Leadership Amongst Friends

February 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

I am delighted to be leading a course in June 2016 on Leadership Amongst Friends – Friends, in this context, meaning Quakers.

We hope that the three days will be of interest to those in a formal leadership role, those who are active change agents outside a meeting’s formal structures, and those who are seeking opportunities to exercise their leadership gifts. And, of course, those who wonder why ‘leadership’ might be resting in the hands of a few rather than a shared valued commodity, where everyone can be supported into leaderful behaviour.

I am proud to be running the course with Zélie Gross, author of With a Tender Hand.

27 – 29 June, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham.


October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

I will be chairing the third lecture in the series of ‘Talking of Peace’, this Thursday 29th October 2015 at 7:30pm in York.

The speaker is Kat Craig,  and her topic is Britain’s War on Terror at home and abroad – making the world a safer place?

Kat is Legal Director of the Abuses of Counter-Terrorism team at the human rights organisation, Reprieve.

The full program for the series is listed below.

7.30am, Thursday 29 October 2015, Quaker Meeting House on Friargate (off Castlegate).

Please Note: due to extensive building works in the neighbourhood of the Meeting House, the bottom end of Friargate is closed for a considerable period.  It is therefore necessary to approach from Castlegate rather than Clifford St.  Also the cycle rack in Friargate has been removed by the builders so cyclists will need to use one of the other racks in the Castlegate area.


Invitation to a series of Peace Talks: Thursdays in Autumn 2015

1st Oct: Faith, Power & Peace – Creating peace by peaceful means

Diana Francis, Trainer in Conflict Transformation, & Past President of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation

15th Oct: Security and the Dispossessed – How the military & corporations are shaping a climate-changed world

Steve Wright, Reader in Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett Univ

29th Oct: Britain’s War on terror at home and abroad: making the world a safer place?

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team at Reprieve

12th Nov: Reimagining Security: an alternative approach to the UK’s national strategy

Celia McKeon, Assistant Secretary, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

7.30 – 9.00pm

Retiring collection

For more details: tel 01904-624065

or e-mail: peacenetwork@yorkquakers.org.uk
or see www.yorkquakers.org.uk 

Two courses in Birmingham coming up

May 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m really looking forward to co-facilitating these two innovative courses in Birmingham later this year. If you’ve never been to Woodbrooke, it’s a beautiful oasis in Birmingham, easily reachable by public transport.

Bookings now being taken – click on the links below for pricing and booking details.

24 – 26 June (with Maud Grainger): Resilience in Ourselves and Our Communities

In this participatory course, we will be considering resilience; in ourselves and others as well as resilience in communities. Can we build resilience or plan to be resilient? We will reflect on our own experiences and look at scenarios where communities have responded to a situation (e.g. a flood or a riot). This course will take into account current events as well as opportunity to discuss situations in your area if you are willing to share these examples.

21 – 23 October (with Judith Peacock): Negotiating Permanent Change

This course is for professional practitioners as well as those with a personal interest; CPD Certificate available. The past decade has resulted in dramatic, irrevocable change that has affected our lives and our expectations for the future. Financial shifts, environmental changes, reduced security, ageing, and lowered expectations for our children and ageing relatives have left many of us feeling anxious, as well as shaken our faith. This practical, hands-on workshop is to help us share our feelings and examine our responses. Discussion, writing and art exercises can help us reflect, generate new options, and respond with a little more faith and resilience.

Both courses are at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham.


Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m speaking in York on Monday 21 July.

Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

Learning from 18th Century American Friends’ journey to abolitionism: parallels for our responses to climate change

This is as a result of some personal research I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. My aim has been to examine how an organisation and its communities made a fundamental internal change over an issue which every member was connected to, directly or simply as a citizen of a society in which slavery was embedded. I hope that there is enough similarity between the two contexts to draw some useable suggestions for approaches and ways forward, today, in responding to climate change.

Chaired by Danielle Walker, Director, Friends Provident Foundation

Monday 21 July, 7.30 pm, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

Copy of my paper here: Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change.

Contact me for more information or to respond to the paper: 07986 016804,  john@johngray.org.uk




Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ve been looking at how American Quakers changed from condoning slavery, and some Quakers being slave-owners or slave-traders, to in 1758 making slave trading an enforceable breach of Quaker discipline. I was inspired by a quote from Bill McKibben: “Since all of us are beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.” [1] (my emphasis)

Given how endemic slavery was to the economy and society at the time, few people could have imagined the situation ever changing. If we knew how Quakers internally made that shift, might there be valuable lessons for those working to inspire change today in response to climate change?
Here is the article I’ve now written: Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change; I would be very interested in your responses or comments.

