Sunday, 12 November 2017

Social Justice Interviews

Various interviews brought together into one post.

Dec 2013: Dr Saqib from Akhuwat

BFTF had the chance to interview Dr. Muhammad Amjad Saqib(founder of the social action charity Akhuwat) on Radio Dawn 107.9FM recently to talk about Akhuwats innovative interest-free microfinance project which has disbursed some 370,000 loans throughout Pakistan.

4 Key Principles of Akhuwat
Akhuwat in Pakistan
Akhuwat in the UK
Best Thing About the UK

4 Key Principles of Akhuwat
Dr Saqib began by outlining the four key principles of the Akhuwat microfinance programme:

1) Interest free loans to the economically poor so that they may acquire a sustainable livelihood: Once approved and assessed for viability, business plan loans are given to the economically disadvantaged as interest-free loans.

2) Use of mosques and churches, as centers : Working with local mosque and church infrastructure reduces costs, builds bridges with communities and provides a venue for training and outreach – with the church / mosque leaders often being Akhuwats biggest cheerleaders

3)A spirit of volunteerism : By fostering a spirit of volunteerism, Akhuwat strives to mobilize all members of the society to play their part in poverty alleviation.

4) Borrowers becoming donors : The Member Donation Program allows people who have received loans in the past to become, if they wish, donors helping others.

Akhuwat in Pakistan
Dr Saqib commented on how there had been many struggles to get the programme started, from a lack of capital (just £100), to getting sufficient people involved to getting mosques on board.

Imams were initially reluctant to get involved, and only really opened up when Akhuwat managed to get across the message that they were not a sectarian organisation, and that mosques had historically had the role of being meeting places where social work could be undertaken.

BFTF asked how the organisation covered the costs of administration and the effects of inflation. Dr Saqib responded by explaining that the organisation was very open with donors, and would tell them that if they gave 100rupees, 9 would go on admin etc and the rest would be disbursed. Eventually that 91 rupees would be repaid, of which 82 would be given out as a loan. When that 82 rupees came back, 73rupees would be given out again – so that the original donations of 100rupees actually became several hundred rupees worth or loans !

Dr Saqib also pointed out that the four key principles of Akhuwat meant that the organisation had costs of around 9% compared to over 20% for interest based microfinance organisations

Akhuwat is much more than just a loan distribution company. It also has a very strong social programme that works to pass on positive messages relating to ethical values, care for the environment, ethical values, participation in civil society and the value of education (especially for girls) – as well as providing career advice to the children of the loan recipients Dr Saqib explained that "poverty is not only financial – poverty is also social, poverty is also political poverty is also spiritual, it is also moral. Poverty has many dimensions …so this the reason we also give them a social agenda".

This is why mosques are important – they are a place to sit and engage in this dialogue

Akhuwat in the UK
The organisation has set up a base in the UK, and Dr Saquib suggested that any mosque in the UK that could identify some entrepreneurs, and had some members of the congregation willing to act as donors – then they could also replicate the Akhuwat model and help people take their first steps in business, hopefully to repay their loans so that more people can be helped out of poverty. Dr Saqib explained that Akhuwat had set up a number of management systems to help run such a scheme and were more than happy to share this information.

So the ball, as is often the case, is in the court of the UK masajid!

BFTF asked Dr Saqib, who had been the key influences in his life, who had been the people who had put him on this path.

He replied that it was difficult to name all the key influences, as every day seemed to bring a new teacher. Indeed, some of the most powerful teachers were the recipients of the loans, as they provided great examples of how people could create a life for themselves and haul themselves out of poverty despite many adversities.

Having said that Dr Saqib said that his mother had been an important influence and had taught him Dr Saqib to never indulge in anything illegal or immoral and always tell the truth

The Best Thing About the UK
Something that is asked of all guests on the BFTF radio show is what they think is the best thing about the UK. Dr Saqibs response to this question was:

"People are extremely hard working, something that we as a nation in Pakistan lack, we don't work hard. Also people are very, very honest, they don’t cheat anybody. I think these are two extremely important values.

This message I am taking from your country to Pakistan, to tell people that if you want to make a mark for yourself you must work hard and be honest with yourself and with others."

Sunday textile market on the sidewalks of Karachi, Pakistan

Image Source:Wikipedia

Dec 2013 : Kamran Fazil from Islamic Help

A fascinating interview recently with Kamran Fazil (from the charity Islamic Help) looking at issues relating to the efficient aid delivery, the importance of water and also some tips on effective donating.

Tiny bit of Info about Islamic Help
Smiles Better
A School Satchel
The Muslim Charities Forum
Ladies with buckets of water
Be Fair in Your Funding
Do More Than One Thing at a Time
The Special Question
Further Links

A tiny bit of info about Islamic Help
Kamran described how the charity had grown from modest beginnings in 2003, initially only looking to support a single school in Pakistan – to large organisation, operating in many countries around the world, that it is now.

Smiles Better
As an example of the innovative programmes that the charity undertakes, Kamran gave the example of the "Smiles Better" campaign which aims to provide medical and other help to women who have been the victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uganda, Nepal and Cambodia.

The work of the programme featured in the Academy Award winning short documentary "Saving Face"

As well as medical help, the program also aims to providing employment opportunities for the victims and also to combat the culture that allowed the attacks in the first place.

Kamran emphasised the importance of the multi-pronged approach, commenting that:
"Tackling the issues of women and gender equality is one of the issues that we need to tackle to combat poverty around the world"
and also recognising that pious words and legislation were not enough :
"a country can pass legislation but…courts have to be strong, policing has to be strong "
And public opinion also had to change, and this change has to " come from the local community, no good someone from the west telling the east what to do"

A school satchel
BFTF asked Kamran about comparing the effectiveness of charities by giving the example of two charities who are asking for donations to provide school satchels for kids in a developing country.

One charity takes the money, buys the satchels cheaply from a supermarket and sends them to the country for distribution.

The other charity looks for satchel manufacturers and suppliers in the developing country itself and tries to source the satchels from them.

The second charity is presumably doing a more effective job of delivering aid, but how are donors to know which charity is doing what so that they can donate accordingly.

Kamran responded by saying that he was a big fan of partnership and that there were indeed a great many factors that needed to be examined in order to deliver the most effective and sustainable aid.

Sharing resources, both with other charities and with local businesses, was important.

Kamran went on to explain that, when working at the scene of a natural disaster, charities will form a round table or have so-called "cluster meetings" in which the NGOs decide how to work together to deliver aid effectively. For example, the group may decide that one charity will focus on food while another focuses on delivering medical aid.

How does your charity source its school satchels?

The Muslim Charities Forum
Within the UK, Muslim charities have formed an organisation called the Muslim Charities Forum to allow Muslim charities to speak with one voice and also to act as an advocate at a government level.

The forum also allows charities to meet and discuss best practice. For example, if two charities find that their costs for providing a Qurbani(Eid animal sacrifice) in a particular country are wildly different, the forum provides a place where they can talk and decide where the best practice lies, or perhaps share costs to improve efficiency.

BFTF was shocked.

Muslim organisations working together.

Don't see that very often.

Kamran commented that, in regards to their relationship with the public, there were responsibilities on both sides:

There is a responsibility on charities to be honest, to be transparent and to educate the public of positive effect that longer term, more sustainable, aid can deliver

And there was a responsibility on donors and the public to question and challenge charities to ensure that they are working to best practice.

As an introduction to the topic of access to water in the developing world, BFTF offered up the point that for many in the UK, water was not something they thought about, it just came out of a tap. Instead, what worried people was ensuring they always had a good internet signal.

In contrast, Kamran described how, when he was in a very deprived part of Somalia, there was very little access to water, but he could Tweet from his mobile phone without any problems!

Kamran went on to remind people that giving water to those without this precious resource was one of the best forms of Sadaqa Jariya (continuous charity) - a view that has also been expressed to BFTF by other charities.

But thought needs to be given to how water should be delivered to people. The best way is not always to dig a well. Kamran recalled how, in when there was a famine in Somalia, some charities were raising money to dig wells – but it was a famine, there was a drought, there was no water !

Sometimes, other approaches such as trucking in water or water harvesting are more appropriate.

Rainwater harvesting can take many forms, but one example is to fix peoples roofs and install drainage so that rainwater collects in water butts. If such an approach is taken, it needs to go hand in hand with education of the local people so that they know how to keep their roofs clean and the water containers clean.

