From the archives: alumnus meets Churchill

Seventy-five years ago [Friday 8 May], Sir Winston Churchill announced the end of the Second World War, now remembered as Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Michael Wemms (BA 1963) remembers his encounter with Sir Winston Churchill, who not only led Britain to victory, but led Bristol as its longest standing Chancellor from 1929 – 1965.

It was, I think, 1956. I was still at school and met the local MP (Humphrey Atkins). A long story, but the result was a call to meet him at the House of Commons. When I arrived, there were five of us, all from different schools. None of us quite knew why we were there.

We were ushered to a smallish room and, completely by chance, I was the first through the door. Sitting alone in an armchair was Winston Churchill. He jumped up to welcome us like long lost friends, poured our tea and offered cakes.

It took a while for even the bravest of us to get our wits together, but he quickly charmed us into a very relaxed and free flowing chat. We asked lots of questions, especially about the War, and even ventured a few views about the state of the nation and our politicians. I remember that we all held strong political views.

Towards the end he said how much he had enjoyed the chat, but we hadn’t asked him the most important question – why had we gone to War and why had it all mattered so much? If only I could remember his actual words. He spoke a little about honour and decency and how we couldn’t stand by, but then he began to gaze out the window – for a moment I think he was in some other time and place.

He explained that we had fought for our identity, our heritage and our history. He went on to talk about beauty in all its forms and I particularly remember how he described the beauty of outdoor things created by man, but changed by time and nature, how we had to preserve beautiful things as well as the way we live our lives. He talked very sadly about there being no choice, but what a terrible price we had paid.

Suddenly, he turned directly to me and asked what I was studying. ‘Literature, Economics, Latin and History Sir,’ I managed to say. ‘Do History my boy,’ he replied, ‘at Bristol.’ So I did!

With thanks to alumnus Michael Wemms. This piece was originally published in 2015.

World Book Day 2020: Alumni Authors

As part of a special new feature celebrating amazing alumni authors, we explore three recently published books penned by talented Bristol graduates.

From bringing up teenagers in today’s challenging world, to children working in mines and a family saga that plays out on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, these authors present some compelling new narratives for your bookshelf.

How to Grow a Grown Up 2019
Dr Dominique Thompson (MBChB 1995) and Fabienne Vailes

Whether you are supporting a young person struggling with academic pressure, school or university life, or you are curious about what lies ahead for your child, How to Grow a Grown Up will help you to build your child’s confidence and resilience, so they can become a strong, happy and independent adult.

Co-authored by Dr Dominque Thompson (MBChN 1995) and educational expert Fabienne Vailes, How to Grow a Grown Up reveals the ways parents can help teenagers and young adults navigate contemporary pressures. The book gives invaluable insight into the challenges facing this generation of young people – from the all-pervasive nature of social media, to the pressure of constantly living their ‘best lives’. How to Grow a Grown Up offers a refreshing and practical new take on mental health, exploring pastoral care in universities and workplaces and giving advice on how to recognise signs of mental health distress.

Dominique is an award-winning GP, young people’s mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with over 20 years of clinical experience caring for students. She was most recently Director of Service at the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service and was named Bristol Healthcare Professional of the Year in 2017.

Fabienne Vailes is French Language Director at the University of Bristol and is an educational expert who coaches teachers and students of all levels. Fabienne has 20 years experience teaching.

How to Grow a Grown Up is published by Penguin.

Bearmouth 2019
Liz Hyder (BA 2000)

Newt works in Bearmouth, living a life of strict routine and submission as a child worker in the mines. Characterised by oppression and quiet acceptance, Newt’s life changes dramatically when the mysterious Devlin arrives and starts to ask questions.

Written phonetically, Bearmouth is an original exploration of the power of reading, language, creativity and gender amidst a dark and claustrophobic setting, centred on a protagonist who hasn’t seen the light of day since the age of four. As well as examining the issue of child exploitation, this book celebrates the power young people have when they dare to challenge the status quo and is a bold new story for all generations.

