For a number of years in the latter part of the 20th century I ran the Swansea Vegetarian Society, taking over from Ray Davies. We used to meet monthly at members' homes and, as I recall, it was a friendly and cosy arrangement and worked well. One day a woman from Baglan asked if she could take over and I agreed, and I resigned as Hon Sec/Treasurer. Strangely that was the last we heard of her and the Swansea Vegetarian Society ceased to exist.
In 2002, around the time of my retirement from lecturing at the Swansea Institute of Higher Education (now Swansea Metropolitan University), I thought that it would be nice to again have an active group of people who didn't eat dead animals, and decided that as lacto-vegetarians were fairly common these days it might be an idea to make it the Swansea VEGAN Society. So I contacted the national Vegan Society for names of vegans in this area. They sent me a list of Vegan Society members living in South Wales, which was rather more extensive than I had intended (including people from Cardiff), but it served to enable me to write to all these lovely people and tell them that I was planning to set up a group of vegans in and around Swansea.
Our inaugural meeting took place on 24th July 2002 at the Friends Meeting House at the bottom of Page Street in Swansea, and the following eleven people attended: myself, my wife Shirley, Nesta Thomas, Holly Machin, Lynne Jackson, Pat Crawford, Dianne Bellett-Bray, Michael Sosner, Malcolm Horne, Bob Howes and Derek Jenkins.
It was decided not to call ourselves the Swansea Vegan Society but just 'Swansea Vegans'. We carried on meeting at the Friends Meeting House on the third Monday of each month at 7pm, and whilst we were meeting socially we occasionally had speakers in to tell us about a variety of topics including greyhound rescue work, the Dr Hadwen Trust (medical research without animal testing), nutrition, vegan-organic gardening, Druidism, veganism in Poland, the Green Party, biodiesel production, kinesiology, etc, and we once had poetry readings too. But most of our meetings took the form of discussions. Topics included: Medicine and veganism, Food retailing and veganism, National Vegan Week and World Vegan Day, Just how precious is life anyway?, A vegan view of cultures and religions around the world, Is it enough just to be a vegan?, The effectiveness of direct action for animal rights, and Bringing up children as vegans.
Each year in December we had a Christmas dinner at Govinda's Restaurant (or the Retreat) and the attendances at these events were always very encouraging. In 2006 fifty-five people turned up - this was a record.
In March 2003 we did a trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. We went by minibus and had a very interesting and enjoyable time. We also booked minibuses for trips to Bristol for the annual and very popular Vegan Fayre.
Malcolm Horne used to organise one-week Vegan Summer Gatherings (they began in Devon in 1994), and in 2003, 2004 and 2005 he ran them in Swansea. People came from various parts of the UK and indeed from foreign parts as well. Swansea Vegans got involved in some of their events and it was interesting to meet with vegan people from outside our area.
Some of us were involved in a number of trips to Cambridge and Oxford to take part in demos against animal testing at Huntingdon Life Sciences and at Oxford University.
In July 2006 the National Eisteddfod was held in Swansea and a number of Swansea Vegans manned a stall with the title Respect for Animals. It was a lot of work but quite an experience. We were visited by a number of dairy farmers (and others!), and several vigorous discussions took place regarding the morality of milk and egg and meat production. On one day I had to explain my objections to animal testing to a Home Office Inspector who had, for years, visited vivisection laboratories - ostensibly to monitor the research and ensure that there was no excessive suffering inflicted on the animals. I believe that these inspectors are a waste of time in this respect.
One abiding memory that I have among many events during the five years in which I served as Swansea Vegans co-ordinator was my 70th birthday party at my house in July 2005 when THIRTY-SIX vegans attended. It was a record for us up to that point but, of course, the record was broken in December of that year when fifty-five people turned up for the Christmas do.
In July 2007 we had the last meeting under my stewardship, which had lasted for five years. We did not involve ourselves in any formal discussion apart from what might happen to the group in the future. We simply enjoyed each other's company and the food that we had brought along for the occasion. I hope that the group continues to provide a facility for vegans in and around Swansea to meet, get to know each other and swap ideas - and spread the gospel to the rest of the world!
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