Another approach is to build dams in valleys, even if the water collected is not suitable for humans, it is likely to be good enough for livestock to drink, which reduces the pressure on the limited about of potable water that may be available.

And, of course, trees are perhaps the most effective way of ensuring that water is kept in the soil and does not drain away. Cutting trees in an unsustainable way results in soil and water loss, resulting in a lowering of the water table and running the risk of wells drying up.

"In Meatu district, Shinyanga region, Tanzania,
water most often comes from open holes dug in the sand of dry riverbeds,
and it is invariably contaminated."

The key word here is "unsustainable" – the environment can cope with trees being cut in moderation, it is when the pace of destruction is faster than the forest can regenerate itself that problems occur. Kamran emphasised that we "need to start giving respect back" to the environment

In many cases, the situation can be helped by slowly regenerating the land, with the aid of outside agricultural experts to provide advice – the solutions still need to come from the people themselves to be sustainable. The advice might relate to "permaculture" practices, in which efforts are made to create sustainable and productive farmland using non-polluting and sustainable approaches such as combining trees and ground crops, or using mulches to improve soil water retention.

[NB: A lot of useful related information in this Wikipedia article on Water Scarcity] And there is a long Islamic history of protecting green spaces and water sources by denoting them as being protected "Hima" or "Haram" respectively.

Kamran gave the example of a locality in a developing country that, 20yrs ago, had a lovely stream running through it. Over the years the trees in the area have been steadily cut down for charcoal, leaving the ground unable to retain water, and the wells dry. The stream has long since disappeared and the local inhabitants have forgotten how their forebears lived in balance with the environment.

Islamic Help is now planting trees in the area to protect the aquifers.

If the problem were only local, then this might be enough, but that is not the case. Large companies are now cutting down many of the trees for sale elsewhere as charcoal. And in some areas, water hungry industries such as soft drink bottling plants can wreak havoc on the water table and severely deplete the aquifers that supply local wells.

So organisations like Islamic Help then need to talk to local and national government, who have to balance the need to protect the environment with the need to attract investment and jobs.

An example of Innovation  : The Groasis Waterboxx

Ladies with buckets of water
I'm sure we have all seen and heard about how women in some areas of the developing world walk for miles to get water – and have thought that this is an outrage and that a well clearly needs to be dug in the village itself so save these women from all this hard labour.

But what we have probably not heard is comments like those of Kamran, who said that, often these women were bringing the water to the village in order to sell it, and building a well will instantly put these women out of a job. As Kamran pointedly asks, "What other source of income will you provide for those women"

And how will the well be maintained? Who will pay for spare parts for the pump? In many cases, once the well breaks down, the community is forced to revert back to collecting water from some distance away.

So Islamic Help, when building a well, tries to ensure that the water carriers have an alternative means of earning an income so that they can continue to support their families and that the future maintenance of the well has been considered.

Northern Tanzania

Be fair in your funding
Kamran commented that many people have a very narrow view of what constitutes "aid", and do not see that planting trees, or campaigning against gender based violence, are poverty issues.

This view is a double whammy as it means that these kinds of projects do not receive much funding, and also means that charities are therefore less likely to undertake, or even suggest, them.

The solution, according to Kamran, is education. Charities have to educate donors in the value of schemes such as tree planting. Masajid have to educate the community, and Imams need to be equipped with an understanding of current affairs. Youth Groups and, of course, also parents have an educating role to play.

Do more than one thing at a time
BFTF asked Kamran whether the Muslim community was too focussed on overseas aid, via Muslim charities, and should perhaps also directing some of their donations towards organisations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Help The Aged, CancerUK etc

Kamran responded by saying that all of these charities, as well as many others "do a fantastic job" and that it was important to direct some support towards organisations working locally within the UK.

He added that would encourage other Muslim aid charities and community groups to also look working on local issues

Islamic help, for their part, are working with Help the Aged and are also running soup kitchens in the UK.

Charmingly, Kamran recounted how he was involved in a project with a local Church group to provide Christmas hampers to local people in dire economic need and that this had become a valuable annual interfaith event.

Kamran also pointed out that peoples time was even more valuable to Islamic Help that their donations.

The Special Question
All guests on the BFTF show are asked a "Special Question" : What do you think is the best thing about living in the UK?

Kamrans response was to say this:

I've travelled to many countries throughout the world. For me, my health is important, and in the media recently the NHS has taken a lot of stick – let me tell the listeners out there that the NHS is amongst one of the best services that you will receive anywhere in the world.

I could talk about this really quite passionately, its not where it was 10 years ago, or where it was 5 years ago….but in the way it is currently, the NHS is a godsend.

I have had to visit medical centres in other countries and, by God… if I had to live there, if my child suffered a terrible accident, then I would be on my knees begging Allah Almighty for something like the NHS where I can take my child straight away and take him to see a doctor and get him fixed up. I wouldn't mind being on a waiting list, waiting to pick up the phone because I know I will get something.

Further links for Islamic Help
Website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.

Image Sources
Satchel, Waterbox, Tanzania, Water Source

Mar 2013 : Ferg Slade of NCVS

Ferg Slade, campaigns officer at Nottingham CVS (and also blogger on the Huffington Post!) was the guest on the Building For The Future Radio Show this week. It was Ferg's second appearance on the show and this time around Ferg was kind enough to discuss some of the efforts BFTF had made in challenging local and national government and comment on whether BFTF was going about things in the right way.

Unlimited rises in benefits
A BFTF post noticed a survey on welfare reform that was reported in The Sun (see here) which stated that:

"...More than 2,000 people were surveyed by pollsters Populus on behalf of the Tory Party. ....When asked whether the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits, 80 per cent disagreed."

BFTF is genuinely puzzled by this, as it looks like the Coalition has actually asked people "Should the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits?" which is an outrageously leading question, not least becasue it leaves the unspoken impression in the readers mind that "unlimited" means "very large" - when actually, it means "in line with inflation". So asked the local Conservative party "Did the Government really ask this question? Or is The Sun making stuff up?". They suggested I contact Lord Freud, whose team responded with a statement that ignored the question altogether.

Ferg commented that this was a reasonable question to make and that, having got no joy from the relevant Lord, perhaps BFTF should persue this by asking the local MP to raise this as a Parliamentary question.


Misrepresentative reporting in the media?
Another BFTF post reported on how an article in the Independent stating that Newcastle United's Muslim players had been "warned" against wearing shirts with the Wonga sponsors logo and that the "intervention from the MCB" heped pressure on the club.

In reality, the MCB had not approached the club in any way and the comments had been lifted out of a multi-topic interview with Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra from the MCB.

BFTF asked whether it was appropriate to challenge media organisations that covered the story without performing even a cursory investigation into whether it was true or not.

Ferg commented that it was perfectly reasonable to do so, particularly given the misrepresentation of Muslims that often happens in the media.

Bigging up good stuff
It is easy to spend all ones time highlighting and capaigning against the bad stuff that is happening in the world. So BFTF tries hard to find positive stories to talk about. One example of this is this post and this post on some of the great programmes on the BBC.

BFTF asked Ferg what effect praise had on organisations and he commented that giving praise was a very worthwhile activity as it reinforced good actions by the relevant organisation and gave them feedback that they were on the right track. In addition, praise was often something that an organisation simply is not used to getting, which magnifies the benfits when it is actually given.

Why are we having to support Foodbanks?
Like many people in Nottingham, BFTF has been supporting local foodbanks by donating to them - but has been shocked to find out that some 40% of people who are driven to use foodbanks are in the position because the Benefits Agency takes so long to recalculate (and restart) peoples benefits when their circumstances change.

A typical story is that of Sue and her 5 children were referred to the NG7 Food Bank after fleeing from another city due to domestic violence. Despite intervention and support from Children’s Services and other agencies. The DWP took 6 weeks to process Sue’s benefit claims. When asked what she would have done if she had not been able to access the food bank Sue said had no idea. “I have no family in Nottingham and I don’t know anyone who could help me. I don’t want to think about what I would have done if the food bank not helped me”.

To BFTF, this looks like pure incompetence. BFTF pays its taxes specifically so that the government can ensure the most vulnerable in society are taken care of and helped to find their feet. So why it is now having to spend its post-tax income on buying food and helping volunteers to do the job the government and local council should have done in the first place?

