Report from a British Friend at the Quaker Centers Gathering in Sheffield, England

Outreach, PYM

photo: A view of Glenthorne Quaker Centre and Guest House and local Herdwick sheep on January 31, 2019

By Terry Winterton, Friend in Residence at Glenthorne Quaker Centre and Guest House

This year the annual British Quaker Centers gathering took place in January in Sheffield, a city on the eastern side of the Pennines (a range of hills that runs down the spine of England). A Yorkshire city, Sheffield is described by one of our hosts as “a big old northern industrial town”.

The world knows Sheffield for its stainless-steel cutlery manufacturing, while film aficionados know it as the location for the British film, The Full Monty.

Our gathering brings together some 33 delegates from 12 Quaker centers across the UK. They are trustees plus staff and members from Sheffield Meeting, and we begin by sitting together in a ‘circle for business dating.’ This serves as our icebreaker; and we each spend a minute telling a neighbor our name, Quaker center, and position. We move around the circle until we have spoken to everyone. There are a mix of Quaker and non-Quaker trustees and mostly non-Quaker staff. I wondered how Laura, my Glenthorne colleague, was feeling. This is her first time at a Quaker event!

Paul Grey, the CEO of Friends Hospitality Ltd, began the gathering by showing a short video from last year’s meeting at Glenthorne, and outlined the hopes for this year, centering on our theme of Building our Community and Network.

After a break for a hot buffet, we listened to Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), speak about building the Quaker network. This was followed by a question and answer session plus closing remarks by Paul.

Wednesday morning, we based our session on the leaflet, Faith in our Future, led by Juliet Prager, Deputy Recording clerk of BYM. She helped us explore different themes: from Meeting for Worship is the bedrock of living as a Quaker, to Quakers are well known and understood! This proved far more interesting than I thought, and left some of the non-Quaker staff a bit bemused!

After the mid-morning break we went to breakout sessions on the themes of: Building your community using social media, Making the most of your message, Mental health awareness, and Bottling the Quaker Welcome. This focused our day on marketing our Quaker centers and Britain Yearly Meeting resources.

I learnt that in marketing we could not be shy, and to be effective we needed to put new content out several times a week. To make the most of our message, we must be clearer about what we are, and what we are for, preferably in a single short sentence!

After lunch we enjoyed a presentation on Trans awareness and gender diversity. We were encouraged to use inclusive language, not just personal pronouns, but to use names and ‘they’. For example: Fred gave the presentation and they were fascinating!

Later, some of us took a guided walk to explore the industrial heritage of Sheffield, while others took some down time. Late afternoon break-out sessions on: Strengthening liaison with Trustees and Central Staff, Engaging with Young People, Trading Companies, and Trans Awareness and Gender Identity concluded our day. Before retiring for the night, we shared a vegetarian meal together at the nearby Blue Moon café.

Thursday morning was devoted to Simon Francis, of Sheffield Mind. He talked about mental health awareness—sharing his own mental health journey—and asked us to reflect upon what ‘mental health’ meant to us.  We were reminded that mental health issues affect all of us, and we should treat others as we would like to be treated.

In the second session, a manager from the Sheffield Volunteer Centre spoke to us how the law impacts volunteers and staff differently. For instance, we can cover volunteer expenses, but if we pay an honorarium, the position is then governed by employment law. A similar situation would occur if a volunteer was given unpaid work with the promise of a paid position later.

We explored some of these issues more deeply in the question and answer session that followed—with insight provided by our speakers and a representative from the Sheffield Human Resources Advisory Service.

The retreat ended with a feedback session and the development of a list of ideas for next year’s conference at Edinburgh Meeting House in South East Scotland. Liz Hannah and all the organizers/staff at Sheffield made for a great Quaker trustees and staff event—one that exemplified collaboration towards a stronger community of Quaker work, friendship and witness within a climate of shared values, commercial realities and turbulent times.

Afterwards, I vowed to bring my learnings back to Glenthorne, and plan to organize something for young people next year. Such gatherings work to bridge the gulf of understanding that sometimes exist between Quaker Trustees and our non-Quaker employees.

About the Author

When he is not serving as the Friend in Residence at Glenthorne, Terry Winterton is a retired engineer, skilled hiker, and therapist. He runs a non-profit program that brings asylum seekers and refugees to the countryside for rest and engagement with nature at Glenthorne.

Terry submitted this article to PYM so that Friends in the US might learn what Quakers centers in England are focusing on as they gather staff and trustees to plan for the future.

Friends may connect with Friends at Britain Yearly Meeting when travelling to England. Friends Council on Education (FCE) will be offering a July 2020 Quaker Pilgrimage to England, with publicity and sign-up starting in the early fall of 2019.

About Glenthorne Quaker Centre and Guest House

Glenthorne is located in the Lake District of England and is a popular place for Friends, school groups, and hikers to stay as they travel in the region. Booking information is available at www.glenthorne.org