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Author Archives: Sam Liivar

City Alumni Hero: Leigh Andrews – Uses speech and language therapy to help, motivate and uplift the vulnerable around her

COVID-19 Heroes.

Leigh AndrewsSchool of Health Sciences alumna Leigh Andrews (Speech and Language Therapy, 2019) works with people who are living on the streets or hostels and have hit hard times in their lives. As the pandemic started those were living on the streets were the most exposed and vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. “Some local councils have sourced hotel accommodation for people who are homeless so that they can safely isolate at this time. Many people welcomed the opportunity to be sheltered in a hotel, but it is not an easy time. All homelessness organisations have had to rethink how they work and there has been interruptions or closure of some services that are essential to people previously living on the street.” As the pandemic has caused disruptions in all sectors homeless organisations have opted to send the food packages, they would normally prepare, straight to the hotels.

Change Communication

Leigh got involved with the efforts of supporting the vulnerable through her company, “Westminster City Council recognised that some people hosted in hotels may have communication needs. They asked Change Communication to help guests understand the purpose of the hotel stay, the steps they could take to keep safe, and identify positive ways of spending the time while isolating.” She spent time getting to know people in the hotels, working with staff to support communication about important matters such as GP calls, and creating things like quizzes and puzzles that didn’t rely on literacy skills. “A City, University of London, student who had volunteered for our organisation joined us in paid capacity to support our work which was a great experience for us both!”

Having spent a great deal of time working in the hotels accommodating vulnerable people, Leigh found that their support helped some people to access and accept support from other health and care services while in the hotel. She was also able to talk about what speech and language therapy is with staff and raise awareness of how they could all help people with communicating needs.

As there is a growing need for effective communication support from homelessness and health organisations during the pandemic, Leigh has a lot of interest in the work she does which, together with getting to grips with Microsoft Teams and Zoom, has kept her busy helping the most vulnerable during the global pandemic.

 

On behalf of all of us in the City Community – thank you Leigh for all your work in alleviating the terrible effects caused by the pandemic isolation.

 

 

How passion can take you from serving tea to an executive producer

Alumni Stories.

JJames Hillames Hill (Psychology, 2011) started his educational career studying psychology as he was fascinated by people and their stories. Once he had graduated, after a year of travelling to expand his horizons, James used what he had learned during his time in University to pursue a career in television to release his creative potential. He had been interested in the world of filmmaking from a young age and the passion for it only grew as he continued through the university. James started off working on unpaid roles in the industry but through hard work and perseverance, he was eventually promoted to co-executive producer. James has directed and produced many of the shows that are enjoyed by audiences globally, The Masked Singer and America’s Got Talent to name a few. James has managed to reach extraordinary heights in his career and continues to work hard to deliver quality entertainment to people around the world.

Find out more about James below:

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I loved my time at City. I hated school and wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to go to university, however, I was passionate about psychology and was excited at the prospect of studying in London. During my three years at City, I enjoyed education for the first time in my life, started reading extracurricular psychology books suggested by professors who made me excited about learning. I loved being in that area of London and stayed there for years after graduating, which I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do if I hadn’t had the friends and familiarity of the area City University gave me. When I first started getting work-experience I stayed on friends’ couches from City and to this day we remain close.

What happened after you graduated?

After I graduated, I worked and travelled for a few years before starting a number of unpaid jobs in the TV industry. I slowly worked my way up from getting cups of tea and running errands to doing work on productions and eventually was able to start filming which was one of the main reasons I wanted to work in TV. I filmed, produced and directed on many different shows in the UK, Canada and US (America’s got talent, The Masked Singer, Gold Rush and Homestead rescue to name a few) before moving to the US, where I am currently a co-executive producer.

How did your interest for the television industry develop?

While I was growing up I had always messed around with my families old camcorder, making video’s with my friends and editing little movies by playing the camcorder through the TV and quickly pressing record and stop on a VHS player. This carried on and developed through uni and I was amazed and elated to discovered I was able to tell stories, either ones I had come up with, or through questions and a lens. On the rare occasions when I get frustrated at the industry or a particular job, I think what other career path might I have taken. However, I honestly can’t think of another field with the creativity and flexibility I have now that would have worked for me.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career?

The most rewarding experience has been getting to travel and experience so many different ways of life. I often find myself in the midst of a busy day and taken aback at the ridiculous scenery around me. Just a few months ago I was filming in a helicopter in the Ruby Mountains and had to take a moment to appreciate that this is my job.

What has been the most challenging experience?

The biggest challenge is the combination of how competitive an industry TV is and the freelance nature of it. Right from the beginning, unless you know someone who can get started at an entry-level position, you have to work for free for months, sometimes longer, just to break in (which was my experience). Most jobs don’t last more than a couple weeks so there is no job security and no reason for anyone to promote you or invest time in you unless it directly benefits them in the short time you are with them. This means you are constantly toeing the line of being eager and expressing a willingness to learn, but also careful of not stepping above your station and not doing the job you were hired for.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Make sure you are passionate about a life making TV and movies. If you’re not sure, ask yourself are you willing to work for free at times? Are you willing to work 15hr+ days? To spend weeks, sometimes months, in a hotel or camped in the middle of nowhere? If all of this sounds like a small price to pay for a career out of an office, one that can take you all over the world, where you’re able to be creative from the moment you wake up to when you call it a wrap each day and to see that creativity collected and packaged into a show or film, then the answer is yes.

If that’s the case then my advice is to never stop being hungry, never stop looking for work. TV is a relationship-based industry. If you are good at your job, it is likely the next job will be due to a referral from your employer who recommended you to a friend. If you get lucky you can bounce around the same shows, or even the same show, season after season. However, if you are the type of person excited about a career in TV, then you are also the type of person where this can get boring quickly. It can be detrimental to your career. Start out hungry for work; contacting as many companies as you can and expressing how eager you are to work, then keep this hunger no matter how many years in you are, or what title you have in the credits.

Thank you to James for sharing his story!

You can follow James’s activities and find out more from his website.

 

Striving for world peace – a story of a powerful young global reformer

Alumni Stories.

Gwendoly Myers GraduationGwendolyn Myers (International Politics and Human Rights, 2019) has been in the pursuit of global peace for over a decade. Her non-profit organisation Messengers of Peace Liberia has enabled her to spread her message of unity globally. Gwendolyn has spoken in front of the UN, advocating young people in peace and the importance of international co-work to establish universal peace.

Gwendolyn came to City in pursuit of understanding the political implications of peacebuilding – she found the course immensely useful, starting to implement the things she learned in her organisation well before graduating. In 2019 Gwendolyn was recognised as the TIME Magazine Top Eight Young Reformers Across the Globe Shaping the World, this amazing recognition has given her name as well as her organisation a boost to be noticed more on the global peace business landscape. City, University of London is proud to be able to further educate and play a role in the activities of young leaders and reformers from around the world who come to learn more about how they can make a difference in their local communities.

Read more about Gwendolyn and her inspiring journey to becoming one of the top global reformers of peace.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your educational background and what led you to studying at City. 

I come from a country in West-Africa, Liberia. My undergraduate degree was in biology and chemistry, the decision to transition from Medicine to Social Sciences I think was made to inspire to lead and to serve.

