QUAKERS IN ACTION

Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW)

Purpose

Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) is the central peace and service department of British Friends, and represents them at national level on issues of peace and social justice. It facilitates dialogue to build greater understanding of these issues, and disseminates outcomes and ideas. QPSW works with Quaker and other partners to put this understanding into action on a variety of projects within Britain and around the world. It gives considerable support to QUNO Geneva.

Origins and History

During the nineteenth century several national committees were set up to respond to emergencies of various kinds. Initially they focused mainly on raising funds, but by the time of the Franco Prussian War in 1870-5 individual Friends were also visiting and working in the field. All these committees were short-lived: it was only in 1918, at the end of the first world war, that Carl Heath proposed and then led a longer term body, the Council for International Affairs. The idea was to establish a set of Quaker embassies that would encourage dialogue and promote peace.

In 1927 the Council merged with the Friends Foreign Mission Association, to form the Friends Service Council (FSC). Irish Friends were members, as well as British ones.  FSC was the joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, along with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) on behalf of all Quakers. The Prize was in recognition of what the citation describes as
‘the silent help from the nameless to the nameless, which is their contribution to the promotion of brotherhood among nations’
This ‘silent help’ included much work on relief and on peace building: the Kindertransport, the Quäkerspeisung, non-formal diplomacy to enable protagonists to explore issues frankly and constructively, in safe settings, and much else.

In 1979 FSC became Quaker Peace and Service, and in 2001 it merged with Quaker Social Responsibility & Education and was renamed Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

Funding, governance and scale of operation

QPSW’s funds come from British Friends’ central funds, from legacies and donations, and from grants for specific initiatives. Their work is overseen by QPSW Central Committee, which is nominated by Meeting for Sufferings acting for Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM): the committee then reports to BYM Trustees. Committee members are unpaid. QPSW employs a staff team of 20 or so and has a turnover of about £2m a year.

Home base, physical offices and countries worked in

QPSW is based in Friends House in London. Current overseas projects are in South Asia, Israel-Palestine, Kenya and Burundi.

Methods of Work

QPSW’s programme of work is reviewed annually. Efforts are made to support the initiatives of individual Friends and meetings but the main focus is on what is best done corporately. The QPSW Central Committee, its sub-committees and the staff work together to discern the areas of work needed, within the context of the six-year Framework for Action priorities agreed by Meeting for Sufferings. In support of this discernment and to inform and encourage Friends they hold conferences and other meetings. They also work on statements about public issues and/or responses to consultation documents, and prepare briefings for British Friends. Much of QPSW’s work is done in partnership with others, both nationally and globally.

Areas of Current Work

Criminal justice: support for prison chaplains, and for restorative justice.
Economic justice and inequality reduction: conferences, discussion papers, Earth and Economy journal, campaigning
Environment and sustainability: sustainability toolkit, follow up to ‘Minute 36’ (BYM's 2011 commitment to becoming a low-carbon sustainable community), campaigning
Nonviolence: Turning the Tide, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
Peace education: support for contact between local Friends and schools
Peaceworkers: one-year placements in the UK and abroad
Public issues: submissions to government consultation papers and/or briefings for Friends on issues of the day, such as the renewal of nuclear weapons, economic inequality, climate change, young people in the military, asylum seekers and refugees.
Peace-building in East Africa, in partnership with the Quaker Peace Network.
Peace-building in South Asia, in partnership with NGOs in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
QUNO Geneva: funding, governance, and a Geneva summer school for young adults.
Relief grants: grants for higher education.
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