Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

An Open Letter to British Naturism: Doing Nothing Is No Longer An Option.

It was with utter dismay that I read the latest membership figures from British Naturism, published on 12th February 2014. As of 31st January there was 6,824 members in BN.

At the same time last year, the membership stood at 7,235, a fall of 5.68 per cent year-on-year, and is in line with the steady ‘6 per cent drop’ that seems to have occurred every year for the last 20 years. No doubt it will pick up the usual rush around May, when naturists begin to think about their summer holidays and renew. It will also pick up a few new members over the year, but nothing like the numbers needed to halt this slow decline in membership. As has been noted by former Treasurer Duncan Heenan, in 1994 there were 20,000 members, in 2004 16,000. By my calculation, BN will see its centenary in 2064, but only just, with a mere 310 members. There will probably be sun clubs with more members than that. The point being, if this steady decline continues, when will British Naturism stop being viable as a national representative organisation?

Some might ask: ‘should we care about that?’ After all, do we really need an organisation to give us permission to be naked! Despite the people being prosecuted for practicing naturism in the countryside or other open spaces, many more go undetected. Britain’s coastline also provides ample opportunities to sunbathe naked if anyone wants to, in addition to the official and unofficial beaches that are known about. Given that, is BN really necessary? The same question could be asked about Ramblers (formerly The Ramblers’ Association). Do we need them to take a walk in the countryside or along any of our long-distance and coastal footpaths? The simple answer is no. Yet in its Annual Report for 2012/13, it was able to boast “more than 113,000 members, nearly 500 ramblers groups, more than 550 affiliates and tens of thousands more people who supported our work.” So for an organisation that we apparently have no need for, it shows considerable public support and if it wasn’t for their campaigning on behalf of walkers’ rights many of the footpaths now used by Sunday afternoon strollers would be closed. So what are they doing, that BN is not? How is it that walkers can see the value of having and supporting a national representative body but naturists cannot? The irony is that it is likely that there are naturists among the 113,000 members of Ramblers.

I can imagine some in BN being deeply offended by this blatant interference from someone who isn’t even a member, but I say this as a friend and sometimes, someone outside can say things that few inside an organisation can. I also feel that BN’s existence is important to UK naturism as a whole and all of us shall be the poorer if it should disappear from our lives. And to be fair, the issue of falling membership numbers is not unique to BN. Ramblers lost approximately 10,000 members from 2008/09 to steady at its current level, while in naturist circles it is a problem for national representative bodies worldwide, but we in the UK need to worry about this nation’s national body first.

BN has given the task of reversing the decline to Andrew Welch. Even with the best will in the world, one man cannot make a difference. This is a task for every board member, and members of every regional committee and every club or association, to convince individuals of the value of being part of the wider community. They will not succeed with everyone, but it is important that every part of BN works together for the benefit of naturism and not some other personal or club agenda. I am convinced that Judith Stinchcombe, its current chairman – chairwoman, whatever – is the right person to lead BN out of the doldrums but she needs the support of every member, every committee, pulling in the same direction to achieve that. Membership decline is the most important threat to its existence that BN has. Not the fact that it does or does not offer events like Alton Towers, or Nudefest (without any members these couldn’t be offered anyway). Nor is it, to be considered an effective campaigner, although all of the above are bound up in the picture of success for BN that some of us have, inside and outside British Naturism.

Whatever has been done to reverse the decline in membership numbers over the past 20 years, it hasn’t worked and more of the same will only lead to the same result, with British Naturism slowly bleeding to death. To make BN fit for purpose Chairman Stinchcombe has already installed some small amendments to your structure but this is not enough and something more radical is needed. The changes proposed 10 or 15 years ago and feared at the time would have been less alarming. Now, someone unconnected to BN needs to take a clean sheet of paper and think the unthinkable with nothing, or no one, sacred. Don’t just talk to so-called insiders, those who say they are in the ‘know’, whose limited sources may give them too narrow a view. Talk to your dissatisfied customers, those leaving the organisation too and listen to what they are telling you. And just as important, listen to what others outside BN are saying (not just me); we may see something you don’t. If your own research says there are 3.7 million naturists in the UK, don’t wait for them to come to you (you might be waiting a very long time), go out there and find them, talk to them. Have they heard of you? If not, why not! What will make them join and keep on supporting you after the first year?

Staying inside your ivory tower, wherever it is located, will mean it is unlikely that there will be any 75th, let alone 100th, birthday celebrations and absolutely no one is going to benefit from that.

Reg Barlow
Chairman, Naturist Action Group
West Yorkshire
15th February 2014


Aware that anything I may write about British Naturism is considered… controversial at least… by the Executive Council, I gave Judith Stinchcombe a preview of the above and BN the right of reply. You can read “Reply from British Naturism: Doing Nothing has Never been an Option” in full by clicking on the link. It is true that John, Duncan and I were members the EC in 2008 but what it doesn’t say is that none of us completed our terms and we were three people in a committee of 19 or so people all with one vote, and our views were hardly mainstream. If we achieved anything it was often against considerable opposition.

It is great to read that changes in procedures and processes have been made to improve the management information collected, which more often than not was what BNChange (the name we used collectively) wanted. Nor have we spoken out against Nudefest or Alton Towers, which they seem to think and while producing press releases is fine, perhaps the EC needs to count how many are taken up by the media in order to reach the alleged 3.7 million UK naturists not in our national representative organisation. I hope, on re-reading my letter the EC will see that it is far more supportive than they seem to have taken it to be. Although, in hindsight, the ‘ivory tower’ phrase was OTT and I withdraw that.

