Thursday 28th July 2022 saw the first post-pandemic face to face Alumni Reception since 2019. The Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) were thrilled to host what felt like a milestone event with much to celebrate. On this occasion we offered an evening of fine dining, networking and entertainment on the sunny banks of the Thames at the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) on Victoria Embankment. Over 80 alumni and guests joined us for an inspiring evening that combined award-winning musical talent with an exceptional meal and unrivalled views, while adding a few surprises along the way.
Following a drinks reception, the formalities began with an introduction from Dr Ben Butler, Head of Development and Alumni, who gave a special welcome to new graduates, acknowledging how they’d endured obstacles and hardships during their study that very few previous generations have experienced. Ben noted in particular that one key consequence of lockdown was that many relationships that would ordinarily been have formed, failed to materialise. He went on to remind older graduates that many of them were at the event primarily due to the to relationships that they formed at university.
Vice Chancellor, Professor Susan Lea then delivered an update regarding the progress of the university, reminding attendees of the distance that the institution had travelled since her arrival in 2017. Taking a long view, she highlighted a number of key metrics including league table performance, student satisfaction and REF scores to underline the positive changes that have taken place in that time before thanking staff, students and alumni for their continued support of the University. Professor Lea is due to leave the University at the end of the month; she leaves a proud legacy of outstanding achievement and a solid foundation for her successor to build upon.
Event Manager, Crystal Hindhaugh Ness then introduced the main focus for the evening, which was to be a discussion between courses around moderns forms of slavery, servitude and exploitation. As Crystal acknowledged, this was a striking and unusual choice of theme for a dinner event, nevertheless it was certainly one that provoked discussion and interaction from our guests. It also contained a surprise element, when Andrew Smith of the Wilberforce Institute was revealed to guests as having been planted as a member of waiting staff. Andrew had been purposefully exhibiting many of the most visible signs that people who are being coerced or exploited tend to display. These were subtle, but included visible bruising, nervousness, evasiveness and the avoidance of eye contact. Andrew then joined Crystal to discuss these visible signs and to lead a broader conversation focusing on identifying, understanding and combatting modern slavery, servitude and exploitation – all of which are key areas of focus for the Wilberforce Institute and the ACTion to Combat Modern Slavery Justice Hub (ACTion).
This was an interactive session which prompted many insightful contributions from the audience, some of whom talked about where modern slavery, servitude and exploitation overlapped with their professional areas or life experiences. This set the stage for a fascinating discussion and an awareness raising session for all participants which both reflected the work of the Wilberforce Institute and Hull’s strategic commitment at an institutional level to promoting social justice. ACTion is a programme which was established and funded almost exclusively by a group of passionate and generous alumni. This group was acknowledged ad thanked in their absence on the evening.
An eclectic set followed from music student Imogen Hart who played a range of her own material, mixed with popular songs associated with Hull, including her own interpretations of songs from The Beautiful South and Everything But the Girl. Guests enjoyed further drinks with views of the Thames, Waterloo Bridge and the South Bank providing a perfect backdrop as night fell.
While we all took in the lights of London, perhaps a few might have reflected on its darker corners? A great time, but also a journey of discovery with an underlying social purpose – a metaphor for the Hull experience? We are enormously grateful to all those who attended, and all of our alumni who continue to challenge, campaign and improve our society. Being a Hull alumnus continues to be a badge of honour, and a membership to a close community of people that refuse to accept inequality and believe in social justice. We hope you continue to Raise Hull, in every sense. We look forward to seeing you all again soon.