Third Sector Interview

Andrew Copson – ‘he’s young but that doesn’t mean he’s cool’. That sort of sums up the article in Third sector magazine today about my taking over at the BHA. Hmm. And what’s wrong with a nice jumper?

Here is what the article says:


The new chief executive of the British Humanist Association says there’s a lot of hard work ahead

Andrew Copson may be only 29, but the British Humanist Association’s Oxford-educated, jacket-and-jumpered new chief executive does not exactly style himself as a new broom in the BHA’s genteelly shabby offices in Bloomsbury, central London.

“Our main job remains what it has always been: to tell the huge proportion of people who live good lives without religion that there is a word for what they believe and that they should be proud of it,” he says.

But the charity’s former director of education and public affairs says he wants it to make more of an effort to win hearts and minds using social media and user-generated content.

He also wants to capitalise on good ideas from outside the organisation, such as last year’s high-profile atheist bus campaign, which was based on a suggestion by Ariane Sherine, a blogger for The Guardian. The campaign used posters that read: “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

“There were questions about our slogan on University Challenge and Have I Got News for You?” says Copson. “That was publicity you couldn’t buy.”

Its impact is shown by the fact that adverts for the Alpha Course, an introductory course run by churches, now refer to the slogan.

But Copson has no plans to follow up the campaign directly or enter an advertising arms race with religious groups. “People would get very bored very quickly with that,” he says. “Our bread and butter goals, such as changing educational policy, will only be achieved very slowly. There’s an awful lot of hard work ahead.”

The atheist bus brought the BHA many extra supporters, and Copson says the increased vociferousness of religious groups in public policy debate and the prominence of ethical issues such as assisted dying have raised humanism’s profile to heights not seen since previous heydays in the 1890s and 1960s. But the association still relies on one-off donations and legacies, and he hopes to attract more regular giving.

Copson says his former boss, Hanne Stinson, will be a hard act to follow. But he has no intention of imitating Stinson’s fundraising wheeze of last year, in which she agreed to have the BHA logo tattooed on her arm if supporters could raise £20,000. “It took her eight years to work up the courage to have herself rebranded in that way,” he smiles, pulling his jacket a little tighter.


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