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Friendship Force’s 40th Anniversary World Conference in Manchester, U.K. kicked off with the arrival of 325 delegates on August 24, 2017, to The Midland Hotel for registration, seeing new and old friends, and preparing for the exciting FFI events ahead.
The first night was a blast to the past in a themed “Travel Back to 1977” welcome party, with an introduction by Suzy Smith Bennitt, former FFI CEO and daughter of founder Wayne Smith. There was also a costume and name-that-tune contest, throwback ’70s games, and plenty of moves on the disco floor.
Suzy Smith Bennitt, spoke next about her father’s vision when founding the Friendship Force, as well as her experiences growing up with Friendship Force, even presenting a letter written to FFI by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter in honor of FFI’s 40th Anniversary.
Newcastle upon Tyne City Councillor David Faulkner spoke, reflecting upon the inaugural FFI exchange in July 1977 between his city and Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Delegates watched a special video message from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in honor of our milestone year. Lotfi Lamrani of FF Morocco, host of 2016’s World Conference, presented the host cup to Andrew Kelly, president of FF Greater Manchester, who welcomed everyone to his magnificent city.
On Friday afternoon, FFI’s President and CEO Jeremi Snook spoke about his “side of the mountain” and the bright future ahead for Friendship Force. Next, Board Chair Bob Duncan thanked the Board Members for their service, followed by a very funny short sketch written by FF of Greater Manchester’s own Andrew Kelly about a “typical” Friendship Force club meeting, performed by the Meighan Youth Theatre Productions (see the video here!).
The afternoon concluded with a fascinating talk by adventurer, writer, and TV documentary maker Benedict Allen, who illustrated the importance of approaching new cultures and experiences with the heart and mind of a learner in order to truly experience connection with others, even those who may seem otherwise very dissimilar.
On Saturday, delegates had a free day with many options of enjoyment around Manchester and neighboring regions. Tours departed for a walk the countryside, to see the ancient walled city of Chester, on an excursion to see famous Beatles sites, and on Mancunian walking tours and canal cruises! The city of Manchester itself threw its largest ever Pride Parade on Saturday in support of their local LGBTQ community, celebrating diversity, inclusion, and acceptance. A diverse group of Friendship Force delegates from around the world, including Suzy Smith Bennitt, chose to walk in this optional parade, advocating FFI’s shared values of understanding and peace.
On Saturday evening, delegates landed in the hangar of the famed Concorde jetliner for an elegant gala banquet. The evening began with a Prosecco reception under the aircraft, and continued with dinner during a program with greetings by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Eddy Newman, and an informative talk by long-time air traffic controller and pilot Phil Holt. After dessert, delegates were able to board Concorde to see the inside of this supersonic aircraft that was able to cross the Atlantic in 3.5 hours, and the event was capped off with dancing to the tunes of the Greater Manchester Police Band.
Sunday was full of dynamic workshops, with presenters ranging from experienced FFI members and leaders to industry and cultural experts. Workshop topics included volunteering while traveling, media relations, photographing Journeys, the history of FFI in sound and image (watch historical FFI videos here and here!), engaging your local community presented by Sucheta Rawal of Go Eat Give, Family Journeys, and strengthening clubs, club boards, and regions, and so much more (view workshop materials and presentations here)!
Cultural workshops covered two decades of popular music in and from Manchester, an exploration of the Midland Hotel and its historical significance, tea education and tasting from QuinTEAssential, and Regency style dancing from the 17th-19th centuries from Regency Rejigged.
The closing ceremonies of the 40th Anniversary World Conference took place on Monday, and included a keynote presentation by philanthropist, conservationist and “Hart to Hart” actress Stefanie Powers, a heartfelt final thanks to the host club, FF Greater Manchester, and the reveal of the completed commemorative artwork canvas colored in by delegates from all over the world.
Next came a lively, interactive session where delegates shared their personal Friendship Force stories with someone they didn’t yet know, and we were able to capture many of these stories on video. Jeremi Snook and Conference Director Debbie Powell shared some final thoughts on the weekend and, in traditional Friendship Force fashion, the delegation closed the conference with an a cappella rendition of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Thank you to all of the Conference delegates, members of the host club of FF of Greater Manchester, all of our speakers and performers, FFI staff, club members and leaders, and every one of our new friends for joining in on this remarkable celebration!
Links to Conference Materials and Photos
- Workshop presentations and summaries can be found here.
- Watch an archival Friendship Force commercial and a news story from our 1977 Inaugural Exchange to Newcastle upon Tyne here on the FFI Youtube page!
- Photos from the Conference can be found on our Flickr page here.
- Watch video greeting from Congressman John Lewis, U.S. Senator Max Cleland, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on FFI’s Vimeo page.
- Watch the video of the MYT Productions Comedy Sketch here.
- Be sure that you “like” us on Facebook where we will share additional videos from the World Conference!