Unbelievably, 1st April 2013 saw the second anniversary of our founding as an organisation and thought it was about time that I, as chairman, explained what is passing over my desk and map out a possible future path. When my colleagues and I embarked on this mad journey to gain greater acceptance of naturism in British public life, we knew it would be a long, hard road and the support of others was of great importance. During NAG’s short life we have grown to more than 200 supporters and we are continuing to grow. Of course, this is nothing to the membership of British Naturism, believed to be about 10,000, but they do have a 58-year start on us, so give us time.
Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do over the past two years is to convince some in BN that their perception of NAG as a threat to its existence was erroneous, and believe that as an organisation, we still have some work to do there. As a first step, last Autumn I was able to tell BN’s membership directly what the Naturist Action Group was, and perhaps more importantly, wasn’t with the clarity that had not been achieved before and the passing of this information to you is overdue. Anyway, I am sure the relationship between NAG and BN will improve, as we both want to arrive at the same destination, even if the paths we take diverge from time-to-time.
The Naturist Action Group has been variously described as a pressure group or a think-tank, or most recently ‘a study group’ and I think all of them apply. The dictionary definition of a think-tank is “a body of experts providing advice and ideas on specific national and commercial problems”. I am reluctant to hang the tag ‘expert’ around out necks but I don’t think we can deny that we consider a problem affecting naturism and naturists, and suggest practical solutions. Or – as we did last month – add an observation to someone else’s hard work. Our primary function, however, is to be a campaigning organisation, pushing for greater understanding of naturism among non-naturists and to gain our lifestyle’s acceptance.
This coming year is going to be an important one for NAG, in that we have finally gathered enough evidence to begin the long cherished dream of opening meaningful dialogue with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about the inconsistencies of policing and treatment of naturists by the courts around the country that we have seen. When we do write – later this year – it will just be the opening salvo in what I anticipate will be a hard battle to persuade the police and judicial authorities that naturists are being unfairly treated simply because of a lack of understanding about the law surrounding legal public nudity, or actions tainted by personal prejudices.
Meanwhile, the London Question is moving forward apace with planned picnics in London as a ‘proof of concept’ event of naturism in the park. See our website for more details.
Both of these projects have been major efforts for NAG over the last two years or so, as we carried out research or gathered evidence to produce the “rock solid” arguments we believe will be essential to gain support from those with the power to act. Producing reports that are reasoned and well argued would enhance NAG’s reputation, which in turn, will mean we will be listened to. It is a lesson we all learned, when naturists from across the country came together to campaign for an amendment to the Bill that became the Sexual Offences Act. It led to Baroness Walmsley to state in committee on 19 May 2003: “My concern in this part of the Bill has always been to protect naturists going about their perfectly harmless business and to prevent their falling foul of over-zealous police officers and magistrates. In that respect I greatly welcome government Amendments Nos. 343A and 348A. My amendment should also protect naturists from mischievous members of the public who might seek to use Clause 70 as a defence against accusations of voyeurism.” [Source: Lords Hansard text for 19 May 2003 (230519-19) www.parliament.uk]
And on the 15 July 2003, a certain David Cameron, MP for Whitby said in the House of Commons: “…it came over loud and clear that [British naturists] are, on the whole, law abiding and not a nuisance. Their idea of fun might not be ours, but they have a right to be heard and listened to.” [Source: House of Commons Hansard Debates for 15 July 2003 (pt 27) www.parliament.uk] In 2003, to all intense and purposes, British naturism had the ear of our parliamentarians. I am no longer certain that is the case, but I am certain that in time we shall be heard again.
So, as chairman, what is passing over “my desk” at the moment?
Much of the effort I’ve described above has fallen onto the shoulders of various committee members with some help from volunteers, tasks we happen to believe naturism should be doing in the first place. But, I also recognize that at some point I and my fellow committee members will want to kickback and enjoy life a little more and not have the needs of the Naturist Action Group nagging at us; for a while at least. To that end, we need some method of representation whereby committee members are elected or appointed to serve for a fixed period of time. When we began we considered the whole naturist community as our target audience – we still do – but what we don’t have at the moment is a method of defining those whom we represent. British Naturism, of course, has its members while in North America subscribers of N magazine elect the members for the Naturist Action Committee (NAC), although it is funded by donations.
We could seek a direct membership, but that was dismissed early in the process of creating NAG because that would mean we would have to offer something in return for whatever we charged, and potentially hinder what we considered to be our primary focus; campaigning. We could, of course, follow a lead from the group that inspired us and distribute a newsletter in return for regular donations. Naturally, the content would be dictated by our main purpose, campaigning, and I am dubious that there is sufficient appetite for such a publication. Another idea floated at the time of NAG’s creation was a trading subsidiary selling goods and services of interest to naturists, but not to the exclusion of others. It would be run as a mutual or co-operative, with the surplus donated to NAG. This scheme also had the advantage of being able to offer discounts to volunteers as a benefit. The disadvantage is the considerable cost and effort in setting up such a company and distinct possibility that it might not succeed in the current economic climate, putting everything at risk.
If the Naturist Action Group is to continue beyond the current committee then something along the lines above needs to be done to create a method of finding new committee members. The question I’d like to put to you, is how are we going to do that?
The second thing I need to look at is how do we reach out to the estimated two or three million naturists in the UK, when many of them probably don’t give themselves that tag?
We have all seen those surveys filling editorial space in newspapers from companies as part of a marketing campaign. Usually they ask a quirky question at the end to give the press something memorable to hook their stories onto. Something like: 70 per cent of UK householders said they wouldn’t object if their female neighbour wanted to sunbath naked in the garden next door. Most are these questions are nonsense of course, but done properly they still give an insight into what the great British public think about naturism and naturists in general, even if it wasn’t designed for that purpose.
There is no reason why we cannot use the same technique, and perhaps find out some more details about the naturist community at the same time. Using a company like YouGov to produce the survey and its analysis means we can complete it more efficiently but the problem, as ever, is cost. Just using an example of five questions could cost a little over £2,000, including the VAT [Source: YouGov rate card 2012-13]. Doing that two or three times over the year and it soon mounts up. I believe, however, the advantage of using this method far outweighs that disadvantage as it promotes naturism to the general public and we find out through a reputable source something about the public’s true reaction to naturists and public nudity in general. It also means, when published, we are reaching out to those who are curious about naturism, as well as those who have been practising nudists for perhaps years but saw little need to engage with others of a like mind. If we waited for them to find us, we could be waiting for a very long time.
Having raised the ugly subject of money, the third thing on my desk needing attention is the requirement for a second income stream so we are able to afford the above. It would be nice to be like NAC and to be able to do great works on behalf of naturism, funded entirely through the generosity of other naturists, but that is not the case. A trading subsidiary as described above would answer all of the ‘issues’ that need to be addressed, but as explained there are substantial disadvantages too. This is why I have come up with an alternative, the photo competition being launched this month. The genesis of this idea was learning that the Government does not fund the Royal Academy of Arts, as many might think, but it derives substantial income through an annual competition and the Summer Exhibition held in London. I am not suggesting that the photo competition can fund everything we want to do, even if successful, but it is hoped that it will go a long way towards it.
We are still missing the means to select new committee members, however, and I would welcome your comments on what has already been suggested, or your own suggestions about the best way forward on that, or anything else mentioned above.
This has been an exceptionally long blog, for which I apologise and promise not to do it again… at least not for another two years.