As a young person you, of course, follow the advice and guidance of your elders and your parents, but it is also very important to listen to the passion and calling inside you. I have said this before and think it is necessary to repeat that young people should respectfully decline, important emphasis on respect, recommendation and expectations you receive – you need to be able to say ‘hey, this is about my journey’. I take into consideration cultures and traditions where it’s common to expect things from young people. You can’t talk about peace and leave out the culture of peace.

I got an undergraduate degree in Liberia from The Mother Patern College of Health Sciences, Stella Maris University – BSc in Biology and Chemistry. After I received my undergraduate degree, I received a scholarship through the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which enabled me to go to the US. In the states I learned about Peacebuilding and Leadership in the Eastern Mennonites University from 2011 – 2014, the course was very intensive but it taught me a lot about the path where I was leading my career. After I had finished my studies there, I went to the Institute of Global Engagement in Washington DC to do another two years Postgraduate Fellowship with The Center for Women, Faith and Leadership Programme (CWFL) in Religion and Peace Building followed by a Capstone Project on “Youth Against Violent Extremism-Involving Young People in Peacebuilding, Violence Reduction and Conflict Resolution Programmes in Liberia: Implementation lessons for establishing an Institute of Peace Dialogue (IPD)”.

After studying in Washington I did a six-month intensive Dialogue and Mediation training to be certified as a young mediator with The Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), Swedish Agency for Peace, Security and Development – for this, I went to Sweden, Cambodia and Nepal so that I could get experience and see hands-on community mediation.

Finishing the mediation training I was able to apply for a Chevening Scholarship, a program that identifies potential leaders that are trained in the UK to develop their leadership skills which they can then utilise in their home countries. I was selected to join the programme and was able to come over to the UK. I chose joining City as the University because I believed I would be able to push and develop my abilities far beyond what they were before.

My focus has always been on youth involvement, peace and security. It is one thing to advocate all of that but another to actually understand the politics behind it, which is what City helped me a lot with.

 

Gwendolyn Myers on a Panel

With the Chevening Scholarship you could choose what to study. How come you chose Politics and Human Rights instead of Peace Studies and how has what you’ve learned affected your non-profit: Messengers of Peace Liberia Inc (MOP)?

Well, the scholarship gave me an opportunity to learn anything I wanted as they paid for all the expenses. Everyone around me thought I would do Peace Studies. This time around, however, I decided to do something a little different from “peace”. When discussing global peace, which I’m very passionate about, it has political implications – you can’t talk about sustainable peace from a global perspective and not understanding what political implications may be hindering it.

That’s the main reason I found my time in City very interesting. I started applying the things I learned before I even finished my studies. As part of strategic diplomacy and decision-making, I got the chance to meet the foreign minister in Liberia, giving me an opportunity to discuss foreign policy and global agenda to create peace.

The discussions on human rights issues, specifically regarding migration and open borders, is something that grew to become of great interest to me during my time in City. I really enjoyed how the seminars on this topic were built and I liked the model of teaching that was being used – I was able to engage a lot with my peers, as well as the academics.

I am definitely trying to advocate the mindset of thinking globally and acting locally which was also a big part of the seminars at City. Our actions must create tangible impact on a local level. It means nothing to talk about human rights if it doesn’t have an impact on an ordinary village boy or girl. I can see clearly from my non-profit that this mindset has an effect on the local communities. When I went back home from the UK, I immediately took what I had learned from the University and applied it to my region, the Mano River Union. I started from Sierra Leone – mobilising the young people there to start a conversation around social cohesion. That is something we feel we need to understand fully and implement entirely to then start growing onto a national and then global scale.

 

Can you tell us more about your non-profit organisation, what you’ve achieved so far and what you hope to go on to do?

We have been in operation for 11 years having created the organisation in 2008. We started off with only a handful of young people and now we have over 1,500.The young volunteers are called Young Volunteer Peace Messengers, together we do community engagement, we also train young people to do community mediation. Young people were seen during the presidential election in polling stations and institutions to do conflict resolutions. They were demonstrating and were part of vigilante groups to ensure that their communities are safe during the Ebola crisis.

I spend all of my time, when I am in Liberia, engaging with local communities or striving to make a difference. We teach our peace messengers how to mentor young people so that our message of peace gets carried on through them.

From 2008 to now we have been seen to play a very active role when it comes to peace and security. I grew up in post-war Liberian country. I know what it feels like to run from bullets and not feel safe. I’ve seen kids get given guns and be child soldiers to inflict destruction. While studying medicine I had a feeling that what is happening isn’t right, that I need to do something. That’s when I started my organisation. I knew, that if young people can be used for violence, they could also be used for peace.

Personally, I have been privileged enough to be recognised through a lot of different mediums. In 2019, I was recognised as the TIME Magazine Top Eight Young Reformers Across the Globe Shaping the World. In 2015, the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY)  asked me as a young person to deliver a speech on advocating for Security Council resolution: youth, peace and security – this was the first-ever official address to the United Nations Peace Building Commission in New York. After my speech was finished, I expected questions from member states but only got a “thank you”. They told me that my speech brought life to the UN.

My address to the UN was what began the ascent of my message onto the global scale.

One of the main massive accomplishments for my organisation, was that the first-ever National Peace Prize from the government of Liberia was awarded to our organisation Messengers of Peace in August of 2018. This happened just before I was about to come to the UK to study at City, University of London. Following the award from the President of Liberia, my thank you note to the people and president of Liberia, was that peace, has been rebranded with young people.

It’s easy to talk about these achievements now, but it’s not magic. I had times I cried. Being a young woman and an executive in a male-dominated society, is not an easy thing. People see the success outside and think it’s easy, but it’s not.

At some point in the future, I will transition over to Women, Peace and Security Agenda, as I won’t really be a young person anymore. In one of my lectures at City we discussed how difficult it is to let go of something you founded. Regardless, what I eventually want for my organisation is to mentor and develop young people to be leaders to then take over Messengers of Peace Liberia Inc. I have seen some of the kids I mentored already prove their leadership when I’ve been gone for longer periods of time. It gave me confidence that when I leave this foundation behind, my dream will be continued.

 

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your work?

Funding is a huge challenge. The work I do is not sexy. Violence is sexy peace is not. When you try to hype up something bad it’s more interesting to see but peace is not attractive, what we are trying to do is make peace look more interesting and attractive, make it sexy. I am investing my own money into it and don’t make any sort of salary from it – at times it can be quite tough.

My movement is led by a hashtag #byfaithsheleads – what is behind my strong resolve, is my faith. Whatever religion you come from you need to reconnect with yourself and understand your true calling. That is something I managed to achieve, Messengers of Peace is not something to just do, I’m here to serve and here to lead.

 

Gwendolyn Myers reading TIME magazine

Since you’ve finished studying and right up until this point of nearly graduating, what have you been up to and what is next for you?

I am currently in the planning stages of appearing in a documentary called “Frontline Women” to be filmed for a documentary revolved around ‘Top Seven Women Breaking Barriers for Peace Building in Africa’. In addition, I have recently been appointed as the youngest ever serving board member for Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) based in the US. My tenure for this will be three years.