BFTF has challenged local councillors, the local MP and the local Conservative Party on this issue, in each case asking what steps - and with what timescale - were local and national government working to redcue the processing time for "changes in circumstances" to below 1 week.

Ferg commented that these were all valid approaches and added that this was an area where the local council may have relativly little room for maneuver. His recommendation was that the best person to contact was the leader of the council Jon Collins ( or Twitter handle #cllrjoncollins)

Incidentally, throughout the programme BFTF asked listeners to email JonCollins and chellenge him on this issue, and then to email/call the show to advise how the process had gome. At the end of the show we had a grand total of, wait for it, zero callers.

Which is disappointing.

Some other comments
Ferg also gave the following advice to those who were challenging government or other organissations:

i) Make your point in the first four lines

ii) Be specific about what you want (don;t just say "what are you going to do about this?")

iii) Ask that, if they are not the right person to contact, can they advise who is?

And lastly, he related how he had once asked Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood why she got involved in politics - her reply had been simply that she "was angry" at the injustices she saw around her and wanted to do something practical to help improve the situation.

Apr 2012 : Morris Samuels (Unity Project)

Well over a year ago, BFTF saw an article in the Guardian (or Guardigan as No1 son used to call it) about a really inspirational project in Nottingham that was trying to get young people out of gun and gang cultures. The project was called the Unity project and was run by Morris Samuels.

BFTF knew instantly that this was someone who needed to be given a spot on the radio show. And, praise be, that interview recently came to pass. As usual, the best bits are here for you to enjoy and be inspired by :

BFTF : Morris, lets go back to 2004, could you tell us what really provoked you into starting the Unity Project?

Morris : I’ve lived in St Annes since the age of six and I’ve seen how the estate revolved, how people, when they are young, have really good intentions of being good citizens and getting on but as they get to the age of 14, 15,16 they don’t get employment, they lack education, and then their good intentions turn to something else. You can use your imagination about what I’m trying to say.

All through those times I’ve been a guy in the community, a very physical guy that looks after myself and my family. The reason I’m saying this is that when you are looking to set up things, if you have credibility within the community it sometimes helps to get things moving on.

As a semi-professional footballer, by 2002 I had got to the stage where I was thinking about retiring because the legs won’t move anymore and I was thinking that 1999 to 2002 was a really critical time for Nottingham in terms of the gun and gang crime that was blighting Nottingham, resulting in the word “Shottingham”. Unfortunately a number of young people were injured or killed and I just felt that it was my time to do something in late 2005.

So I started to look around to see what I could do. At the time my forte was football but I knew that a lot of young people from the three areas that were involved in this crime - St Annes, Meadows and Radford - liked playing football. So I started trying to get young people together but I had to target one or two of the main people to get this project running. I think the difficult elements were “When they meet up, what happens then?” I can recall a young man who was a prominent guy from Radford called Ali Scott who came in to help me behind the scenes. People like Mohammed Yaseen, Jean Pardoe (Chief Executive of Connexions) and Neil Parnell -they were an integral part behind the scenes making things happen. I think it’s very important that I had the backing behind me.

Because of my semi-pro background with Ilkeston Town, I was able to get Ilkeston Town to sponsor everything and we were able to play at Ilkeston Town under lights in front of about 200 people. So the guys now aren’t focussing on themselves, they’re thinking “Oh my God, we’re playing in front of 200 people - we’ve got to be one. We’ve got to be a family or we are going to get hammered on the pitch”. BBC news came down, filmed half the game, interviewed some of the lads and it blossomed from there really.
Ilkeston Town are known as "The Robins"

but should not be confused with the Australian Robin, which is rubbish at football

BFTF : I’m perhaps not as outgoing as you and I’d be a bit nervous about approaching people to get involved in this project. So I’m interested in asking “what was your pitch!”
Morris: When you know that someone you know has been shot, you are not bothered about being rejected, that’s the least of your problems, the problems are that people are saying “We’re not happy with this, we are going to get revenge”. You can feel the atmosphere and that drives you, that takes you through all the worries, the “I don’t want to approach people”. I will approach people because I want Nottingham to be the best city in the  country. I’m no different to a lot of people in Nottingham, the only difference is, I’ve gone and done it. I can honestly say is that when I set Unity up my aim was to work with everybody, We didn’t want to be rivals with anybody. We’ve worked with Nottingham Forest in the past, Notts County have just come on board. Last night our U16’s played against Chesterfield.
I believe that when Unity has no use or ornament to the community, I’m more than willing to go and work in ASDA because that will be my time done. I haven’t done it to earn loads of money. I’ve done it because I want young people to understand that we don’t have to fight. Blacks, Whites, Asians - we can all get on.

Also, I don’t want to keep these young people. They come to Unity because they are at risk, by this I mean they may have problems with education, employment, staying in school, homelessness, have a gang problem that they want to get out of. And one thing you have to remember is that if I was a drug dealer or I was in the gangs and guns and I wanted to get out, how can I say it ? I can’t stand on top of Victoria Centre and shout “I’m coming out of a gang” - it just doesn’t work like that.

But if you are in Unity, you’re saying that “I’m playing for Unity. I want to get on with Meadows, I want to get on with Radford, I want to get on with Broxtowe, I want to get on with everybody. I’ve done wrong and I want to get out”. Joining Unity is one of the ways of saying all that.

Nottingham - A Great City

BFTF. I think you have used Unity as a springboard to give people some of the skills they may have missed out on. Can you give us a little more information on that ?
Morris : The beautiful thing about Unity, the reason why it works, is that we use workshops to address all the social issues that we have at present. Let’s say, for arguments sake, that it was brought to my attention or some of the staffs attention that there was a massive homelessness problem, the next workshop would be on homelessness. We wouldn’t’ talk about guns and gangs if that wasn’t prevalent or relevant to what is happening now.

The reason I say homelessness is that, at the moment, this is one of the biggest issues that young people are facing. 
We would get agencies to come in and talk about homelessness, give them (the youngsters) leaflets and forms and educate them about where they should go if they become homeless. 
Everybody who plays for Unity has to turn up in a shirt and tie, they sit in on an hour workshop and we talk about issues that are relevant. And that should give them sufficient tools to address the needs that are facing at that moment.
Get a shirt and tie if you want to play for Unity

BFTF: Can you give a flavour of the success Unity has had on the outcomes for young people who have been part of the organisation?
Morris : If we look at unemployment, about three years ago there was a niche for people to be employed as door supervisors (for clubs etc) and so what we did was to set up a partnership with South Notts College and a security company called Elite Security so that we could run courses for people who wanted to be door supervisors. They would go to college, do the course, get the qualifications and there would be an interview at the end of it, guaranteed. In 2009 we won an award as best employer in terms of going through that method in Nottingham. What we have seen is that you walk round the streets of Nottingham in the evening, we have something like 52 young people that are working on the doors. Sometimes you see them and it can be a guy from Meadows and a guy from St Annes - to me that is not relevant but someone else might think that two years ago they were arguing, people who have come through Unity now get on. 

Also we have set up young people to be self-sufficient, to give them interviewing techniques, to let them come into our office and look for jobs, to give them mock interviews. And we try and niche the market in terms of getting people the opportunity. But it’s got to be right, some young people think they can do a job, and they probably can, but before they go into the workplace they are wearing jeans and a sweatshirt when really, appropriately, they should be wearing trousers, a shirt and a tie - and we pay for that. 

Unity is about trying to shape society so that we have good role models, but with that has to come opportunity. If people don’t see opportunities they are going to do what they feel they need to do.

Nelson Ogunshakin OBE  - A role model for us all.

BFTF : So where is the Unity project now?
Morris : We are starting to get accolades, starting to get a reputation. We have moved on from 300 young people in 2006/78 to now having 1,400 young people at the start of 2012. We have two full time staff, seven part time staff and three or four volunteers. To be honest, it’s still not enough to cater for the young people that we have. We want more Asian people, coaches and players because I do believe there is talent in the Asian community. We certainly want to educate and support Asian Football coaches. If people are interested but are already playing in a league, it is worth knowing that we don’t play in a league, we just play friendlies. 

In 2009 we won an award for the best project in the East Midlands out of 47 projects that applied. The award was for how sport has helped change young people. We have had the Chief of Police come on national TV and say that the Unity project has been a success in its own right in terms of breaking down crime. 

We recently started a Youth Work course with South Nottingham College, expected a maximum of 20 people to show interest and had 44 turn up for the induction day. 

