Category Archives: College

Birkbeck and the dubious dealings of Francis H. Fowler

In this blog, Ciarán O’Donohue an MPhil/PhD student in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, shares the story of the development of a new Birkbeck building in the nineteenth century. This blog is part of our 200th anniversary series.

New building of Birkbeck Institute 1800s

New building of the Birkbeck Institute. ‘Bream’s building, Chancery Lane’

Once the decision had finally been made in 1879 for the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution to fly the nest and leave its original home in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, it took years for the necessary funds to be raised. Rather than move to another existing building and “make do”, Birkbeck’s executive committee was dead set on commissioning a new one. Fund raising was slow. Scarred by the struggles of the mid-nineteenth century, where mounting debts had threatened the Institution with collapse, the Committee set about taking public subscriptions to reduce the costs.

Nevertheless, the risk had to be taken. Birkbeck could remain in its home no longer. A new building, the Committee asserted, was essential to ‘the prosperity and development of the Institution.’ The revival of its fortunes under the leadership of George Norris was such that, by 1879, new applicants were having to be turned down. There simply was not enough room.

Perhaps this explains the expediency with which an architect was selected to build Norris’s dreams. Intriguingly, the Committee decided not to request tenders from architects. Birkbeck’s future was entrusted to one man, Francis Hayman Fowler. Fowler was an internationally famous and reputable theatre architect. Hailed as a “pillar” of the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), the forerunner to the London County Council, he had been an important figure in London politics for twenty years.

With his reputation taken into consideration, his selection out of the blue seems above board. It then merely seems incongruous that the Committee asked eighteen different vendors to tender for the job of constructing Fowler’s edifice. Besides, they could not take any risks. After taking into consideration the various pros and cons of each – and making especial note that they were selecting a builder based on a number of factors, not merely who was cheapest – a Mr. Cates was awarded the contract.

During the Committee’s next meeting, the contract was suddenly and inexplicably presented to Messrs. Nightingale. No clarification was forthcoming. A solitary clue remained, however. Amidst the notes of the meeting, a special note was made thanking Fowler ‘for his attendance and explanations.’ These breadcrumbs seemingly amount to nothing, until we look deeper into Francis Hayman Fowler’s conduct.

As Breams Buildings, the Institution’s new home, was being designed and built, the Royal Institute of British Architects was starting to doubt the legitimacy of the Board’s conduct. Three presidents used their inaugural addresses to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the MBW’s processes, in 1879, 1881, and again in 1883. Singled out for particular admonishment were the Building Acts Committee and the theatre subcommittee, of which Fowler was one of only five members. Specifically, other architects suspected Fowler and other members of the MBW of abusing their position in order to gain contracts, or exact payment for advice and services which would then guarantee that projects met final approval with the Board.

Three years after Breams Buildings was completed in 1885, the rumours surrounding Fowler and a number of other architects on the MBW reached a fever pitch. The Financial Times interviewed a number of disgruntled London architects, and boldly declared that the “facts are no secret.” A scandal erupted off the back of the article. Parliament took up the issue. Almost immediately, a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the Board for corruption, and Lord Herschell was appointed its chairman.

What it found was a shock to a great many people. Fowler’s reputation was such ‘that the Commission was genuinely surprised’ that the allegations were true. Fowler certainly was using his positions to exact payments in expectation of serving external interests on the board. Fowler was forced to resign but refused to ‘admit that he had behaved reprehensibly.’

How does all this relate to Birkbeck, you might be asking? Let’s go further down the rabbit hole. Another member of the Board, John Rüntz was also implicated. Only because he was not an architect, the Commission did not find him to be corrupt per se. Nevertheless, Rüntz and Fowler, the Commission asserted, were part of an ‘inner ring’ which exerted control over the affairs of the MBW.

Rüntz had extremely close ties to Birkbeck, spanning several decades. Originally a cabinet maker, he started attending the institution in the 1840s.  By 1848, he had been appointed Master of the Birkbeck school. By 1852, Francis Ravenscroft had co-opted Rüntz onto the board of the Birkbeck Bank. This relationship with Ravenscroft would have brought him in very close range of the Executive Committee, of which Ravenscroft was a dedicated, important (and honest) member. By 1860, Rüntz was a trustee of the Bank. 1868 saw Fowler elected to the Board of Works, and Rüntz became Chairman of the bank’s board.

