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.

Exploring the civic university

Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus
How the University’s new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will be working with local communities in the surrounding area.

The University of Bristol is one of six civic universities created in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. As our Chancellor Sir Paul Nurse noted in his installation ceremony, ‘civic universities draw their origins and their strengths from being embedded in their local communities’. As work continues apace on our new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus near Temple Meads train station, we look at how the University is already engaging with local communities in Bristol and how plans are afoot for this integration to be a key part of the new campus. The campus is being built close to complex communities in east and south Bristol, some of which experience multiple deprivation. It will be near to Barton Hill, an area where 77 languages are spoken and home to the Barton Hill Settlement, a community centre originally established by the University back in 1911.

In late 2019, the Barton Hill Settlement will be building a micro-settlement, made out of shipping containers, which will include office space and small residential units. The University will be renting a space to create a ‘micro-campus’, a place for teaching, research and outreach and where we can build new projects in collaboration with other partners based at the Settlement and in the surrounding areas. It will be an opportunity to pilot some of our activities for the new campus.

Pilot projects in the area, funded by a newly established Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus Public Engagement Fund, kicked off in summer 2019. These include a partnership with the Nilaari Agency working on mental health services in ethnic minority communities, a digital engineering project for schoolchildren and a business planning workshop delivered by SETsquared Bristol.

‘Partnering with the University of Bristol has meant we’ve been able to use our community engagement experience and local expertise to complement the discipline of academic research. This would usually be beyond our means as a small third sector street agency.’ – Nilaari Agency

Bristol’s new campus will be an inclusive place of research, education and collaboration, bringing together expertise and experience from a wide range of sectors and parts of society. It will offer a model for similar city-university collaborations worldwide. The public realm of the new campus will have welcoming and inclusive civic spaces with programmes to serve the local community, including a programme of activities in the evenings and weekends called Twilight Temple Quarter.

Not only are we designing digital and physical infrastructure across the campus with inclusivity in mind, we are developing an innovative and flexible undergraduate programme specifically aimed at local students without conventional qualifications and new initiatives to recruit a broader range of staff to the University. The spaces on the campus will include the Bristol Rooms, a ground floor space offering hotdesking to civic partners, social enterprises and community groups to work with us on research questions, student internships and big civic challenges.

‘So much information was covered so comprehensively but clearly. I felt like this session was really helpful and a very efficient use of my time.’ – Participant in SETsquared Bristol’s Jump Start your Business Plan

We are creating a socially responsible and sustainable campus that ensures a wide range of individuals and communities have opportunities to participate in, and shape, research, education and wider university life.

The Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus Public Engagement Fund has been generously kickstarted by The Lennox Hannay Charitable Trust. Any alumni and friends who are interested in supporting Civic Engagement projects are welcome to get in touch. These are projects where even small donations can have a real and identifiable impact. To get involved and for the latest news visit:
E: T: +44 (0) 117 394 1046


It’s national Volunteers’ Week – thank you to our Bristol Volunteers

A message from Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor

Volunteers’ Week is a national celebration of the fantastic contribution volunteers make across the UK. This week we have been celebrating our Bristol Volunteers, who have given their time and expertise this last academic year, as mentors, advisors, speakers, organisers, and much more. Watch the video to hear your personal thanks from Professor Hugh Brady, President and Vice-Chancellor.

Bristol Volunteers support Bristol and uphold its values all over the world, by enhancing students’ experience and employability, helping students make decisions about study and careers and leading our networks. We are very grateful for the outstanding contribution of all our volunteers: your advice, experience and support have an enormous impact on our students, the alumni community and the University. 

Below, read about three individual volunteer experiences. If you are keen on becoming part of the Bristol Volunteer community, find out more about opportunities to get involved on our dedicated volunteering opportunities page.

Why I am a Bristol Volunteer?