Anybody can join Unity, as well as the high profile games against professional football clubs, we do a lot of community events, a lot of charity events. We do all that to raise money. For example, we recently linked up with Notts Police to raise over £1,000 for the QMC. In this way we have one or two ex-gang members going back and giving something back to the community.  
It’s also worth saying that there are a number of other similar projects going on in various parts of the city and they all deserve a pat on the back.
Click here to see what Unity has been up to. . .

BFTF: Moving onto something a little different, my own perspective of the voluntary work done by the Black Community is that it is done in a very focussed, very professional manner and I just wondered what your perspective of the Asian community was, from the outside as it were?
Morris : From my own point of view, and some of my colleagues point of view, we think that the Asian community is well organised because you have your own businesses and you put a percentage of that, I believe, into setting up your own projects so that you can be self-funding -and then you use some government funding. 

I think some parts of the Black and White communities do similar things but one thing I notice about the Asian community is that you stick together and built it within - and that is a skill that is good practice within any culture.
BFTF : Thinking about young people who are listening and thinking about getting involved in voluntary activities, what tips can you give them on making projects a success?
Morris : All you have to do is to have the confidence to do it! Volunteering is the best way of getting into a job because there is no pressure, you are not getting paid - so it allows you to make mistakes, to suss out what is going on. And then, when you feel comfortable, you can apply for a job. Any youngsters out there - don’t think a job is going to come to you, you have to go out and seek it.
BFTF : And taking that a bit further, some youngsters think that because they have tried something once and it hasn’t worked, they can now give up. But the reality is that to achieve success you may need to come at a problem from two or three different angles before you achieve what you are after. In short, you need Sabr (patience). What is your view on this?
Morris : When we were setting up Unity, I faced a lot of barriers. We had high powered people saying that there wasn’t a gun or gang problem in Nottingham in 2005. We had certain community leaders who I went to on a one-to-one who wouldn’t even give me two pence. Then when you look behind the scenes there are other rival football schemes that were trying to close the door, say we don’t want another project in Nottingham. But we weren’t coming at this from a football sense. Football within the Unity project is just a hub, to get the people in. All the spokes are the other activities we do - working with people at risk, employment, training, aspiration building, self esteem, mentoring, youth work. 

I don’t want these young people to stay with me, I know projects that want to keep these young people as gangsters so that they can pull in money. I don’t want them to be gangsters, I want them to go and get a job, to look after themselves so that when I get to sixty, I can walk down the road and not be fearful that something is going to happen to me, my children or my grandkids.
BFTF : Thank you for those heartfelt words. Lastly, all guests on the show get asked “The Special Question” - What do you think is the best thing about living in the UK?
Morris : I think it’s diversity. I think we have moved a long way, I can remember when I was a youngster that racism would be right in your face. People may argue that it is a bit covert now but the thing is you can go down streets now and go in houses and see dual heritage family with blacks and whites living together with, from previous relationships, a black child, a white child and then a dual heritage child that they have had together. We are going to have our setbacks, but it is getting better.

Image source : Robin, Australasian robin : M&S

Jan 2012 : Mohammed Yaseen and Emmanuel House

This interview was a great opportunity to talk to Mohammed Yaseen(Director of Youth Services, Karimia Institute), one of most articulate people to guest on the BFTF radio show, about a recent project in which Karimia Institute had run a campaign in the Muslim community to raise money for the Emmanuel House charity.

As is often the case, the discussion took a few fascinating detours along the way. . . .

BFTF : Welcome to the show Yaseen! To start off, could you give a small clue about what Emmanuel House is and the project that Karimia has been involved in.

MY : “Well, I first came across Emmanuel House when I was working for the local authority. I used to work at Carlton Street for the Youth Service. I used to run the “Youth Shop”. Carlton Street is the street that runs directly behind Nottingham City Council building in the square and it you go over the top of the hill and drop down as though you were heading towards the Victoria Market, you come across EH right at the bottom of the hill where the traffic lights are..

It’s an old 50s-60s kind of building and I remember always seeing people who looked homeless in fact. You could tell that some of them were alcoholics, some of them would have been just very shabbily dressed and they would be hovering outside this building.

Emmanuel House

The reason I got to know about this project at least 10-15 years ago, was because every time we used to do events at our premises in the Youth Shop for young people, we would have food and other things left behind at the end of the event. Some of the volunteers used to say “shall we just take this stuff down to Emmanuel House?”. Well, it did occur to me one time to say “Well, I’ll take it down with you” just to find out what this place was and when I went down I realised that it was essentially an advice and support type service for people who were homeless and then I realised who all these people were that were standing outside waiting to go into this building. They obviously had a timetable for when they had to go in. And essentially, that was my first introduction to Emmanuel House. But I didn’t know what the service was, in terms of who it was organised by, why there were volunteers there. And it wasn’t until Dr Musharraf called me and said that through the Christian Muslim Forum, a request has come to see if the Muslim community might support this organisation which is meeting the needs of people who are homeless in the city of Nottingham, that I realised that there was a connection on the other side with the churches. So I think their church is supportive of the work that they are doing. This is slight departure from the type of routine work that Muslims would tend to get involved with.

Having said that, I think there may some listeners out there that might be able to reflect on the principle of helping people who are homeless, people who are poor, people who are needy. We come across this all the time. When I was last in Pakistan, people would go to a darbar(shrine), they would give, they would volunteer, donate money, a goat or something. So I don’t think it is an alien concept to look after people who are hungry, who are poor. But to do it in this country, that is a departure.

What’s happened with Emmanuel House is that with these current financial cutbacks that the local authority has decided that it was going to make some cuts to Emmanuel House’s budget – and these were really significant, they were to the bone to be honest. There was some sense that the whole of the operation helping homeless in Nottingham might collapse and their chief executive decided that she would start a local campaign to see if she could generate community support for it. Their (the community’s) initial responses were that people would come in with tins of money, children would come in with piggy banks and that’s when they realised that actually the community is very supportive of supporting people who are really vulnerable and likely to get into even more trouble, at worst, die on the streets of Nottingham city. So they approached Karimia Institute and said “Do you think the Muslim community would support this?”. I think that is a really big challenge. On the one hand I thought it was quite cheeky that the churches, who are so wealthy, would have the gall to ask the Muslim community “Would you like to support something that we are supporting?”.

But after I had thought about it, you know, who are the beneficiaries?. Is the church the beneficiary here, or is it the people? And whom are we supporting? Are we supporting the church or are we supporting the people? It wasn’t very difficult for me to conclude that our intention is the most important thing. So what is our intention? It is to help people to safeguard themselves, to help them get out of poverty, to get a roof over their heads and to feed people as well. So when I met with their marketing manager, she asked me how the Muslim community would view supporting a charity like theirs. I said the frankly, we have a very great spirit of feeding people who are hungry and that would be a really excellent mission and something that I think Muslims would feel empathy for. And if there was anything we would want to support. So I kinda narrowed it down a bit because I thought that I wouldn’t feel comfortable about seeing my donation propping up the churches work, as it were, and there mission. I wouldn’t want it to be seen in that way, if I was going to help people I would want to help people who are really in need.

Joe and a volunteer in the kitchen

To help your neighbour is important, They have rights over us so we have a responsibility to them and, in the same way, people who are living in Nottingham on the streets, they are our neighbours. We walk past them, drive past them, sometimes taxi drivers will see them lying in the street. These people are our neighbours. We have a responsibility, as Muslims, to do something about that.

Our neighbours

With the support of Zameer from Radio Dawn, we decided to launch a small campaign to support them. We were very keen to make sure that we supported the aspect of work which was going to have the greatest impact. It is admirable that all those people (who donated) looked beyond the initial thing that they saw, which was a white non-Muslim charity that was doing work, to the people that it was going to benefit.

I remember my father telling me that Christianity did well because they gave the Bible with one hand and bread with the other. You show humanity when you feed people, you show that you care for people – and if you can show that you care or people you can influence their perception of what you are and what you believe and maybe that it one of the ways we can bring people to Islam.