The close relationship between the two men, and Rüntz’s extensive connections with Birkbeck, may have set the scene for Fowler’s introduction to the Committee at the very least. In such situations, both men would profit, as Fowler would pay for other MBW members for introductions. This is one course of events that may explain the peculiar decision to award Fowler the commission, with no prior interaction and no alternative tenders by other architects. Alternatively, it could all be entirely speculative, creating false links between the dots.

Either way, it is also important to consider the historical context even of dubious dealings. As historian David Owen conceded, architects were one of a number of occupations that were undergoing a gradual process of professionalisation in the Victorian era. An important yet fractious facet of this transformation was the establishment of agreed standards of ethics. Fowler’s case is evidence of this process. Debates were still ongoing concerning what was permissible in obtaining commissions, how to distinguish a justifiable use of connexions, and precisely what constituted a corrupt use of special influence. This is a potent reason for why Fowler might have refused to concede any wrongdoing: he sincerely felt he had acted reasonably. If architects themselves had differing opinions of the basic standards of fairness, furthermore, how were those commissioning work to decide what was honest or not?

Seemingly, although this scandal put an end to Fowler’s political career, it did not put an end to his scheming. Theatre magnate Sefton Parry commissioned Fowler to build the Avenue Theatre in 1882. With inside knowledge from the MBW, who owned the land, Parry financed the theatre with the express intention of having it requisitioned by the South Eastern Railway. Subsequently, he would receive a payout for the value of the theatre; that is, more than he spent on construction. His plan came to nothing. Then, in 1905, something suspicious occurred. Allegedly, the Avenue needed renovation. Parry commissioned Fowler once more. Before the opening night, part of Charing Cross Station collapsed onto the theatre, leaving only its original façade! Parry got his payday after all.

 

Share

Introducing Birkbeck’s Professional Doctorate in Evidence-Based Human Resource Management

Julie Gore, Programme Director, shares the rationale behind the Professional Doctorate in Evidence-based HRM.

Advancing metacognition – the process of knowing, understanding and learning are central features of doctoral education. Deciding how to decide is central to successful leadership and management. The challenges of Human Resource management (HRM) in times of uncertainty have never been more apparent, with sociotechnical advancement and change being pervasive features of our working lives. Bringing together our advanced understanding of cognitive decision making processes and expertise, alongside a scientifically informed process of deciding how to decide, is where evidence based HRM meets informed HR practice.

In short, evidence-based HR refers to adopting a decision making process in which the organization consciously evaluates any decision against multiple sources of data, experience, expert opinions, and other types of information to ensure the decision’s most successful outcome.

Notably, examining multiple sources of data is also completed deliberatively, with a critical eye, and questioning the value of the data is part of the method. It takes constant effort to seek multiple sources of evidence to aid decision making and Evidence-based HR aims to actively do this.

Birkbeck’s new doctorate in Evidence Based Human Resource Management provides advanced research skills, a critical approach to thinking and deciding, the opportunity to tackle challenging work based problems and paradoxes, and a vibrant network of opportunities for discussion and reflection with HR professionals.

I anticipate that practitioner and academic discussions will be lively and insightful.

Further Information:

Share

How to fulfil your academic potential at Birkbeck

With the 2021-22 academic year commencing in October, Dr Deborah Grange, Learning Development Manager, highlights a range of study skills services available to all students.

At Birkbeck, we do everything we can to assist our students in fulfilling their academic potential. We are here to support students with various channels of study skills support and assistance, including live workshops, extensive online resources and 24/7 academic writing support 365 days a year.

24/7 academic writing and study skills support

We were one of the first universities in the UK to adopt a 24/7 service to assist students with academic writing, and we remain pioneers in this area. All undergraduate students and those who are on MA or MSc programmes can upload their assignment drafts to our Studiosity service and receive feedback within 24 hours in terms of the grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure, and academic referencing. Some of our students have not written formal academic English for a long time so this service has proved to be remarkably successful, with 96% rating it 4 out of 5 or above.

