTF asked Andy to tell us a little more about the history of the farm. Andy began his response by explaining how things were before the war,
“there were four or five people working here still using horses on the land, they had dairy cows actually, we’ve always had dairy cows as long as the family’s been farming here but back before the war there was about 20 dairy cows on this farm and they also had beef and sheep and goats and geese and all sorts of things, a real Old McDonald sort of thing. And over the years it’s gradually specialised more and more in what it does best really. The soils and the climate that we’ve got here suits dairy farming quite well and is less appropriate for arable farming and producing potatoes and that kind of thing. The soil is a heavy clay so you can imagine that trying to dig root crops up in a wet autumn.”

Andy then went on to tell us about how the amount of milk produced by the cows had changed. . .
"Before the war they were producing maybe 3,000 litres per cow and now they average nearly 8,000 litres per cow, so a dramatic difference and a lot of that probably in the last 20 years, that’s the biggest change. Farmers have been able to understand genetics as well much better and breed for better cows. We’re not talking about genetically modified cows this is natural breeding and natural selection. And then there’s technology and being able to feed these cows. A cow producing 8,000 litres of milk is really working like an athlete, she’s working hard, and it’s the technology that has allowed us to feed the cows properly and analyse the nutrients that are in her diet and that kind of thing and you can make an analogy with an athlete maybe, say, Paula Radcliffe running a marathon, she doesn’t do it on fish and chips and Mars bars, she has a very carefully controlled diet and our cows are much the same these days. Cows are much easier than people they don’t like variety, they like the same thing every day so that makes life a bit easier.

BFTF then asked about the lifespan of the cows and were told that. . .
“Well it varies of course. The oldest cow I ever heard of was 27 years old. We’ve got several teenagers in the herd, that’s not unusual at all. So they have a calf each year and they need to have a calf in order to produce milk, just like any mammal, so as long as we can still have a calf and we can produce wholesome milk from the cow then we’ll keep her in the herd and keep going. That’s one of the nice things about dairy farming actually because you get a real relationship with the cows. It’s 100 cows and to the untrained eye they all look the same but we get to know the characters and we know who each cow is and how she’s going to behave and what she’s going to do so it’s quite nice to build the relationship with the herd like that."

Calves was something that BFTF wanted to know a little more about so we asked for a little more info. .
“They stay with their mums for the first two or three days I guess on this farm until they’ve had their first milk that gives them all the antibodies and things to set up their immune system and by that time by the third day mum’s producing a lot more milk than the calf needs so we take mum away at that point and she joins the herd she’ll come back to the calf at night time and look after the calf at night maybe for the rest of that week. At the end of the week we take the cow away, she’ll go back to the herd and we’ll start feeding the calf milk manually. It’s still whole milk, it’s coming from the cows but it’s maybe not her mum’s milk, it’s just surplus milk from the milking herd and the cow joins the rest of the herd and they’re gregarious animals so they’d rather be with the herd than just on their own."

We had head a lot about the work farmers do to protect the environment so BFTF asked whether his work with LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) was related to this?
“We’re all the time with every farming decision we’re not just thinking about the commercial aspects of the business, those are the principal influences because we have to make a living, but we try at the same time to consider the implications for the environment and society around us all at the same time. The result of that is the careful management of hedgerows and the margins around our field, which is where most of the wildlife and wildflowers tend to live. It influences the way we manage those parts of the farm and the net result is quite dramatic, we’ve got I think 67 species of bird visiting our farm. We’re not a big farm we’re 200 acres, which is a relatively small farm but 67 species of bird on the farm and something like 23 butterfly species as well. It’s quite gratifying to see that thriving at the same time as our commercial farming operation."

This all sounded very impressive so BFTF asked how this compared to an ordinary farm?
“I think that’s a little bit higher than you’d expect on some farms. I think certainly in the East Midlands most of the farms are much larger than ours and most of them actually don’t have livestock on them, they’re arable farms and so that limits the amount of habitat and the variety of habitat that you have on a farm. With a livestock farm like ours we do grow crops so you get all of the bird species and insect species that live in crop habitat but we’ve also got the grassland, we’ve got red clover growing on the farm and lots of other opportunities in the hedgerows and trees and that kind of thing, so we do get a bigger variety on a farm like ours than you would on a specialist arable farm.”

Lastly, BFTF asked for a little more information about the types of visitors they had had on the farm,
“We’re open all year round, it’s absolutely free. As long as you can get a group, we’d like to have a minimum of ten people, that sort of thing. No maximum, so if all your listeners want to come they might have to come in shifts but we’ll share them all round. We’ve had a huge variety of people. We get everybody from the W.I. and the local primary schools, to a bunch of bishops from all around the world. They were in sandals and all sorts of things. It was quite bizarre! You’re very welcome to visit us and you can find out more from the LEAF website (”

This post is based on a BFTF interview with Andy on Radio Dawn 107.6FM in 2009, which was also subsequently used as the basis for an article in the Invitation Magazine.