I am different see. I am not one thing or the uvver. They call me YouNuck for I am not a boy nor yet a wimmin an they hold no truck for gels down here.

Liz Hyder is a writer, creative workshop leader and freelance arts PR professional. She graduated from the University of Bristol with a BA in Drama in 2000 and worked in BBC publicity for six years. She is on the board of Wales Art Review and is currently Film Programme Coordinator at Hay Festival.

Bearmouth is published by Pushkin Press.

Beautiful Place 2019
Amanthi Harris (BSc 1992, MA 1994)

As a young girl, Padma is sent by her father to live with an elderly Austrian architect, Gerhardt, at Villa Hibiscus on an exquisite patch of Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Growing up in a spectacular tropical landscape, she learns to love her seaside home.

Failing her university exams, Padma decides to open a guesthouse at the villa, introducing her to all sorts of weird and wonderful visitors. Inspired by her new vocation and the friendship and love of her guests, Padma’s world turns upside down when her father, Sunny, arrives to reclaim his daughter.

A novel about leaving and losing home, family, oppression, ambition and the struggle for independence, Beautiful Place uses a global cast of characters to explore the intricate ways individuals and communities build a sense of belonging.

This novel began after a holiday to Sri Lanka some years ago, when I travelled along the south coast, staying in rural guesthouses by the sea. My long restful days were reminiscent of my childhood home. I was keen to explore ideas of community, family and belonging, and to reflect on how friendship can arise among strangers.

Amanthi Harris was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Colombo. A student of Chemistry and Law at the University of Bristol, Amanthi then studied Fine Art at Central St Martins and has since practised as an artist and author, living and working between the UK and Spain. She won the Gatehouse Press New Fictions award in 2016 with her novella Lantern Evening and has recently completed a book tour in India to celebrate the publishing of Beautiful Place.

Beautiful Place is published by Salt Publishing (UK) and Pan MacMillan India (India and Sri Lanka).

Be a part of our photo wall with #BristolAlumniForum

Our upcoming Alumni Forum on Friday 24 April 2020 is a fun conference-style event that celebrates all things Bristol and gets alumni involved in the conversation.

This year it’s taking place in Bristol… long way, huh?! If you can’t make it, we’re asking our international alumni to join this special project to help bring the Alumni Forum to life. We’ll display photos of our alumni from around the world on the day so that a part of you can be with us in person, and so that Bristol’s global reach and impact is proudly on show.

To take part
Ask a friend to take a photo of you, or send us a selfie, with something ‘Bristol’ – a colour, a piece of clothing or something that reminds you of your university city AND a word that best describes your Bristol experience.

Send your photo, along with your name and degree information, to or use #BristolAlumniForum to share your photo on Twitter.

Not sure what we mean? See the photo of our Engagement Officer and Bristol graduate, Ann O’Malley (BSc 2013) above. We look forward to seeing your smiling faces!

If you are able to join us, you can book your place at the Alumni Forum here.

For the latest news, stories and events, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

University of Bristol Alumni in Queen’s New Year’s honours 2020

Following the announcement of the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, we’re delighted to congratulate Bristol alumni, staff and friends who have been recognised for their outstanding achievements and service.


  • Sir Peter Kenneth Estlin (BSc 1982) Lately Lord Mayor of London. For services to International Business, Inclusion and Skills.


  • Dame Gillian Guy (LLB 1976, Hon LLD 2019) Chief Executive, Citizens’ Advice. For services to the Public and Voluntary Sectors.
  • Professor Dame Lynn Faith Gladden CBE FRS FREng (BSc 1982, Hon DSc 2013) Executive Chair, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. For services to Academic and Industrial Research in Chemical Engineering.
  • Professor Dame Sarah Jane Whatmore (DSc 2000) Professor of Environment and Public Policy, University of Oxford. For services to the Study of Environmental Policy.
  • Dame Julia Unwin CBE (Hon LLD 2017) For services to Civil Society.