This project is not the first time I have come across this practice. When I was a student in Bradford University, I was cajoled by some of my student colleagues into doing some volunteering that would “blow my mind”. They took me to an underground hall of a church and in the underground part of the church and when I went inside, Lo and Behold, there were all these Muslims who were cooking and preparing food and I asked “What is going on here?” and they replied “Well, the church is allowing us to have this space so that we can feed homeless people” and that was for me the first shock - I anticipated that I would see white non-Muslim people walking through with a tray, with food, picking up an apple and some fruit and going back to a table and eating. And the number of Pakistani people, men and women walking through - and I could tell that they weren’t people who had homes, they were genuinely homeless, you could tell from their dress. Some had mental health problems, that was very apparent, and it dawned on me that I was feeding people here that were not just Muslims but there were other people as well.

I was just given an apron and told, put the food on the platter, smile, give them some water and let them pass by. And after one hour of doing that I was asked to take my apron off and pass it to the person who was walking through the door. What they had was a rota for three hours and a local businessman, who has a relationship with Nottingham as well, was located in Bradford was sponsoring this and paying for the food to be served every single Thursday evening

 There are volunteers somewhere out there tonight, feeding the homeless

I was dragged in as a student to do this one hour and after that I used to go back every Thursday and I did that for six-seven months. That work in Bradford is still continuing today.

So that was really my first experience of actually feeding people, so when I heard about other brothers in Nottingham wanting to do the same, I can support that 100%.

For an hour a week, to make that much impact on that many people’s lives who were walking through, was the backdrop for what I was seeing that needed to be done with Emmanuel House.

That’s one of the things I’ve tried to implement with many of the things done here at Karimia Institute. Things like the Scouts, I’m asking volunteers to come forward and I’m saying to them, “Give one hour a week. Don’t give me two, I don’t want two, just give me one. Just come here, do something good, enjoy yourself working with young people, making a difference in their lives and go home feeling like you have actually done something. If everybody just gave me one hour, I’d be a lucky bloke!

Why not volunteer 1hr a week  to help the scouts?

BFTF : Regarding the fact the some people may say that we need to help our community first. It’s not an either/or, you can do two things at once. It’s like saying that we shouldn’t have gone to the Moon because we should have solved hunger on earth, but I don’t think that if we had not gone to the Moon, the problems of hunger would have been solved. What would be your perception on that viewpoint ?

MY : I think that one of the issues with people saying that we should do something for our own is that what they don’t realise is that there is a ripple effect. And things happen to us as a consequence of us not taking responsibility. For example, if we had taken responsibility over CFC’s, we wouldn’t have damaged the ozone layer - and the damage to the ozone layer affects not just Muslims, it affects everybody so to do something about that is important. Similarly there are plenty of examples where, you have someone who is so desperate that they might be forced to rob somebody and somebody might get hurt there. Now, if they weren’t so desperate, because they had had a meal in their belly that evening, they might not need to have to do that. It’s often the case that people say “It’s not going to happen to me” until it happens to you and then it’s like “Why did this happen to me?” and the reason is that globally, as a community, we failed to do something. And so I think that feeding people who are homeless, who have no home, no food, no livelihood, no work, no place that they can use as an address, can’t get access to benefits - are basically completely detached. Well, those people are human being and they are going to want to fulfil some of their basic desires and that might be getting money from somewhere. Somebody could get held up, somebody could get injured, somebody could be killed - and if that outcome happened because we didn’t feed somebody, that’s our responsibility.

The Ozone Hole over the Antarctic - We did that.

BFTF : Can you give a little more detail on what Emmanuel House does?

MY : Well they do all sorts of advice. Essentially, when you walk through the door they provide you with a free meal, access to a nurse to deal with any injuries you may have sustained and they arrange for you to have a roof over your head. They will also wash your clothes so that you can put some clean clothes back on. These are the very foundation stones of decency in our society.

Our campaign was not about the whole of the Emmanuel House organisation, we felt that the best thing that we could do was to feed those people who are hungry and that that would be an excellent thing to do. And that is essentially what we have done, we fundraised quite a large amount of money for them and that money is going to be dedicated to spending on food for people who are homeless.

We raised about £6000, but they need a lot more than that, their target spend -just on food - is around £13,000. I think this is the first time that the Muslim community and the Christian community have collaborated on a programme like this and consequently it’s clear that the Muslim community are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and are prepared to see beyond the structural differences between the communities, see through that fog to the people who really matter who are those lonely souls walking around on the streets during the day thinking about where they are going to sleep that night.

Imagine if this was your bedroom every evening. . . .

BFTF : If people are interested in this project, how can they donate?

MY : They can send a check to Emmanuel House direct, or they can send it to us at Bobbers Mill Community Centre and we will forward it to them. Or the same thing can be done via a cash donation.

BFTF : What has been the response from the Non-Muslim community, the churches etc?

MY : I don’t think they expected us to come forward as we did and, as always, when Muslims rise to the challenge, people are astounded. If anything, we have demonstrated that we are not easily put into a box. Muslims are much more globally thinking, they are charitable, we are very, very generous compared to many other communities. We both look after our own community and we are prepared to look after other communities. In some ways it is a really valuable lesson to give to people who are non-Muslims because where they have had stereotypes about the Muslim community, about us being insular, not interested in other people, wanting to live parallel lives - that is not the case. I think we are part of our community, part of the city of Nottingham. We reflect both an eagerness to support people who are vulnerable, who are homeless - we are at the frontline.

No-one should be under the impression that Muslim communities are only interested in themselves or that they do not have any part to play in British society. British Muslim are interested in everybody in this country, as we are for people overseas as well.

Some people may think that Muslims are only interested in foreign affairs, well this is a really good example of how we are interested in home affairs - very close to home affairs in fact.

BFTF : BFTF often seen individual Muslims working in a whole range of voluntary organisations, but what is unusual is to see a Muslim ORGANISATION stepping forward to work with the wider society.

MY : What we have done here is to trailblaze for other Muslim organisations in the city. We can demonstrate that we have an interest in helping people and we are building bridges and links with other organisations and I think there is a level of respectability that comes from this as well. Rather than us always being seen, dare I say it, terrorists or radicals and extremists in society, what we can be seen as is humanitarian people who think about their neighbour, who think about their neighbour, who think about other people around them and can appropriately respond when needed to.

I hope very much that anybody who contributed to the campaign, whether they were givers or supporters, will realise is that when we are talking about working with people who are vulnerable, we have vulnerable people in our own community. We have people who are getting into drugs or alcohol, we have young people going to prison - at one of the fastest rates of any community in the UK and there is very little understanding of why we should be sympathetic to their needs. It’s almost like “they have brought it on themselves, so they should pay for it” - but we forget that when these people come out of prison, their behaviour and what they do in society is likely to have an impact on us. So if you get burgled and you find that it was someone on drugs, you may also find out that that person may have been a Muslim. So when we talk about supporting people who are drug addicts in our community, people should not turn their noses up at it and think “That’s their own fault”. . . How do we respond to ALL vulnerabilities in our community? Should we be open handed with them? Should we think about supporting those causes?

Because there are so many of those (causes) but the Pakistani and Muslim communities does not tend to focus on them. But this one campaign with Emmanuel House has, I think, demonstrated that there is a soft spot, a soft underbelly within the Muslim community that is prepared to look at that.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, the Muslim community has a soft side. . .

BFTF : What are your plans for the future of this project?

MY : Emmanuel House are the drivers and what they asked us to do was to support them with their campaign and that is essentially what we have done. Karimia does not have any plans to set up feeding services and I think this is primarily because this was our first trial run at seeing what the community is likely to be interested in doing.

For the future, an idea would be to put people on the street, we are already working with Radford Road Police Station to look at some of the issues with Muslim Youth in Forest Fields, there have been so many complaints and so many arrests carried out of young people involved in anti-social activity and crime that the Police Station is absolutely overrun with cases and they have approached us and said “Is there any way you can help?”so we have come up with a project, we haven’t launched it officially yet, but I’ll give listeners an inkling as to what it is about. The idea is that we are going to have “Imams on the Street”, the idea would be that we have people who are strong in their Iman (faith) who feel that they want to make a difference to their community and they will go out on the street and they will engage people and support them to divert them from crime and anti-social behaviour. That’s our starting point and I am really fortunate to be supported by about 30 people so far, men and women, who have come forward to take a youth work qualification which we have laid on to NVQ level 2. We are appealing to these people to, when they have completed their qualification, to become part of this team of people who will go out onto the streets of Nottingham. Not just in Forest Fields but wherever this issue occurs, where Muslim youth are being led astray or going astray themselves - to interject, to make a difference in their lives.