Innovative Mosque Health Programs (2008)

This article was originally published in The Invitation Magazine in 2008, but is as useful today as it was then in terms of offering examples of the excellent work that Mosques can do when they get their act together. . .

Mosques are generally portrayed in a uniformly negative light in the media, whereas the reality is that there are a number of mosques around the country that are doing some valuable and very innovative work with their local communities. As an example, let us see what is being done in Glasgow, Sterling, Oldham and London. . .

The Central mosque was quick to see that the health of it's congregation was important, they were active in the field back in 2001 when they took part in a British Heart Foundation campaign to highlight the dangers of heart disease (something the South Asians are 50% more likely to die from). The project involved imams being trained on issues relating to heart health such as diet or smoking.

Smoking is a big issue as it is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease, and surveys suggest half of all Bangladeshi men, and a third of Pakistani men, smoke.

Habib Ur-Rehman, the Imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said: "I'm very pleased to be part of this initiative as Islam teaches respect for life and health and places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of both physical and spiritual health.” while Muslim MP Mohamed Sarwar commented that "This unique initiative provides the Muslim community with the necessary information and support to take control of their health."

By 2004 the Mosque had widened its remit, with the elderly day care centre providing a medication review clinic once a week in which each patient received a basic medication review, along with health promotion advice, blood pressure measurement and blood glucose monitoring. The organiser, Alia Gilani, then informs the patient’s GP by letter of the service provided.

Staying north of the border, a 2007 campaign was run involving women from Stirling's Islamic Centre, NHS Forth Valley and Filza Bhatti from Glasgow Caledonian University.

The project aimed to highlight the damaging effects of eating food that had high levels of fat and salt. This was because statistics show that the Asian community within the UK was more likely to develop diabetes than the general population.

Filza Bhatti, commented that “Even in Islam we are not supposed to over-eat. . . We are meant to think about the poor and how they are actually feeling with hunger pains." Her healthy eating plan includes using wholemeal flour for chapattis and putting less salt and oil into a curry.

The eight-week programme includes a buddying system and physical activity such as brisk walking.

Last year, Oldham saw a project involving the local Primary Care Trust's and the Council of Mosques for Oldham. Launched at the Tabligul Islam mosque in Glodwick, the 'Smile With The Prophet' project aimed o encourage more than 700 Muslims in Oldham to look after their teeth and give up smoking.

The message was based on the teaching of the prophet Mohammed who promoted good oral hygiene and good nutrition as an essential part of the Muslim religion. Delivered as part of the religious teaching in the mosque, and project also involved the team speaking to families about oral health and helping them find out ways of improving their children's teeth.

Lynne Smith, oral health improvement lead said: "It is particularly important to help improve the oral health of the children in their community, because on average they have the highest level of tooth decay with 70 per cent of five-year-old children having five decayed teeth."

London (Camden)
Of course, mosques can provide a place where groups of concerned individuals can focus on health related issues away from the hectic nature and many distractions of the outside world. For example, in 2007 Ahmed Rahman, a 36yr old traffic warden from Camden, London, gave up smoking during Ramadan with help of a smoking counsellor at his mosque

Ahmed had contacted his local PCT about his wish to stop smoking and they had suggested that he join a stop-smoking group. The group decided to hold it's meetings in the mosque. Ahmed commented that “There were four to five meetings a week, and we had to go for five weeks. Our coordinator gave us suggestions to help us get through the first few days. Between the meetings, I could phone my support worker whenever I felt like I wanted a cigarette.

London (East End)
The East London Mosque, aware that many of the local community live sedentary lives and so are more likely to suffer from high cardiovascular disease and rising diabetes rates.

The mosque is involved in the “This Healthy Living” project is targeted specifically at Bangladeshi men at risk of developing coronary heart disease and/or diabetes because of their lifestyle. The 12 week program encourages men to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Training is provided in Bengali and the project addresses issues such as risk factors that contribute to heart disease, increased awareness of the importance and benefits of physical activity
Increased knowledge and understanding of balanced diets etc, In addition, the attendees had the chance to participate in Seminars (in English and Bengali), Group discussion around various health topics; Health & fitness screening; Gym sessions and One to one sessions.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Interview : Amy Mulkern from the FSC (2008)

This post is based on a BFTF interview on Radio Dawn 107.6FM in 2008, which was also subsequently used in an article in the Invitation Magazine.

