David Parkin on working with a supermodel, a Super Bowl winner and the UN

IT is quite an achievement.

In a matter of a few months a doughty group of campaigners here in Yorkshire have succeeded in organising a groundbreaking international conference where a senior figure from the United Nations will join farmers, financiers, leading politicians and the food poverty charity supported by footballer Marcus Rashford.

Also involved is  an organisation that has a hugely popular Netflix documentary featuring Woody Harrelson, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, multi-Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and singer-songwriter Jason Mraz.

One of the few benefits of lockdown is that video communications and online conferences can now be organised and attended wherever you are in the world.

Save Our Soil (SOS) is a three-day virtual conference and exhibition which takes place next week and has been organised by Yorkshire-based not-for-profit organisation Springfield Agri where speakers will include Satya S Tripathi, United Nations assistant secretary-general and head of New York office at UN Environment and Professor John Crawford of the University of Glasgow and World Economic Forum.

Manchester United and England striker Rashford’s campaigning work with FareShare has won international recognition, raised millions of pounds and changed Government policy and the charity will speak to the Save Our Soil conference about how ‘Food is Political’.

The conference aims to celebrate and accelerate the movement towards a better agricultural model and net zero carbon emissions.

I’ve been fortunate to work with the team from Springfield Agri over the last few weeks and, by their own admission, they are an odd group.

They are an environmentalist answer to the Calendar Girls.

Based in an old egg factory on a business park next to RAF Menwith Hill the communications and missile warning site known locally as “the golf balls”.

They are a group of dedicated individuals from business, academia, public service, science, technology and finance and banking.

Chaired by former government minister and long-serving former Yorkshire MP Gerry Sutcliffe, Springfield Agri has brought together many years of scientific and practical research to create a pioneering new approach to the issues and opportunities in the farming and eco systems.

With the United Nations having warned that under current agricultural methods there are only 60 harvests left in the soil there is growing momentum behind the international movement to bring massive change to sustainability and regeneration.

Regenerative agriculture is seen as the key to the future security of the food system and the secret to achieving net zero carbon emissions by changing farming practices to encourage soil regeneration which can capture more carbon, improve the quality of farmland and prevent flooding.

The Prince of Wales, who recently launched the ‘Terre Carta’ or Earth Charter, urging firms to back a more sustainable future and do more to protect the planet, has sent his good wishes to the conference.

Springfield Agri has a strategic partnership with Kiss the Ground, the non-profit campaign which promotes regenerative agriculture across the world and which has created the critically-acclaimed Netflix film Kiss The Ground narrated by and featuring Academy Award nominated Woody Harrelson.

Kiss the Ground co-founder Finian Makepeace is a keynote speaker at the Save Our Soil conference.

It will focus on environmental issues around regenerative farming, carbon capture and water management and will bring together farmers, landowners, food producers, retailers, governments, educators, investors, campaigners  and the wider public around a shared common good.

The SOS conference, which is being held from February 24 to 26, will include keynote speakers, presentations, panel events and breakout networking sessions as well as an online exhibition.

Other speakers include Farming Minister Victoria Prentis, Dr Stefanos Fotiou, environment and development director at the UN, Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, Oliver McEntyre, national agricultural strategy director at Barclays and Joanne Marlowe, founder and CEO of UFT Commercial Finance.

If you would like to know more about Springfield Agri and attend the conference for free go to www.springfieldagri.com


HAVE you heard the one about the accountant, the PR man and the football referee?

I’m not sure whether it is the start of a joke or not, but it does tell a story about the changing world we find ourselves in today.

The boss of KPMG found himself in the red after he told staff to “stop moaning” about cuts to their bonuses.

The head of corporate public relations at North Wales-based supermarket chain Iceland was out in the cold after he tweeted criticism of the Welsh language.

And a Football League referee was given the red card after he squared up to a player during a match.

Bill Michael was the UK chairman of accountancy giant KPMG boss who was forced to resign after employees complained following a Zoom meeting in which he told 1,500 consultants they are “in a very lucky sector”.

He also dismissed the notion of unconscious bias as ‘complete and utter c**p’ and said they should quit ‘playing the role of victim’ during the pandemic.

Michael told his colleagues during the meeting: “’Take as much influence of your own diary, of your own life, of whatever.

“Because I have spoken to a lot of partners and people at all sorts of levels where it almost feels that this is being done to them.

“Well, you can’t play the role of victim unless you’re sick. I hope you’re not sick and you’re not ill and if you’re not take control of your life. Don’t sit there and moan about it quite frankly.”

After a recording of the meeting emerged in the media, the 52-year-old Australian, whose own salary was trimmed by 14% to £1.7m, apologised and announced he would be leaving KPMG at the end of the month.

Meanwhile just a few days later up in Deeside, North Wales, a few hundred yards over the border from England, Iceland jettisoned its veteran director of corporate affairs after controversial comments he made about Wales and the Welsh language.

Keith Hann labelled the Welsh language “gibberish” and said that “inhabitants of the UK’s Celtic fringe loathe all visitors”.

In a blog post dating from 2014 Hann said that in Wales the supermarket signage was “incomprehensible” and children were educated in a “dead language that sounds uncannily like someone with bad catarrh clearing his throat”.

Iceland was forced to apologise after the story appeared in the press, said his comments did not “reflect” its views and later confirmed that Hann had been dismissed from his £102,000-a-year role with immediate effect.

