On Monday 21 June our Quaker Faith and Practice group had planned a celebration in the Peace Garden on Monument Road. Unfortunately, due to the weather, this had to revert to Zoom.
We started with a reading from QF&P 20:16:
‘Our testimonies arise from our way of worship. Our way of worship evokes from deep within us at once an affirmation and a celebration, an affirmation of the reality of that Light which illumines the spiritual longing of humanity, and a celebration of the continual resurrection within us of the springs of hope and love; a sense that each of us is, if we will, a channel for a power that is both within us and beyond us.’ Lorna M Marsden, 1986
Then the evening was enriched by the sharing of video clips of badgers, nesting birds with beautiful songs, summer-time photographs, poetry and reading, plus a lovely rendition of ‘Morning has Broken’.
On 15 May the Debate was titled: Air Pollution: a hidden threat to Woking?
There were two speakers: Kevin Davis the Portfolio holder for the Environment and the Economy on Woking Borough Council; and Professor Prashant Kumar, Associate Dean (International), Professor and Chair in Air Quality and Health at the University of Surrey and Founding Director, Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE).
Kevin Davis said that recently there has been a decrease in air pollution and the problem in Woking is not as bad as is generally thought but it was established during the debate that Woking does not monitor particulate matter levels and so we have no real grasp of this problem.
Professor Prashant Kumar emphasised that all greening is good. Green cover can reduce air pollution by 10-20% and by busy roads by up to 60-70%. To cut down emissions we need to question whether we can control the source of the emissions. Do cars have to go through these roads? How do we empower people to protect themselves? Electric vehicles and traffic lights are top-down approaches.
Kevin committed to working with Prashant in the future. Woking is the smallest borough in Surrey but it is trying to improve and become more green. We need to change our behaviour when people go back to their cars after lockdown.
This was quite a technical topic and because of that we got to a level of detail that we rarely reach in the Debates. A recording is available here
At our March Quaker Faith and Practice meeting (on Zoom) we shared our insights arising from reflecting on paragraph 21.27 where Ralph Hetherington speaks of feeling ‘all of a piece’ with everything around him. We explored Oneness, ‘God all in all’, Ground of Being, panentheism and what it means for how we live. One person remarked that he had never experienced such a thoughtful, rich and beneficial conversation in 20+ years of church meetings before attending our Local Meeting.
On 20 March the Debate was titled: Is knife crime and gang culture a growing problem in Woking? What is being done?
There were four speakers: David Bentley, the Borough Police Commander; Dave Cook, from the Prison Officers Association, who is a prison officer of almost 30 years’ service; Patrick Green, from the Ben Kinsella Trust; and Ali Waheed, an NHS worker who runs Combat Sports League to promote a healthy lifestyle for young people.
In conclusion Patrick Green said that we all need to take responsibility. We need to reach out to young people and connect with them. Ali Waheed spoke of the need for more funding and early intervention. David Bentley said that there are only a few incidents in Woking but appealed for help in reaching young people getting into trouble to turn them in the right direction. He asked for people to contact him who wanted to help. Dave Cook said he would love to be unemployed: “Stop filling prisons with people who could be helped before”.
This was a powerful Debate. You can watch it here.
On 20 February the Debate was titled: Woking in 2050: Dream or Nightmare?
There were four speakers: Susan Venn, who has just retired as a researcher at the University of Surrey, studying what makes a good life; Victoria Russell, a young local businesswoman concerned about the cost of housing in the area; Raul Lai, a local young man working for equality and social justice; and Jonathan Lord, MP for Woking.
All the speakers agreed that there is pressure on the town to provide more housing, which causes strong reactions particularly about high-rise buildings, and more investment is needed in local services. Transport is a big issue that may need rethinking because of environmental concerns and the pandemic and Brexit may have changed what kind of development we need in the town centre.
The monthly Quaker Faith and Practice meeting in February (on Zoom) had the title Giving and Receiving a Helping Hand. Paragraphs 20.02-20.10 were suggested reading material beforehand.
As always there was much personal sharing of feelings and ideas alongside attentive listening. Everyone has equal opportunities of being invited to speak in a QFP session. After over six years of richly meaningful Meetings of this kind the initiative is taken each month by whichever Friend volunteers. Confidentiality about what is shared remains with the group attending on any one evening.
