We’re in the final run-up to an event that somehow or other I have found myself organising, and which – for all the panics, headaches and hard work it entails – is a labour of love, and the thing I’m proudest of in my career.
First caveat is that whilst I am the chair of the charity and I drive the planning of the event, actually putting it altogether is the work of many people. My annual thank you list is only marginally shorter than the credit sequence for a Marvel superhero movie.
Second caveat is that, given the scale of the event – 49 speakers, delivering half hour talks over a 24 hour period, with a range of fringe events – the panics and headaches are very few, and the hard work by and large doesn’t feel like hard work.
It all started with a friend and colleague being diagnosed with a terminal cancer. This particular friend and colleague was one of those people who was not only respected but held in enormous affection by those who he taught and who he worked with – he inspired people, and the news of his illness hit many, many people very hard. I remember calling the admin and technical staff in the department together to tell them the prognosis, and their shock and tears – and anger at the disease that was claiming him. Right from the start he was determined to do something positive with the utterly lousy card he’d been dealt. And he did.
He had far less time to do anything than he – or we – had hoped. All the more reason for us to ensure that we did something creative, joyous, inclusive and inspiring, in his name.
That first year it was incredibly personal. A fortnight after the funeral we were still raw with grief and one of our speakers commented on the intensity, a kind of tension that underscored the celebratory mood that we had, nonetheless, achieved.
It’s different now, of course. Many of our speakers, most of our volunteers, never met Tim. But the event has taken on a life of its own. It is – and was even that first time – a celebration of what the University is all about. There’s a lot of cynicism about institutions like ours – we have to jump through so many government initiated hoops, we have to somehow be viable financially, it would not be surprising if the ideals that we proclaim were a bit tarnished and compromised. But acknowledging all of that, from all of my experience as a member of staff, as a student, I know that those ideals are still burning brightly.
Give people a chance, an excuse almost, to demonstrate and to share the passion that led them into teaching and research in the first place, and they seize it. When we ask people to take part in the 24 Hour Inspire, they so often respond with a Yes, and. Yes, I will do a half-hour talk, and would you like me to bake some cakes as well? Yes, and why don’t you ask my colleague A, because he/she is a brilliant speaker? Yes, and how else can I help to make this a success?
That applies whether they are Professors, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the like, or PhD/MA students at the start of their academic careers.
So on 12-13 May, 49 speakers from across the disciplines – engineers, lawyers, physicists, historians, medics and more – will be sharing their ideas, their research, their love of their subject with a diverse audience. Between midnight and 6 am speakers, and many members of the audience, will be pyjama clad. True, some members of the audience may actually be asleep, but I believe that’s not unknown in daytime lectures either…
Other colleagues will be hosting a pop-up radio broadcast, featuring interviews, Desert Island Discs, a quiz, and lots and lots of music. Some have contributed artworks for a small exhibition, others may be busking live in the foyer.
Of course it has another purpose, alongside the celebration and sharing of knowledge. We’re raising funds, this year for the Teenage Cancer Trust and Impact Young Heroes, two organisations who work with young people with cancer. Everyone who buys a wristband, a cupcake or a book, everyone who donates on line or on the day, contributes to that invaluable work. Since Tim set up Inspiration for Life in 2012, we’ve donated £17000 to a range of cancer charities as well as to the Snowdon Trust who provide grants for students with disabilities. I’m very proud of that.
But most of all I’m really excited about what’s going to be happening this Thursday from 5.00 pm. I know that by 5 pm the following day I will be exhausted, but I will also be exhilarated, and that by the following day, I’ll be starting to think about the 2017 24 Hour Inspire…