From North Wales we travel east across the country to Ipswich where football referee Darren Drysdale turned down a penalty appeal from player Alan Judge in the 90th minute of a match on Tuesday evening.

After words were exchanged between the pair, the 49-year-old Lincolnshire official pushed his head towards Judge’s in a scene reminiscent of many you see between rival players but not usually a referee.

Drysdale has since apologised and the Football Association has charged him with improper conduct and removed him from officiating at this weekend’s game between Southend and Bolton.

I don’t know about you but I can’t help feeling a sneaking admiration for all three of these men.

Which I’m sure may immediately alert the “woke” brigade behind today’s so-called “cancel culture”.

That phrase refers to a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles because something they have said or done is deemed objectionable or offensive.

I don’t agree with everything Bill Michael or Keith Hann said but I do believe that they should be allowed to say it.

And Darren Drysdale was completely out of order in physically confronting a player, but even the footballer Alan Judge said there was no need for an apology.

He tweeted: “I wasn’t looking for one or looking for any action to be taken. In football as everybody knows stuff happens in the heat of the moment in a game. We all make mistakes and for me that is the end of this.”

Fair play to the lad.

But I can’t help thinking that if referees were allowed to partake in a bit of argy-bargy with players then it might curb some of the diving, cheating, spitting and biting that preening players sometimes indulge in.

After officiating an otherwise dull midweek nil-nil draw between Ipswich Town and Northampton Town, Drysdale might be considered fortunate not to have to drive to Roots Hall to referee a chilly and breezy match between Soundend and Bolton.

As for Bill Michael, I’m sure he doesn’t need much sympathy.

He will have tucked away enough from his time as a KPMG partner to be fairly comfortable – and there should be plenty of well paid consultancy work he can pick up without having to bother about moaning colleagues.

Keith Hann is an interesting character.

The former Iceland corporate affairs director has spent four decades in public relations and has a reputation for being forthright, funny and controversial.

I first came across Keith back in the late 1990s when I was London Editor of the Western Mail and he was a senior figure at City financial communications agency Hudson Sandler.

Then when I moved to the Yorkshire Post he was involved in the financial PR for a host of firms we covered including 600 Group, Alkane Energy, Croda International, Arla Foods, DFS, Northern Foods and Rensburg Sheppards.

He was the kind of PR man who gave journalists as good as he got, if not a bit more.

And he wouldn’t take any nonsense from his clients either.

Back in my Western Mail days I travelled up from London to Deeside to interview Malcolm Walker, the founder of Iceland.

Based on a giant industrial estate with a view of the North Wales mountains in the distance, I found Walker, a no-nonsense Yorkshire-born entrepreneur who did things his way.

You can see what he and Geordie Keith Hann had in common and why it is no surprise that Hann was recruited to join Iceland full-time.

Hann is known for his self-deprecating sense of humour and has been a regular writer of columns for newspapers and websites and his own blog.

He is witty, not politically correct and has a wealth of knowledge and experience.

He has written two books – The Bluffer’s Guide to Opera and The Bluffer’s Guide to Public Relations.

He wrote a blog on his website which included a spoof advert for an ageing bachelor needing a wife, girlfriend or carer as well as a trainee border terrier.

Looking back, Keith said: We…guarded against the risk that anyone might actually reply by requiring applicants to ask their counsellor, therapist, social worker, probation officer or breeder to prepare a short resumé of their career to date, including a full list of their convictions, and send it along with a recent photograph to yesIamthatdesperate@keithhann.com.”

Early results weren’t good, as he remembers: “In the first four years this duly attracted just one expression of interest, from a sweet old lady living in sheltered accommodation in Rothbury, who mistakenly believed herself to be a border terrier.”

However Malcolm Walker liked the blog and shared it on the Iceland website.

A colleague of a female accountant working in the Iceland head office emailed Keith and to cut a long story short he met and married her and became a father for the first time at the age of 55.

His website lists colleagues in his business as his wife, his two young sons and three border terriers.

Here is a man who has a sense of fun, takes the mickey out of himself and is not afraid to be controversial.

Even his profile Twitter account proclaims in capital letters: “ALL VIEWS MY OWN AND USUALLY JOKING”.

We are living in a world where there appears to be less debate and more division.

I’ve always thought that if I don’t agree with your views that doesn’t mean you can’t have them.

But the advent of this woke cancel culture means that if enough people don’t like your opinion then they don’t just have the ability to silence you but to also end your career.

Much of the pressure exerted is online and on many occasions it is amplified in the media.

I’m sure most of the people who indulge in it would proclaim that they are against bullying but what they are doing is online mob rule.

And it stinks.


I’VE always fancied being immortalised.

Leave it, dear.

And now it seems Leeds Bradford Airport has honoured me in a fitting way.

Financial adviser Peter Heckingbottom of Cardale Financial Planning dropped me a line to let me know.

“Imagine my surprise when I opened my emails to discover that LBIA have renamed a lounge in the honour of a famous local journalist!

“Or is it just the font I use on my iPhone for those of us struggling to see these days?!?!” said Peter.

I’d like to think that the airport has decided on the move to coincide with its recent success in getting planning permission to upgrade from its current 1960s Siberian aerodrome look to a modern stylish design fit for the 21st century.

Which I do think I personify.

Have a great weekend

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