#MindfullyGrown: Fish in Parliament

One of the most satisfying things about running a business is seeing ideas come to life – especially when they’re your own. In her latest blog, MWC Director Katrina outlines the birth, development, and delivery of our first ever #MindfullyGrown project.

 At MWC, we're all about adding creative magic, hard-worn expertise and rigorous planning to other people's ideas and helping them become reality. But one thing we've been trying recently is shaping up our own ideas - projects we think are sorely needed - and finding ways to deliver them.

We've never been ones to be limited by what a comms agency 'should' be doing, so 2018 was the year we ventured into 'owned' (or #MindfullyGrown) projects: MWC ideas from the outset, funding secured by us from perfect-fit partners, and with MWC #KeenMarines leading on all aspects of delivery.

Now, in 2019, some of these projects are out there, living and breathing and making big, fishy impact.

I'm tasked with blogging about my personal favourite example of this: the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fisheries (or 'Fisheries APPG’). Anyone on Team MWC will tell you I'm a complete politics nerd and unashamed super-fan of parliamentary democracy with all its quirks, ancient traditions, leather banquettes, and frustrations.

My first-ever proper, paid job after university was working for the excellent and dynamic think-tank, Policy Connect, and working for the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG) which focuses on waste, resource and recycling policy.

The unrelenting glamour of being a waste expert aside, this was a fantastic introduction to the inner-workings of Parliament and the idea behind APPGs: that politicians from all parties can come together around specific issues of interest to them and their constituents, learn and discuss as a collaborative group, and interact with the wider, nationwide constituency of people and businesses around that issue.

Melanie Onn (MP for Great Grimsby) chairing the second Fisheries APPG event on ‘Careers on Land and at Sea’

Melanie Onn (MP for Great Grimsby) chairing the second Fisheries APPG event on ‘Careers on Land and at Sea’

 I was never going to stay a 'wastey', long-term. I'd always wanted to work with the sea, and with fisheries, and so when the chance to run communications for a Europe-wide fish-focused project came along I left my gig in Westminster. But I never forgot the model.

Since then, I've been carrying around the idea that UK fishing could benefit from a similar programme of activity within Parliament: and this instinct became impossible to ignore as Brexit pushed fishing issues further and further up the media and political agenda.

Politicians were having to comment on national and international fishing policy with a regularity and level of detail never previously required of them. We all knew fishing was totemic in the Brexit debate, but few people fully understood the complex array of factors at play – unsurprisingly!

It was definitely time to see what could be done to bring the reality of fishing and coastal community life closer to politicians, share the full range of perspectives on the hot-button topics around quota, processing, science, discards and crewing, and find a platform where Parliamentarians could participate in fisheries-focused debate in a neutral, cross-party way.

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 Brilliantly, the Fisheries APPG already existed; for a number of years a dedicated group of Parliamentarians with coastal constituencies had been meeting within Westminster. At MWC we saw an opportunity to amplify this engagement, fire-up our network of incredible fishers, businesses, community groups, NGOs and experts, and bring them to Parliament to replicate the all-inclusive structure of my beloved waste APPG.

We wanted to deliver a sleek, modern website, policy briefings, a digital newsletter and parliamentary monitoring function, as well as a series of regular events, and we needed support to do this. Brilliantly, The Fishmongers’ Company has a fantastic philanthropic arm, and a reputation for impactful, neutral convening on defining seafood issues. They were my first - and, it turns out, only - call on my mission to find a funding partner for our work with the Fisheries APPG.

I'm completely thrilled to say they saw the value in the idea, and we have since worked together to ensure that what we're offering suits the needs of both parliamentarians and the industry to the highest degree possible.

 We’ve been running the dedicated Secretariat for the Fisheries APPG since January of this year, and in that time have built that lovely-looking website, developed an unbeatably fishy-politico newsletter (sign up here), and are about to hold our third parliamentary seminar.

In our events, we hear testimony from three expert presenters (with different views and experiences) and an MP Chair then facilitates questions and debate. We've started converting these conversations into policy-focused briefings – which you can find on the website – and we're acting as a day-to-day, go-to resource for our MPs and Peers on all things fishy.

Seeing this idea as a real, functioning reality in Parliament is pretty incredible. I love that we're putting party politics aside and really helping to advance debate and understanding within our corridors of power.

It’s important to emphasise that the Fisheries APPG is an open forum: we have funding available to support attendance from fishers, those in remote communities, or small businesses that otherwise wouldn't want to afford the travel to London. We want to hear from as wide an array of voices as possible, and we want input on our forwards events programme - which we hope to run for years to come.

Finally a huge thank you to everyone who's been part of the Group so far, and to The Fishmongers Company for helping us bring our first #MindfullyGrown project to life.


Cover image: Larry Hartwell

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