“I volunteer as a mentor for undergraduates interested in working in the voluntary sector. I have worked with several intelligent, enthusiastic and passionate young people to date, some of whom have gone on to become interns that have delivered some outstanding pieces of work for the British Red Cross. A small amount of your time can provide some valuable insights for those just getting started – a really rewarding opportunity.”
Helen Sipthorp (BSc 2008)


“I thought volunteering was about giving back, spending time and listening and helping… But it’s so much more. I think I learn more than the students. I think I’m back in my learning zone. I’m being tested, questioned, put under pressure. The students I meet conduct a panel interview on me. They come to my office. They ask penetrating questions. They don’t accept waffle and excuses. They’re good. They’re strong. This is not for the faint- hearted. The future is bright. And it’s coming from Bristol.”
Paul Moran (MSc 2012) 


“I have been organising or coordinating an annual reunion of alumni living in Eastern Canada for about 15 years. I enjoy doing this because it has brought me a wonderful group of friends, who have become close because of our shared beginnings. Having those formative years of our lives in common at Bristol gives us endless conversation topics, and several of the group have been back to Bristol and share their visits with us. We are all very grateful for the start in life that Bristol gave us.”
Heather Proctor (BSc 1964)


Are you volunteering for Bristol? There is still time to enter our Thank You Draw. Tell us in 50 – 70 words, “Why I am a Bristol Volunteer”, attach a photo of your time here, and we will enter you for your chance to win an exclusive Bristol Bundle. Submit your entries to 

Arts Careers Week a soaring success thanks to our alumni

Humanities, Modern Languages and School of Arts students were wowed with the passion, knowledge and expertise of the alumni volunteers who came back to Bristol to talk all things careers during this year’s ‘Arts Careers Week’. Run by the Faculty of Arts and Careers Service, this year saw a week of talks and panel events geared up to get students thinking about the kinds of jobs they could go into upon graduating.

For the first time, this December we also hosted a careers networking evening which proved to be a real hit with our students. Feedback received was hugely positive from the event, which allowed students to talk to alumni from a whole host of different areas from TV to Law about how they found their career calling over drinks and nibbles. 

Now in its third year, this year we saw our highest ever attendance figures, which is a real testament to the quality of the talks that our alumni give. Panel sessions were held on careers in law, banking and finance, charity and the not for profit sector, working in higher education, media and journalism, publishing, advertising, event management, languages careers and working in the film and TV industry, to name but a few!

Mu Ali with English student Josh Peleg

Special thanks go out to the following alumni, who gave up their time and travelled from far and wide to be there to give something back:

  • Mu Ali (Classics, studied a little while ago, in his words!) who works as Chief Growth Officer for media agency Wavemaker UK has attended Arts Careers Week for the second time running, where his talks on working in advertising shed light on the pros and cons of the sector, as well as his top tips for success, including bringing all of yourself to work. Mu has also assisted English student, Josh Peleg, to find an internship opportunity in advertising.
  • Charlotte DC (BA Philosophy 2013) works as the Event Manager for MOMA festivals and told us about the ‘glamorous 1%’ of what still sounds like a very cool job!
  • Lucinda Elliott (BA Spanish & Portuguese 2012) was kind enough to fly from Brazil where she is now a journalist covering South America, to remind students of the benefits of doing a languages degree, and the amazing possibilities this opens to them upon graduation.
  • Rosanna Quigley (BA French & Portuguese 2015) works as a Conference and Event Manager and gave a down to earth recollection of what it’s like to enter a competitive job market for the first time, but how beneficial her experiences on her year abroad in France were to her current career.
  • Katie Foxall (BA English Literature 1997works in Publishing for e Cancer, a site that provides free oncology information and education worldwide and talked to students about the various paths available in the publishing industry, as well as the importance of gaining all-important work experience whilst studying.
  • Rosalind Neely (BA French and German 1984), Freelance Editor, Proof Reader and Project Manager for Illustrated Art Books provided an insight into the varied and rewarding career of an experienced publisher.
  • Francesca Wilson (BA History of Art 2011), Arts Charity Director of Programming and Development for a non-profit organisation called the Easel Initiative was inspiring and open about working in the sector and the importance of opening up the arts industry to a wider and more diverse audience.
  • Eleanor Boyer (BA English 2015), who now works at Google in the Government and Public Policy team, allowed students to consider how their degrees can have more of a relationship to working in the tech industry than they might at first think.
  • Sarah Pit(BA English Literature & Community Engagement 2014), who works as the MD for MSP TV has attended both our networking evening and our session on Film and TV! Her wisdom on the area and channelled creativity were truly second to none.
  • Natasha Riordan-Eva (BA Music 2011), Event Manager at the Southbank Centre specialising in classical music, captivated the audience with her experiences of being at Bristol and how this has helped her in her career, including achieving her life-long aspiration of presenting on BBC Radio 3).
  • Piers Alder (BA English 1988) works as a Copywriter and extolled the virtues of working freelance, writing for a living and being able to work on a variety of different projects and initiatives.
  • Hannah Armstrong (BA Archaeology and Anthropology 2010), Principal Heritage Consultant at Pegasus Group, works in the planning sector and advises on heritage assets. It was interesting to see how relevant a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology can be to the legal world.
  • Gemma Brace (MA History of Art 2010), Exhibitions and Engagement Officer at the University of Bristol highlighted the dedication, passion and drive that go into forging a career in the arts and culture sector.
Natasha Riordan-Eva talks to our Music students about working in live events

To all the alumni who contributed to our events this year, including those who could not attend but would have liked to, we would like to extend a huge thanks from all of us in the Faculty of Arts and Careers Service. Your input is invaluable to our students and provides both a source of inspiration and greater clarity on what it’s really like to work in your chosen sectors.

Faculty of Arts alumni: please get in touch with Anona Williams (Faculty of Arts) if you would like to get involved in future events, interviews or promotional videos at

Find out more about the Bristol Volunteers programme for alumni.

Congratulations to our London Marathon team

On 28 April 2019, seven Bristol alumni, staff and students ran the London Marathon in support of Healthy Minds, a physical activity programme at the University which taps into the benefits of exercise to support students affected by mental ill health. 

Thank you to Chloe, Chris, Grace, Jack, Marissa, Sam and Verity, who raised a fantastic total of £15,276.31. We are delighted to congratulate them on their success, and share their thoughts about the experiences they had running for Bristol.


Chloe Parsons

“I couldn’t have been more proud to represent the University at such a fantastic event. It was unforgettable.

The moment I found out that I had received a Golden Bond place I was overjoyed and overwhelmed and filled with happiness. I have always wanted to run a marathon, but not just any marathon; for many years my eyes have been set on London. The London Marathon was absolutely incredible. It was such a special and momentous experience and I will never forget it.

Before I ran the marathon, I said that it would be the first and the last purely based on the commitment to the training plan alongside other commitments. Not even a week after running it, I have not only entered the ballot for London next year, I have also entered the Manchester Marathon in 2020.

The crowds and support in London on the day of the marathon were on a whole new level. The experience was so different to any race I had ever done before, and I would happily run the London Marathon each and every single year if I could. I managed to finish the London Marathon in a time of exactly 4 hours! Just 1 second off my target, but that’s the price that has to be paid for a perfectly paced and perfectly timed marathon – so I’ve been told! I’ll get it next time!”


Christiaan J. Knaup

“The marathon gave me a goal, an objective, something to strive for outside of a professional setting. It gave me an active lifestyle and embodied everything that Healthy Minds stands for, for myself. One week after the London Marathon, I woke up and felt strange for not having to go out and complete my Sunday long run – something that I had been doing for the past 5 months. I realised that the training has enforced a habit, which at its worst forces me not to look at a screen for a couple of hours and at best gives me a huge endorphin rush when I break a personal best. I have now signed up for the London Triathlon, Olympic distance, at the end of July. This should theoretically be easier than the Marathon, but is another venture to seek out.

It is quantifiable how much running the marathon has helped me with dealing with my grief, but I recognise that I am now in a better mental position than I was in before I started training, and that exact opportunity is what I want to thank Bristol for.”


Grace Kendrick

“It was an incredible experience, and I was overwhelmed by the support of the crowds! I managed to see Jack and Chris also running for Bristol at the start line, but ran for most the way with another alumni student who I’d been at University with. I was honoured to be running for such an important cause.”



Marissa Guiang

“The whole London Marathon experience is one that I’ll never forget. For every mile of the race (and every mile during training), it felt so meaningful to do it for a cause that was much greater than just my own personal athletic goals. The work I put into training was fuelled by my motivation to give back to the University of Bristol’s Healthy Minds Programme – an initiative that I care deeply about and resonates with me. The marathon race itself was like a victory lap around the great city of London, to celebrate months of training and generous funding from all my supporters.”



Sam Collier

“It was an incredible day, the crowds were fantastic and the atmosphere like nothing I’ve experienced. I set myself three goals for the day: 1. Finish. 2. Try to do this in under 4 hours. 3. Try to do this without walking.

Everything was going well and I was exceeding expectations up to mile 19 in Canary Wharf, but nothing prepares you for the physical and mental anguish of hitting ‘the wall’. I’d experienced glimpses of what I thought was the wall in the training. Forcing your body to keep moving when every signal it’s giving you says it’s a terrible idea is really tough.

When I stepped over the finish line I felt an enormous sense of pride in what I’d accomplished, not just over the past 3 hours and 50 minutes, but over the whole 6 month period of training. I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate way to raise money for the University’s Healthy Minds Programme than by taking on the mental and physical battle of the marathon, and would encourage anyone, particularly those who struggle with their mental health, to take on the challenge in the future.”


Feeling inspired? The University of Bristol has five places in the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, and applications for the places will open in Autumn this year. For more information, please contact

Forest 404: Bristol Drama alumni across generations come together in ambitious BBC Radio 4 ecothriller

Four Bristol alumni take part in BBC Radio 4’s recent ambitious podcast projects, Forest 404 – a 27 part podcast series starring alumna Pearl Mackie. The series is accompanied by a national experiment looking at how listening to natural sounds could boost wellbeing.

The BBC is launching an innovative 27-part sci-fi podcast series, which imagines a futuristic world in which forests have been erased from history. Forest 404 is described as a first for BBC podcasts. Its three-tiered structure creates a new listening experience which aims to draw the audience deeper into the world of the podcast.

At its heart is a classic sci-fi thriller set in the 24th century following a data crash called The Cataclysm. The action follows the character Pan (Mackie), a sound archivist who uncovers some sound recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her. They are recordings of rainforests, places which no longer exist, and Pan feels compelled to hunt down the truth about how the forests of the old world died.

Award-winning writer Timothy X Atack, Becky Ripley, award-winning BBC producer and director, and Pearl Mackie who starred in Dr Who, and Pippa Haywood who starred in Bodyguard and the Green Wing, all read their BA in Theatre and Drama at the University of Bristol. The project is a first for BBC podcasts in that it is part of a wider academic research project too. The series offers an additional dimension to an Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC)-funded project looking at the world of wildlife filmmaking over the last 25 years, particularly the world-famous BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol.

Led by Alexander Smalley, a Virtual Nature Researcher at the University of Exeter, Forest 404: The Experiment hopes to develop a unique insight into how the British public respond to nature-based sounds. Peter Coates, Professor of American and Environmental History from the University of Bristol’s Department of History, is the wildlife filmmaking project’s academic lead.

Professor Coates and his colleagues see the podcast and BBC project as part of an emerging area of academic research – the environmental humanities – whose starting point is the belief that a scientific perspective is not enough to do full justice to our complex and many layered relationships with nature.


About Forest 404: the series

Each of the nine talks is delivered by a wide range of speakers including musicians, biofuturists, bioethicists and anthropologists. They delve into the themes which inspired the drama, such as:  “Why should I listen to trees?”, “Would you vote for an AI government?” and “What is death in the digital age?” to explore the real-life ideas which inspired the drama.

The soundscapes designed by Graham Wild and Becky Ripley, which bring each episode of the thriller to life, are mixed to create an immersive 3D experience for the listener. A rainforest symphony, an orchestra of frogs, a montage of whale song and a sonic woodland walk make up some of the sounds of nature which sit alongside more experimental soundscapes as the narrative unfolds.

About Forest 404: The Experiment

The podcasts are accompanied by an ambitious online survey devised and operated by researchers at the University of Exeter and The Open University which hopes to develop a unique insight into how the British public respond to nature-based sounds.

This survey promises to make a major contribution to what we already know about how contact with nature benefits our physical and mental wellbeing. It will contribute new knowledge by exploring how people respond to various sounds of nature; previous research has concentrated on the visual.

Alex Smalley said: “A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. But we know very little about the importance of sound in this relationship.

Could simply listening to birdsong or waves lapping on the beach be enough to help people recover from a stressful situation? The effects won’t be the same for everyone so we want as many people as possible to take part in this study, helping us uncover what works and why.

Anyone over the age of 18 can take part in the experiment. Participants will be asked to listen to several different sounds and will need to have headphones or speakers at the ready. It’s hoped the study’s findings will form the basis for bringing the benefits of nature to people who might not be able to access them, such as patients in hospital, older people in long term care, or those who work in stressful situations.

Take the survey:

Listen to the series on BBC Sounds:


Alumni Awards 2019 Winner: Eboni Usoro-Brown, Achievement in Sport


Eboni Usoro Brown

Alumna Eboni Usoro-Brown (née Beckford-Chambers) (LLB 2009, MSc 2011), Solicitor, Team Bath netball captain and play for England  talks to us about her time at Bristol and the career that’s led to this award.

You can hear Eboni Usoro-Brown in-conversation with The Rt Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE (Hon LLD 2002, Hon Fellow 2017) on Tuesday 11 May, 1 pm – 2 pm as part of the 2021 Alumni Festival. Click here for more information and to book your place.

The award
I’m really honoured to receive this award, especially given the calibre of the other recipients. I feel very privileged to even have been nominated.

Why Bristol?
I was first attracted to Bristol as a vibrant city with very welcoming people. I had been training at the Bath Netball Academy and the University of Bristol had an excellent reputation and was near to Bath. I liked the fact that the Bristol campus was part of the city as some university campuses can be quite isolated.

At the time Bob Reeves was the Director of Sport, Exercise and Health and he was one of the first in the University Sector to establish a sports performance programme for students, enabling them to fulfil their potential both academically and in sport. He wanted to attract elite athletes of high academic ability, and this allowed me to study law as well as continue my netball career. This was quite unusual as at most universities elite athletes study things like Sports Science degrees alongside their athletic commitments. I was drawn to studying law because my Dad is a lawyer. I also loved the debating team at school so law was a natural choice.

At Bristol pastoral support was offered to help manage my degree as well as my sport. I was given help to facilitate conversations with the academic tutors, to understand what I was doing. I was also able to access things like sports massage, sports psychology, nutrition and so on, which really helped my performance.

I’m so excited by the prospect of Bristol’s new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus. Studying at Bristol was one of the best times of my life. If this experience can be expanded to more people, then that’s a great opportunity.

Advice to current students
Make sure you get involved in the city when you’re studying at Bristol. There’s such a buzz about Bristol, it’s a very multi-cultural city, throw yourself into it because your three years go by quickly.

Eboni Usoro-Brown

I started netball at primary school and began to take it more seriously at secondary school. I was scouted for England aged 15 at a game. In 2008 I got my first Senior cap and I have 96 caps so far. I want to get my 100th cap during the Netball World Cup in Liverpool in July. So far in my netball career I’ve played in two World Cups and three Commonwealth Games.

My Mum is a headteacher and she really encouraged me to try all sports at school. I initially liked netball because all my friends played and then I grew to love the teamwork and the strategy involved. All the games are different and tactical, you must constantly develop your skills.

Studying at the University of Bristol gave me the confidence that I could commit to both sport and study fully. When I later applied for a training contract with Bath law firm Mogers Drewett I already had proof that I could juggle both and so they were very supportive of me continuing my netball career as well as my legal career.

Bristol provided an excellent standard of education. It’s well-renowned, it has a good reputation. Wherever I go I’m met with approval when I say I’m from the University of Bristol. Bristol really helped develop my level of professionalism. I was given a great foundation in things like time management, discipline, determination. Staff like Matt Paine and Bob Reeves were instrumental in helping me network and make the right contacts in netball. And my Master’s degree is what made me really fall in love with Law as a subject and made me want to work in law.

Following my Master’s at Bristol I did my LPC at UWE and then spent four years in Australia playing professional netball while also working for law firm Allen and Overy. I then came back to the UK for my training contract with Mogers Drewett in Bath. Today I’m proud to say I’m now a fully qualified solicitor as well as about to embark on the Netball World Cup this summer.

The Bristol Reds sports awards and the #wearebristol campaign are phenomenal. They really make Bristol sit above other universities in their promotion of sports excellence.

Memories of Bristol
I knew from the start of my time at Bristol what my long-term goals were. I had to be very focused and disciplined. Everything was geared towards that. I had to develop extreme resilience. Sometimes it felt like the hardest thing in the world to keep everything going.

Highlights for me at Bristol were both my graduation ceremonies, from my LLB and MSc. I had spent so long in the Wills Memorial Building studying and working that it was wonderful to be there to finally have a moment of achievement. It was a big celebration for my family too. I enjoyed my MSc graduation in particular. My course was wonderful. I had such phenomenal, passionate teachers. I really enjoyed it. There was a real moment of ‘I did it’ at that graduation ceremony. A moment of realisation and recognition after working so hard.

Greatest achievement
I think my greatest achievement has been the level of resilience I’ve built. I’ve had to generate extreme levels of mental toughness and self-belief. It’s taken me 15 years to get a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. You need real persistence to keep going.

Greatest challenge
I guess my greatest challenge is knowing when to say ‘no’ to things. I’m enthusiastic and ambitious but one needs to be careful not to get burned out. I need to learn to make myself less available sometimes.

Alumni Awards 2019 – Winner: Community Impact, Annie Hudson

Alumna Annie Hudson (BSc 1972), Director of Children’s Services, London Borough of Lambeth, tells us what she loved about studying at Bristol and why she’s honoured to have received this award.

Annie Hudson

Annie originally started studying Law at Bristol but five weeks in she realised it wasn’t for her and switched to Social Science, a decision which was instrumental in her rise to becoming one of the country’s foremost authorities on services for children. Graduating in 1972 with a BSc in Social Science, Politics and Sociology this current Bristol resident (and ex-staffer at the University) explains what drew her to Bristol and how it has informed her career and life to date.

Why Bristol?
I’m originally from London and as an undergraduate I was drawn to Bristol for several reasons, not least its reputation as a place of academic excellence. I also liked the idea of being in a city, especially one with such an aesthetically pleasing campus and with good access to the countryside. It’s the best of both worlds. It was, and remains, a very well-regarded university. Bristol gave me a solid bedrock of an education. It was here that I acquired skills in critical and analytical thinking as well as confidence in writing and communication skills. I got an excellent grounding in the social sciences. Some of the politics and sociology lectures were real highlights of my time there, pushing me to think deeply and broadly about complex social issues. We had big, challenging debates with one another and with our lecturers, pushing us to think about different ways of seeing and understanding the world we live in.