The interview was with Amy Mulkern of the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC is a stakeholder owned organisation formed to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. It sets international standards for responsible forest management and it's product label allows consumers worldwide to recognize products that support the growth of responsible forest management worldwide.

As of 2008, over the past 13 years, over 90 million hectares in more than 70 countries have been certified according to FSC standards while several thousand products are produced using FSC-certified wood and carrying the FSC trademark. FSC operates through its network of National Initiatives in 45 countries.

Forests have a significant effect on the worlds climate and are host to many communities of plants and animals that live there.

It is worth mentioning that cheap paper products are cheap for a reason - in many cases that reason is that they have been produced from wood from cleared natural forests, often tropical rainforest.

To start with, Amy gave us some information of the history of the FSC;

“we've been around since 1993 and through the 80's and early 90's there was a real awakening and realisation that there was a problem with the world's forests, we all saw the images of the Amazon rainforest being burnt and seeing inappropriate plantations in the United Kingdom and started wondering and asking questions about where our wood was coming from and whether we were fuelling this problem, this illegal forest clearance happening all over the world - problems in Russia, in Canada, in south-east Asia, and in South America, in west and central Africa. And a lot of companies started asking questions about where their wood came from, and it was the first time they had asked this question. And a lot of them were quite upset with the answers that came from suppliers and they weren't really too sure what to do about it. So they needed a solution, a way to ensure that what they were doing was giving value to forests by their timber purchases, so giving them a reason for people to keep them, to make them economically viable but also to look after how they were being managed. So in 1993 a founding assembly of 120 organisations and individuals from around the world got together in Toronto, Canada. Our membership comes from big companies like B&Q and Ikea but also indigenous people's groups like first nations peoples and tribes peoples from Canada, also indigenous peoples groups and civil rights groups from South America, from west and central Africa, from south-east Asia. We're really a global organisation, we also had environmental organisations like WWF and Greenpeace and they all got together and they said we've got this terrible problem with what's going on with forestry around the world, we want to make sure we're giving value to forests, make sure forests are working, they're not being cleared, they're not being converted. So what are we going to do? We need a system like FSC, what we need is a truth label, so that when people see a label on wood products, whether it's paper, whether it's timber, whether it's charcoal or whether it's a book, we know that it actually does come from a well managed forest and not from illegal forest destruction. So that's what we were set up to do.”

Amy went on to give a feel for how an FSC forest is managed by pointing out that
“Each forest will have a forest management plan and that forest management plan will meet the international principles and criteria of FSC. Responsible forestry has been interpreted at the national level by local people about what's really the quality forestry that they can have in their country. So, you might have areas where they do clear blocks at a time, then they'll do rotational block clearing. They'll also have areas where they are more towards continuous cover. It will depend on the forestry and what's good. Certain types of bird species, for example, in the UK need cleared forest areas for their nesting sites, so it's not as simple as clearing blocks of forest is necessarily bad and keeping continuous cover is good. It would depend really on what the situation is at the very local level. And that's where the expertise of forest management and standard setting comes in.”
Later, Amy described in more detail how companies had woken up to the fact that they didn't know where their wood was coming from,
“I've heard speakers from B&Q and BBC saying that the questions were being asked through consumer pressure, through the NGOs, it was simply questions they'd never asked before. It was just paper, it was just wood. You know, they just bought it. But, they're also consumers, they're also individuals, they're also people. Once the question was asked, they thought to themselves, ‘God, I wonder where our wood does come from’? And then they started asking questions through their supply chain. B&Q themselves say we were not happy to find out that we didn't know where our wood came from and we realised that we had to sort this out.”

Amy also gave an example of what one publishers had to consider when auditing their supply chains,
“Alison, their production director, said very honestly, ‘we looked around and we looked at where our paper was coming from and we found that some of it couldn’t be proved that it had been legally harvested, let alone responsibly managed’. They were really worried about some of their sources of paper. And so, working with Greenpeace and WWF, and then later on working with ourselves when it got to a more technical level we looked at their supply chains, their pulp sources, so they wanted to exclude all the illegal fibre and then work to move as many book titles as they could to FSC certified. So you’ll find with companies what they’re doing is ensuring legality, not illegally harvested, not using indentured labour, is an absolute benchmark and then shifting over to responsibly managed FSC certified forests as fast as they can, working with our supply chains, moving things over because while avoiding illegal is vitally important, what we’ve also got to do is support and give value to responsibly managed forests."

And FSC is not just for printer paper, as Amy explained
“Paper used for printing and publishing, wood so that's sort of timber and furniture, garden furniture, kitchen utensils, all the building materials - plywood, chipboard, MDF. Companies like B&Q, Coop, even go down to your local garage and have a look at the charcoal bags there and see whether you can see our logo on it. Publishers of course like Bloomsbury and the Harry Potter books were printed up FSC certified. You can get certified greetings cards. If it comes out of a forest, it can carry the FSC logo.”