  • Mary Jane Fiona (Polly) Neate (BA 1988) Chief Executive, Shelter. For services to Homelessness.
  • Professor Gillian Margaret Hague ( Cert Soc.Sc. 1984, PhD 2000)  Activist, Consultant and Researcher. For services to the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children, and in support of Survivors of Abuse.
  • Professor Peter David John (PhD 2000) Vice Chancellor, University of West London. For services to Higher Education.


  • John Clive Cecil May DL (BA 1985) For services to Young People.
  • Geoffrey Michael Boyd Pick (BA 1977) Director, London Metropolitan Archives. For services to the Management of Records and Archives in London.
  • Professor Timothy Rutland Walsh (PhD 1995) For services to Microbiology and International Development.
  • Paul Ramsbottom (friend of the University of Bristol) Chief Executive, Wolfson Foundation and Wolfson Family Charitable Trust.


  • Professor Kalwant Bhopal (PhD 1996) Race Equality Champion. For services to Equality in Education.
  • Caroline Gillian Mawhood (BSc 1975) Non-Executive Director, Debt Management Office. For services to the Economy.
  • Kenneth Walter Stradling (Hon MA 1998) For services to the Arts in Bristol.
  • Jane Marian Goldingham (BA 1978) Lately Head of Operational Development, and Principal Social Worker, East Sussex County Council. For services to the Social Work Profession.
  • Dominic James Boddington (CertEd 1976) Founder, Respect4us and lately Vice Principal, Open Academy. For services to Alternative Education in Norfolk.
  • Cassandra Stravrou (LLB 2005) Chief Executive Officer, Propercorn. For services to the Food Industry and Exports.
  • Dr Jason Weng Leong Wong (Dip 2011) General Dental Practitioner, The Maltings Dental Practice, Grantham, Lincolnshire. For services to Dentistry and Oral Health (Leicestershire).
  • Dr Adeela Ahmed Shafi (BSc 1994, MEd 2013, PhD 2018) Reader of Education, University of Gloucestershire. For services to Social Justice in Bristol.


  • Geoffrey William Wickham (BSc 1957, CertEd 1969) For services to Music in Bristol.
  • Helen Countess of Rosslyn (BA 1981) Trustee and Chair of Management Committee, Rosslyn Chapel Trust. For services to Charity.


If you’re a Bristol graduate and we haven’t listed you here, it may be that we don’t have your details. We’d love to hear from you, so please do get in touch with us at to share your achievements.

Meet our #TeamUoB London Marathon Runners

Five Bristol alumni, staff and students are going the extra mile and running the 2020 London Marathon in support of Healthy Minds, a physical activity programme at the University which utilises the benefits of exercise to support students affected by mental ill health .

Congratulations and thank you to our 2020 London Marathon team! We wish them the very best of luck with their training and look forward to cheering them along on the 26 April.

See how #TeamUoB are getting on with their fundraising here

Meet the team

Dr Bex Lyons, Staff
‘I’m Bex,  a Teaching Associate in English and Personal Development in the Department of English , where I was named a Best of Bristol Lecturer 2019.
I completed my PhD at Bristol in 2017, which investigated women readers of Arthurian literature in fifteenth – and sixteenth – century England. In 2015 I ran the York Marathon, and I am so excited to be taking on my next marathon in my hometown – the London Marathon route goes through the neighbourhood that I grew up in! This challenge is also particularly meaningful for me because my role at the University. It is deeply involved with student development, and I am enthusiastic to support Healthy Minds and their important work at Bristol.



Robert Reay-Jones, Alumni

‘I’m Rob, I’m 39 and I work as a translator. After growing up in southwest France, where I became a keen middle-distance runner among the vineyards of Bordeaux, I returned to the UK after around 15 years ago for work and studies before completing an MA in Translation at Bristol in 2013. I’m now married with three children and live in Wiltshire. I recently set myself a challenge of training seriously again with a view to beating my teenage PBs over the shorter distances and one day completing the Marathon du Médoc (to celebrate or drown my sorrows!) Along the way, the (wonderful and totally unexpected) opportunity to run the London Marathon for such a great cause was too great to miss. Having had personal experience of the impact of mental illness, I cannot wait to run in support of Healthy Minds and in memory of my father, who was my hero.’