BFTF : Why do you think this is happening now? Why not 10 or 15 years ago.

MY : Certainly 10 years ago, we didn’t have the same rates of crime, anti-social behaviour and unemployment. There was a higher degree of control by families in terms of supporting their children. I think as time has gone on, certainly into the last decade, more and more people are thinking about working, the cost of living is going up, so there are lots of socio-economic factors that are affecting the make up of our community and also the impact that it is having on the different elements of the community, whether they be the elderly, middle aged parents, young people or even children. So, in some ways, to ask why this kind of work didn’t happen earlier, we are reacting to current needs and maybe 10 years ago these weren’t current needs.

But engagement with young people was and maybe Karimia is in a good position to be able to boast that we were doing youth work . I can certainly remember when I was working in the local authority delivering camps at Overton Park . We would take young people and families camping and they would be able to see the countryside, some young people had never seen the countryside.

BFTF : On a slightly separate subject, I noticed that you were involved with a recent Himmah Institute “Big Supper” event, where they provided food for local homeless people. What’s your perception of their work?

MY : It’s interesting that you ask me that question because I was cajoled into supporting that one as well. I think that it is a very good connection by Muslim young people and I think that it is admirable that it is young people who are at the forefront of this one. They work that they have done is building bridges with organisations that wouldn’t know the Muslim community and certainly they do know the Muslim community now. You know, if you maintain a clear Niyat (Intention) as to why you are doing it then it both benefits us and it benefits them. Perhaps what they should do is to have a calendar of events and invite people along to it, so if there are people out there who are thinking that they could give some time to volunteering, perhaps an hour or two, that might be an ideal way of doing it. Perhaps if they could produce such a calendar we could put it out on the airwaves.

"The Big Supper" - another example of Muslims feeding the homeless

BFTF : Lastly, could you give feel for the quality of mentoring that you and Perwaise do in the Youth Club as listeners may not be aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes.

MY : We are really keen to start supporting and helping young people achieve. As you know, Karimia Institute is about education, our mission statement says very clearly that we are about education.

We are about keeping people IN education for a start. Many of our young people are beginning to find themselves in positions where they are excluded and not only that, they are not succeeding in achieving their 5 GCSE’s and so were are hoping to support that education effort through our tutorial classes.

But in the Youth Club itself, that is an opportunity for youth workers, older young men and women to build a relationship with young people. So if those young people have got issues and they want to talk to someone, they should have someone who they can talk and look up to. I can remember years ago people used to organise events and I would get invited along to them and they would show an interest in me and, as a young person, I used to value that. And that is what we still need to provide - an appropriate adult who can be both a role model to young people but also show an interest and care for young people because that is what they don’t have. Many of them are lacking in people who care and love them for who they are - and certainly in the Youth Club, people may think that the Youth Club is all about playing games but it’s more than that, it’s about building relationships with other people and if these people are building relationships in a place like a masjid (mosque) then that is phenomenal because that says that coming to the masjid is cool, its ok. So we don’t need to cajole young people to come to come here and if they come to the Youth Club and the Azaan (call to prayer) goes then it is the norm that that they will say their Salat (prayers) and them come back to the Youth Club. We don’t want to create an environment where you HAVE to go to the masjid and it has to be done with a stick - how it should be done is through love and association and the youth club provides that and certainly the youth workers here are working with parents to address issues that the parents have identified. So if the parents are concerned and worried about their son, as has been the case - I can think of numerous examples of where people have come to see me and said “Look, I am really concerned, my son continually gets arrested by the Police and I’m really unhappy about that”. So when does he get arrested? “He gets arrested in the evenings”. So if he comes to the Youth Club he is active in those hours when he would be getting into trouble, then we are diverting him from crime.

So we are doing things that people do not see, normally. People see young people in our centre and they think “what are all these young kids doing here, running around” - well actually, they are running around in a good place, in our masjid and that is a really good thing.

Interview with Mohammed Yaseen, Director of Youth Services, Karimia Institute. 29th June 2011 on Radio Dawn 107.6FM

Update 27th Jan 2012
Emmanuel House have, quite reasonably, commented that Emmanuel have "moved away from being such a strongly Christian organisation. It has a much broader base of support now."

Image credits : Homeless, Curry, Ozone, Housing, Soft Toy

Nov 2011 : Julia Hawkins (ETI) (2008)

Back in 2008, the "Ethical Trading Initiative" was featured on the BFTF Radio show on Radio Dawn 107.6FM. Having been kindly transcribed by a volunteer, the interview with ETI spokesperson Julia Hawkins can now be posted on the Interweb for perusal at your convenience.

To start at the beginning, could you give us a little background about the Ethical Trading initiative?

About 10 years we all started to become much more aware that the big brands were sourcing much of their production from factories in lots of far flung places across the world, for example in south east Asia and there were stories of exploitation, of workers being paid poverty wages, of children working and generally of poor conditions. The result was a lot of negative media coverage and consumer campaigns demanding to know what the companies who were sourcing these products were doing about this worker exploitation. The first response of the companies was generally to deny that they had any responsibility for these workers because they weren't directly employing them, then companies started to accept that they did have a responsibility but campaigners and others felt they weren't taking their responsibility seriously - for example they would adopt a code of labour practice, stick it up on their website and not really do much else.

The way ETI came about in 1998 was that a bunch of companies, charities and campaigning organisations got together to say 'Look, we know there are these problems, we know that companies have a responsibility towards workers, so lets work out what companies should be doing to address their conditions given that simply adopting a code of conduct is insufficient'.

So that was why ETI was set up - to work out what companies should be doing; to try and make sure that the workers who were actually making the products, (whether they be food or garments or shoes) were actually treated in accordance with international labour standards. That's what we are basically about.

It's quite unusual to have companies and campaigners around the same table. How did you persuade them all to come aboard?
That a good question! I think one of the major achievements of ETI in the early days, was to get these diverse organisations together around a table and I think it was just as hard to get the campaigners and the labour organisations to engage with the companies as it was to get the companies to talk to the people they are normally at loggerheads with. I think that the companies involved realised that this was not an issue that was going to go away and that there was a value in engaging with the people who were their critics, to actually understand their agendas and to work together with them rather than fighting them. I think that the companies with foresight realised that if they wanted to protect their reputation and protect their workers they needed to engage with the people who understood the issues of the workers and how to improve workers rights because this is an area that most companies don't focus on, they focus on making a profit. So its a way of going to the experts and saying that we are committed to doing this but we need your help in showing us how.

I understand that the ETI has a "base code" which is what the whole system revolves around, could you please give us a little background on that?
The ETI base code is a set of principles, for examples that that workers should not be forced to work overtime, or be harrased, that they should be paid a decent wage and that there should be no child labour. The code also covers basic health and safety so that workers can work in an environment that is safe and hygienic. They key thing that people sometimes forget is that this code is all derived from international labour standards and that it is the International Labour Organisation, which is a UN body, that sets these labour standards through UN conventions. These conventions are very wordy documents, and the base code is a way of putting those conventions into a code that companies can actually implement.

To take one part of your code, that part that talks about workers being paid a living wage (which covers living costs as well as providing some discretionary income) rather than any prevailing minimum wage, I understand that some companies have left the ETI because you they were unable to work towards this criteria. Could you give us some more information on this please?
I guess that you are referring to Levi Strauss, who recently resigned from the ETI over the issue of the living wage. Their position is that they won't incorporate the living wage criteria in their corporate code because they can’t see the workers in their supply chain being paid a living wage in anything like the near future and one of the reasons for this is that they do not believe it will be possible to come up with a suitable definition of what a living wage is, or a formula for working it out. Also it is difficult because if a company goes to a supplier and says that they must pay their workers a living wage then suppliers are going to be very worried that they will be lose out to their competition if they are the only ones who have to increase their wages so it has to be done on a very gradual basis. Our position is that a lot of the base code is very difficult to achieve in some countries and that it is not just the living wage aspect that can be hard to action. For example, one of the clauses is that workers must be able to join a trade union - but in China there are no independent trade unions so it is really difficult for a company who is sourcing from China to put that clause into practice. No company is probably going to achieve all the clauses in the base code in a short period of time but we expect them to aspire towards. We can't have companies picking and choosing which parts of the code they want to include or not.