During the same period I lost my father, City, University of London announced my selection as the overall winner of the President’s Awards, to become this year’s addition to City’s gallery of Extraordinary Women achieving the extraordinary since 1894. My addition to City, University of London gallery of Extraordinary Women in commemoration of International Women’s Day 2020 is an acclamation of what is to come, and exactly what my father desired as an educator.

Furthermore, I am presently serving as Co-Chair for the Liberia National Youth Taskforce Against COVID-19, under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Republic of Liberia.  The task force, which is a consortium of youth-led organizations, is leading community-based actions against COVID-19. Raising awareness and distributing sanitary materials.

For me this is about the service though, all these titles don’t get into my head. I am still recovering from a few of them, but just need to get used to it. I don’t have time to be emotional about it. It’s all for the glorification of God’s Kingdom.

 

Do you have any advice for others looking to make a difference, particularly in the world of peace? 

Leave no one behind! We must be inclusive, love each other. I don’t think we can achieve peace without meaningfully involving both the youth and women. Not just to have them in the room to show that we include people but actually have their voices be heard and allow them to make a difference.

Also, we must reach out to relate to the people around us. We must connect with ordinary people. We must care, and show interest.

I am very hopeful that one day World peace is possible. Whether it is in our time or if it’s for people after us, we are building the foundation for it. We are inspiring and urging people to continue the mission for peace after us.

You can follow Gwendolyn’s activities further on her Instagram page!

 

 

 

 

In Memory of Covid-19 victims of City, University of London

In Memory of Covid-19 Victims.

This page has been created to remember and recognise those members of the City, University of London community who have lost their lives to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are sorely missed and our thoughts and condolences are with their families at this difficult time.

If you would like to share any further names and stories with us or feel that there are people we have missed, please contact us on alumni@city.ac.uk.

 

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Onyenachi ObasiOnyenachi Obasi (Public Health, 2014)

Passed away on 6th May 2020

Onyenachi Obasi worked as a Health Visitor and Nurse in Newham, East London. She died on 6 May 2020 at Queen’s Hospital, Romford. Her family shared that Onyenachi “felt she had a duty to work and help during the pandemic” and that “she gave her life doing a job she loved.” In her tribute to Onyenachi, Professor Debra Salmon, Dean of the School of Health Sciences said, “Onyenachi used her expertise, knowledge and skill as a Health Visitor to provide professional public health services to individuals, families and communities to enhance health and reduce health inequalities. She is remembered as a wonderful and reliable member of the team, with a friendly and welcoming personality. Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with her family, friends and colleagues.”

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Michael AllieuMichael Allieu (Nursing, 2012)

Passed away on 18th April 2020

Michael Allieu died at Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, London, where he had worked as a staff nurse since 2007. Professor Debra Salmon, Dean of the School of Health Sciences, said: “As a former City nursing student, and in more recent years clinical colleague, we remember Michael as an incredibly kind, compassionate and dedicated individual with a passion for patient care. Michael was always extremely welcoming and supportive of our students on placement at Homerton Hospital, and of our nursing lecturers during their visits. He leaves an impression on many School of Health Sciences staff and students and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and condolences are with Michael’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time.”

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Mary Oniah

Mary Oniah (Nursing Studies (Palliative & End-of-Life Care, 2011)

Passed away on 4th May 2020

Mary Oniah passed away on 4 May 2020 at King George Hospital in Ilford, East London. She was a Regional Director for a care home provider. Mary Oniah was a trained nurse as well as a midwife at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka in Zambia. Professor Debra Salmon, Dean of the School of Health Sciences said: “Mary was a passionate, hardworking and caring student. Mary’s skills, deep empathy and dedication enabled her to support and improve the quality of life for those she cared for and their families, at the time they needed it most. It is a privilege to have been part of Mary’s professional journey and our heartfelt sympathies go out to her family, friends and colleagues at this sad and difficult time.” Sadly, Mary Oniah’s husband has also passed after contracting Covid-19. The couple leaves behind three children.

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Jennie Sablayan

Jennie Sablayan (Nursing and Midwifery, 2007)

Passed away on 5th May 2020

Jennie Sablayan died at West Middlesex Hospital on 5 May 2020. Jennie had been a haematology nurse at University College Hospital (UCLH) for nearly 20 years. UCLH Chief Executive Marcel Levi said: “Jennie was a much-loved specialist haematology nurse. An expert in her field, Jennie looked after patients with leukaemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers with much kindness and great dedication. UCLH staff and patients will remember Jennie for her hard-working and unassuming approach during her 18 years of invaluable service. We will miss her terribly, her humour, her compassion, her friendship and her humbleness in supporting her team and her patients.” She leaves behind her husband and two daughters, aged 10 and 14. Our thoughts are with Jennie’s family and friends at this difficult time.

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Margaret Njenga Margaret Njenga (Nursing, 2006 and Midwifery CPD, 2017/18)

Passed away in May 2020

Margaret was a well-respected, admired and cherished midwife. Heartfelt tributes from Margaret’s friends and colleagues honoured her as a hardworking, motivated and cheerful person. Professor Debra Salmon, Dean of the School of Health Sciences, remembers Margaret as an “excellent and dedicated Midwifery Manager at The Royal London Hospital. She successfully completed Newborn Infant Physical Examination Modules with us at City, University of London in 2017/18 and is remembered as a motivated, dynamic, forward-thinking, and hardworking student. Margaret was valued and much loved by all those who had the privilege of knowing her, and her kindness and positivity will be remembered by colleagues in the School of Health Sciences.” Our condolences and thoughts are with Margaret’s family, friends and clinical colleagues at this incredibly difficult time.

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Adekunle Editan

Adekunle Enitan (Health Informatics, 2006)

Passed away on 24th April 2020

Adekunle Enitan was an intensive care nurse who was highly regarded by his colleagues and peers. Aged 55, a husband and a father of two, he passed away after contracting Covid-19 whilst helping and caring for others at the frontline of the fight against this pandemic. Dr Peter Weller, former Head of Centre for Health Informatics at City, University of London remembers Ade as a “hard-working and attentive student with a dry sense of humour. He achieved his MSc the hard way – studying while still working shifts at a hospital. It’s with great sadness that I learned of Ade’s passing and his wife and children are in my thoughts at this difficult time.” On behalf of the University, we extend our deepest condolences to Adekunle’s family, his friends and colleagues.

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Dr Mamoona RanaDr Mamoona Rana (Health Informatics, 2002)

Passed away on 16th April 2020

Dr Mamoona Rana passed away aged 48. Dr Rana worked in the North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT) and had dedicated her life to caring for her patients. Prof Oliver Shanley OBE, Chief Executive at NELFT remembers her as “a very highly regarded, enormously-valued, professional and committed doctor who will be hugely missed by her colleagues.” Mamoona’s husband, Dr Azeem Qureshi, shared that “She always used to tell me about City University. Many times, she told me that she wanted to go to City University to visit her faculty in Health Informatics but her dream can no longer be materialised.” Dr Peter Weller, former Head of Centre for Health Informatics at City and Dr Rana’s former teacher said, “I recall Mamoona’s big smile as she sat at the front of the classroom during lectures. She was a hard-working, popular student and dedicated to being a doctor in order to care for people. She was taken from us far too soon. Our thoughts are with Mamoona’s family at this tragic time.”