We also have an extensive range of online resources, including interactive activities, handouts and videos. We know that Birkbeck students tend to be juggling other time commitments, so we have designed our online resources in such a way that they can benefit, whether they have five minutes or an hour to spare.

Live workshops

Throughout the academic year, live workshops run every week on topics like essay and assignment writing, critical thinking for university, and exam revision. All workshops are free, and students can sign up for as many as they wish. Recordings of workshops are available if they are running at a time that isn’t convenient. Student feedback from the last month includes:

“Having access to a tutor who really understands the process and can answer questions immediately was brilliant. It was also good to see other students have the same problems as me.”

“Finally, it all makes sense! I have never attended a workshop so comprehensive before – it has really helped me understand the nuances of different dissertation and writing styles, and the expectations.”

Have your skills in place for the start of the academic year

Our intensive series of live online workshops – ‘Get Ahead Stay Ahead’ – run throughout September so that students are primed to engage with their courses right from the start of the academic year. Workshops run every Monday to Thursday evening, lunchtimes throughout the week, and on Saturdays. Topics cover key academic skills like notetaking for lectures and academic reading; academic writing conventions; and apps and software for study. All workshops are offered completely free of charge. Sign up for as many as you like via our Events page.

Support for neurodiversity

Some of our study skills staff have additional qualifications and specialisms, such as working with students who have dyslexia and inclusive technologies. We also offer live workshops and resources on time management, organisation, and the development and support of concentration skills.

Further information

Share

How to get your Birkbeck studies off to a flying start

Student Engagement Officer Rebecca Slegg offers top tips to new students, to help you settle into Birkbeck, get your studies off to a flying start and help you make sure you get the most out of your time here.

  1. Set up a study space at home. If possible, decide on one place where you will be able to study. Keep it free from clutter and other distractions as much as possible and make sure that your family/flatmates know that when you’re there they should avoid interrupting you if they can.
  2. Talk to your friends and family about your course. If the people in your life know why studying is important to you and what it involves, they will be able to better support you throughout your course. They’ll understand why you might not be able to go out every weekend at exam or assignment time. They’ll also be interested to hear about the new ideas and topics you’re now an expert on!
  3. Attend Orientation and the Students’ Union Fresher’s Fayre in September. This is a great opportunity to meet fellow students, find out about life at Birkbeck and join some of the many clubs and societies open to students.
  4. Create a wall planner and use it to map out your first term. Plot on your term dates, exam dates and assignment deadlines. This will help you to know when the pressure points are so that you can plan ahead in other areas of your life to accommodate your study needs and be well prepared to meet all of your course requirements comfortably.
  5. Set up a WhatsApp group/Facebook group with your classmates. This will enable you to share tips and information between lectures and seminars and help you get to know each other quickly. You will probably find that your classmates quickly become a source of support and encouragement.
  6. Sign up to academic skills workshops. Birkbeck offers a wide-range of resources for students to brush up on their academic skills, whether you need a refresher on essay writing or an introduction to academic referencing – get ahead with these skills now so you’re not trying to master them at the same time as researching and writing your first assignment.

  7. Explore the campus. Get to know Bloomsbury. There is a wide range of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, indie bookshops and cultural facilities close to our campus.
  8. Arrange to meet your personal tutor. Your tutor is there to offer advice and support on issues that may affect your academic progress. Some of the topics you might discuss with your tutor include module choices; exam revision; meeting deadlines; any personal or professional issues that are affecting your studies.

  9. Buy some nice stationery. Investing in some nice paper and pens is a subtle reminder to yourself of the investment you have made in coming to Birkbeck and that this is something that you believe is worth doing and will help you to move ahead with your life goals.
  10. Find out about Birkbeck Talent (the in-house recruitment agency) and the Careers and Employability Service. These two services can offer advice on CV writing, interview techniques, setting up your own business and can suggest suitable short- and long-term positions to match your skills and interests.
  11. Make sure you’ve ticked off all the items in our new student checklist, which includes all the practical details you need to have covered like enrolling on the course, paying your fees and setting up library and WIFI access.