Advice to current students
Bristol has high academic standards and a great physical and social environment. One thing I would advise current students is to get out and explore all parts of the city. Looking back, I think I had quite a narrow geographical experience of the city as a student, I wasn’t fully aware of some of the social differences between different communities living in the city. It is really important to use your time here to engage actively with the city, its diverse and resourceful communities; so get out and don’t stay in a bubble. This is important in terms of making a social contribution to the city, to your future careers, and for general personal enrichment. Get as much practical experience as you can.

When you’re at Bristol your intellect is really stretched. Bristol has very high academic standards and a great physical and social environment. It’s a wonderful place to be a student.

The award
I’m so touched that David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at the University nominated me for this award. I’ve known David from when I worked as Director of Children’s Services in Bristol from 2008 -2013 and I’ve long been an admirer of his work. I appreciate the fact that the University of Bristol works hard to promote evidence to inform social work practice. Research from Bristol was an important shaper of some of my professional decisions in in Children’s Services in Bristol and now in Lambeth. Receiving this award means a lot as it’s from my alma mater and I’m a resident of the city so I’m immensely proud to be counted amongst the winners.

Annie Hudson

I was a social worker first, then an academic, before returning to social work. Studying at Bristol undoubtedly shaped and helped my career because of the intellectual skills and understanding it provided. I subsequently chose to train and work as a social worker for a range of reasons, including a natural curiosity about families and relationships I enjoy social work’s interest in working at the interface between individuals, communities and society. It can be a very challenging and demanding job; it is also one the public (and media) often misunderstands. However, the rewards are also very great when, for example, a child is helped to be safe and recover from trauma.

I’ve been a senior manager for the last 20 years; this involves being both able to operate very strategically and to stay fully in touch with the realities of practice and work with families. I’m sure that my excellent academic training at Bristol has contributed to my ability to speak across different systems to find solutions to social problems. In my area of work, one must look for answers to issues that cut across different public services. It involves being a leader across different ‘systems’, services and communities, including schools, the police, and health services. You need the ability to see the bigger picture.

My degree at Bristol made me more socially conscious. We had rigorous intellectual debates about politics and social issues facing the world. For me it was a time of discovery. I learned so much not just from my studies but also from my peers. Studying at Bristol is a great opportunity to make social networks.

Career highlights
It’s my view that social work can be terribly misunderstood and misrepresented. What we do is unbelievably difficult work and most of it is hidden from public view, except of course when things go wrong. So when we had the opportunity in Bristol to work with the BBC on a TV show to raise the profile of social work, I jumped at it. Some colleagues thought I was crazy and taking a great risk in inviting in the cameras. There were risks but I felt it really crucial that we provide a more accurate picture of social work to the general public. Protecting our Children went on to become widely acclaimed for its portrayal of social workers’ daily and direct work with children and families. I’m incredibly proud to have been part of that project.

I’m also very proud of a body of work I did in the 1980s as an academic, researching adolescent girls who were in care. This research has of course been superseded since then, but at the time it was influential and had a real impact. I believe that it made a difference to work with this group of children and young people.

Fond memories
Bristol wasn’t all about the study. I used to love walking across the suspension bridge late at night, enjoying romantic views of the city, sometimes in good company! I enjoyed my time at Bristol, so much so that I’d slowed down a bit in my second year on the studying front. I was at a Christmas party in my third year when a tutor made a comment that I’d be fine, I’d definitely get a 2.2. I was somewhat peeved by this and pulled out all the stops for the rest of my time there! I worked very hard to gain a 2.1 and it probably contributed to my work ethic since then. It is a long time since my first week as a fresher in Badock Hall. I remember being in a long line of students getting BCG injections and then, when it came to my turn I fainted in front of everyone. It was deeply embarrassing! I have better memories of enjoying myself in the Anson Rooms, especially at the great rock and folk concerts they held there, I remember being particularly enthralled by Deep Purple amongst others.