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Fuad NahdiFuad Nahdi (International Journalism, 1984)

Passed away on 21st March 2020

Fuad Nahdi was a prominent British Muslim journalist and a key voice in Britain’s Muslim community. In its tribute to Fuad Nahdi, The Guardian shared, “His rare cultural, religious and political agility, combined with an irreverent sense of humour, meant his voice was heard from Downing Street to Dakar, from Manchester to Mecca.” The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan named Fuad Nahdi “one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims” and The Muslim Council of Britain remembers him as “one of the early pioneers of the British Muslim media, having founded first Muslimwise magazine and then Q-News. Fuad Nahdi inspired young British Muslims to reclaim their narrative and what it means to be both British and Muslim.” Our thoughts and sympathies are with his wife, Humera, and his two children.

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Robert WykesRobert Wykes (Civil Engineering, 1952)

Passed away on 16th April 2020

Robert Wykes passed away in hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. He was 87 years of age. Robert was an accomplished Civil Engineer. In 1995 New Civil Engineer wrote an article about him, describing him as the “Red Adair of Civil Engineering”. Robert married in 1968 and is survived by his wife Christina, five children and eleven grandchildren. Remembering his Dad, Robert’s son Joe Wykes said, “He was a keen rugby fan and after he finished his career as a Civil Engineer he worked with a number of charities focusing on providing shelter and food to the homeless.” Our thoughts and condolences are with Robert’s family and friends.

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Professor Peter Sinclair

Professor Peter Sinclair (Donor)

Passed away on 31st March 2020

Peter Sinclair was Professor of Economics at the University of Birmingham and previously taught Economics at Oxford for 24 years. He was married to the late economist Shelagh Heffernan, a former Professor of Banking and Finance at Cass Business School. He helped set up and support the Shelagh Heffernan Scholarship Programme launched in her memory. A student of Professor Sinclair at Oxford, Graham Dransfield, City’s Business Development Manager said, “Professor Sinclair was renowned for his amazing memory. He was a kind, gentle and brilliant man and will be greatly missed.” Interim Dean of Cass, Professor Paolo Volpin remarked: “Peter was an inspirational educator and, as a thinker, his intelligence burned brightly. His support for the Business School was invaluable. On behalf of all at Cass and the wider University, I would like to offer my condolences to his wife Jayne and his family.

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Celebration of Simon Emmerson’s 70th birthday year!

Alumni Stories.

Simon EmmersonSimon Emmerson (Music, 1983) has had a varied and fascinating career in City. First joining our community as a PhD student in 1974, then going from a part-time to full-time lecturer over the course of two years. Simon’s most notable contribution to City and the thousands of students within its walls is founding and directing City sound studios for thirty years. In his 70th birthday year, Simon is passionately working on further huge projects, enjoying having more time to perform and compose. Reflecting back on his life in music and working on several groundbreaking projects, Simon gives advice to young musicians who might want to follow in his footsteps as well as discussing his own experience, the good and the bad, in the sector.

Read more about Simon and his fascinating life in music below:

What has been your relationship with City?

In 1974 I joined City as a research student on a (two year) PhD ‘Electronic Music Studentship’ funded by the ‘Worshipful Company of Musicians’. I was supervised by Malcolm Troup who founded the Music Department in 1975. When the studentship ended I became a part-time (1976) then a full-time lecturer (1978). I gained my PhD in 1982, and with promotions in due course, I left as a Professor in 2004. I loved every minute from start to finish.

The Music Department expanded its numbers and degree courses steadily over its first twenty years. The studio took on postgraduates from about 1979. There were no special rules for PhDs by practice – we improvised our balance of creative folio and reflective writing that I believe survives to this day. In the early years, I was also asked to teach in the ‘adult education’ department, both practical workshops and more traditional aesthetics/history classes. I think I was the only member of staff to teach on all the courses ran by City’s Music Department.

 

City Studio opened by Peter Gabriel

Can you tell us about your experience of setting up the City Studios?

I was asked immediately I arrived to research different electroacoustic studio models with visits to already established studios throughout the UK from Glasgow to Southampton – Durham (Peter Manning) and York (Richard Orton) were immediately relevant. The resulting studio at City was designed for both research-composition and teaching. The foundation of the Music Department was in 1975 when undergraduate (Bachelors) music students arrived. That is the date I would give for the Electroacoustic Music Studio foundation. The first ‘proper’ studio – a dedicated space, professionally connected together, with relatively high quality mixing and monitoring – was in the basement of College Building. While it was not treated for sound isolation it was remote enough from the main thoroughfares. The first sound isolated studio was built to a good specification when (in 1980) the Department moved down St John Street to the corner building opposite The Peasant pub (then called the George and Dragon). The basement of ‘223-227 St John Street’ was converted into three separate rooms: a main control studio, an ‘empty’ recording area for instruments and sound sources and a third smaller postgraduate studio that became a ‘computer music studio’ housing the Fairlight CMI – one of the earliest samplers with a very sophisticated set of control languages. There the studio remained until the Department’s move back to College Building in about 1990. The ‘new’ Department was opened officially by the Duchess of Kent in early 1991 with a further opening ceremony for the studio by Peter Gabriel in May 1991 on the day of his getting an honorary degree from the University. So (in my time) there were effectively three builds or rebuilds connected by periods of evolution.

 

How has the technology changed in the studios over the years you’ve been at City and how has that impacted your own compositional practice?

The core of many studios in the 1970s was a bank of stereo tape recorders, a kind of ‘flexible multitrack’ area where (stereo) tracks could be slipped in time – providing the composer had fast and accurate choreographic dexterity to switch tapes on/off at exactly the right time! This was clearly a form of performance: rehearsed with intensity – then play! The Revox tape machines were modified to have a flat top and the electronic ‘line up’ controls open to view for regular use. I also took advice on a mixing console that was flexible and low noise – and was mobile so we could haul it into concert spaces; we also bought the largest Tannoy loudspeakers for (from the outset) a surround sound quadraphonic studio. We had a couple of EMS VCS3 synthesisers and a range of microphones. High-quality 8-track recording was added in the first major restructure of the studio in 1980.

Digital arrived slowly and haphazardly in the 1980s – some early digital gear was very expensive. Multitrack digital tape for example existed but was prohibitive – and analogue remained the standard till multitrack computer DAWs developed (slowly) in the 1990s. Mastering went digital when a stereo recording system known as PCMF1 came along – effectively CD standard. There was a special sound interface to a videotape format (either Betamax or professional U-matic tapes – hugely clunky things but a leap in quality). I need not give a detailed lecture on music tech history here – the advent of PCs (Apple Mac from the start – actually we had a pre-Mac ‘Apple II’ for one research project) and Midi meant the start of networking systems – this impacted composing and teaching approaches steadily.