At our graduation ceremony we asked those who had made it what advice they would give new students:

If you’re a current student, why not add your own advice for those just starting out in the comments section?

 

Share

A new era for Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus

Birkbeck has now acquired the Student Central building adjacent to the College’s main site in Bloomsbury. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Matthew Innes, explains how the acquisition will transform the experience of Birkbeck students and staff as well as renew Sir William Beveridge’s original vision of creating a campus which enriched the city, supporting ‘a civic university for the…millions of greater London….an academic island in swirling tides…a world of learning in a world of affairs’.

Construction of Birkbeck College Malet Street Building. Planning for the building began in the 1930s and it was built between 1947-1952.

Birkbeck, the University and the Bloomsbury site

The University of London acquired its current site in Bloomsbury in the 1920s to consolidate its disparate administrative offices. Prior to this, the University’s central offices were in South Kensington, alongside the museums and were housed in the Imperial Institute (now Imperial College).  Vice-Chancellor, Sir William Beveridge – the social reformer whose 1942 report was to provide the blueprint for the post-war Welfare State – was fond of recounting how, when he first took up his post at the LSE, he had asked a cabby to take him to the University of London. The cabby had looked blank and then volunteered ‘you mean the place near the Royal School of Needlework’.

Beveridge’s determination to create a central site for the University, which captured the mission of ‘a University for the nation and the world’, came at the end of a significant period of change for both Birkbeck and the University of London. This was the logical conclusion of the reforms that had been introduced following Lord Haldane’s Report into the University of London, which had created a more co-ordinated structure as well as championing Birkbeck’s long awaited admission as a college of the University. Haldane – who held the distinction of having served in both the last Liberal government and the first Labour Cabinet – went on to become President of Birkbeck, which at this date occupied Breams Building in Holborn.

A large block of land immediately north of the British Museum was acquired for the new University site, stretching from Montague Place to Byng Place. The initial plans were for a single complex encompassing the entire site, with a series of wings and courtyards emanating from a central spine, a perimeter facade and two towers, with the current Senate House landmark echoed by a slightly smaller structure at the northern end of current Torrington Square.

Funding shortages and the Second World War meant that the original scheme was never completed in its entirety, with the current Senate House building only filling the southern half of the site. Although the University Principal was tragically killed in a building accident when inspecting the works with other University officials in 1936, Senate House was completed in 1937, rapidly to find fame as the wartime home of the Ministry of Information as well as one of London’s most iconic buildings.

After the War and a direct hit on Breams Building by a V2 flying bomb, Birkbeck found a new home on part of the undeveloped Malet Street-Torrington Square site in 1952. Further neighbouring locations were acquired by the University to house other member institutions such as SOAS and the IoE.

Birkbeck future

Following the acquisition of the former Student Central building, Birkbeck will have expanded to fill a majority of the never-realised northern half of the University’s original Bloomsbury site. With a continuous run of buildings along the Malet Street side of Torrington Square, and the Toddlerlab, Babylab and Clore building opposite, Birkbeck now has the opportunity to create a central campus focused on a consolidated Torrington Square core site, an inclusive environment focused on the needs of our students and open to the broader Bloomsbury and University community.

As our successful bid for the Student Central building pointed out, this acquisition places Birkbeck’s access mission and a student community reflective of London’s diversity, at the heart of the University’s Bloomsbury campus. Our aim is to provide the state-of-the-art teaching, learning and social facilities that our students deserve to support them to succeed and thrive.

The additional space takes us a huge step closer to our aim to deliver all of our teaching in Birkbeck-owned facilities, responding to student and staff feedback that teaching in dispersed rented venues has a huge negative impact on their learning experience, student retention and academic outcomes. We will also ensure that students can easily access the services and support they need and we will move the Students Union to a prominent, more accessible and visible, location.

This is the biggest change for Birkbeck since it moved to Bloomsbury in 1952. With the acquisition of the new building, Birkbeck now occupies most of the northern half of the site for which Beveridge and his contemporaries planned so ambitiously. It is a remarkable outcome for a small institution that has had more than its share of crises.

