Birmingham Humanists

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Birmingham Humanist Group was formed on May 23, 1962 at the Arden Hotel, New Street, Birmingham, England, as a result of a notice placed in a newsletter of the Ethical Union, forerunner of the British Humanist Association (BHA), by Dr Anthony Brierley. It changed its name to Birmingham Humanists (Brum Hums) in 2000 and voted to become a Partner Group of the BHA which changed its name to Humanists UK in 2017. It holds most of its meetings at the rooms of the Community Development trust in Moseley, Birmingham.

The Humanist symbol of a "happy human" modified so as to represent a group of two or more


The group's first chairman was 22-year-old Colin Campbell, who later became Emeritus Professor of Sociology at York University. [1]

In its early years, under the leadership of Fred Lyne, the group was active in the campaign to allow parents the legal right to remove their children from collective worship in schools.

In 1980 it held a joint public meeting with the newly formed Humanist group for homosexuals at which one of its members, Dr Martin Cole, was the main speaker.

Later that decade it started producing a newsletter variously titled Bir-Hug, Hub, Birmingham Humanist and, most recently, News and Views.

Most years since 1990 the group has organised an annual day school or conference on a subject of topical interest, in addition to the regular monthly programme with speakers, discussions and visits. The group was involved in devising the content of the 1975 Birmingham Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education, which was the first to abandon the aim of Christian nurture and to require that a multi-faith approach, including non-religious 'stances for living' such as Humanism should begin in primary schools.[2] However, the group is still not allowed representation on Birmingham SACRE, whose most recent syllabus [3] makes no reference to secular Humanism in spite of the recommendations of the QCDA.[4]

The group celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by holding a day conference: "Humanism: the Way Forward" on 7 June 2014, at which Colin Campbell, Tony Brierley, Pavan Dhaliwal, David Pollock and Kate Smurthwaite were the main speakers.

The group launched its first website in 2003 and is currently affiliated to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) and the National Secular Society (NSS). It also has close links with Skeptics in the Pub (Birmingham), the Asian Rationalist Society (Britain), Lichfield Walsall and South Staffordshire Humanist Group (LWASS)[5] Aston University Atheist & Humanist Group and University of Birmingham Atheist, Secular & Humanist Society (UBASH).[6]

Documents relating to the early history of the group were deposited at the Bishopsgate Institute in London by Anthony Brierley in 2008, and papers of Dr Harry Stopes-Roe were placed there in 2015 by Adrian Bailey. Newsletters, programmes and AGM material going back to the 1970s were placed in the Local Studies Collection at the Library of Birmingham by John Edwards in 2017.

Principles and beliefs[edit]

Humanists are a large and growing population of ethically concerned but non-religious people and the group is open to anyone who believes it is possible and desirable to live a good life without religious or superstitious beliefs and tries to make sense of life using reason, experience and shared human values.

As stated on the group's website, "a person can easily be both atheist and secular without being Humanist: Humanism requires the positive desire to help others, to improve the quality of life for others and also to accept that there are people who do have a religious belief, without insulting that belief or that person for their belief." [7] Its members therefore believe that, since they have only one life, it is their responsibility to live it to the full, whilst trying to improve the quality of life for everyone. They appreciate that a truly secular society is the only way to give full equality to everybody, regardless of their religion or belief. They understand that human beings are part of the evolutionary process that has resulted in the immense diversity of life on earth, and deplore recent attempts to make intelligent design seem a scientifically credible alternative.

Activities and charitable work[edit]

Since the millennium, the group has provided the Religious Studies departments of every secondary school in the West Midlands with a copy of the "Humanist Perspectives" teaching resource and has put free copies of The God Delusion into 60% of their libraries.[8] Members have also given talks on Humanism to sixth form, and GCSE students and have taken up invitations to conduct the occasional school assembly.[9] The group provides a scholarship at the Isaac Newton High School in Uganda and have given financial support to the Waris Dirie Foundation to aid its campaign against female genital mutilation and several charities involved in domestic violence prevention.


The group has a large collection of books and some DVDs on Humanism, agnosticism, atheism, religion, philosophy, politics and sociology which are available to its members. A catalogue of titles can be found on their website.[7]

Notable members[edit]

The number of famous Humanists who have been members of the group has given it an influence far larger than its size would suggest, for its membership has rarely exceeded 100.

