3 December 2019

Six members of Abingdon ATOM Festival’s Student Ambassador team, from Abingdon, St Helen and St Katharine’s and Larkmead School, were given a unique opportunity to participate in the House of Lords annual public debate, this year on the topic of ‘Reaching a Sustainable Future’.

Organised by the English Speaking Union and the public engagement team at the House of Lords, this year’s event was also open to members of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Meteorological Society. As a member of the Education Committee of the Royal Meteorological Society, ASP Co-ordinator, Jeremy Thomas, was able to secure places for the ATOM Ambassadors to take part.

The event started with a suitably impressive brunch on the House of Lords terrace and an opportunity to network with other members of the learned societies and school groups taking part in the debate. A welcome speech was given by Black Rod, Sarah Clarke, who then introduced the Lord Speaker, Lord Norman Fowler. Lord Fowler gave a brief outline of his duties and the function of the Upper House, then explained how the debate would be run in the chamber according to usual Parliamentary rules and traditions.

Following this, all participants were ushered into the breathtaking surroundings of the House of Lords chamber and shown to their seats on the iconic red benches. Three motions were debated, all concerning the issues of climate change and sustainability and what should be done to solve the current climate crisis. The participating school students with prepared speeches spoke passionately and effectively, despite the intimidating surroundings, and showed their desire for serious solutions to serious problems.

Despite not being chosen in advance as participants in the debate, the ATOM Ambassadors were determined to play their part and three of them were successful in being chosen by the Lord Speaker and his Deputies to make appropriate interventions when these were invited from the floor. Standing up to make a point in this debate, under a strict, ninety-second time limit enforced by the clerk, was an impressive challenge and one the Ambassadors achieved extremely competently.

Votes on the three motions were sometimes close, but showed that all those present, from the schools and the Royal Societies, were equally concerned that much more needed to be done immediately, by both governments and individuals, to change attitudes to humankind’s profligate and damaging use of the Earth’s resources.

It was a great pity that photography was not allowed in the magnificent surroundings of the debate venue, but an ideal photo opportunity arose opposite the exit from Black Rod’s Garden, straight into Abingdon Street. Ironically, Parliament Square was filling with the regular, Friday climate strikers as the party made its way to the tube station, a rather different expression of the current concern by many people over the effect we are all having on the Earth and the environment that sustains us.

Excitingly, the ATOM Ambassadors are currently engaged in organising their own ATOM Festival ‘Climate Solutions’ conference for schools, to be held at Abingdon School on Wednesday 18 March and followed by an expert panel discussion at St Helen and St Katharine’s School in the evening. Put the date in your diaries and watch out for more details of these ATOM Festival events soon.


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