Simon Emmerson working in City Studios

Purely electronic synthesis came in various forms in the 1980s – most notably the Yamaha DX/TX series of FM synthesis modules. These were often used alongside sampled sounds –

Akai samplers rapidly replaced the Fairlight in the late 1980s. For live electronics we kept it simple – the rack-mounted midi controlled Yamaha SPX and Alesis Quadraverb, for example, were much used, and often instruments were combined with studio created ‘tape’ parts. City studios never got involved in the more advanced computer music programming developments – though we did have a Composer Desktop Project investment in the 1990s. I would describe the studio philosophy as eclectic and pragmatic. My own (and many research students’) interest in live electronics and mixed work (with voices or instruments) meant that we had a stream of visitors – some of the best contemporary music performers in the UK and beyond, all of whom performed the new City work often at the annual Electroacoustic Music Festival.

The studio area increasingly became a ‘multiverse’ with a main studio – used extensively for the undergraduate sound recording course with visiting lecturers from the industry and the BBC, as well as for mixing and mastering the final productions of composition work – and a number of high-quality computer-based studios for postgraduate and research use. Then there was added a computer music lab for class teaching as the technology developed.

 

Tell us the most positive or rewarding experience you’ve had in your work.

I would not like to cite a single example! The remark of Arnold Schoenberg (in the Preface to his Theory of Harmony) – “This book I have learned from my pupils” – is true for me, too. Teaching is learning – without my students, I would not keep up nearly so well with important changes in approaches to music making, and it would be more difficult to develop new ideas and skills. Especially for music composition, teaching is about enabling individuals (and groups) to find their voice. And what their voice says is profoundly rooted in both space (place) and time (history). So over the years I have had great discussions with students on topics such as ‘what is ‘live’/’innovative’/’elitist’/’popular’?’ – indeed I have changed my mind about all these – or better to say my views have steadily evolved due to the encounters and discussions of teaching. Then there is the symbiotic relationship with the changing technology – sometimes helpful and liberating, sometimes frustrating, always challenging.

This question cannot pass without reference to the supportive and stimulating environment that we inhabited at City. Around me were gamelans from Java, Bali and Sunda, African drumming, north Indian music classes, English and European Folksong, Far Eastern Music – the world’s music in theory and practice. Then there was psychology of music and, with external support, music therapy. Computer and technology applications were embedded throughout. Traditional western art music performance was strong through the relationship with the Guildhall School – we had so many really excellent singers and instrumentalists, and of course other (non-electroacoustic) composers on the staff. It was also a reflective department – that is the ‘theory’ was strongly related to practice – in musicology, ethnomusicology, psychology.

 

What are you working on now in your 70th birthday year?

My new clarinet, bass clarinet and electronics piece Wind Clouds Showers for Heather Roche was premiered at my ‘birthday season opening’ concert at City in February. I am now at work on a new acousmatic (studio) piece Near and far at once for BEAST in Birmingham – alas as I write this their festival is postponed until the current virus crisis is over. That will be a ‘big’ piece for their largest multi-loudspeaker set-up. I have plans for further ahead but I never name projects until a performance date is set! I am enjoying having more time to compose and perform.

 

What do you think about the artistic landscape in the country, how has it changed over the years you’ve been involved with it?

Another very big question! If I keep to the electroacoustic area – I think we were some of the first composers and performers to create new spaces for presenting work. In the early years the relationship of music to technology was quite new to the public (whether concert-going or not). From around 1978 we presented public concerts at City with high quality multi-speaker presentation for live electronic and tape music. I include amplification as a live electronic process – we had vocal and instrumental groups that worked with these resources. This became an annual ‘Electroacoustic Music Festival’ that, throughout the 1980s, attracted a good audience and often brought the press critics in. That has clearly changed over the years as technology has permeated every corner of the field – and provoked some wonderfully creative and contrary reactions, DIY and circuit bending, turntablism and so on.

The greater access to music-making technology has changed many relationships. There is still a role for the studio as an institution. Home studios empower the individual but we still need to get together for sharing the result in a suitable high-quality environment. The need for a supportive if critical community, especially for composers studying their craft, is stronger than ever.

The recognition of the contribution of women in the past, as well as greater opportunities for the present and future, has been a vital development – but there is still a lot to be done. In the later 1990s there were the ‘Linz debates’ – sparked by some jury members of the Ars Electronica festival prize shifting focus away from what they heard as ‘academic’ electroacoustic music. The long-term effect of this debate has (I think) been positive. There has been a wider range of practices – from installation, improvisation, noise art, sound art – and many more – now swirling around our students and professional world on a much more equal footing. This is undoubtedly supported and encouraged by the internet-enabled world of connected centres – much flatter than the hierarchies of western music history. That said the process is ongoing and there remains a basic underlying tension between (some forms of experimental) ‘popular’ and ‘art’ music aesthetics.

 

What has been the biggest challenge during your time at City?

That is a difficult question. A creative challenge was the steady increase in student numbers. I welcomed this opportunity of opening out, but it brought many resource, accommodation and organisational challenges. Organisational includes educational: how to teach larger numbers to a standard you hold dear can be challenging, but by and large we had good allies in high places that helped. Our accommodation was at times uneven but did steadily improve in quality and scope. Soundproofing and technical specifications of spaces and equipment – not just music studios, but for orchestras and gamelans – was not considered so outrageous alongside the budgets for science and engineering. Looking back on it City Music’s team did very well to weather the storms as the new century approached – and the world of student fees was first suggested.

 

What advice would you give to young musicians that want to succeed in the music field?

Remaining true to the calling of music is a ‘true cliché’ – the word ‘succeed’ is perhaps ambiguous. Quality, success, happiness, satisfaction have a complex relationship. Most musicians I have known seem to believe they could not do anything else – sometimes hidden, sometimes very clear to see, there’s a passion for the subject. Sometimes alumni come up to me and say ‘sorry I’ve let you down, I’m now an accountant’ – I always reply that I am profoundly happy that they made that choice – providing they are too. And most also add how much they enjoyed the music course that they did – exactly so! In fact, there are no rules, no guidelines, no instruction manual for beginners. I have often said that music is the proper subject and object of all rational enquiry as well as being the most universal and important social activity for the human species – a society that excludes it from a school curriculum does so at its extreme peril.

 

Postscriptum: with the exception of Professor Malcolm Troup who celebrated his 90th birthday in February 2020 I opted to name no colleagues – while not strictly too many to name, I felt I didn’t want to exclude anyone. But – if you ever read this – you know you are all there in these answers – so many thanks to you all!

 

Simon Emmerson
Hove
March 2020

 

Simon’s albums are available on Spotify!

Dreams, Memories and Landscapes      

Spaces and Places     

Points and Pathways

 

Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights

Alumni Stories.

helen lewisHelen Lewis (Newspaper Journalism, 2005) was a part of an exceptionally talented year of graduates from City’s Journalism Department. Helen went on to follow her passion for Journalism immediately after graduating and was successful in securing a trainee position with Daily Mail. Although it was difficult to go through a series of placements around the country Helen’s talent was considerable and soon she found success as a Journalist.

Having written about feminism for nearly a decade, Helen has now addressed it in a more considered and substantial way in her first book Difficult Women: A history of Feminism in 11 Fights, now available for pre-order and releasing fully on Thursday 27th February. In the blog below you can get a glimpse of the difficulties and rewarding moments Helen experienced while writing the book as well as read of her starting years in City.