Lucy Delamere, Student
‘I am a final year Law Student at  Bristol, and a student Activator for Sport, Exercise and Health in which I get involved in promoting B:Active programmes and encourage participants to use physical exercise for all the physical and particularly mental health benefits that exercise brings! Being a final year student with graduation so imminent, I turn to exercise and in particular running for those times in which there is immense pressure, as physical activity has been proven to boost the mood and reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. I am excited to be taking my love for exercise to the next level by running the London Marathon for Healthy Minds. I look forward to the challenge of training for such an event, and also raising awareness and money for Healthy Minds’ incredible work in using exercise to improve well-being and particularity mental health.’


Ken Khaw, Alumni

‘I’m Ken, based in Singapore and a husband to a wonderful wife and a father of three young girls. I graduated from the University of Bristol with a LLB (Hons) in 1992 and am a career banker by profession. I was never very active in sports, but have tried to be since entering my 40s. I have done three half marathons in Singapore, however my running has been inconsistent.  By chance I came across the Bristol alumni email to run for Healthy Minds at the London Marathon. I strongly believe in the empowerment of education. By teaching students about how building exercise into their daily routine can grow their confidence, identity and community, it encourages them to make a positive, long-lasting lifestyle.
I am honoured to have been chosen to run for this worthy cause and by the Grace of God I trust I will complete this challenge to support Healthy Minds.’

Bethany Marris, Student

‘I’m Bethany, a final year history student originally from East Yorkshire. Alongside being an avid runner, I fill my free time with listening to, reading about and reviewing music! My motivation to run the marathon for Healthy Minds came from the way in which I’ve seen first-hand the monumental impact that sport and exercise can have on your mental health. Moreover, as a student, It’s easy to solely concentrate on uni, therefore having a challenge like running the London Marathon is an amazing opportunity towards a non-academic, physical challenge.’

Bristol alumnae rowers set their sights on world-record win

(L-R) Hannah, Georgie and Flo will attempt the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in December 2020

A trio of rowers are attempting to break not one but two world records next year, by taking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – a 3,000-mile race which will see them row from the Canary Islands to Antigua.

Made up of Georgie, Flo and Hannah, team Atlantic Antics are hoping to make history by becoming the fastest and youngest female rowers to ever complete the race.

Two-thirds of the trio, Georgie and Flo, began their rowing journey at the University of Bristol. Flo attended a rowing taster session in Fresher’s week and fell in love with the sport immediately, going on to join the University of Bristol Boat Club. Hannah was also a member of UBBC and even went on to captain the women’s team. After university they joined up with Georgie, a former Lincoln University rower, and the Atlantic Antics team was born.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge takes place annually and is considered to be one of the toughest rowing events in the world. Individuals and teams battle 20ft waves and treacherous weather conditions, rowing for two hours and then sleeping for two hours in 24-hour cycles, to reach the ultimate goal: crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The rowers are aiming to smash the current record of 60 days by a full 10 days and will be following a gruelling training plan throughout the year in preparation.

“6am training sessions and gruelling training camps put us through our paces and pushed us beyond our limits. Sport has given us the confidence to always try.”
– Atlantic Antics

The team hope that that by taking part in the race they will inspire other women. They will be raising funds for Women in Sport, a charity which aims to give women and girls in the UK the chance to experience the wide-ranging benefits that sport has to offer.

Throughout their epic challenge, the trio will also be supporting Rowing Together for Healthy Minds – a charity which is dedicated to changing attitudes around mental health in the rowing community.

To wish the Atlantic Antics good luck or to follow their training journey head to:

Fantastic painting donated to Theatre Collection

An incredible piece by acclaimed artist, Walter Sickert, is now on display at the world-famous Theatre Collection in Park Row. It will become one of the first works of art to be shown at the new University Library when it opens in 2023 -24.