Beveridge and Haldane in their different ways envisaged a distinctively modern University. As we approach our bicentenary and plan a new consolidated and open Birkbeck campus, we too should aim ‘to give London at its heart not just more streets and shops’ and aspire to create ‘an academic island in swirling tides… a world of learning in a world of affairs.’

It is exciting to think that, via a circuitous route we have become the inheritors of Beveridge’s vision, in the new context of a 21st Century metropolis recovering from Brexit and COVID.

Further information

Share

Rainbow washing: what should we think when every brand seems to support Pride Month?

With Pride Month becoming increasingly commercialised, Dr Olivier Sibai, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Mimoun, Lecturer in Marketing at the Business School (formerly Cass), and Dr Achilleas Boukis, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sussex discuss how brands are engaging with the month of celebration.

A zoom in on some people's feet with rainbow colours on them

Image credit: Angela Compagnone

It’s June again, the first heatwave has arrived, flowers are blooming, and more and more rainbow avatars appear on your social media feeds! Yes, it’s Pride Month again and brands won’t let you forget it! As everyone celebrates Pride, brands won’t stop showing their surface-level love and support to position themselves as socially progressive and increase their resonance with their younger audience.  From brands’ rainbow LinkedIn profile picture to Google Doodles, every brand and its neighbor are jumping on the occasion to demonstrate their virtue. Yet, people are not so easily fooled and criticism abounds! Between accusations of rainbow-washing, blog posts wondering whether we can escape the commercialisation of Pride, and lists of brand’s “Pride fails,” consumers show their disapproval vocally.

a screen shot of a Disney post showing disney characters walking across a rainbow 'Pride Flag' backgroundOur research recently published in Psychology and Marketing uncovers how consumers interpret brands’ LGBTQ+-related support and decide on whether to condemn or to approve them. We show that consumers are more likely to condemn brands as ‘woke-washers’ if they are unable to prove morally competent. Specifically, media and consumers make up their minds on the biggest corporates by assessing such performative acts of allyship through three moral criteria: sensitivity, vision, and integration.

Moral sensitivity — a brand must recognize the moral content of a situation as failure to do so is likely to damage customer satisfaction, customer-brand relations, and brand equity. For example, by posting straight characters walking over the rainbow flag, Disney has proved morally insensitive to the stigma and discrimination that LGBTQ+ individualsThe Uno game packaging with the tag line 'Play with Pride' on the cover are still experiencing in many instances.

Moral vision — a brand must show a clear moral vision when outlining challenges to free speech that help solve problems for markets and society as failure to do so results in brands being dubbed as ‘conformists’ — those who reproduce the dominant moral judgments about what is acceptable to say publicly. While Mattel still shows a lack of moral vision by mostly reproducing mainstream discourses around gender and diversity, it at least shows some moral integration with the launch of gender-neutral Barbie dolls in 2019 followed by the launch of the UNO Play with Pride edition this year (alongside $50,000 donated to the It Gets Better Project).

A screenshot of a Pfizer Inc. Instagram post with a video still of a woman called Valentina, and 'she/her/hers. The caption reads: "We're celebrating #PrideMonth2021 because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are. At Pfizer, we affirm every way people may choose to identify. Watch what it means to be Pfizer and proud."

The caption reads: “We’re celebrating #PrideMonth2021 because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are. At Pfizer, we affirm every way people may choose to identify. Watch what it means to be Pfizer and proud.”

Moral integration — a brand must have the ability to pursue their moral beliefs in all situations as failure to do so results in brands being dubbed as ‘opportunists’ and ‘fame-seekers’ — manipulating the boundaries of free speech to serve personal interest rather than reform morality. For example, despite sharing the positive experience of its LGBTQ+ staff members, Pfizer demonstrates a lack of moral integration by simultaneously funding anti-gay politicians.

But let’s not despair, some brands have understood the point of Pride Month and, in doing so, further the fight for LGBTQ equity and inclusivity. For example, over the last few year (moral integration), Skittles celebrates Pride Month with a limited-edition Skittles Pride Packs (gray packaging and all gray candies) to emphasize the rainbow visual as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community (moral sensitivity), alongside donation of $1 from each pack to GLAAD.

A black and white skittles packet. The tag line reads: 'During Pride only one rainbow maters #onerainbow."