  • Martin Cole (1931-2015), the group's president in the 1990s; instrumental in founding the Birmingham (later British) Pregnancy Advisory Service;[10] producer of the sex education film Growing Up[11]
  • Trevor Denning (1923–2009), former group treasurer; one of the founders of the Birmingham Artists Committee;[12] influential in the foundation of the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham[13]
  • Michael Goulder (1927–2010), renounced his orders as a priest in 1981 yet became Professor of Biblical Studies at Birmingham University in 1991;[14] a president of the group. With rare expertise in both the Old and New Testaments, he is probably most famous for his hypothesis that the first gospel was that of Mark and that this was then used as source material by the authors of the Matthew and Luke gospels.[15]
  • Harry Stopes-Roe (1924-2014), the group's last president; developed the concept of Humanism as a life stance in the 1970s [16] as part of an attempt to establish a clear identity for Humanism, in order to gain recognition and respect for non-religious beliefs so that their study might begin in the primary school; a UK signatory of the Secular Humanist Declaration issued in 1980;[17] a vice president of the BHA[18]
  • Jane Wynne Willson, a vice president of the BHA; has been an officer of Birmingham Humanists for over 30 years;[19] co-chair of International Humanist and Ethical Union from 1993 to 1996, and its vice-president until 2002; best known for her popular books on funerals and other non-religious ceremonies,[20][21][22] and on bringing up children[23]
  • William Wynne Willson (1932–2010), mathematician,[24] author,[25] pianist and musical website designer[26]


Several members of the group are celebrants, accredited by the BHA, able to conduct secular ceremonies to mark important events in the lives of the non-religious in the Midlands. Humanist celebrants are not yet recognised in law for weddings in England and Wales and so most couples will need a registry office ceremony as well as their Humanist wedding.[27] Baby namings, the non-religious equivalent of christenings, and same sex affirmations are becoming increasingly popular with those who chose to live without religion in their lives.[28] However, the majority of non-religious ceremonies are funerals, which to Humanists represent the chance to celebrate a life rather than mourn a death.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ University of York Sociology Department Archived June 8, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Barnes, L. Philip (2008). "The 2007 Birmingham Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education: a new direction for statutory religious education in England and Wales", Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 29 (1), April, p.75.
  3. ^ "The Birmingham Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education 2007" Archived May 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "The Non-statutory National Framework for Religious Education, QCA 2004"
  5. ^ Lichfield Walsall and South Staffordshire Humanist Group (LWASS)
  6. ^ Atheist, Secular & Humanist Society (UBASH)
  7. ^ a b Birmingham Humanists website
  8. ^ BHA news July/August 2008 page 3
  9. ^ "KEHS Religious Studies visitors" Archived July 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Calthorpe Clinic Medical Seminar 26 September 2007: Forty Years of Legal Abortion[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Daily Mirror 13 January 1971 "A sex-act film for children"
  12. ^ Denning, Trevor (2001). "Birmingham Artists Committee". in Sidey, Tessa. Surrealism in Birmingham 1935-1954. Birmingham: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. pp. 86. ISBN 0-7093-0235-5.
  13. ^ "Birmingham-born artist Trevor Denning dies", Birmingham Post, 26 October 2009
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Stopes-Roe (1988a), "Humanism as a life stance", New Humanist, Vol. 103, (2) October, pp. 19-21.
  17. ^ "A Secular Humanist Declaration
  18. ^ "BHA distinguished supporters Dr Harry Stopes-Roe"
  19. ^ ""BHA distinguished supporters Jane Wynne Willson"". Archived from the original on 2010-10-30. Retrieved 2010-06-18.
  20. ^ Wynne Willson, Jane (1989). Funerals without God: a practical guide to non-religious funeral ceremonies, British Humanist Association, London.ISBN 9780901825148
  21. ^ Wynne Willson, Jane (1988). Sharing the Future: a practical guide to non-religious wedding ceremonies, British Humanist Association, London. ISBN 0-901825-11-5
  22. ^ Wynne Willson, Jane (1991). New Arrivals: a guide to non-religious naming ceremonies, British Humanist Association, London.
  23. ^ Wynne Willson, Jane (1998). Parenting without God: Experiences of a humanist mother, Educational Heretics Press, Nottingham. ISBN 1-900219-11-5
  24. ^ Wynne Willson, William(2012). Ptolemy through the Looking-Glass Garland Publications, Birmingham. ISBN 978-0-9558042-3-6
  25. ^ Wynne Willson, William & Selkirk, Keith (1989). Fifty Per Cent Proof: An Anthology of Mathematical Humour The Mathematical Association and Stanley Thornes, Cheltenham. ISBN 0-7487-0166-4
  26. ^ Sibelius music: William Wynne Willson Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ ""Humanist ceremonies"". Archived from the original on 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2010-06-18.
  28. ^ Rogers, Ben. "The political case for 'baby-namings' ", The Guardian, London, 4 April 2010. Retrieved on 2010-6-10.
  29. ^ "Humanist and Civil Funerals" Archived 2010-04-02 at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, Nigel (2000). Seasons of Life: Prose and Poetry for Secular Ceremonies and Private Reflection. London: Rationalist Press Association. ISBN 0-301-00001-8
  • Herrick, Jim (2003). Humanism: An Introduction. London: Rationalist Press Association. ISBN 0-301-00301-7
  • Mason, Marilyn (ed.) (2005). Humanist Perspectives 2: Resources on Humanism for Secondary Teachers. London: British Humanist Association. ISBN 0-901825-25-6
  • Norman, Richard; British Humanist Association (2007). The Case for Secularism: A Neutral State in an Open Society. London: British Humanist Association. ISBN 978-0-901825-83-4

External links[edit]