The stunning oil painting is one of a series Sickert created depicting Peggy Ashcroft, who is considered to be one of the 20th century’s greatest actresses.

Sickert himself worked as an actor during the late 1870’s and early 1880’s and his love of the theatre saw him go on to paint several theatrical stars during his lifetime. Here, he captures Ashcroft playing the mischievous Kate Hardcastle in Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy, She Stoops to Conquer – a play which ran during the 1932-33 season at the London Old Vic theatre.

In order to capture the leading lady’s likeness, Sickert would attend performances of the play with a photographer in tow, documenting Ashcroft’s poses and characteristics which he later recreated through his artwork. Jo Elsworth, Director of the Theatre Collection said:

We are delighted to receive this gift of such a significant artwork; it is particularly relevant to hold it alongside the archives Old Vic, where the performance depicted took place and where Dame Peggy Ashcroft spent her formative years.

The painting is from the collection of Lord and Lady Attenborough and was acquired by the University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection via the Arts Council England Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. This scheme places pre-eminent culture in museums, archives and galleries, opening them up to the public and allowing them to be enjoyed by art enthusiasts up and down the country.

The University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection is free to visit and can be found at 21 Park Row, Bristol. In 2009 it was awarded full Accredited Museum status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. For more information head to:

Bristol is powered by people like you

Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Hugh Brady and Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Stephen O’Connor, reflect on your remarkable generosity over the last year

As University of Bristol alumni, you are the power behind some of the most extraordinary people at Bristol and their achievements. Without the invaluable expertise, advice and involvement of our alumni, the incredible personal stories that you can read about in our Impact Report 2019 would not be possible. On their behalf, and from me personally, thank you.

During a time of great change, our students, academics, researchers and alumni are making the world fairer, safer and more prosperous. In this report you can read how Bristol’s people are designing new technologies to support the health of older people, overcoming challenges to build a future through education and creating stronger international communities fit for today’s connected world.

It is people like them, with you, that together make our University what it is today and will be tomorrow. Thanks to your support, people here at Bristol can reach further towards their potential, whether that is pursuing answers to some of the world’s grand challenges or taking up educational opportunities that previously seemed out of reach.

I am determined that Bristol continues to lead through ground-breaking research and a first-class education that reflects and changes the world around us. We aspire to be more connected, more relevant and more impactful than ever before. As we reimagine and redevelop the University for the 21st century, the support of the worldwide Bristol community of alumni, supporters and friends has rarely been so important.

It has been a pleasure to have met many of you over the course of the last year, whether here in Bristol or in London, Beijing, San Francisco or the many other places that Bristol’s people call home. We have a truly global perspective, an outlook that is enriched by every member of the Bristol community.

Thank you once again for all you have done, on behalf of the people featured in the report, from me personally and from everyone at the University of Bristol, your University. I hope you enjoy reading about the difference you have helped create.

Professor Hugh Brady
Vice-Chancellor and President

Your generous philanthropic support, gifts of time through volunteering and invaluable advice are helping to power our researchers, our academy, our students and the enduring impact we have in improving the lives of local communities in the city, nationally and worldwide.

I am very fortunate to meet many of those whose lives and work have been transformed by the amazing support of our alumni and friends, a selection of whom are featured in this report. What strikes me most is the talent, enthusiasm and sheer dedication of our research investigators and students alike, whether they are seeking new knowledge to ultimately tackle the crisis of antimicrobial resistance or studying at Bristol thanks to securing a scholarship. They remind me that Bristol’s people, with your help, are building for the future.

Through an innovative use of new technology, Dr Róisín McNaney has helped people with Parkinson’s Disease to combat feelings of social isolation. Simi Modupe has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and is now studying Economics at Bristol. And Grace Kendrick’s approach to nurturing good mental health and wellbeing saw her graduate with an MA in Law and ready to start her career.

It is vital that we continue to build a community which fosters diversity, cultivates talent and enables more people to thrive and flourish. Excellence is central to research, teaching and the student experience at Bristol.