Can you tell me about your time at City?

It’s probably a bad reflection on my character that my most vivid memory of City is the horror of 9am shorthand classes, and therefore the inevitable rush hour interchange at London Bridge. It was a strong incentive to reach 100 words per minute as quickly as possible. My class included some great journalists, such as Alan White of Buzzfeed, Damon Wake of AFP, Sarah Weaver of the BBC and Devika Bhat, now at the Guardian. It’s weird to see their tweets and articles – Devika wrote an incredibly moving piece about miscarriage recently – and realise I’ve known them for more than a decade.

What happened after you graduated?

I got a place on the Daily Mail’s subbing trainee scheme, alongside another couple of people from the postgraduate course. That was reassuring as our training year involved a series of placements around the country, starting in the small village of Howden in Yorkshire. Going to City definitely helped me get that job – Linda Christmas, who ran the course at the time, was renowned as a talent-spotter, and so you came with a “pre-vetted” stamp – and to be prepared for a year living out of a suitcase.

Tell us about your most recent achievement?

I’ve just published my first book, Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, with Jonathan Cape. It’s the result of nearly a decade of writing about feminism, and more than a year’s research into the specific women I have written about. After returning repeatedly to the subject in columns and features, it felt good to address it in a more considered, substantial way. The thread through it is the idea of “difficulty” – both the struggle to make social change, and the qualities you need to achieve it. As I write in the book, “most revolutionaries are not . . . nice”. The Suffragettes conducted an arson campaign. The “strikers in saris” of the 1970s picketed factories and were accused of fomenting civil unrest. I finish with the story of three older women in Derry who bought abortion drugs off the internet and essentially dared the government to imprison them. You don’t get change by asking politely.

Through your research for the book, what has been the most rewarding experience?

Meeting and talking to some of the forgotten icons of the Second Wave of feminism, from Erin Pizzey – founder of the first women’s refuge in Britain – to Maureen Colquhoun, the first openly lesbian MP at Westminster. These were tough, complicated women and trying to present their stories in all their complexity was quite an undertaking.

What has been the most challenging experience?

Trying to marshall so much information into a 350-page book was always going to be tricky. I haven’t written anything like a comprehensive history of feminism, and my own biases inevitably show through: it is easier to write about women who left behind memoirs or gave evidence to public inquiries. It’s easier to study the letters of middle and upper-class Suffragettes than someone like Annie Kenney, who left school at 11 to work in a mill. I’ve ended up with a very personal, imperfect, quirky history of feminism, and I hope people embrace that.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Write as much as you can. It’s too easy to get stage fright when writing because every sentence is not coming out like Shakespeare. But the initial draft is just a starting point. Writing a book meant paying much more attention to structure than you would for a column or feature, so I would advise anyone contemplating a book to sketch out the idea thoroughly first. You can stop for digressions along the way, but you need to know what your end-point is, or it risks being a pointless ramble.

Thank you to Helen for sharing her story!

Signed copies of Difficult Women are available from Waterstones!

Chasing your opportunities and passion are the only guarantees for success

Alumni Stories.

zoe morris

Zoë Morris (Social Sciences – Psychology, 1998) carved out her career with precision and passion. During her time in City, Zoë maintained a focus on her future, balancing a job next to her studies to get the most out of her time. Understanding the importance of wellbeing, she made sure her schedule included enough activities to de-stress. After graduating, Zoë took up a graduate training programme with a brewery, which was hard work but taught her fantastic life and career skills, working in a male-dominated environment she learned how to make herself noticed and ensured her talents were recognised. Throughout the graduate programme, Zoë learned that her passion lied in working with people.

In 2000, armed with a new goal, a wealth of experience and fantastic skills, Zoë began working at Hays plc, a global recruitment agency, where she worked herself up to a directorial position. Then, harnessing her great potential, she joined Frank Recruitment Group in 2016 as Chief Operations Officer, later becoming President of the company.

Through her career, Zoë didn’t allow complications to deter her from succeeding and achieving her goal. She continued to push forward and remained determined to bring success to both herself and her team.

Find out more about Zoë and how her hard work allowed her to establish a successful career below:

Can you tell me about your time at City?
The most important lesson I learnt at City was the value of hard work and the importance of balance. Managing my studies with a 25-plus hour-a-week job taught me how to get the most out of life mixing studies, work, and relaxation, and also of course how to live independently, prioritise, and manage my finances.

Sometimes university can seem stressful so having the right balance in your life is important. For me, the joy of living in the heart of the capital city, combined with the sense of achievement from my studies, letting off steam at the gym alongside the support of the reliable network of my life-long friends that I made at City made it a memorable period of my life.

What happened after you graduated?
After graduating from City in 1998, I was hired for a two-year graduate training programme at the Belgian brewery company, Interbrew, later bought by the British multinational company Whitbread.

Most of my time was spent on the road meeting eight clients a day and left little time for mentoring and coaching. It was hard work and through this experience, I gained a confidence that enabled me to persevere in a predominantly male-dominated environment and successfully negotiate on behalf of the company.
The time alone on the road at Interbrew made me realise that what I really wanted from life was to work with people, and hence I left to pursue a career in recruitment. When I began working for Hays plc, I found working closely with people to find their dream job was so much more rewarding than working alone to sell a product.

Can you tell us more about how you established your career?
I began my career at Hays plc, starting out as a junior recruitment consultant and eventually worked my way up to the position of Director of the company’s flagship office in London. I was with Hays plc for the first 15 years of my career, and in 2016 I was given the opportunity to join Frank Recruitment Group as the Chief Operations Officer. Since then, I’ve become the company’s President. Today I oversee the organisation’s ongoing business and sales operations, which includes everything from exploring whitespace sales markets and territories to being actively involved in the direction of our employee training.

When I took my first few steps into the world of recruitment, I realised that a great deal of psychology applies not just to sales, but leadership in general. As a psychology graduate, it felt like a very natural fit for me from day one – I just fell in love with the industry. Finding and landing your dream job is a special achievement, so helping driven, talented people build and shape their careers and having a front-row seat to that experience is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.

What has been the most rewarding experience?
I think a lot of people believe that because recruitment is a very sales-driven industry, people who choose this line of work do it because they love the thrill of a deal. But for me, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a candidate land their dream job and knowing that myself and my team were a part of that process – it’s that element that makes my job that little bit more special to me.

What has been the biggest challenge with regards to your career?
Working in recruitment, you come across challenges daily, as the industry operates entirely on short-term targets that can change suddenly without much warning. One of the biggest challenges both my team and I have faced was navigating the 2008 global financial crisis while attempting simultaneously to break into the highly competitive tech market. We not only survived the financial crisis but we came out stronger on the other side, entering the European market in 2009.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

You need to get out there and forge your own opportunities instead of waiting for them to fall into your lap. You miss out on so much by waiting for the ‘right’ opportunity to come along – many of my achievements have come from creating my own opportunities. I would recommend carving out your own space in the world and mapping your own path to success, rather than following the paths of others.

