Dear colleagues,

I promised that I would update you as the coronavirus situation developed. I hope that this, my first such update to you, finds you safe and well.

These are difficult times. I know that many of our Amnesty UK family are on the front line of the country’s response to the virus, whether in the emergency, health, and care services, delivering essential services to us all during this time of crisis, or enabling others to do their critical work. Many are helping vulnerable people in communities, and I have been touched to see messages from Amnesty group members about how they are looking out for each other and their wider community. On behalf of the Board, I thank all of you. 

Amnesty UK’s staff are now operating through remote working arrangements that are functioning well. They stand ready to support you in your activism and can offer advice and ideas for continued campaigning – both on- and offline – in this time of lockdown and social distancing.

However, there are, regrettably, some things we cannot now do. I expect that it will not be a surprise to learn that, on Thursday 26 March, the Section Board made the difficult decision to cancel the National Conference and Annual General Meeting that had been scheduled for 20-21 June. The prevailing circumstances of lockdown and social distancing across the UK, together with uncertainty about conditions during the next three months, mean that it would be neither safe nor prudent to go ahead with the event as planned. 

This is not a decision we have taken lightly, given the importance of the event and the work that has already gone into its planning by both staff and volunteers. However, it is the only responsible decision that we could take, given what is happening around us. The safety of people - our members, staff, suppliers, and the wider public – should and will always come first.

We know this decision is disappointing, and sincerely apologise for the inconvenience that will no doubt be caused. For many of you, the AGM will be a central fixture in your calendar; it certainly is in mine. My first AGM was as a student in 2010, and since then I have grown to know and love it as an occasion to meet fellow activists, share ideas, take action together, and make important decisions about the governance of our movement. 

We will do all of these things again – as soon as it is safe to do so.

The Board intends to review the situation at its scheduled meeting in May. We will consider the options available to us at that time and provide an update to members shortly afterwards. In the meantime, we will be in touch with those who have already booked a place in order to provide refunds of accommodation payments. And while it can be no substitute for an in-person gathering, we are also looking into providing alternative online content for you over the coming months – if you have ideas you would like to share, please do get in touch.

In order to manage costs and to make democratic participation as easy as possible, we ordinarily run the Board ballot and AGM processes at the same time. For this reason, the ballot for elections to the Section Board has also now been postponed. At present, the previously advertised “declaration date” of 25 September remains unchanged and only the issuing of ballot papers has been postponed. As with the AGM, we will work with the Returning Officer to review the situation again in May.

If you have any queries about either the AGM or the Board Ballot, please contact our supporter communications team in the first instance, at agm@amnesty.org.uk

Just a couple of weeks ago, these decisions would have seemed like difficult choices. Right now, while no less significant, they feel obvious in light of the enormity of the situation now facing the country and the world at large – a situation that is, at its very heart, a human rights crisis. We are working hard to monitor the impacts of the crisis and the responses of governments around the world and we are regularly posting information on our website at https://www.amnesty.org.uk/coronavirus. As ever, we will also keep in touch with you, our activists, through the usual channels.

In the meantime, thank you for your continuing support and understanding. Please stay home, and stay safe, at this challenging time.

With best wishes,

 

Eilidh Douglas

Chair, Amnesty International UK