Volume 19 Number 6
Hope for a Change
01 December 2006
Stan Hazell looks back over the years since the magazine was launched.
WHEN For A Change was launched 19 years ago the magazine team set out to feed you, the readers, with a diet of hope. They said they wanted to create something different from other publications by focusing on what was going right in the world as well as what was going wrong. ‘We also wanted to support those we were writing about—people who were taking creative steps to bring change in their communities and countries,’ says Kenneth Noble, one of the editors.
It’s a policy that would raise eyebrows in other newsrooms which must work to wider agendas. But the editors discovered there was a real hunger for good news. One reader said that he kept the magazine by his bed to cheer him up. Another wrote: ‘In my home I am Christian, my son is atheist and my daughterin-law is Hindu. We all love For A Change.’
The first issue came out in September 1987. The lead article, written by the magazine’s first editor, Australian John Williams, set the tone for what was to follow. Entitled What kind of change, then?, it laid out the challenges facing the world—among them the environment, AIDS, the stirrings which were to lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain, racism, the search for faith. It ended by saying: ‘With real transformation in attitudes, aims and relationships, we can confidently plan to deal with the deadlock between East and West, the chasm between North and South, the deadly threat to the environment. Without this element we cannot realistically expect much at all.’ Succeeding issues took up this theme.
For instance, an issue on Australia in 1998 came out as plans were developing for National Sorry Day—a move to express regret for the removal of Aboriginal children from their families over a 150-year period up to the early 1970s. The magazine quoted eminent Australians on the need for national repentance, and phrases from its pages kept turning up in the Australian media. One in particular was ‘a nation in search of its soul’— the theme of the issue.
The magazine was among the first to report movement in some of the world’s most perplexing stalemates. A feature in 1989 focused on ‘the other Afrikaners’, whose stand against apartheid paved the way for the end of the system. An article in 1996 reported the fledgling Jubilee 2000 campaign for international debt remission.
In Ireland and the English question (April 1991), an English doctor, John Lester, examined his own attitudes to Northern Ireland and challenged the ‘it’s not our problem’ approach of many of his country people. The issue before, the work of Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa was featured in one of many articles over the years which offered a deeper understanding of Islam. The problem of climate change was examined in 1990, while another lead story, in 2002, highlighted the plight of Belarusian children affected by the toxic legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Some of the people featured in the magazine were inspired to take on new challenges. An early issue told the story of Bridge Park, a community centre in a notorious area of North London, which was set up by a group of young people who had turned their lives around after having been in trouble with the police. One of those interviewed was Lawrence Fearon. He says, ‘For me, For A Change has been a means of outreach, a reliable medium for telling your story as well as hearing from people who have made changes in their own lives and put their faith into action. It has been a catalyst for me to discover a global family of agents for change.’ Fearon now works to create dialogues between people on opposite sides of social and racial divides.
A regular feature, launched in 1992, was Turning Point—a column about decisive moments in people’s lives, edited by Paul Williams. ‘It has been an amazing privilege because it has meant gaining some insight into the inner journeys and motivations of a fascinating variety of people,’ says Williams.
Among the turning points were a Canadian civil servant’s decision to get off the fast track of a blossoming career and devote his best years to the welfare of the Aboriginal people of Canada. A Russian novelist and poet, whose parents were dedicated communists, described how she found a faith. A young Ghanaian talked about the changes in his own life which enabled him to make peace with the father who had abandoned him.
When the magazine was launched in 1987 there were high hopes of a circulation of 100,000. This proved over-optimistic. Sales never exceeded 10,000. Eleven 16-page issues a year eventually became six 24-page issues, allowing the small team to concentrate their efforts. But the modest circulation did not stop the magazine getting a profile far beyond the limits of the copies produced. Regular subscribers often passed the magazine on to others. And articles were picked up and used by national newspapers and magazines.
An article on Islam and the West by one of the editors was reprinted in The Guardian in 1998 with the introduction: ‘In the aftermath of the US bombing of alleged terrorist bases, anti-Islam feelings are running even higher than usual. But Michael Smith sees initiatives in Britain that are good news for hopes of harmony—even if they are doomed never to make the headlines.’ The Pioneer newspaper in New Delhi also ran the article.
An item on Transparency International as part of a ‘beating corruption’ theme was picked up by the New York World Press Review. In response to an article on the Tata companies in Jamshedpur, India, Britain’s Financial Times commissioned a piece on Telco’s in-house training on human relations at work. An article about the Reconciliation Walk—carried out by Christians as a way of apologising for the Crusades—was reported in The Muslim World, Karachi.
For A Change also got a wider readership as schools and other institutions placed the magazine in their libraries. It was officially recognised for use in libraries in Belarus. Supporters of the magazine raised money to send it to developing countries. An Australian reader donated £900 to cover 50 subscriptions. A Canadian sent three editions to every member of the Canadian Parliament.
A succession of interns joined For A Change over the years from Mexico, the United States, India, Russia and Nigeria, bringing fresh perspectives from their own cultures. They gained from the experience too. Choice Okoro, from Nigeria, wrote: ‘My experience with For A Change continues, 11 years later, to be the foundation on which I build my career commitments and values.’
With such a history the decision to cease publication was never going to be easy. But some of the long-serving editorial team had already moved on and others felt called to do so. Unsuccessful attempts were made to find fresh editorial blood. There was a lot of heart searching. Even a few tears. But, after long discussions and a search for alternative ways of keeping the magazine alive, there was a strong sense that, after 19 years, the time had come to cease publication. Current editor Mary Lean describes it as ‘coming to one of those natural endings, a change of season’.
But this is not the end of the story. It’s a new beginning. As explained on this page, the For A Change brand will continue in an electronic guise. The means of communication changes but the message remains the same.