Can you give some examples of how the ETI code has practically helped some of these workers in the developing world?
A major research study on our members activities was published last year and that study pointed to the fact hat in some cases workers are benefiting from a safer working environment, in some cases workers are being paid more than before. The study also found that there are fewer children working in the upper parts of the supply chain. There is still a long way to go with other parts of the base code, for example the parts that deal with freedom of association. To look at specific examples, one thing that our member companies recently did in Bangladesh was to call on the government to increase the minimum wage because, as you may be aware, the minimum wage in Bangladesh has not been increased since 1994 and is the equivalent of about £7/month which is pretty scary, even taking the low cost of living in Bangladesh into account. The minimum wage has now been increased to about £13/month, which is still not adequate but at least you can point to it as being something concrete that the ETI member companies have helped to achieve. One reason they have done this is that they see a long term future for their business in Bangladesh but still want to make a difference.

It's interesting that you mention Bangladesh as there has been a lot of strife in the garment industry in that country over health and safety, pay and so on - but the disputes have not had any particular impact in the media here in the UK. I wondered if you had any comments about that and any advice as to what we, as consumers, could do to help the workers over there.
As you say, there was minimal if not zero, coverage of the garment protests in May and June last year despite that fact that the ETI sent out press releases saying it was a wake up call for everybody involved in the Bangladesh garment industry to address shockingly low pay and poor working conditions. It was quite staggering that there was no coverage until War on Want released a report in November on conditions in factories that supplied various UK companies that the issue moved up the agenda.

In terms of what can we do as members of the general public, I think that one thing that is really important is that where you have a country like Bangladesh, where 20 million people are dependant on the garment industry, it is really important that companies keep sourcing from that country, despite the fact that there will be further media exposes, because you can't solve these issues overnight but what companies can do is to stay there and continue sourcing and to use their buying power to get leverage with the Bangladeshi government and with the manufacturers to work together to improve conditions. As consumers I think it is very difficult for us to have the kind of information that you need to be able to make informed decisions but I think what is important is to keep on asking questions of the companies - what are conditions like for employees in your supply chain? Are you monitoring their working conditions? Are you working with other companies and with other organisations such as trade unions? Also you can ask them if they are a member of the ETI or a similar organisation.

What is your perception of the response from companies to consumers who make these kinds of demands? For example we can look at the food sector and see how quickly the supermarkets responded to consumer pressure on GM foods. Do you see a similar effect taking place in relation to worker rights and conditions in the garment industry?
I think that issue about GM foods is very straightforward, either something is genetically modified or it isn't. It is the same with Fair-trade, either something is Fair Trade or it isn't. But in the case of ethical trade it is just a bit more complex than that because we are looking at a companies overall behaviour towards all the products in their supply chain. For example as a consumer, I want reassurance that whatever I buy, whether it is a t-shirt or a pair of jeans, is made by workers who were not exploited and unfortunately, at this point in time, we can’t provide any guarantee of that and actually, to us, what is more important is that a company stays sourcing from a supplier who may not be perfect but is willing to improve rather than just cutting and running to source from somewhere else because you are not helping the workers concerned if you do that. The challenge for organisations like us is to try and get that message across to consumers, that the problems of low pay are endemic across many countries and what is important is that we try and get companies to use their buying power to make a difference wherever they can.

We often hear about clothing companies who do the exact opposite of what you just mentioned, who chop and change suppliers all the time and seem to have a policy of preventing long term relationships being developed. What can we do as consumers to move against this?
I think one of the challenges for any company is that, if you are only buying products from a supplier for one season and perhaps only purchasing 2% of that companies’ output then how on earth can you have any leverage over that supplier to improve conditions? It is certainly true that if you have long term relationships with suppliers then you can build trust and confidence and invest in providing management training and advice, but if your relationship is very fleeting it is difficult to do that. This isn't just a problem for budget companies, and companies are certainly starting to look at how they can build longer term relationships with a few key suppliers whilst still getting the right products in store at the right time.

What do you think you have achieved over the last few years and what are you focussing on for the future?
The first few years of the ETI were really a process of learning what kinds of tools and methodologies were most appropriate for the kind of audits we were likely to be undertaking. In terms of our achievements, the first thing to mention is that getting agreement on the ETI base code was no mean feat! But also getting consensus about the best approach to auditing and developing tools for companies to use. Since 2004 we have started to shift focus towards giving companies practical tools to help them do their jobs, increasing our membership and also trying to ensure that the member companies are taking on board the learning that we have developed as part of ETI and are implementing it throughout their supply chains. We are also trying to increase our presence in major sourcing countries, for example we now have a full time representative in China to help our member companies to do the work they are performing on the ground there perform their auditing and we are about to recruit a full time representative in India as well. We are also much better able now to use our collective weight to lobby governments and broker solutions. In fact we have helped to resolve some really quite major disputes in our member companies sourcing factories over the last twelve months and I think that is a rally good, really practical achievement.

Now, I know the ETI is not just about the garment industry, so could you give a little flavour of the other kinds of products that it gets involved in?
The main areas are foods, toys, the garment industry, flowers, shoes, electrical goods and so on. The focus is on industries where there are a large number of workers who are being paid very low wages. These are industries where the processes involved are relatively simple - wages and conditions tend to be better in the more complex industries such as car manufacture. In terms of asking questions, a good rule of thumb is that the companies that are honest about the problems they are facing are the ones that are most trustworthy. If a company says that their supply chain is 100% perfect - that's just not true. Take for example the case of Nike who were vilified in the press and by campaigners. Nike were one of the first companies to admit that their supply chain is not perfect. And they have put the details of all their suppliers on their website so that you can check them out for yourself if you want to - a really good step.

Lastly, every guest on the show gets asked the “Special Question” : What do you think is the best thing about living in the UK?

I think I always say to my friends who are complaining about things in this country such as commuting or the weather that we are just so lucky to live in this country, we have water, most of us have enough food, enough clothes, we are not in fear for our lives, we can vote governments in and kick them out and that is actually quite rare in the world and I feel incredibly lucky to be born in this country and to be living in this country. I've lived in countries where you don't necessarily have the same freedoms and I think that it is just something to feel really happy about.

Eco Interviews

Interviews with experts on various green and eco issues.

Aug 2011 : Kaye Brennan from the Woodland Trust

BFTF recently had the chance to interview Kaye Brennan from the Woodland Trust, but before providing some information on that, it is perhaps worth mentioning the story behind the interview. . .

Several years ago, I was in the car with Number 2 son when he said excitedly that he had just seen a very fast car (a Porsche perhaps, I can't actually remember). We were traveling down a tree lined avenue at the time and I wondered whether he could recognise the trees as well as he could recognise cars.

It turned out that he had no idea what type of trees were around us.

Then it struck me that, actually, I didn't recognise the trees that were passing me by. Oh dear, this wasn't good.

So, a week or two later I bought myself a Collins "Gem" book of Trees and started trying to identify trees as we were out and about in parks and the countryside. It has to be admitted that this wound up the family no end as, when on a walk, I would keep stopping to gaze intently at a tree whilst thumbing through my book to try and identify it.

Very quickly, I was able to recognise many of the common trees that can be found in our parks and woods. I even managed to pass on some of this new found knowledge to the youngsters.

Similarly, it was the sheer joy at now being able to recognise the trees around me, and to start learning about their characteristics, that provoked BFTF into trying to disseminate this information more widely via the "Just 5 Trees" project, which can be found here.

Then, one day, I found myself in a park where I didn't seem to be able to recognise a single tree. It was very strange. What was I doing wrong?

I emailed the Woodland Trust for help. They pointed out that many parks are planted with non-native trees and that this might be why they were not shown in my little book. They also kindly agreed to talk about British Woodlands on the radio - hence this interview.

Kaye initially described how the Woodland Trust had been formed in 1972 by Kenneth Watkins and some friends who were concerned about the rate at which small woodlands had been lost during the second world war and also to softwood plantations.

Since then the organisation has bought many other woodlands and is now custodian of some 1000 woods in the UK. You can find out more about the history, governance and funding of the Woodland Trust at their website here

Kaye also mentioned that the UK has a relatively low level of forest cover at only 12% (a post interview search of t'Intranet revealed that coverage was 31% in France, 32% in Germany and even densely populated Belgium managed 23%)

A key message that Kaye wanted to get across was the the Woodland Trust woods are numerous and close by - you can find out where your local woods are (and what kind of acivities you can do there) by visiting the "Visit Woods" section of or by visiting "" .