Greatest challenge
The work that I do now involves working to help and protect children, young people and families who are often facing unimaginable adversity but who also have great resilience and personal resources. Our challenge is helping to create conditions in which we can best help individual children and families have good, safe and happier lives. Searching for the best way of making a difference to individuals and communities, in the face of great austerity, is sometimes hard. But I remain optimistic and have real faith in making good change possible.

Alumni Awards 2019 – Winner: Arts and Media, Julia Donaldson

Children’s author, Gruffalo creator, former Children’s Laureate and Bristol graduate Dr Julia Donaldson (BA 1970, Hon D Litt 2011) MBE, CBE, has been honoured with the 2019 Alumni Award for Arts and Media.

Why Bristol?
Back in 1970 when I was applying to universities, only four in the UK offered Drama, which is what I wanted to study. Of those four, Bristol had the best academic reputation and I liked the fact that the university was in the heart of an attractive city with accessible countryside. I grew up in London and I had to take the tube out a long way just to get to some countryside, so I was enticed by the idea in Bristol you could just walk into the countryside.

Why Drama & French?
I’d always loved acting. Aged 12 I was an understudy for one of the fairies in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Old Vic in London. I managed to get on stage to perform and was starstruck by the actors Judi Dench and Tom Courtenay who were part of the cast. I wanted to be an actress but was also quite academic and loved languages, so I decided on a joint degree in Drama and French.

Advice to current students
My advice to students is to work hard but don’t forget to have fun. And enjoy the surroundings – there is proper countryside just across the suspension bridge!

There’s great pleasure to be had in exploring not just the city of Bristol but also its surroundings. I remember some great fungus- foraging in Leigh Woods when I was a student.

Fond memories
Going to university was my first big adventure away from home, and I relished the independent living, especially when I moved out of Hall to a flat in Clifton – I used to like buying bacon ends and bargain vegetables like a proper housewife! I enjoyed the course, especially the plays we put on in the Drama Department and the time in Paris and Avignon as part of the French course. Probably the best part was meeting my husband and also making many friends who have remained friends for 50 years.


At Bristol I acted in a lot of plays put on by the Drama Department and various dramatic societies. In a production of Moliere’s Dom Juan I met Dave Illingworth. He later founded the Bristol Street Theatre, which I joined. The plays we devised turned out to be formative for my future writing career.

In my second year, as part of the French course, I studied in Paris, where I went busking with my future husband (a Bristol medic). This led to my writing songs and performing in folk clubs. It reached the point where I had a body of songs written that I pitched to the BBC, and my children’s books eventually grew out of that.

Alongside the writing, and before starting a family I also had various jobs in publishing, at Radio Bristol, and teaching English in a secondary school. All of these turned out to be useful in my writing career, though I never imagined at the time how the writing would take off.

I remember doing cabaret at student balls, often writing songs to order – like one about teeth for a group of dentists!

Greatest challenge
Back in the early 70s there weren’t so many job opportunities for women. In order to work in publishing you had to be a secretary, whereas men could just walk in to an editor’s job. I remember interviewing for an editor’s job and being told they wouldn’t hire me as I was young and newly married and would just have children!

Career highlights
I love the feeling that I’m part of a chain of verse and stories. As a child I would learn poems off by heart and today I get told by so many parents that their children can recite my stories word for word. Maybe some of those children will one day be writers themselves – the next links in the chain. I also know how special reading to a child at the end of the day can be, and I like the feeling that through my books I am playing some part in that bonding time between parents and children.

I’m delighted to hear of the University’s plans for the new library at the heart of the campus, which will host events and have areas open to the public.