A Skittles packet with the tag line: ‘During Pride only one rainbow matters #onerainbow

So has Pride Month just become another branded holiday? Well, it’s not for us to settle. But what we can tell you is how to judge the genuineness of branded communication: evaluate the brand’s moral sensitivity, vision, and integration. While we can condemn the over-commercialisation of Pride Month, the good news is that these branded discourses, whatever their values and intent, still raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ cause and normalize and legitimize its presence in public discourse.

Want to know more? ‘Authenticating Brand Activism: Negotiating the Boundaries of Free Speech to Make a Change’ by Dr Olivier Sibai, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Mimoun, Lecturer in Marketing at the Business School (formerly Cass), and Dr Achilleas Boukis, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sussex, is published in Psychology & Marketing.

Share

Prepare your Chevening application

With less than two months until the opening of Chevening, the fully-funded scholarship for postgraduate students offered by the UK government, Catherine Charpentier, from Birkbeck’s International Marketing and Recruitment team, advises on how to prepare for the scholarship application.

A collage of six past Chevening students holding a sign saying 'I can't keep calm. I've been chosen for Chevening'

Some of the 2020 Chevening scholars

It’s official, applications for Chevening for 2022/23 open on Tuesday 3 August 2021!

You’ve underlined the date in red on your calendar. So what now? Is the only thing left for you to do is crossing off the days off on your diary?

Well, no. Now isn’t the time to rest. There is plenty to do ahead of the application opening date. Here are four things you need to do to prepare.

  1. Check that you meet the eligibility criteria

You need to have at least two years work experience (equivalent to 2,800 hours) in order to apply. This can be in part-time or full-time employment, voluntary work or paid or unpaid internship; and this can be submitted in up to 15 employment periods on the application form.

Get your calculator out. Your entries will be calculated automatically by multiplying the number of weeks worked by the number of hours worked per week. For this calculation, a working week comprises 35-60 hours and a working year comprises 40-50 weeks.

Don’t have 2,800 hours of experience yet? Why not apply for an internship, or offer your services to a volunteer organisation to make up the total? You should meet the requirements by the time you submit the application, which should be no later than 2 November 2021.

  1. Gain meaningful experience

It’s not only about quantity but also quality. You might have reached two years of work/voluntary experience but feel that your CV could do with improving. Don’t forget, you will also have to demonstrate leadership qualities in your application.

Can you take on extra responsibility at work? Could you offer to manage on a project for an organisation you are involved with? Can you organise an event for a charity?

The Chevening students outside Birkbeck entrance holding up a blue relay stick

Birkbeck’s 2019 Chevening scholars complete a relay

  1. Develop your network

In your application, you will be required to demonstrate your networking skills. Spend the next few months working on your network. You can reactivate old links and build new relations. This can be in person at work, at events you attend, or online via social media or LinkedIn for example.

You can refer to Birkbeck Futures The Importance of Networking for tips and advice to develop a networking strategy.

  1. Select your referees

You will have to give the name of two referees in your application. Use the next few months to select who you think could provide positive and meaningful references for you. Get in touch now, keep the relation going and remind them all the reasons why you will be deserving of this glorious reference when the time comes.

For further information on the scholarship visit the Chevening website.

Share

“If you try and do everything at once, you’ll never get started.”

Neither pregnancy nor a pandemic could keep Francesca Calabrese from completing her degree. She reflects on her experience on the BBA Culinary Industry Management.

Picture of Francesca CalabreseWhen I first moved to London, it was really important to me to be independent and not ask for help from my parents. My friends were all going to university and I would have loved to do the same, but as I was working full-time, I couldn’t see how I would be able to get a degree and support myself.

I was aware of Birkbeck because I was working in a hostel in nearby Russell Square, but I hadn’t realised that it had evening classes until I came across a prospectus that somebody had left in the hostel.

As a supervisor, I’ve always liked management, and my other passion is for cooking, as my dad is a chef. Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to set up my own food business, like a restaurant or bakery, so when I was browsing the Birkbeck website and saw a new course launching with Le Cordon Bleu, BBA Culinary Industry Management, it felt like a sign!

