Faith workers take Unite message to Greenbelt

Branch recruits new members at festival

Reading time: 5 min

Members of the Unite Faith Workers’ Branch (FWB) have been regularly attending the Greenbelt Festival over recent years with a stand promoting the benefits of trade union membership to festival goers.

The Faith Workers’ Branch (FWB) was established about 30 years ago in order for amalgamating unions to give a defined identity to faith workers, many of whom were not, and still are not, employed in the legal sense. 

The branch has nearly 3500 members spanning multiple religious and spiritual denominations and traditions and is part of the Community, Youth Work and Not For Profit industrial sector.

Nicky Skipworth is communications officer for the branch as well as a rep, ASC and equality officer for the Church of England workplace grouping CEECA . Nicky has been involved with bringing Unite’s message to Greenbelt, and seen huge benefits in attending, as she explained, “2024 will be our third year running at Greenbelt, but many of us on the team are seasoned Greenbelters (my first time was 1996!).

“It’s partly me keeping my promise to those who elected me to this officer role, but our attendance at the Festival has really grown on the branch and now has its own budget. The first year, about 60 new members signed up, which was staggering, and then, every year since, it has become a vital part of our organising activities.”

As well as making people aware of Unite, and the Faith Workers’ Branch, and recruiting new members, attending the festival is great fun for those involved.

Nicky said, “We provide huge amounts of factual information about the branch, challenge misunderstandings, hand out gorgeous merchandise and either support members in difficulty right there and then or signpost to the helpline.

“We also meet members of different Unite branches, and even different unions. While doing this, our interfaith, interdenominational team models peaceful, productive relationships between different faiths and traditions. Basically, putting ourselves out there like this demonstrates our availability to fellow faith workers.”

Though massively beneficial to the union and growing the membership, it does sound like a lot of hard work rounding up a team keen on spending a long weekend in a tent. But Nicky disagrees, saying it’s “Quite easy!”

“It’s a pretty consistent team, but we have two new people asking to join us this year. We may not all be camping, but we are all in 100%.

“One of the team, our branch officer and my favourite rabbi, Ariel, even brings his family. I find being clear and honest with volunteers about the demands of this work is key, as is the promise of a fantastic festival experience because looking after the team is essential.”

There are challenges of course, and it can be difficult for the team to keep up their enthusiasm when giving out the same information time and time again. But Nicky and the organisers limit volunteer sessions to two hours, and the facilities for stall holders at Greenbelt are very good. 

And the stand out moments from their time at the festival far outweigh the challenges.

For Nicky these moments include, “when someone comes to join up, or those times when a fellow priest has asked whether CofE clergy will ever go on strike, or sharing stories and meals and times of worship with the team, or when a very senior employee of a faith organisation drops by to quietly thank us for being there.

“For the branch, it’s the superb exposure it gives our work and the networking with other organisations. Generally speaking, Greenbelt is for me a happy place but, representing Unite, it has become even more important.”

Nicky is keen to encourage other branches to get involved in similar activities, and is happy to offer advice, recommending that you are well planned, look after your team, don’t underestimate what you will need and “prepare to have fun but get very tired!”

“Attending the Greenbelt Festival has led to us exhibiting at a raft of other events, and has encouraged members to be vocal and confident about their membership.”

“Oh, and general secretary Sharon Graham, come and be our special guest one year!”

By Keith Hatch