If any Friend reading this considers the topic to be of interest I recommend the QFP paragraphs above are read and thoughts shared with any willing Friend/ friend. That might be sufficient to encourage Friends to think about how many different ways there are of lending a helping hand. We might not always know we are doing it! It is also worth thinking about how we ourselves might ask for a helping hand when needed. In fact I would go so far as to say that deep, reflective experience of receiving is a prerequisite of successful, loving giving.
On 16 January the Woking Debate considered: Are we giving vulnerable children the help they need?
There were three speakers: Sian Jones, the Early Help Project Lead and Programme Manager (North) for the Surrey Care Trust, David Munro, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, and Justin Price, the head of Freemantles School, which is dedicated to children with autism.
All three emphasised the importance of early intervention for children to fully develop their relationships and build the confidence to overcome neglect and abuse. Financial constraints are severely limiting what help can be provided which is why volunteers are vital. They all agreed that more resources are needed.
The Woking Debates, which Woking Quakers support, aim to encourage active participation in our community by looking at underlying issues facing us. The debates continued throughout 2020 despite the pandemic by switching to the Zoom online platform. This year five talks have been planned so far on the following subjects:
16 January: Are we giving vulnerable children the help they need?
20 February: Woking in 2050: Dream or nightmare?
20 March: Is knife crime and gang culture a growing problem in Woking? What is being done?
17 April: What value is arms and military expenditure to the UK?
15 May: Air pollution: A hidden threat to Woking?
Please get in touch with us if you would like to attend any of these and we will send you the link nearer to the event.
We normally take part in the ceremony in Jubilee Square and lay a wreath along with several other local groups and organisations. As this was severely limited this year and not open to the public, we decided to lay ours later in the day.
On 5 September the 44th Woking Debate considered the question, has Covid-19 made the return of austerity inevitable?
The speakers were Ann-Marie Barker, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Woking Council, Jonny Cope, a Conservative, Sharon Galliford from the Green Party and Sue Atkins from the Socialist Party. There was a surprising amount of agreement amongst them that austerity is not an inevitable outcome of Covid.
They all advocated greater investment by the government although differing on the focus for this: Ann-Marie Barker felt that we need to change our priorities to match the changes in the way people work since the pandemic with money invested in sustainable transport, housing and social services; Jonny Cope felt that providing more opportunities for people to learn new skills and greater investment to provide jobs in green industries was important to replace those lost from the hospitality sector: Sue Atkins felt that the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands needs to be addressed with a major shift towards helping the least well-off; Sharon Galliford recommended much greater co-operation, an overhaul of our financial systems with less emphasis on competition and a greater understanding of the value of voluntary work, and a ‘green new deal’.
On 19 August Anne Jones from Mediation Surrey gave us an introduction via Zoom to the work being done, largely by volunteers, to address conflict between neighbours and within families in Surrey. Trained mediators provide impartial support and facilitate meetings in which those experiencing problems can express their concerns in a calm and mutually respectful atmosphere, often resulting in a greatly improved situation for all parties.
Two of our members are already volunteer mediators and if you think this is something you would be interested in you can find out more at https://mediationsurrey.org/become-a-mediator.
The August debate via Zoom considered the question of whether we are giving immigrants a fair chance to start a new life in our country.
Councillor Ayesha Azad, deputy leader of Woking Borough Council, was a child immigrant to this country. She believed that we have a fair immigration system in place and has found our society to be open, tolerant and dynamic.
Donovan Blair was born here but his parents came from Jamaica. They instilled their values in him but he has never felt truly accepted. The Government has created a hostile environment and sanitised history. Attitudes are improving but these are complex issues.
Kayte Cable has set up a small charity in Woking and Guildford to provide support for unaccompanied and trafficked children and young adult refugees, often escaping civil war, many of whom suffer from mental health issues and whose needs are not adequately provided for.
Waleed Hassan, an immigration solicitor, said that the rules are discriminatory. He believes that politicians are using immigrants as scapegoats. They already have to pay £3000 to apply to come to the UK. For a family, this can come to £30,000 over five years as well as needing to contribute to access the NHS.