One interesting snippet of information that Kaye mentioned was that the "Sumac Centre" , an independant community and social centre, had a " 'Fruit and Notts' " project involving planting fruit trees in Nottingham - respect to the team there for making the effort to do this!

The Woodland Trust constantly campaigns to protect the country's woodlands, and people can get involved firstly be letting their local MP know how important local woods are. Further volunteering opportunities are available, of course, on the website.

After the Interview, Kaye sent an email with a link to a section of the Woodland Trust Website that has a "Tree Guide", so you don't even have to buy a book to get started!

Oct 2011 : Amy Mulkern from the FSC (2008)

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.”

Oct 2011 : 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 (”

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 - 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

Dec 2011 : Jane Burd from Greenpeace Notts

BFTF was chuffed to have the opportunity to interview Jane Burd from the Nottingham branch of Greenpeace recently. Talking on Radio Dawn 107.6FM, BFTF and Jane discussed a number of topics ranging from nuclear power to fish stocks to the best way to lobby your MP.

Starting, helpfully, at the beginning, BFTF asked Jane to give a short introduction to Greenpeace. She responded by explaining that the organisation had its origins in 1971 when anti-nuclear protestors campaigned against the underwater nuclear tests in Alaska, which they feared would cause a tsunami due to the geologically instabilities in the area. Initially called the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” the protestors chartered a ship which they named “Greenpeace” and sailed towards the site of the test. Although they were turned back by the US Coast Guard, and were unable to prevent the test, the resulting publicity was critical of the US and caused further tests in the areas to be cancelled. Soon after, “Don’t make a Wave” officially changed their name to Greenpeace. Since then the organisation has grown into a world-wide organisation campaigning on global issues. The Greenpeace website describes their vision as “a green and peaceful world - an earth that is ecologically healthy and able to nurture life in all its diversity.”

Describing the essence of the problem that they are combating, the Greenpeace website states that
“Until now, modern governments and businesses have treated the Earth as a commodity to be exploited and used up to serve human needs and desires. Our whole economic system is built on the belief that a thing is only of value if it creates money. By these standards a forest is worthless unless it is cut down and sold. When economists balance the books, they don't take into account the value of the work that forests do to provide rainfall, regulate the climate and provide habitat for most of the world's plants and animals, not to mention food and shelter for millions of local people.”
To combat this view of the world, this Greenpeace is active in a number of key areas:

Climate : We're working to replace our hugely inefficient and carbon polluting energy system with a clean energy one so that our air will be clean and our climate will be stable and healthy.

Forests : We're working to protect the world's ancient forests and the plants, animals and peoples that depend on them.

Oceans : We want oceans that are protected and full of abundant, healthy marine life; oceans that are carefully managed, and sustainable fishing practices that don't put marine species at risk.

A Peaceful world : Governments and industry around the world must ensure that the Earth's finite resources are shared fairly, so people have what they need to live peacefully. That way there is simply no need to fight over dwindling food, gas, oil, and water, or to develop weapons of mass destruction. We tackle the root causes of global insecurity and promote a vision of green development which is vital for living peacefully on a finite planet. Read more about how we're promoting peace.

Jane also provided some information on the Nottingham branch of Greenpeace. She explained that it comprised about a dozen people, all volunteers, who spent a few hours a month campaigning, often by manning a stall in the city centre. The organisation tends to deal with one campaign at a time.

BFTF asked Jane how she had become involved in this kind of activism. She explained that when she had her first child, some 20yrs ago, she began to take a keener interest in the kind of world that they would be growing up in. Living in the North East at the time, she became aware that fishermen on the East coast were landing fish that were often diseased and contained tumours. The fishermen would then ship the fish to the West coast for sale, where people were less aware of the poor shape that the fish were in.

At the same time, fishermen on the West coast were catching fish that were radioactive (due to discharged from nuclear installations) and were shipping them to the East coast for sale (again, because the customers there were less aware of the radioactive nature of the fish.).

Becoming very unhappy with this situation, Jane happened to meet a Greenpeace campaigner on the street, a chance encounter that was the start of her involvement with the organisation.

Moving on to the subject of the UK fisheries (sustainably sourced fish being a recurring theme in this blog (seehere and here ), BFTF asked Jane about the state of fish stocks around the UK.

Jane responded by saying that fish stocks around the UK were under severe pressure and, at current rates, would soon be severely depleted. A big part of the problem is that the Common Fisheries Policy (see also here) is too vulnerable to lobbying from countries such as Spain, which has a very large fishing fleet. The policy is set every ten years, the next review being in 2013)

In terms of what people should buy, Jane acknowledged that MSC certified fish was a valuable step forward but pointed out that Greenpeace was interested in achieving change for all fishing grounds, not just the MSC certified ones. A visit to the Greenpeace website reveals that the organisation would like to see an end to the very destructive practice of bottom trawling as well as reform of the current rules to end the practice of discarding unwanted fish (more about that later). Some measure of the damage that is being can be seen by the comments of The UN Secretary General in 2006 that 95 percent of damage to seamount ecosystems worldwide is caused by deep sea bottom trawling.
Bottom Trawling can wreck my environment, please buy your fish with care!

A guide to lobbying your MP and MEP can be found here.

To this end, and to BFTF’s utter surprise, Jane praised the current fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, saying that he genuinely committed to introducing sustainable fishing practices in Europe.

Jane also recommended “Hugh’s Fish Fight”, a campaign being run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to reduce the levels of fish discarding by European fishing vessels. As Hugh explains,
“Around half of the fish caught by fishermen in the North Sea are unnecessarily thrown back into the ocean dead. The problem is that in a mixed fishery where many different fish live together, fishermen cannot control the species that they catch. Fishing for one species often means catching another, and if people don’t want them or fishermen are not allowed to land them, the only option is to throw them overboard. The vast majority of these discarded fish will die. The EU estimates that in the North Sea, discards are between 40% and 60% of the total catch. Many of these fish are species that have fallen out of fashion: we can help to prevent their discard just by rediscovering our taste for them.Fishermen are not allowed to land any over-quota fish; if they accidentally catch them – which they can’t help but do - there is no choice but to throw them overboard before they reach the docks”

If you visit the website you can sign up for the campaign and add your name to the letter that will be sent to Commissioner Damanaki, Members of the European Parliament and all member state governments, asking them to use their influence to stop the unacceptable practice of throwing discards away. Hugh points out that the large numbers of people who have already emailed their MPs to protest about discards has resulted in the issue being debated in the Houses of Parliament and funding being provided for a six month study into what would happen if a discard ban was introduced.

The discussion now moved onto electricity, specifically renewable energy generation. BFTF asked Jane what kind of renewable could fill the gap that will soon be left by the large number of coal and nuclear power stations that are scheduled to be closed down in the next few years. Jane suggested that wind power was the most mature of the available technologies and pointed out that off-shore wind farms had a number of advantages, including higher wind speeds, no “NIMBY” issues and the ability to build large “farms” of windturbines.

Gobsmackingly, Jane said that Denmark generates a full 20% of its electricity from wind-power (see here), so it is clear that wind can form a significant part of the energy mix. To take just one example of what Denmark has been up to, let's look at the Rødsand I windfarm, built in 2003, with 72 turbines and a total capacity of 166 MW. Annual production is some 570 GW•h. Interestingly, this suggests that the widnfarm operates at some 39% of its theoretical capacity, well above the 15-20% that Germany achieves with its largely land based wind generating capacity

The Danish attempt to make the worlds largest "Battleship" grid was going well

For an outline of worldwide energy production, get clicky here.

Penultimately, BFTF asked Jane about lobbying MP’s or companies to encourage them to change their practices (for example, as shown here, here and here). Jane commented that her experience was that MP’s still valued a crafted letter (as opposed to a copy-and-paste letter) above emails and other communications and explained that people could find the contact details for their MP’s at

Jane also described how companies can change their policies very quickly indeed when they feel their reputations are under threat and that the publicity surrounding Greenpeace campaigns could sometimes be the catalyst to make this happen.

Lastly, as with all BFTF guests, Jane was asked what she thought was the best thing about living in the UK.

Her answer was instant and decisive ; “Tea, I’ve been to other countries around the world and in none of them was I able to get a cup of tea as good as it is made here.”

And who could disagree with that?

To find out more about what Greenpeace is doing in Nottingham, you can email them at