Friday, 27 April 2012

Night at the Museum

It’s not often that you are greeted at a drinks reception by a security guard saying, “Keep going straight past the big dinosaur for the cloakroom and drinks are being served through the archway by the armadillo...”

But then it isn’t very often you get the chance to sip sauvignon in the grand surroundings of the Natural History Museum after hours.

Natural History Museum in some rare April sunshine

Last night the insurance company Aviva kindly sponsored a dinner for all those who had attended the Earth Debates at the Natural History museum.

The evening kicked off with a drinks reception just off the main hall, with a dissected camel from the current ‘Animal Inside Out’ exhibition keeping an eye on the eclectic assortment of tree-huggers who were gathering to discuss topics such as sustainable development, green cities and food security.

After we had all been randomly assigned to a table for dinner, the BBC’s environment correspondent Richard Black thanked everyone for their support and went over the key points that had arose in the Earth Debates talks.

Richard Black

Next to speak was Steve Waygood, Head of Sustainability Research at Aviva Investors, who told those present about the insurance company’s advocacy work in championing more transparent reporting and management of sustainability risk. 

A five course vegetarian meal was then brought out – not quite as lavish as it might sound as each instalment was served in a tiny bowl. The food, though sparse, was delicious and reflected the need for us to all be eating less meat and to be more creative with vegetarian dishes.

After dinner there was a lively discussion section. Although this part of the evening was interesting it also felt very frustrating as it was essentially ‘preaching to the converted’ and therefore not convincing the people with the power to affect change – i.e government and business leaders.

From the dining room to the board room, what must be brought to the table is a solution to combating climate change that puts the emphasis on sustainable development and shared responsibility, not making the world’s poor pay for our mistakes and helping people to develop in a way that does not undermine the future of our precious planet.

Not the most exciting proposal for ‘Night at the Museum 3’ but crucial to consider nonetheless.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

How will we be ambassadors of Christ?

Bishop John Arnold posed some challenging questions to students in the Veritas group at St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, in Harrow, on Wednesday 18 April.

The Veritas group meet regularly to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith. Bishop John was invited to speak to the group of young people studying for their As Levels on the subject of ‘Faith, the Gospel and Action’.

The talk began with Bishop John sharing some of his experiences of working with CAFOD. He touched on positive initiatives set up in East Timor and Sri Lanka that have improved the lives of thousands of people, but he also spoke of the terrible atrocities being committed in some African states and the need for healing and renewal.

Why is CAFOD there, Bishop John asked? The Catholic development charity have a budget of £55 million this year, the majority of which has been donated by people and parishes. Why are people so generous?

Another example of vital charitable work being carried out from within our diocese is that of the Cardinal Hume Centre, Bishop John highlighted. The homelessness charity has been helping to rehabilitate young people who have fallen on hard times for over 25 years. What is there motivation?

The answer to all of these questions lies in the Gospels, Bishop John said. People who believe in God and in the lessons taught by Jesus feel an innate call to express God’s love for us by helping others. We are all given skills and talents and we should utilise them to help make the world a better place.

Using examples from St Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Bishop John reminded those present that sticking to the rules is often not enough to truly make a difference. Social justice, acting on the teachings of the Gospels, takes courage and commitment in order to be proactive Christians.

A vocation that benefits others is crucial for living happy and meaningful lives. Pursuing a self-interested career is likely to leave us isolated and regretful of decisions made by misguided motivations of money or fame. A vocation that affects others in a positive way, however, is more likely to give us a lasting sense of achievement and value.

And, for us, it all starts now – whether it be providing research for CAFOD policy makers, coordinating the efforts of Catholic charities, supporting MPs in their fundraising and engagements, promoting the work of the diocese’s schools and parishes, or...whatever it is that Matthew does.

Discerning our purpose is key to realising our potential. But are we listening to God’s plan for us, asked Bishop John? Are we open to letting Him lead us in the direction He knows we should be going? How will we be ambassadors for Christ?

Monday, 16 April 2012

BBC London 94.9

Newman House was eerily silent yesterday morning at 6am when my alarm went off, and I staggered to the shower bleary eyed and craving caffeine. Coffee consumed, I set off for Portland Place – fortunately a short walk from Gower Street – and arrived looking fresh faced and enthusiastic having psyched myself up on route for a morning at BBC London 94.9.

I was greeted by Phil, an assistant producer, who showed me up to the studio where I was introduced to Becky, the producer, and Paul, a pastor at a non-conformist church who does a morning news round up every Sunday for the Inspirit programme.

The Inspirit programme deals with ethical issue from the week and so yesterday conversations focussed on the continued viability of horse-racing, the European scientists developing a human brain in a lab and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Becky talked me through the different software programmes they use, how she plans the running order and decides on which callers to put on air, as well as the editing process for when the programme is uploaded to BBC iplayer.

After the programme finished, Becky and I went for breakfast in the BBC canteen. Half way through my Special K as Becky went through the differences between doing the Inspirit programme and Vanessa Feltz’s programme that she works on during the week, legendary DJ Tony Blackburn sat down on the table next to us and tucked into a fry up.

Becky is a one woman show, a whirlwind of energy and ideas. Her first experience of working in radio was at university in Bradford and she continued to be involved in arthouse radio when she moved back to London, never considering it as a real career before being told about a BBC internship.

Returning from breakfast, the offices were suddenly much busier, with lots of people buzzing about and what seemed like hundreds of TVs all switched to various BBC channels. Becky and a couple of colleagues flicked through the Sunday papers and identified a few good stories to pursue for the next day’s programme.

By 11.30, most of the guests for Monday morning had been tracked down and booked in and Becky was satisfied with the cues she’d written for them. I emerged into the bright sunlight feeling content having done nearly a full days work, just as tourists and Londoners where starting to emerge, sitting in cafes nibbling croissants and flicking through the papers, still waking up slowly. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Food for thought

‘Food Security’ – what does it mean and how will the concept come into play over the next 40 years? These questions were at the heart of the Earth Debates talk held in the Natural History Museum’s David Attenborough Studio last night.

Apart from being something the interns have not experienced much of this year, Food Security relates to our ability (or inability) to produce and acquire food. We all know that we produce enough to feed everyone on the planet adequately, so something is going seriously wrong when 2 billion people are still starving.

Not only is food distributed extremely unevenly, problems of wastage, health, climate change and development all play their part in creating the complex problem of achieving Food Security for all.

The panel discussing the ways in which we may be able to feed the world’s rapidly increasing population was made up of leading experts and chaired by BBC environment journalist, Richard Black. Sue Dibb, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, Barry Gardner MP, John Ingram, Food Security Leader, Natural Environment Research Council and Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development made up the panel, all of whom took questions from the audience as well as answering tweets from across the globe.

Apart from all the financing initiatives and potential government policies that were raised, the main consensus centred on changing our expectations. ‘Green diets’ need to be just that, more green - with less red meat and more vegetables and pulses. We need to erode the sense of entitlement people in the West feel they have to eating exactly what they want when they want. If we go to the shops late at night we shouldn’t expect to have the full range of food to choose from, most of which will have to be chucked due to sell-by dates etc.

In another 50 years time will we see steak eaters banished outside restaurant along with smokers  - who also once believed they had the ‘right’ to say exactly what passed their lips?

Thoughtful contributions from the floor and lively discussions over wine and canap├ęs (the irony was not lost) after the debate, in one of London’s most impressive buildings, contributed to an extremely interesting evening.

You can watch the debate online here: