Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

I, Chairman…

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)]

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)] 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.

6 Responses to I, Chairman…

  • Whilst it is good news that membership of NAG has risen to 200 it is, as you suggest, quite tiny compared to the membership of British Naturism. If NAG is to be a voice to be listened to then clearly it needs significantly more members.

    Being the ‘Naturist’ Action Group one would assume that its immediate membership appeal would be to naturists but something that’s been going through my mind lately is that there’s a lot of people out there who are not naturists but are sympathetic to the idea that nudity is not something that people should get worked up about. Witness, for example, the huge amount of support that Steve Gough has had through the comments sections of various online media. Look at any online article which involves someone being harassed about nudity and you’ll find a lot of people who say words to the effect of “it’s not for me but, hey, what’s the big deal?” These, in my view, are the people NAG should be looking to recruit. These are people who would never join BN but they might be persuaded to join a civil liberties pressure group which reflects their own views about non-sexual nudity even if they’re not naturist themselves. If this could be achieved it would also differentiate NAG from BN but, at the same time, enable BN and NAG to be seen as complementary organisations.

    Of course the title of NAG may be a bit of a barrier to recruiting non-naturists!

    As to the tricky question of funding I would suggest that a small direct fee to members might be worth reconsidering just so that 1) they feel genuinely part of something and 2) that NAG can be much more confident that it actually represents the views of its members where those members are willing to pay. I wonder how many of NAG’s 200 members are people who have just signed up out of curiosity, read a few posts and never bothered to come back. I’m not sure you have to offer much in return other than the knowledge that they are supporting a worthwhile cause although perhaps a regular newsletter might in order.

    Also, if NAG positions itself as a civil liberties organisation (rather than a naturist organisation) which focuses on a specific area of civil liberties related to the acceptance of public nudity, then I guess it’s possible that grant funding may be available from some of the big civil liberties groups as well as naturist organisations such as BN or maybe some of the more forward thinking naturist clubs.

    Notwithstanding any of the above, could I also perhaps suggest that there is a greater clarity around what NAG is, what it does and what it represents. The home page of the NAG web site starts with the words “In 2010, in an article about Steve Gough…”. It’s now 2013! As a prospective member I think I’d be more interested in the present and the future rather than the past. What I think might be useful is for the home page would be a clear set of one-liner statements about NAG rather than a wordy article which appears to be a few years old (even though I know it’s not!).

    Good luck.

  • I can agree with much of Richard’s comment, but I feel he is misunderstanding NAG by drawing too many comparisons or paralels with BN. Nag is what it is, and doesn’t seek to emulate anyone or anything else. Nag is not a membership organisation, deliberately. When we conceived NAG we didn’t want all the hassle and inward lookingness of a ‘club’. We wanted to be a voice to the world for those who thought as we did, and a focus for people who agreed or wanted to help. We welcome all ‘supporters’, but especially those who are prepared to actually take on some campaigning work. We have limited resources and rather than dissipate our time and money on maintaining an infrastructure, we have a minimalist infrastucture. This means we are a loose alliance, in which individuals can do as much or as little as they wish, and are allowed within reason to adopt their own style. Not everyone can handle this, but we have decided against the alternative approach, which doesn’t seem to get much better results elsewhere.
    Yes, we are a civil liberties organisation, but we were born out of naturism, and we are not ashamed of that – quite the opposite – and don’t want to compromise on that. It is a sad fact that many civil liberties groups contain individuals who feel there is something wrong in nudity, despite their generally liberal credentials.
    NAG welcomes comment and suggestions though, and change is possible. What we don’t want to do is to spend all our time talking about changing NAG to the exclusion of changing the world’s view of nudity.

  • My comparisons/parallels with BN were merely comment on the comparisons/parallels articulated in Reg’s post: membership numbers and the NAG/BN relationship.

    I take you point about not wanting to be a membership organisation although clearly Reg feels that the number of supporters is important enough to be mentioned in the first paragraph of his article. And rightly so: the validity of any pressure group’s arguments is bound to be measured, to a large extent, by number of people supporting its arguments. Whether you call them members or supporters may be just a matter of semantics.

    I know that NAG welcomes any genuine supporters whatever their background, but to consider its *target* supporters to be the naturist community is, in my view, rather limiting and almost self-defeating. An argument in favour of, say, the right to be naked in a public place would carry more weight if it is backed by a hefty number of non-naturists: people who support the rights of others without a vested interest. How far would gay rights organisations have got if their only supporters were homosexuals?

    It’s interesting that you say that “It is a sad fact that many civil liberties groups contain individuals who feel there is something wrong in nudity, despite their generally liberal credentials.” I’m sure you’re right but that shouldn’t be a barrier to engaging with them and harnessing their support. Equally it could be argued that there are many naturists who feel the same way which may go some way to explaining why at least 98% of BN members haven’t yet shown their support for NAG. How much more effective would, say, NAG’s dialogue with the Association of Chief Police Officers etc be if it could demonstrate support from an organisation such as Liberty rather than a handful of naturists?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing NAG. I realise it’s still early days; I certainly commend all of you for taking on such a daunting task; and I understand the issues about lack of active support etc. As you say, it is what it is, but that’s no reason for it to always stay as it is – I’m just throwing in an idea or two which might be worth thinking about as NAG evolves.

  • Thanks again Richard.
    You may well be right. The only way to find out is to try it, but as all our voluteers are currently fully engaged in campaigning issues we have no resources available.
    If you are offering to implement you ideas yourself, we’d be very happy to hear your proposals, but they need to be something you are prepared to implement yourself rather than setting up an agenda for others.

  • Reg said in his excellent post “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” – which is what prompted me to make a few comments and throw in a few ideas.

    But I sense a slight barb in your response to the effect that supporters are only to be encouraged to make suggestions if they’re prepared to personally put them into action – a tactic which, whilst fully understandable from a hard-pressed band of dedicated volunteers, is more likely to deter people from making suggestions.

    I know from bitter experience that once one dips a toe into the shallows of volunteering, it’s not long before you’re wading in up to your armpits and gasping for air – which is precisely why I currently find myself fully committed to other things for the foreseeable future:(

  • No barb intended. All suggestions are welcome, and help is even more welcome, but more scarce!

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