AHS UCLan: A review of our first year!

Ever since its inception last September the UCLan AHS has been having a very busy year indeed! First up was fresher’s week recruitment in the atrium where Glen, Mel and Hamza were able to reel new members in with our colander dedicated to the flying spaghetti monster, evolution home brew and our own resident medical fairy Mel!

Following this for the remainder of September and beginning of October we continued to busy ourselves with ‘Atheaholics Anonymous’ where we elected our committee followed by a trip to the pub and singing skeptics karaoke at Roper hall (again for the umpteenth time James and I are sorry for murdering uptown girl at karaoke). We also managed to establish our collective society persona for pub quizzes Yolo Swaggins and the Fellowship of Da Bling!

“Every month there’s always so much to do and take part in with the AHS. I really feel that my involvement this year has taught me some valuable lessons and will hopefully help with my personal growth and skills in future.” –Niall Rowe, Social Secretary

After this we had our first piece of collaborative work with the regional AHS societies across the country when we took part in non-prophet week to raise money for the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust. Along with other AHS societies across the area we managed to raise £2000 pounds. This was a brilliant success that we were more than happy to contribute towards. Then it was time for our Happy Humanist Halloween! (We know that we have a thing for wordplay but we love it!) We hit the Preston nightlife completely dressed up in our wacky costumes including a quartet of mad scientists, a jester and even Garth Algar from Wayne’s world!

“Meeting up with like-minded people once a week just to talk about topics that interest me was a very good break from 3rd year work” -Alexander Lund, Society member

Afterwards November rolled in and it was time to really get down and into business with our planned lectures on elements of scepticism, science and many other wonderful topics our members and other within the university were keen to see! Members of the outside public even came to attend! First up it was Dr Andrew Pyle who gave us a wonderful talk on the battle between science and religion; whether it actually exists and what it entails. To cap off November we then had a showing of the movie Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds. A wonderful movie about the magician, escape artist and illusionist The Amazing Randi. The film took us through his personal life and his quest to debunk frauds who were using skills he used himself as an entertainer but passed them off as real in order to achieve more fame and riches. Suffice to say that the movie was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone that showed up.

“I really enjoyed our society trips to Sheffield and Nottingham and in future I look forward to involving myself more heavily through my position in the Regional AHS.” –James Smith, Secretary

December came and UCLan AHS still had plenty on the menu for everyone with our first event of the month being Professor Edzard Ernst’s lecture; How to Become a Pseudoscientist. Alternative Medicine: Trick or Treatment? Edzard was kind enough to come down and tell us about his life story in the world of medicine and his personal mission to ensure the accurate study of alternative medical treatments worldwide and how his own criticisms of alternative medicine had led into a run in with Prince Charles and they dire consequences that clash incurred. Then in the Next couple of

weeks AHS UCLan had its first big multi-society event to go to! The AHS training conference held in the Portland building of the University of Nottingham. Glen, James, Ben and I drove up to Nottingham for a weekend of brilliant training seminars hosted by the likes of Andrew Copson, Caitlin Greenwood, Chris Malburn and Martin Smith. Then as night came we were all able to head out into town and socialise. We made a lot of wonderful friends that weekend who we’ve now been able to engage and talk to over social media and other events since!

Following our return after the Christmas break we then had the wonderful opportunity to see Dara O’Brien, the popular Irish and atheist comedian at The Guildhall in Preston. Nearly everyone in the society managed to get themselves together and head down for a fantastic night of laughs! The society even got a mention from Dara after we tweeted him! (We won’t say how many attempts it took.) After this we then really got our rolling Roper hall socials into gear each Thursday for the quiz followed by karaoke and even managed to pick up the big £100 on our first outing! Everyone in the society really enjoyed being able to get out each week to flex our minds and vocal chords (Strain may be a more appropriate verb for our vocal chords though.)

Following this the end of February marked our biggest AHS conference event to date when Glen, James, Ben, Phil, Alex and I hopped down to Sheffield for their universities first ever Freethought Convention organised by the marvellous Sylvia Broeckx. We spent our Friday night and weekend engaging with those that we had met at Nottingham again as well as some new faces including renowned atheist speakers and authors such as David Fitzgerald and Amal Farah. I know that I for one was genuinely sad when the weekend was over, I just didn’t want to leave!

“I was totally overwhelmed by the opportunities and events being part of the AHS provides. From charitable events to free thought conventions, it has delivered a wide range of new experiences.”  – Phil Ashburn, Society Member

Following this we received the devastating news of the death of the amazing Terry Pratchett when he lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. A true paragon of humanism and a staunch advocate of the Dignity in Dying campaign deserved a memorial and that’s exactly what we did! Within a week we had organised a reading of Terry’s 2013 Humanist of the year speech by Glen followed by a showing of Terry Pratchett: Shaking hands with Death and The Colour of Magic. It was a moving night and in my opinion a fitting send off to such a great man. We also collected money from attendees at this event for Alzheimer’s Research UK as a token of our respect to Terry and to continue the fight against Alzheimer’s despite his passing.

“I liked that we could raise money for charity as part of the society, it made me feel like being part of the society was more than just a past-time.” –Megan Thomas, Society Member

Post-Sheffield UCLan AHS still had plenty to offer with our first annual Skeptics Week kicking off shortly after Easter! We had a debating workshop with Glen, a lecture on green chemistry from James Smith and Emma Lowrie gave us another side of the story with her talk on the psychological benefits of belief. This really gave our members to improve on their skills related to public engagement which has been a large aim of our society right from the start. On top of this we also had Chris Moos giving his talk: From Jesus & Mo to Charlie Hebdo: Being a secularist in the face of the religious far-Right and the pro-religious Left. Every single talk that week was wonderful and Chris’ was just the icing on the cake, we loved it! Then to wrap it all up James and I made our way down to Ships and Giggles on the Saturday of Skeptics week for a charity waxing… needless to say it hurt; but the pain was worth it to raise even more funds for Alzheimer’s Research.

AS exam season rolled in and everyone found themselves strangles by increased exam time stress the AHS still managed to provide for its members with Chloe sorting out a cocktail night in Ships and Giggles. A couple of free drinks and entry into Macs was just what some of us needed to unwind and get our heads out of the books for a night. However Phil and Glen were still more than willing to hit the nationwide stage with not one, but two appearances on the BBCs: The Big Questions! It was wonderful to see some representation from our society live on national television.

“We started the society when a few of us noticed a lack of representation for AHS students on campus. Since then, I’m happy to reflect on the year and our successes including: Nationally recognised links and humanist celebrants on campus; developing students’ skills through campaigns, media experiences, training and events all over the UK; and to have engaged in charitable giving in Uganda and for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as provide a vibrant atmosphere for stimulating and skeptical debate.” – Glen Carrigan, Society Chairman

And so there it is… an account of everything our society got up to in its very first year. I for one think we did a brilliant job of really getting our name out onto the stage both within UCLan and throughout the country! Now all that’s left is to get ready for the new academic year! Don’t forget to come down and check us out at fresher’s when the societies fair is on we can’t wait to see some new faces!

Niall Rowe (Social Secretary)

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