The University is investing significantly, along with your philanthropic support, in further growing our capability and enhancing our standing in an increasingly competitive worldwide Higher Education sector. Across the University, we are investing in new buildings and facilities, including the new University Library and developing our curriculum and programmes to ensure the academy and our students can realise their shared ambitions and full potential.

I hope that you will feel inspired by the personal stories in our latest Impact Report, and renewed in your confidence to continue your support and build together for the future.

Thank you once again for your tremendous support this year; we cannot do it without you.

Stephen O’Connor
Director of Development and Alumni Relations

Climate emergency – what now? with Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough, Broadcaster and Naturalist, Honorary Alumnus and winner of the 2019 Bristol Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement discusses the scale of our climate emergency.

The fact is that the world is under greater pressure than it has ever been, and it’s not just in my lifetime but since human beings existed. This is the first time ever in the history of homo sapiens that we have the power, wittingly or unwittingly, to actually transform the world. Or to destroy it. Or to protect it. It’s very very important and our children and our grandchildren will either be thanking us or blaming us. 

The problem is huge. I mean this is a problem that has never been faced by human beings before, ever. Because the world is one. And everybody – everybody in the world – has now got to get together and sort things out. The history of humanity is of disaster, is of arguing and quarrelling, of wars, of going and conquering other people and clinging on to the land. That’s got to come to an end. And we’ve all got to do something, because we’ve got a common disaster. If I had to give one piece of advice to people today it would be to get engaged. Come together and do something about it.

Bristol should be proud of the contribution it’s making towards getting the message out there about what’s happening to our planet, about the situation our natural world is facing as a consequence of what we’re doing to it.

I think there is time to do something about what’s occurring, but that can only happen if people understand that the world is in danger. If we have an obligation to our children, our grandchildren and further generations then it is time we took that seriously. If the films that the BBC Natural History Unit have made – with the help of the University of Bristol – are getting the message out there, then we can be proud of that.

Climate emergency – what now? with Jack Farmer

Jack Farmer, University of Bristol Alumnus (BSc 2015), Co-Founder and Operations Lead at LettUs Grow and expert in environment agriculture tells us about how his company is tackling some of the greatest global challenges.

I co-founded LettUs Grow in 2015 with fellow alumni Ben Crowther and Charlie Guy, aiming to help tackle some of the greatest challenges facing the world today: carbon emissions, environmental pollution, and food security.

With the current population growth, we will need to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050.1 To do so it’s estimated that we must increase food production by 70 per cent, with the added challenges of having 25 per cent less farmland, degraded soils and an ever more unstable climate. Our existing methods of agriculture are not suitable for this new paradigm. This is before we even consider the food wasted in supply chains each year – 90,000 tonnes in the UK alone. With LettUs Grow we believe that by empowering anyone to grow food within controlled environments, we can tackle some of these issues head-on. We take a collaborative approach and have built a team comprising plant scientists, engineers, developers, creatives, and business experts.

We believe we are part of the solution and are working with other local businesses to address the issues that face us all as part of this climate emergency.

We design modular, ‘aeroponic’ products that improve the efficiency, sustainability and ROI of both indoor and greenhouse agriculture. This involves generating a mist around plant roots, which grow much faster and healthier as a result. Facility costs are driven down and farmers can achieve an average of 70 per cent increase in growth across a range of crops, when compared to conventional hydroponic technology. Our systems use very little water and as we operate in controlled environments there is no need for the use of pesticides. Crucially, this soil-free growing takes the pressure of growing delicate crops off the land and improves global access to nutrition – even in areas with very high or low temperatures. At LettUs Grow we’ve used our combined plant science and engineering expertise to mature this aeroponics technology and make it much easier to use.

Over the next few years, we’re excited to explore new crop varieties and expand our global impact. We want to enable new business models for local growers and play a key part in creating a non-wasteful food supply chain by supporting alternative, resilient food production. To drive consumer behaviour change we need a multi-pronged approach and LettUs Grow is proud to be part of that change.

1. Springman et al (2018). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562, 519–525.