[1] Quoted in the Guardian on 30 November 2012 by Anne Karpf, Climate Change: You Can’t Ignore It http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/30/climate-change-you-cant-ignore-it

Resilience: ordinary people in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things

September 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have been invited to a round-table on the theme of Resilience, taking place later this month. Though our focus will include building resilient Quaker communities up and down the country, the invitation has prompted me to think about resilience generally.

What is resilience in a community context? How can one diagnose the strength of a community’s resilience? And, how can resilience be encouraged?

This post is a record of my early thinking, and there is much out there on the subject already, so I’m not claiming any new learning. I would be very interested in any responses, or any useful resources you know about, and I’ll share here what people suggest to me.

Resilience seems relevant to a great range of events which have their impact locally. To name a few:

  • climate change
  • the ending of local industries or other significant employers
  • the local impact of national financial austerity or economic downturn
  • freak weather events
  • pandemics
  • corporate invasion, such as mining or fracking companies – see The Pipe for a great documentary example (www.thepipethefilm.com)
  • the threat of violence, or actual violence – whether from within or from external sources
  • high population churn, or the arrival of new residents into a previously settled community.

What is resilience?

The dictionary of course is a great place to start. Its entries on resilience gave me two ways in which resilience can be looked at. The perhaps more familiar understanding is resilience as the ability to withstand shock, suffering or disappointment. From a physical point of view, however, resilience is the ability of a substance to recover its form and position elastically. I like the image of that elastic rebounding, back into shape after managing a challenge.

So I take community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering. The sense is of a community ‘bouncing back’ – though unlike a piece of elastic, a community is likely to bounce into a different shape than it was before, with changes to relationships and probably some people in a place of greater or lesser resilience than before.

There must also be a link to the comparative fragility or strength of a community – if it was weak before, my assumption is that it will find it harder to respond to shocks. There will be communities that are resilient in anticipation of shocks; and there will be communities that develop resilience only once a shock or traumatic incident arises.

And before I get too far along this journey, I need to affirm that communities are made up of people; and so resilience – or its absence – will be expressed in what people think and believe, what they feel, and what they do. A community responding to a shock, will be demonstrating a network of human stories – with examples of altruism and generosity alongside moments of selfishness and aggression.

Can we then measure how resilient a community may be?

CarnegieUK Trust and the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice in 2009 published Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change. It has a simple model which leaps off the page for me. It identifies four dimensions of community resilience building, in which “work in one area is likely to benefit and amplify that in another”. It also works as a diagnostic tool: how far do we assess our community as having:

  • Healthy people: supporting individuals’ physical and psychological well-being;
  • An inclusive, creative culture: generating a positive, welcoming sense of place;
  • A localised economy – within ecological limits: securing entrepreneurial community stewardship of local assets and institutions.
  • Cross-community links: fostering supportive connections between inter-dependent communities.

If this model is taken at face value – and there must be many similar versions, highlighting different aspects of communities and of resilience – then we also have a model of starting points for the ‘how’ of community resilience building. I’m sure there is much more for me to learn about the how; and what of the many efforts in resilience-building around the world can be replicated or adapted.

I wonder how many examples of resilient communities are in essence the coincidental combination of ordinary people, in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things.

NB This is the first of four posts on the Resilience theme: click the Resilience tag in the right hand margin to see the other posts.

News from Newcastle – the impact of the cuts on communities

July 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Newcastle Conflict Resolution Network, with whom I’ve had the privilege of working with over several years (facilitation, Management Group support and development, and carrying out an evaluation), has just published their latest Newsletter which I recommend to you.

In particular it looks at the impact of cuts and of the bedroom tax on communities – forced moves, reduction of services for young people, greater community divisions, and an increase in crime – especially shoplifting, and not theft of valuable electronic goods: nowadays it’s meat and baby foods.

Their newsletter also includes news of their projects to support constructive community building and capacity for conflict resolution amongst Newcastle’s residents and agencies.

Collation of guest blogs available

May 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Woodbrooke has put together a compilation of my three Good Lives’ Blog guest posts, exploring British Quakers’ commitment to becoming a low carbon sustainable community. The .pdf is available here.

In an authorly sort of way I’m very pleased with them, but would of course welcome any feedback, or be in touch to continue the discussion about these complex global issues.

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