Birmingham Friends of the Earth

Shaz writes about his experiences of volunteer campaigning with BFOE

Looking for a new way to get involved in campaigning

At University I had campaigned on issues of poverty, mostly with Oxfam Outreach, but also with the Ethical Trade Society. I valued the impact that campaigning groups had fun volunteering for them. Before I got a job after Uni I spent some time campaigning on the Alternative Vote referendum. The election may have been lost, but I appreciated being involved in the campaign. When I got a job, I wanted to get back into campaigning, but I did not know who for. One person that I knew from the AV campaign, was a volunteer for Birmingham Friends of the Earth (BFOE) and he recommended going to a campaigning meeting. I did not know much about BFOE but thought that I would go along. Birmingham Friends of the Earth is an environmental campaigning group, fighting for a more sustainable Birmingham

bfoe 40th birthday
BFOE’s Warehouse 40th Birthday

First experiences of environmental campaigning

Just before my first my first meeting I met the then Campaign Support Worker, Joe Peacock who gave me a tour of the building. I had began working in the energy industry. I’d hoped that I could learn some useful things about the energy industry from BFOE. In my first meeting, I was caught by surprise by how technical the discussions were. There were things that I’d never heard of talked about. What is “Anaerobic Digestion?” By the end of my first meeting I was more confused than when I first got to the BFOE building. Importantly, after a Monday campaigns meeting, the volunteers went to the pub. Any opportunity to go to the pub is welcome with me. Back then, they went to the Anchor, and so did I.

I kept going along to Monday meetings (and the pub) and the learning curb became less steep. Everyone involved was nice and the pub helped foster a team spirit. Joe Peacock was leaving BFOE and had started a project where BFOE was going to run a comedy gig at the Glee Club to raise money for a Bee campaign that BFOE was running. Joe needed somebody to take over the project. The gig was known as “There’s something funny in the honey“. I’d done some events organising on the AV campaign. When I agreed to organising the gig I did not realise how much time it would take to organise the event. At points, I spent more time on the gig than I did my in my actual job. I had to liaise with the venue and the comedians, help promote, find sponsors, amongst many other things. I interviewed most of the comedians to help promote the gig. The highest profile comedian was Joe Lycett (formerly Hugo Boss). During the gig itself, I dressed as a Bee and made a speech on stage. Three jokes is what I attempted to make on stage. Two of them got laughs. We raised hundreds of pounds for the bee campaign. With some of the money we planted bee friendly gardens at a few sites in South Birmingham.

BFOE comedy photo
The Poster from the Comedy gig

Let’s Get Moving

After the gig was over, I continued campaigning with BFOE. BFOE had started a campaign about air pollution. We argued that air pollution was killing 400 people prematurely a year in Birmingham. We also argued that the solution to this problem was to invest in active travel in the forms of walking and cycling. Pollution from motor traffic was the biggest contributing factor to the 400 premature deaths a year in Birmingham. I’d only recently learned to cycle when BFOE’s “Let’s Get Moving” Campaign began. Cycling meant more to me than most people, because it was a skill I’d only recently obtained. “Let’s Get Moving” needed somebody to lead the campaign. That somebody was me. Our main campaign ask for “Let’s Get Moving” was to get Birmingham City Council to spend £10 per person on cycling. Birmingham City Council had received funding from Central Government, so they had £24 million to spend over two years, which meant that our campaign ask had been achieved just after our campaign had launched. Our focus switched to try to ensure that the Council spent the money appropriately. I attended council forums about cycling and scrutinised the council plans. BFOE had a second comedy gig for our cycling campaigned which I contributed to the organisation. I had a friend who was a film maker and we filmed a campaign video. Looking back, the council wasted a lot of the £24 million. £6 million went on 20 Mph signs for residential roads. 20 Mph road signs are helpful for cyclists, but the money for this should have come from general taxation. Money was given for free bike training and to give bikes to targeted groups, which was a success. There was no segregated cycling infrastructure built until years later. Segregated cycling infrastructure is what will achieve modal shift away from cars and onto bicycles.

Bfoe lets get moving
BFOE Air Pollution Stunt

Campaign Co-ordinator

Once the cycling and walking campaign finished. I became a Campaign Co-ordinator for BFOE. There are often two Campaign Co-ordinators at once, whose role is to help shape the strategy of the campaigns that BFOE run. We also supported the Campaign Support Worker and often play a key role in organising campaigns. When the Campaign Support Worker had any issues, we would be the first people they went to. We held Campaign Strategy meetings about every two months. During this time, I also part facilitated campaign away day meetings, and reported to the group during Monday night meetings. To become a Campaign Co-ordinator you have to be elected by the members of BFOE. I was a Campaign Co-ordinator for two years.

BFOE Management Committee

A member of the BFOE Management Committee asked if I would consider running to become a member of the Management Committee. I agreed to, and I’m still a member to this day. The BFOE Management Committee run the organisation. My previous involvement with BFOE was campaign focussed, while the Management Committee deal with the Warehouse, its tenants and much more. BFOE had launched a Community Share Offer to raise nearly £250,000 when I joined the Management Committee. My first contribution to the Committee was to help market the Share Offer. I presented to potential investor members about the Share Offer. BFOE successfully raised the money. My second contribution to the Management Committee was to paint the ceiling of the revamped café and the new upstairs meeting rooms. The completion of the renovation was a proud moment for all involved.

Bfoe cafe
The Café after the renovation was complete.

Since the renovation, I’ve been involved in activities like interviewing new staff members and line managing employees and helping to set the strategy of BFOE at board meetings. Being a director of a small Coop is challenging. The landscape changes very quickly. Unseen challenges like Covid 19 require adaptability. I am still involved with campaigning, especially campaigning about cycling.

Final thoughts

I’ve been volunteering with Birmingham Friends of the Earth for eight years. During this time. I’ve had a lot of fun fighting to create a fairer and more environmentally friendly Birmingham. I’ve also gained valuable skills and experience across a variety of disciplines, from marketing to leading campaigns. On top of this I’ve made friends at BFOE. I’ve been on holiday with some of the people from BFOE and regularly socialise with people who I Know from BFOE. Going to the pub with those that you campaign with helps build social bonds and a stronger team spirit.

If you would like to get involved and volunteer with Birmingham Friends of the Earth, we always welcome new volunteers.

 

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One Response

  1. Very nice article so it will be nice when the slight error is taken out. What you call the BFOE Management Committee is actually Friends of the Earth (Birmingham) Ltd that has an entry on the FCA Mutuals website. It is a Community Benefit Society, it is not a Coop. The CBS is separate from the local group of Friends of the Earth (England Wales and Northern Ireland).

    https://mutuals.fca.org.uk/Search/Society/5822
    In the past you did campaigning – were there any consultation responses ? On the website the list seems incomplete.
    Any help in understanding the structure of the organisation, get in touch.

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