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Westminster wins Fairtrade Diocese award

  • Barbara Kentish

Source: Westminster J&P

Barbara Kentish recalls how the award was achieved in the Diocese of Westminster.....

Obtaining a Diocesan Fairtrade Certificate has been a long struggle, led, we are proud to say, by hundreds of valiant parishioners of the 200+ parishes of Westminster. It is a wonderful staging post in the campaign for justice in world trade.

When the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission looked at the possible goals we should adopt when I started in 2006, Fairtrade seemed an easy one: surely all parishes would want to serve Fairtrade tea and coffee if it helped poor farmers in developing countries to get a better deal? We only needed half the parishes in the Diocese to sign up to reach the criteria for the award. CAFOD was a founding member of the Fairtrade Foundation and was represented on our Commission, so there was an excellent base on which to build the work. After that we would move on to think about world peace, the refugee crisis, Middle East conflict! The campaign took a little longer than we thought…

Each parish needed first to agree officially to apply for Fairtrade (FT) status. A minimum requirement was to serve FT-brand tea and coffee at parish functions; then to promote FT in other ways, such as stalls, talks or films, and finally to hold an event once a year during Fairtrade Fortnight.

We emailed Fairtrade promotional materials, wrote letters, sent application forms to be returned to CAFOD and organized a diocesan steering group (thank you to those early hopeful few!) In the first 18 months we rejoiced that over a quarter of parishes had signed up straight away! Just another 50 or so to reach our magic target of 51% of the then 214 parishes. We blithely assumed we were nearly there.

Then came an intensive round of phone calls to parishes: would they consider becoming a Fairtrade parish? Telephone campaigners included our youth workers Peter, Dervla, then Edmund. St John Vianney Justice & Peace parish lead, Mariantha Fomenky, and her son Joe, made a huge contribution. Office administrator, Amy, created the Fairtrade 'Spoons' resource for Confirmation groups, while Anne Lamont, catechist and teacher at St John Vianney parish, created a wealth of materials for parishes and schools, in handy packs. Fairtrade is now a regular feature of many Confirmation programmes and other youth activities in the Diocese.

Years passed, volunteers came and went, additions to the certificated parishes gradually sank to a trickle, seeming to stick at around 10 or 15 short of the number required. Lists became confused, contradictory, and each new volunteer would begin with reorganizing them! Objections to the cause were varied: some churches didn't serve tea and coffee, some didn't see the point of signing up or didn't have the time.

But many faithful parishes continued promoting Fairtrade, and one can think of inspiring people such as Angela Sterlini in St Edmund's, Edmonton, Angela Wolestonecroft from St Teresa's, Borehamwood, and Marion Hill in Our Lady and the Rosary, Haverstock Hill, who run splendid Fairtrade stalls, and the wonderful Sister Ellen Corbett (RIP) from St Ignatius, Stamford Hill, who ran the stall in the parish and attended every Fairtrade event in the calendar.

As Coordinator, I organized a diocesan Fairtrade Event every year, to maintain or rekindle enthusiasm. A Diocesan tea party at Westminster, a conference at West Green, a celebration at Welwyn Garden City, even a Fairtrade and Brexit teach-in at Holborn, were all part of the ongoing effort. A highlight was a film show in 'posh' Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, for Confirmation groups, organised by Suddie Komba-Kono, attended by TV star Stacey Dooley, and black theologian Robert Beckford. A gathering at Holy Apostles, Pimlico, in 2014 represented another high point, when our speakers included the charismatic Catholic Director of Divine Chocolate, Sophi Tranchell, and Fairtrade Director Michael Gidney. With Bishop John Arnold in the chair (he was the first diocesan bishop to endorse Fairtrade), hopes were running high and we thought we might reach the target that year. Sadly, not yet!

Flagging spirits needed a boost, and CAFOD Westminster stepped in to give more support, with Tony Sheen's great organizing skills and powers of persuasion. CAFOD volunteer, Frances Halliday, soon sorted out our muddled lists. Numbers rose, and when I retired in 2018, we were only a handful of parishes short of our target. Miraculous to say, at last we were over the bar, and current Chair, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, obtained the agreement of the Cardinal to apply for our Diocesan status. I was so envious in around 2011 when the Anglican Diocese of London received its certificate in a wonderful ceremony in St Paul's Cathedral, where one of the priests wore a banana suit! Soon, I thought, soon, it will be our turn! Thanks to all our wonderful parish Fairtraders, it is finally our turn to celebrate. Maybe not in a cathedral, but no less joyfully (with or without banana suits!)

The story of course does not stop here. The developing world struggles still to get a fair deal at the trading table. Tony Sheen, CAFOD Westminster Community Participation Co-ordinator, explains why we must continue:

"When we buy products with the Fairtrade Mark, we support farmers and workers in the developing world as they work to improve their lives and their communities. The Fairtrade Mark means that particular ingredients in the product have been produced by small-scale farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards. The standards include protection of workers' rights and the environment, payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects."

CAFOD is encouraging more parishes to sign up for the parish award.

Tony says, "It is quite simple for a Parish to apply. It involves a commitment for your parish to have Fairtrade refreshments such as tea and coffee available at Parish meetings and to hold one activity per year promoting Fairtrade in your Parish. If your Parish currently doesn't have Fairtrade status we hope that you might help it to achieve this? Would it be possible to make your Parish Fairtrade?"

Many more challenges lie ahead for the Diocese in tackling World Peace and International Justice, but this Fairtrade Fortnight, 2021, we can pause for a moment in the journey to celebrate and renew ourselves - with Fairtrade refreshments, of course!

To register for the celebration on 5 March go to:


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