I think that when you are just starting out, it is natural to want to get your bearings before committing to a long-term plan. Throughout your time at university and early on in your professional life, I would recommend focusing more on short-term goals and achievements rather than long-term planning. As you build up more experience, it will become easier for you to make long-term plans and set more ambitious career goals to keep you motivated.

Follow Zoë’s activities on her LinkedIn profile.

Breathing life into art and emotion with music and sound

Alumni Stories.

adele cuttingCity alumni Adele Cutting née Kellett (Music, 1995) started her student career in a music course with the dream of being in sound post-production. At the time City offered one of the most advanced music courses in the country allowing Adele an opportunity to work in a recording studio and do technical modules which interested her the most. In addition to technical skills, Adele’s dedication allowed her to learn skills that would become hugely successful in her later career. From City, Adele moved on to the National Film and Television School. The connections and recommendations she acquired there scored her a job at EA (Electronic Arts), one of the largest games companies in the world, to work on cutscenes for one of their games. Through perseverance and hard work, Adele managed to go from having a temporary role at EA to becoming a Senior Audio Director and working on the Harry Potter franchise.

In 2011 EA Brightlight closed its doors, as part of a company-wide restructure. For Adele, this end of a chapter opened up a new opportunity – she started her own company Soundcuts Ltd to provide across a wide range of industries. In nine years she has been able to introduce junior talent into her team and offer a platform for young sound specialists to put their talents to use in incredible projects for TV, games and installations which have won her company several awards.

Find out more about Adele and how her hard work allowed her to create a successful and innovative business below:

Can you tell me about your time in City?

When I started at City, University of London, I knew I wanted to be in sound post-production. The University landscape was quite different then and there wasn’t a wide variety of courses available specifically to study that area as there are today. City was the best course for me, primarily because it had a recording studio and the recording tutors were employees of the BBC. The course also had other technical modules that really interested me but was balanced with the more traditional music subjects. I also really wanted to be in London, so my choice of City, was perfect for me.

I really enjoyed my time at City, I loved being in London, enjoyed the music course and liked mixing with people from other courses, one of my best friends today is a girl I met from the nursing course. The performance aspect – something I was anxious about – helped me in my current job with presentations and speaking at events. I loved being in the orchestras and ensembles, but I didn’t want to be the ‘soloist’, I much preferred to blend into the background.

You’re very busy, when you’re on the Music course, as not only have your academic work, but you also have to be involved in lots of instrumental groups and performances. I was also fortunate through an academic to find great work experience which ultimately enabled me to start working in an industry I love.

What happened after you graduated?

After graduation I decided to apply for a position in the National Film and Television School, they required letters confirming my work experience. So the experience I gained at City was invaluable, plus lots of other work experience I applied for myself during my university holidays.

As part of my course at the NFTS I started a work placement at Reelsound, a post-pro company based in Pinewood, and before even finishing my course the company offered me a contract – It was a great opportunity, so I managed to negotiate working to finish the course and start my first professional job.

Whilst at Reelsound, Electronic Arts (EA), contacted the film school to ask if anyone was interested in working on their cutscenes for one of their games, and the head of audio contacted me. I thought it was an interesting proposition, as I didn’t – at that time – know much about computer games, and once I’d visited the studio I thought it was a creative opportunity. So I accepted a short contract, then returned to films before EA offered me a full-time role. This was a pivotal time for games development. The PlayStation 1 was new, and new audio technology was being created to playback audio assets in-game. So being able to help shape this technology was incredibly exciting.

Every time a new project started a huge leap forward in technology was made. I started at EA as a Junior Sound Designer and worked my way up the ranks – eventually becoming Senior Audio Director working on the Harry Potter franchise. I really enjoyed my time at EA, it was a fabulous audio team and we won 2 BAFTA’s during this time.

soundcuts logoHow did your business come about?

The EA Brightlight studio finally closed its doors in 2011, after several waves of redundancies. I had always considered opening my own company but I had previously had a great position with job security. I understood audio but had a big learning curve ahead on what goes into managing your own business. I decided that this was the perfect time to give it a go.

In 2011 my company Soundcuts Ltd became official. It started off as just me, but as I gained more and more work I started growing the team, many of which were my colleagues during my time at EA. Although, as we’ve grown we’ve introduced new junior talent to the team. The team consists of less than 20 people but we have worked on some amazing projects like voice direction for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (UK/Athens), the music for a Netflix show Pinky Malinky and sound design and music editing for a James Bond cinematic installation in the Alps, plus involvement in various other games such as Quantum Break, The Room Franchise, Planet Zoo and some fabulous Indie titles.

One of the huge bonuses of owning my own business is that I get to build a team of people who are super talented and respect each other and create the companies identity. We’re a close-knit team, yet we also get to experience so many different companies and see different office cultures. Working across a variety of different formats (TV/Games/Installations) keeps the work fresh and brings the challenge of learning new pipelines and technology as each project is different. Plus, currently, we work remotely which is good for a work-life balance and was one of the key factors when starting the company with two small children.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you?Souncuts team receiving an award

Everything has been so incredible to be honest, we’ve worked on some amazing projects and I have been able to meet fantastic people.

In 2017 we won the Develop Award for Audio Creative Outsourcing and have since won another two awards (Develop and a TIGA), which has given us some great validation for the work we are doing, all of which I’m incredibly proud of, it means so much when it’s a company you’ve started from scratch. Another was being named in the GIBiz ‘Top 100 Influential Women In Games’, which was a massive surprise.

Another brilliant experience was when Austin Wintory, an accomplished composer, had a ‘BAFTA – Conversations with Screen Composers’ event at the Royal Albert Hall and wished to do an interview with someone who understood interactive music. I was called and asked if I could host the interview. I was terrified and honoured at the same time. It was a completely new experience for me, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What has been the most challenging experience for you?

Being a working Mum can be challenging! I’m very lucky to have a super supportive husband! When I started Soundcuts both my parents were seriously ill in hospital, my youngest had just started nursery (and was NOT enjoying it), and my eldest had just started primary school…So this was a very emotional time for me.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Work Experience – Make sure to get plenty of work experience as early as possible, that’s one of the main ones!

Network – Networking is not about thrusting your business card or showreel upon someone you’ve never met before. Actually, try to get to know the person and their work and show genuine interest in them and learn something from them.

No Ego – Teamwork is very important to me. We quite often work to tight deadlines and stress levels can be high. So it’s important that you’re working with people who you like and are professional and personable, no egos allowed!

Lastly, a lot of CVs look exactly the same, you should be determined to be different, go the extra mile.

 

To view further work Adele’s company has done check out their Souncuts Portfolio.

You will be able to contact and follow Adele on Twitter!

Courage in the shadow of the Berlin Wall

Alumni Stories.

author of the book Volker HeinzCity’s alumni Volker Heinz (Law, 1988) joined the University in the late 80s, leaving Germany to pursue a law qualification in the UK, unperturbed by the fact that to pass a Law degree you must have an excellent understanding of the English language, Volker rose to the challenge and excelled. Volker has recalled his time in the UK with fond memories, having made life long friends with a few of his peers. After getting called to the bar, Volker remained in the UK for work for a few years before returning to Germany in light of its unification.