The 42nd Woking Debate and the second on Zoom took place on 4 July to consider whether we should be striving after economic growth or happiness and fulfilment as our fundamental goal. The four speakers covered several different perspectives.
Primo Masella, who works in the HR department of BP, explained how the company has changed from being hierarchically organised, to putting its employees’ well-being at the heart of changes in its way of working.
Dubby Stemp, who has a masters degree in positive psychology and is training as a psychological well-being practitioner within the NHS IAPT service told us that in the World Happiness Index the UK comes 13th while having the 6th highest GDP and the USA comes just 18th with the highest GDP. Costa Rica comes 15th for happiness while down at 77th for GDP.
Kruawan Sookcharoen, who has been on the staff of the Buddhist temple in Knaphill for the 15 years since it opened, is coordinator of DIS UK. Kruawan said that to achieve happiness we have to let go and become detached, practice generosity and reduce our greed, which can be achieved through meditation. She then led us in a short meditation.
Our monthly study sessions on Quaker Faith and Practice continue on the second Monday in the month. The June session offered the opportunity to share thoughts on the subject raised in: QFP 27.03 Can we settle the question, “Is the Society of Friends Christian or not?” John Lampen, 1985 ; and thoughts about the Yin and Yang aspects of Christ in QFP 26.58 Damaris Parker-Rhodes 1985
The first Woking Debate using the Zoom app took place on 9 May. There were 28 participants which was a very encouraging start and gives us hope that we can improve on that at future events. There were four speakers on the topic, ‘What good is football?’, three of whom were directly involved in the sport, being a director of Woking Football Club, a professional footballer and a referee, and a local borough councillor with responsibility for leisure activities.
All spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities that football provides for character building and teamwork for the participants and friendship and companionship for them and for their supporters, both individually and as families.
There was agreement amongst the speakers and others that, at the local level, there were few incidents of racism but more needs to be done to encourage LGBTQ+ players and officials to feel safe enough to be open about themselves. Much more is being done to encourage girls to take up the sport and a corresponding improvement in the quality of their performance at all levels was commented upon.
Since 22 March we have been meeting virtually each Sunday, using the Zoom app, and have all been pleasantly surprised by how successful it is proving to be. The screen shot was taken after meeting when we had a short period of sharing.
As well as being able to see all the regular faces at Meeting, it has been an extra delight to see those of us who have been unable to get to Meeting for some time or who are currently in another part of Europe or even in the USA even though this can present quite a challenge, given the time difference!
It has made us realise that when we are able to meet again in person this may well provide a way to offer an additional meeting for those unable to come to the Meeting House.
On 14 March the Woking Debate took the form of a play, “A Rock and a Hard Place”, written and performed by Journeymen Theatre. Based on a true story, together with real life experiences shared by other women, the play explored the complex nature of domestic abuse, ranging from coercion in its many forms to women’s deaths at the hands of abusive partners.
The play also revealed the impact of funding cuts on the refuge system and on the support available for women caught up in a cycle of abuse. It appealed to all of us to recognise and highlight this major human rights issue in our own communities.
Our first, and until further notice, only shared lunch of the year was held on 2 February. Afterwards Sheila Coles told us about Irish Quakers and their association with Mountmellick work, a special type of white-on-white embroidery.
It was particularly used to decorate household items: work bags, tablecloths, dressing table sets, handkerchief sachets and nightdress cases, etc. While a total of over forty different stitches have been recorded from old pieces, it was most usual to use only ten or so and some of the best work makes use of only three or four. It was of particular significance to Quakers as it epitomised their testament to simplicity.
The first Woking Debate of the year took place at Christ Church on 11 January on the subject, “The Climate Emergency: what can we do?”. It was very well attended, and extra chairs had to be brought in to seat everybody.
The debate was opened by three speakers who each brought a very different perspective: Norman Johns, chair of Woking Environment Action, talked about local grass-roots activities; Danny Hubbard from Extinction Rebellion put things into a national and global context, and Dr Justine Huxley, the CEO of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, brought a deeply spiritual “call to action”.
On 22 December, Irene attended a Woking Extinction Rebellion action outside Christ Church, when carols were sung to traditional tunes but with new, awareness-raising lyrics! There was a good turnout of singers who were accompanied by an excellent brass quartet.