Just to underscore paragraph 4 above, which seems to have been ignored or missed, the last thing any of us want is for British Naturism to disappear, if it did it will be to no one’s benefit. The way I see it, no BN no NAG so it is in all our interests that the trend in the membership figures is reversed.

5 Responses to An Open Letter to British Naturism: Doing Nothing Is No Longer An Option.

  • I am in agreement with you on this.
    I have been a member of BN for over 40 years, I have waited patiently all that time for something to happen. I was thinking of cancelling my membership last year as I feel that the BN is NOT looking after our interests. This came to light 4 years ago when I started riding in the London Naked Bike ride. I wrote to BN, requested leaflets and posters etc to hand out, which they duly supplied. But when I questioned them about making a presence at the ride and using it as a membership opportunity as well as a chance to involve the media. The reply I got was “we don’t want to get involved with the naked bike ride, it’s not the sort of thing we want to be associated with.” I couldn’t believe it! The biggest opportunity the BN has each year to reach out to new members and spread the word and they shy away. So when do we move forward??

    After that incident I realised that BN is just a figure head. What we need is a flying squad of naturists who will attend any naked event to swell the figures and talk to the media to bring our cause to the front. We need lawyers to defend our cause, we need brave people to put themselves in the line of fire. Are these the people running BN? I don’t think so, We will never get what we want if we retreat back into our clubs and gardens. We will become easy targets for the establishment to pick off. Over the years we have seen Gay rights move from illegal to accepted to equality- non discrimination to marriage. That didn’t happen by accident. It took organised action!! I remain a member of BN purely because I don’t want to add to it’s decline, as I know it will, if we don’t take some sort of combined action.

    • Thank you Baretracker. To a point, I can see where BN is coming from with regards to the WNBR. It is a protest against the reliance on fossil fuels and the car, the nudity a symbolism of the cyclist’s vulnerability on the roads. But on the other hand, you’re right it could be a good recruiting ground as so many naturists participate. Something to do with our desire to look after the environment I guess. We do try to participate. I did it once, while Duncan Heenan and Andy Crawford have frequently joined various rides over the years, and in theory it could be a good recruiting ground for us too, not just London but every ride held in the UK, we just don’t have the people to organise something along those lines.

      It is not only society’s attitude towards the LGBT community that has been changed by a concerted campaign over the years, but the abolition of slavery, votes for women and outlawing of bull baiting (allegedly to improve the taste of the meat afterwards) were all achieved after social attitudes at the time were challenged, so we have a lot of precedents. It just need to get enough people working together to actually achieving it.

      Good for you for sticking with BN. As I said later in the piece, my feeling is no BN no NAG. If naturists cannot be bothered to support their national representative body, why on earth would they bother with us? So yes, I will be hypocritical and encourage others to join BN if they want to. As for myself, I think I’ve burned my boats there. Besides, I like to think that NAG brings together those who want a more proactive campaign than what BN is prepared to consider, regardless of their BN membership, or lack of it. Having an organising committee composed entirely of BN members will not encourage that.

  • As a onetime member of BN I remain supportive of the good work that BN does with lobbying and protecting our way of life, often with encouragingly impressive results. It is an essential vehicle for the macro naturist scene and should be encouraged to continue to further naturism and protect it’s many genuine adherents. I realise that any good work that is done is not only for members but for all naturists, many of whom, like me, are not particularly inspired to join organisations and clubs, which is partly the reason I discontinued membership many years ago.

    Naturists (again like me) are not all socially inspired and are happy to include this way of life into the greater scheme of things, using opportunities such as beaches for the pleasure of accepted nudity outdoors rather than for social reasons. A deserted nudist beach for us is a pleasure. Is it possible that many naturists, and there may be millions in Britain alone, are simply not inspired to join clubs, groups and organisations?

    If so, and I admit that I may be misguided as a peripheral adherent, it may be an opportunity for BN to encompass a wider audience by recognising this. While many don’t want to socialise, fighting for a greater number of free BN-supported recreational opportunities available for occasional visits by individuals/families and BN’s continued support and governance on the national stage is crucial to further our way of life if our interest is to become more than a barely recognised and mirth-provoking activity, or worse. As such it is in the interests of all.

    I cannot speak for others but I for one would support BN and pay for the privilege as non-member supporter or affiliate, simply to further the cause and protect our interests. I don’t want the mags or any other involvement but I certainly recognise how essential BN is and can be in future. Perhaps others feel the same and they too would peripherally lend support without all the entrapments of full membership. With today’s electronic facilities and BN’s website, we have easy reach of latest information and issues and may support these individually as issues that matter to us arise.
    This is simply a suggestion for consideration. No comments or replies are necessary or desired, and BN need feel no need to take further defensive action.
    Yours in good faith.

  • How did the former President, Vice Chaiman and Treasurer achieve these posts on the Executive Committee of BN? They were voted in democratically by BN individual members. Individual members who expected the successful candidates to undertake the duties of the offices they were appointed to. I voted in those elections. I was disappointed that the candidates I voted for seemed unable to fulfill their duties and resigned when they did not get their own way. BNChange ultimately became BNResign.

    Norman Donachie
    Chairman, BN London & South East Region.

    • I am sorry to disappoint you Norman. Beyond there is little any of can say in mitigation.

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