Even after applying and completing my interview, I had my doubts about whether I would be able to manage work and study. However, I decided to give myself this opportunity, so I shifted to working part-time and applied for a student loan to help fund my studies. I’m so glad I did, as the course has been an amazing experience and really important for my future career.

The first year flew by: we had the opportunity to do practical sessions at Le Cordon Bleu, which I found completely fascinating. At Birkbeck, I attended lectures and explored management in more depth through small group seminars.

In the second year, we suddenly found ourselves in the COVID-19 pandemic. Even that felt doable, as our tutors were so understanding and were always available any time we needed help or support.

A global pandemic would have been enough to deal with, but last summer I got pregnant and once again was wondering if I would be able to manage. I can be quite a stubborn person and my friends were sure that I would end up dropping out, but I decided once again to give myself the opportunity to succeed. It was tough: my parents were in Italy and couldn’t come over to help me and the thought of the assessments I needed to do once my son was born was really stressful! At the time, I thought I would never make it, but now I’m writing my dissertation having missed just one class through it all and I’m almost done!

I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved and most of all I’m happy that I didn’t give up. Once things are a bit more normal, I’m interested in exploring food development and eventually opening my own business.

My advice to anyone considering studying at Birkbeck is that it’s really difficult to think in one-year terms: take things slowly, do one thing at a time, one exam at a time and things will get much easier. If you try and do everything all at once, you’ll never get started. Take your time, reflect and do things at your pace.

Further Information:

Share

Pioneer 1.0 Programme 2021: Meet The Finalists

Meet the entrepreneurs who will be pitching their Business Ideas at this year’s virtual Pitch & Awards evening in June, competing for Best Business Pitch and Best Business Idea.

We are delighted to introduce this year’s Pioneer 1.0 finalists who have been shortlisted to pitch their exciting business ideas in front of a virtual audience and judging panel. Now in its fourth year, the programme continues to support and champion early-stage entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, helping to turn them into a reality.

Pioneer 1.0 is an extra-curricular course for Birkbeck students and recent graduates looking to develop the knowledge and skills to excel as an entrepreneur. Over seven monthly weekend sessions, participants learn from a range of entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other to build the skills needed to develop their business idea further.

Representing the best entrepreneurial minds in Birkbeck, the finalists are in with a chance of winning either the Best Business Pitch or Best Business Idea award, each worth a £1500 cash prize to support their business, along with a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and promotion.

This year, over 150 students and recent graduates have participated in the programme and their achievements will be celebrated at the virtual pitch and awards evening on Thursday 17 June, with a panel of independent judges, fellow entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

Meet the Finalists!

Picture of Nicky CarderNicky Carder

Being surrounded by people doesn’t automatically cultivate connection. Gatherism understands that and aims to bring customers and businesses together who seek community and share its mission to reduce loneliness and isolation.

Founder Nicky Carder has worked in community development and events management for 12 years and has experienced first-hand the importance of bringing people together.

Gatherism starts with a podcast to engage listeners through the storytelling of shared experiences and the power of community with the aim to inspire, motivate and connect people to the communities, projects, products and services that matter the most. Gatherism wants to listen to the needs of an evolving, post-pandemic community to help them to thrive better, together. Will you gather with us?

Picture of Lydia CarrickLydia Carrick

Apputee is an app designed to guide new amputees through their hospital stay and subsequent recovery, connecting them to a support network of experts and other amputees. Over 1 million amputations occur globally, and amputees often feel alone and scared.

The app will accompany new amputees through their recovery, using progress trackers and a gamified system to help amputees get the motivation they need. The app will also accumulate knowledge from medical professionals, such as doctors and mental health specialists, as well as interviews with other amputees about their experiences.

Apputee helps ease anxieties around the unknown and creates a roadmap from hospital back to their new “normal” – from understanding medication to navigating their return to work.

Picture of Makeda ColeMakeda L. Cole

At Kho Kho London we’re nuts about delivering eco-friendly, affordable fashion! We specialise in repurposing environmental waste into uniquely bespoke bags, saving landfill and reducing toxic emissions and supporting socio-economic empowerment for disadvantaged communities.