Amy went on to explain that the consumer also has a big role to play in this endeavour
“people are being concerned about where their products come from. We’re all starting to ask questions, as consumers, as members of the public. We want to make sure our money is going towards the right thing. And organisations like FSC give people an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the issue of not just related to tropical forests, as shown by Amy's comments that:
“I was reading an interesting report a few months back from Greenpeace where they’ve caught a number of European pulp and paper mills and timber mills using paper that has come from Russia where there are a lot of problems with illegal harvesting and gang controlled harvesting and a lot of it gets smuggled over into Europe and then ends up in our mills that way. So it can be more of a complicated issue. Like I say, Greenpeace and WWF are really the experts on this but I’m afraid to say illegal harvesting and forest clearance is not just a tropical issue.”

We went on to take the specific example of IKEA, where we had asked staff in the stores “‘where is this wood coming from?’ and have been shown a little logo or label saying that they “do not take from intact natural forests’. This seems a little confusing, I mean, if it’s partially gone, does that mean you can rip the rest of the forest to shreds? On other occasions we have been told “we have a special forest in Russia and it’s all sustainably managed’.

Amy said that is was difficult to talk about specific cases, largely because
“What you’ve got there is a company’s self-declared claim and it may be absolutely right, they may well be taking it from perfectly responsibly managed forests but I can’t comment on whether that’s accurate or not. The point about FSC certification is its independent third party guarantee, someone’s gone in and actually ordered that and checked that, who is not part of the company, who has not got a vested interest in it to say that it genuinely does. With company’s self-declared claims, it muddies the water because some of them are absolutely true and doing a lot, for example Ikea, they have got all their garden furniture FSC certified, or the vast majority of it. I do happen to know that they do use a lot of fibre in their unlabelled products but as to the rest of it and the full supply chain, I just can’t comment on it, simply because I don’t know. And that’s what you need to be doing as a consumer, you need to be saying well, how do we trust you, how do we take your word for it? Where is the proof? Where is the evidence? Where is the independent guarantee?”

Having had enough of doom and gloom, we then asked Amy which companies DID sell FSC certifeid products and were told that there were now quite a lot out there, including B&Q, Focus, Travis Perkins, Magnet...

Moving on, we asked Amy what we could do in the political arena to promote sustainable sourcing of wood products. Amy replied that:
“Don’t be afraid to ask. You’re voting these people in, they’re your councillors, they’re your MPs, they’re your MEPs and you have every right to ask them where the wood is coming from in any local building projects you see. The government has got a commitment. The only source of timbre for central government projects should be from legal and sustainable sources. Get your MPs to ask some questions in the House of Commons, challenge them about how they’re delivering on it because Greenpeace has caught them again and again using timber from unacceptable forest management - the Cabinet office have had two fairly recent cases where they have been found to be using plywood that had been traced using German laboratories to analyse the plywood and was traced back to rainforest clearance in Papa New Guinea.”
Finally, we asked Amy about the future and what she thought it held for the worlds forests, to which she replied “We’re at very much a junction and it could go either way. I mean, the rates of forest clearance and forest destruction are pretty horrendous. We’re looking at about 33 hectares per minute being destroyed and when you have the Brazilian government themselves saying that 60% of the timber coming out of their country has been illegally clear-felled So we have got some huge challenges. But the other side of that is that FSC certified forests, responsibly managed forests, are growing exponentially. People are seeing valued forests. So we’re very much at the forefront of giving a future to the world’s forests, which is why it is so important that people buy FSC labelled products so that they can give the retailers, those people who are selling these products, the confidence that they are doing the right thing by taking this gamble, getting involved in FSC. If your listeners are then going out and saying to people, ‘oh, have you got an FSC certified whatever’? Then this is helping them to justify that they are doing the right thing because if we give value to forests we’re giving alternative to the land clearance, for agriculture, for mining, for urban development. So there is a future, there is a real future for the world’s forests and beautiful things are happening with forestry around the world. Whether it’s medicinal plants being grown under the canopies of FSC certified Eucalyptus plantations in South America, or whether it’s the work that’s been done up at my local forestry commission plantation on forest regeneration, there are some fantastic things going on and we all have got such a role to play in encouraging and supporting that, to prove to people that they are doing the right thing and moving forwards.”

You can find examples of how BFTF has been challenging retailers about the source of paper in their products here, here and here.

You may also wish to ask your own masjid what kind of paper they use in their printed flyers, leaflets etc.

Links :