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Friends put their House in order

October 28, 2011:

Floor-coverings made from recycled bottletops, solar panels and recycled furniture are part of a £1.6 million low-carbon refurbishment of the Quakers’ Friends House in London.

The first phase of the development will be finishing later this month (October 2011) and will help Friends House reach its target of reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2015.

Alison Prout, acting assistant general secretary of Quaker Peace & Social Witness in Britain, said the eco-friendly refurbishment project of the Grade II listed, 6,437 sqm building in Euston was no more difficult than carrying out a ‘normal’ refurb.

‘It was actually incredibly easy,’ said Alison. ‘We have a professional project manager who prepared the tender documents and ensured we were able to select a company that shares our values. Creative Interiors has a zero landfill policy and were the cleanest, nicest builders to work with!

‘The last time the building was updated was in the Eighties, so it needed doing. Using eco-friendly paint, for example, was no more expensive than using ordinary paint. The most time-consuming aspect was rehoming all our old furniture; that did take more time and effort than we expected.’

The second floor of the building, which is let out for conference use, and the third floor, which is office space, now boast sustainable improvements including: solar panels for hot water, 150mm of wall insulation, full secondary glazing, a light-and-motion-sensitive lighting system, reupholstered second-hand furniture, furniture- and floor-coverings made from post-industrial plastic waste, office furniture made from eco-ply wood and renewable hardwood and an energy-use monitoring system so usage can be tracked.

It is hoped that the improvements to the House, which was built in 1926, will reduce its annual running costs – although saving money was not the motivation for the refurbishment.

‘We are taking a holistic approach by looking at all aspects of our Yearly Meetings, our buildings, how we use transport, our food – everything,’ said Alison.

Alison said the Quaker testimonies of truth, integrity, justice, equality, community, peace and simplicity are lived experiences and not just a set of rules laid down in 1652 [at the founding of the Quaker movement]. ‘We are taking simplicity further. We have to ask ourselves: “What do these things mean today?” This is not an edict as such, it is a reinterpretation of those testimonies.’

The Quakers’ commitment to sustainability was highlighted in A Framework For Action 2009-2014, agreed by Meeting for Sufferings in September 2008. It was stated: “Sustainability is an urgent matter for our Quaker Witness. It is rooted in Quaker testimony and must be integral to all we do corporately and individually. Quakers have particular gifts to offer the world in living our values, in our approach to community and in our way of working, which encourages everyone’s voice to be heard.’

Alison said: ‘This means we are rededicating ourselves to a corporate discipline – decisions taken at Yearly Meeting in session are on behalf of all Quakers in Britain, as a whole.’

With joy

Taking this pledge a step further, at the Yearly Meeting held in Canterbury this summer (2011) attended by 1,600 delegates, it was minuted that: ‘With joy, our Yearly Meeting has made a commitment to becoming a low-carbon, sustainable community. The time to act is now. We need to reduce the amount of carbon we produce. We are called to challenge the values of consumer capitalism.’

The words ‘with joy’ are a cornerstone of the Quakers’ commitment. Alison explained: ‘This states explicitly that this decision was taken positively. This has not been done with a reluctant ‘Oh, we have got to do something’ attitude. This reflects the fact that everybody has taken this on as being a joyful process. It became clear at the Yearly Meeting that the mood was for a really big commitment.’

It was also stated at Yearly Meeting that: “We can no longer ignore the fact that our planet is finite. We have not only inherited the earth from our ancestors: we have borrowed it from our children and from their children.

‘To individual Friends we issue a clear call to consider the effect of their lives on the world’s limited resources…but above all that, Friends [are asked] to keep in their hearts that this action must flow from nowhere but love.’

A Framework For Action 2009-2014 ran in parallel with the Quakers’ Seven-Year Plan, which it announced at a conference organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation in November 2009. Thirty-one faith traditions launched their Long-Term Commitments For A Living Planet at the event. To read the Quakers’ Seven-Year Plan, click here.

British plan to be shared with other Quaker communities

The British Quakers’ pledge to become a low-carbon, sustainable community will also be shared at the Friends’ World Conference in Nairobi next year where it is hoped other Quaker groups will take up the challenge.

The Friends have produced a toolkit to help Quakers – and indeed all faith groups if they wish to use it –become as low-carbon and sustainable as possible. This will be available as a book at the end of October 2011 and as pdf downloads from

Costing Not less Than Everything: Sustainability And Spirituality In Challenging Times by Pam Lunn (Swarthmore Lecture 2011) is available from the Quaker website or by calling 0207 663 1031/1031. To visit the Quaker website click here.

To read Alison’s article entitled Flowing From Nowhere But Love – Making A Commitment To Sustainability, please click here.

To read the Quakers’ Seven-Year Plan, click here.

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October 28, 2011:
Quakers' eco stories
British Quakers are tackling the challenge to lead more environmentally friendly lifestyles with gusto. Individuals and Local Meetings are responding to the Living Witness Project with imagination, commitment and a sense of fun.