Our coconut-shell pouches are designed by nature making them quite literally one-of-a-kind — for the modern person with enough space for what you cherish –handcrafted with love in West Africa.

The amazing thing about our bags is that they are handmade by artisans meaning that we are actively engaged in improving the socio-economic status and livelihood of our crafters in Sierra Leone.

We hope for a world where you know where your products are made and by who. Well, that’s us in a nutshell. Cashew later!

Picture of Grzegorz JadwiszczakGrzegorz Jadwiszczak

Financial Literacy is an ongoing concern, with research showing that many people struggle with basics of finance and money management. My business’s mission is to tackle this issue with a three stage plan, starting with building an online community providing social media content and podcasts under ‘Finance Preacher’.

I hope to utilise this to setup a platform where like-minded individuals can network and learn from each other as well as local experts. This will hopefully enable locals to help each-other, giving more impactful advice than what is available to date.

This platform will be leveraged with the aim to lower the entry point to financial advice. Developing either an AI Chat Bot or a process for short term meetings with financial advisors.

Picture of Rosie MaggsRosie Maggs

History through theatre offers a unique interactive history experience tailored to the national curriculum and delivered straight to the comfort of the classroom.

From plays to talks, we can tailor the session to the school’s needs as well as making it age appropriate. We are fed up of children not getting the most out of their history lessons and disliking a subject that should be valued.

Our goal is to create unforgettable experiences which will spark a life long interest in history.

Picture of Kate StrivensKate Strivens

Afro Cycle is a black owned business designing helmets for children and adults with afro, black natural and thick curly hair. The helmet combines fashionable aesthetics with ergonomic design to produce a product that provides safety to the cyclist and protection to the hair.

When I cycle through London I know I am not safe and my hair is getting damaged beyond repair. This is why I am passionate about using my lived experience to create a helmet for people like me, who want to cycle safely and have products designed with them in mind.

Share

Supporting parents, carers and educators during the pandemic

Over the past year, Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department has teamed up with the Psychology for Education BA: reaching out to parents, carers, and educators in the pandemic. In this blog they outline how they are supporting those who face barriers entering higher education in a virtual world. People in a classroom with a person speaking Social interaction and peer support are invaluable to all of us, and for children and young people isolated from their friends and usual routines, it has been an especially tough year. Parents, carers and educators have also been hit hard, having to adjust to online learning and struggling to find time for their own needs while juggling online learning, work and caring responsibilities.

Recognising these increasing pressures and following the launch of Birkbeck Inspires last year, Ana Da Cunha Lewin, Senior Lecturer and Course Director for the Psychology for Education BA contributed a series of online lectures for parents and carers. These covered coping with anxiety during lockdown, exercise for wellbeing, and nurturing resilience. At Access and Engagement, we were delighted when Ana agreed to work with us to deliver a five-week taster programme on the subject of Psychology for Education with a focus on children’s learning, wellbeing and resilience.

The Access and Engagement Department aims to support those who face barriers to Higher Education to take a step into formal education. This taster programme provided a space where people could come and learn more about the subject and apply it to their life as parents, carers or at work. It also gave participants a chance to explore what university learning is like using Moodle, seminars on MS Teams and pre-recorded video content.

We had 30 people without a first degree join us, with ages ranging from 20 to into the 60s, and an array of different life experiences. Working with our Trade Union partners, a third of our attendees heard about the course via Unison or the Public and Commercial Services Union. Participants shared their experiences of their own schooling and parenting, or their work in schools or youth work.

Ana da Cunha Lewin said: “It’s been a pleasure to work on the Psychology for Education Taster Course with the Access and Engagement team; planning was really well-supported and the team made the preparation very straightforward. It was also an absolute pleasure to teach a really interested, engaged and enthusiastic group who made the sessions lively with many interesting discussions. A really positive experience and I would be very happy to take part in the programme again.”

Feedback from participants was positive with one person commenting: “Ana and Vanna were magnificent educators and their passion and enthusiasm for the subject has been infectious!”

We’re looking forward to running a similar programme with Mike Berlin and Tim Reynolds from the History and Archaeology Certificate of Higher Education later this year. For more information about our Taster Programmes and Access and Engagement’s other work take a look at our newly revamped web page.

Share