In 1965 Berlin, Volker met someone who helped people escape East-Berlin by digging tunnels under the Berlin Wall. Without hesitation, he offered his help and was eventually recruited to the operation. His autobiographical book The Price of Freedom details the events that led Volker help some sixty people escape East-Berlin and earned him the Federal Cross for Merit. Volker’s book is published in both German and English, the purchase list for the latter is available at the end of this blog.

Can you tell me a little about your education?

My father was an international engineer and was eager for me to follow in his footsteps. He had understood that English was the language of the future so, in 1962 when I was 18, he decided to send me to the UK to gain some practical experience from one of the largest engineering companies at the time, Babcock & Wilcox. He had managed to get this opportunity for me through his connections in the company.

I first went to Glasgow, Scotland where the company had one of its factories. It was my first trip to Great Britain and I loved it. I had never met so many different people from different corners of the world. It opened my eyes to a different world outside of what I had known.

After three months I moved on to Birmingham for a month and from there for another two months to London to finish gaining experience in the company’s headquarters.

After returning to Germany I studied mechanical engineering for a year but then decided that engineering was not something I was very keen on, so I decided to study Law instead. I worked as a Solicitor and Notary Public in Germany, having completed law school there. From my travels to England, however, I had become very interested in the English Legal System as it was so different from Germany’s.

In 1986 I decided to pursue a law qualification in the UK so I joined City University in autumn 1987. I had considered my English passable after the 6 months I had spent in the UK in my youth. Although having been warned that the language skills required for practising Law in Great Britain as a barrister are considerable, I chose to become a barrister since I had considerable litigation experience in Germany. I was called to the bar in November of 1989 after which I joined an American law firm in London for a few years.

What happened after you graduated?

I very much enjoyed my time working in London but decided, in view of Germany’s unification, to return to Germany in 1992, before eventually moving to Australia, following my wife, an Australian violinist.

I wasn’t entirely keen on the idea as I wasn’t sure what a German solicitor could do in Australia. Nevertheless, shortly after we moved to Germany I started to look into what type of work I’d be able to find in the island country. Originally I was told that with my German qualifications I’d have to go through the entire studying process so as to be admitted to practice law in Australia. All in all, it would’ve taken me 6 years before I could practice.

I did, however, discover that when you are a UK barrister or solicitor you will be able to start working immediately. While I was preparing my move to Australia, I discovered, to my great surprise, that Australia had recently removed the UK privilege. In order to avoid further examinations, I decided to stay in Berlin, while at the same time servicing English clients.

Tell me about your time in City.

I loved my time studying at the university. I had thought before that my language skills were enough to get by quite easily but as it happened it was very difficult. I was fine with conversational English but when it came to legal terms and professional talk it was certainly hard work.

I met a lot of people in City. There are four people who became close friends of mine and with whom I am still to this day in regular contact. For thirty years now we and our families have met regularly to catch up on each other’s lives. Especially our children very much enjoyed visiting each other, mainly in Berlin, London and the Oxfordshire countryside.

What gave you the motivation to have your story published on paper?

In 2011, 50 years after the Berlin Wall was built, there was a remembrance event to commemorate the time when Berlin was split into two. I was invited to the event by someone who knew of my involvement with helping to smuggle people from East Berlin to the West in the mid-1960s. At the event, I was asked to tell my story and I did. Without me being aware of it, the organiser of the event suggested to the office of the German Federal President that I receive an award for my actions. A few months after the remembrance event I received the Federal Cross of Merit for my courage and involvement in helping some 60 people get out of East Berlin.

My four children, being very proud of me, insisted that I write my story down. I hadn’t had much of a reason to speak of the events that occurred many decades ago, mainly because as long as Communist Russia controlled East Germany you simply couldn’t talk about these things without pulling unwanted attention to yourself.

After the wall fell, however, I at first didn’t have access to many of the East- and West German Government files that held info on my activities. It was only some 7 or 8 years ago that I was able to purchase a book, prepared by government-appointed historians, that showed many documents connected with my activities as an escape helper.

The Proce of Freedom book coverCan you give us a little summary of what your book and story entails?

The events in the book The Price of Freedom – Courage in the Shadow of the Berlin Wall took place when I was a law student in Berlin. I happened to meet someone who had dug tunnels under the wall from East Berlin to the West. At first he, understandably, denied any involvement, but I managed to squeeze the truth out of him. I was very impressed with the work and courage of these people so offered them my help. 6 months went by before I was contacted by a person who was also involved with the famous tunnel 57. He asked me to help with smuggling East Berlin citizens to the West. The time of tunnels had come to an end quickly: the Communists had developed seismographic technological devices that essentially heard us digging before we had finished the tunnel. Other methods were using large American limousines, falsifying passports or trying to break through barriers with lorries.

We realised that to move people unnoticed, we needed someone who could continuously move between the East and the West of Berlin without going through checks. We tried to contact allied soldiers but that didn’t work out. Finally, we found a diplomat from Syria who agreed to help us. With his assistance we managed to get some 60 people out from East Berlin – I, among others, and the diplomat were eventually caught and arrested.

I was extensively questioned, then sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Around a year later the West German government swapped me for two soviet spies and a whole lot of money – I was free again. The diplomat had managed to escape to West-Germany but was later sentenced to death in absentia by his home court in Damascus.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you while writing down your story?

A lot of people contacted me after I published the book in German and it became more widely known what happened to me in the 60s. People didn’t understand why I hadn’t talked bout this before. They saw me as a hero

But for me, this wasn’t about receiving praise and awards – I did it for humanitarian reasons, following my deeply held belief that people in serious need of help ought to be helped by those who can provide it. These people entrusted me with their lives, with their liberty.

Many of the letters I received I found very moving. The most special of them was from one of “my” refugees who had tried for fifty years to establish my identity.

Did you experience any significant difficulties when writing?

When discussions for a book started, I told the publisher that I am a very busy man and needed some support.

They understood that I couldn’t possibly just take 6 months away from my professional responsibilities to start writing the story, so they sent a lady who over a number of days recorded my answers to her questions. The recording was then transcribed into a raw text. Once I saw the transcript, I organised it into chapters and turned it into a proper narrative, assisted by one of the publisher’s editors. She re-checked and edited everything I had already written. She also gave me a lot of advice that turned my script into a captivating story.

For the English version, I paid a translator. The final touches were applied by my wife and myself.

Volker, what advice would you give to others who are looking to help like you did?

When it comes to escaping dreadful conditions, the world is not that different now – there are still people trying to find safety and generally a better life in Europe, away from their war-torn countries.

What is different, however, is that in my day, when illegal intra-German migration happened and people moved from East Berlin to the West, they immediately had rights, unlike now where people are considered asylum seekers and have to apply to be allowed to stay.

I have enormous respect for those who help refugees and have absolutely no understanding for those who make money out the blight of others, by charging the refugees a fortune for a promise – often broken – of guiding them into another country. People’s health and security should be everybody’s main priority.

We need, more than ever, people with truly humanitarian ideals, not profiteers of people trafficking.

Purchase the book below –

Amazon
Amberley

Purchase in German –
Amazon
Rowohlt (Also Ebook)

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