Swarthmore Lecture 2021

09 April 2021

Woodbrooke is delighted to announce that Thomas Penny will give the 2021 Swarthmore Lecture – Kinder Ground: Creating Space for Truth.

Swarthmore Lecture 2021 Woodbrooke Quaker learning and research
Photo: Isabel Penny

Thomas’ lecture will address Truth in the era of fake news, and will draw on his 29 years’ experience working as a journalist. He will revisit the Quaker commitment to Truth, asking how Quaker practices and approaches may help us in the face of increasing polarisation.

The lecture will explore experiences from Quaker history which speak to our contemporary witness and then reflect on the political ferment in the 21st century and ways we might help heal division by creating kinder ground to promote, and enable, a shared quest for truth.

Thomas started his career working for local press in the West of England before working for national and international media organisations, including the Daily Telegraph and most recently as political correspondent for Bloomberg. In his 12 years with Bloomberg’s UK politics team, he covered four general elections, three referendums, two recessions and the 2012 Olympic Games. Thomas will reflect on his experience of working across political divides and his own relationship with truth as a reporter and as a Quaker.

Thomas grew up as part of a Quaker family in Gloucestershire and has a rich experience of local and national Quaker service. He is a member of Blackheath meeting in south east London, where he has served as an Elder and a member of the clerking team. He has also spent many years as volunteer youth worker for Quakers and has served as Clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Parliamentary Liaison Committee, a member of the Quaker Communications Committee and a Meeting for Sufferings member.

In discerning the subject of this year’s lecture, the Swarthmore Lecture Committee said they were aware that Friends have been considering issues and questions of truth and integrity in our current world, in public life and in our Society for some time, and thought a lecture might help with their engagement with the issue, as well as offering ways for us to engage in our witness in the world. The fact that it is time to consider these issues is borne out by the connection with the theme of Yearly Meeting: : “For our comfort and discomfort: living equality and truth in a time of crisis”.

The committee are delighted that Thomas is giving the lecture which will enable Quakers in Britain and wider society to engage with the theme of Truth. Thomas brings depth from his Quaker faith and service as well as his experience of engaging with these issues through his professional work across various areas of journalism, which are more exposed to these issues than many Friends are confronted with.

The Swarthmore Lecture will take place as part of the Yearly Meeting Gathering of Quakers in Britain. This year the Gathering will be online. The lecture will take place on Saturday 31st July and will be live streamed.

The lecture links closely to the Yearly Meeting Gathering’s theme and we hope Friends are excited to see how the lecture will explore and respond to questions of truth and integrity, which attend to the very nature of how we live in the world today. There will be an accompanying book and e-book which will be available to buy alongside the lecture.

Watch the lecture

Order the 2021 lecture book



  • The Swarthmore Lecture is funded and organised by Woodbrooke and is an important part of Woodbrooke’s learning programme. It is overseen by the Swarthmore Lecture Committee.
  • The Swarthmore Lecture usually takes place each year at the time of Britain Yearly Meeting
  • The 2021 lecture will take place on Saturday 31 July.


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