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The paramedic

In Greater Manchester, paramedic Emily Morris (Psychology 2015) has been treating patients during the crisis. “It has been an extremely challenging time to be part of a frontline service,” she said. “I love my job, and no matter what I face each day I feel proud to be able to help people in their hour of need.”

The fundraiser

Since starting her Run for Heroes fundraising campaign in March 2020, Olivia Strong MBE (Politics and Sociology 2015) has helped to raise more than £7 million for NHS Charities Together, which supports the wellbeing of NHS staff fighting Covid-19. Olivia’s idea – run five kilometres, donate £5 and nominate five others to do the same – inspired over 1.5 million participants.

The PPE supplier

Amid the global surge in demand for personal protective equipment, Ravi Toor (Environment & Business 2017) helped to supply frontline workers with protective face shields. His company, Filamentive, founded by Ravi while studying at Leeds, supplied essential filament to shield makers at cost. Thousands of face shields have been produced and donated to hospitals, GPs, pharmacies, paramedics and social care practices.

The hospital leader

As Chief Executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dame Jackie Daniel (MA Healthcare 1995) has led more than 14,000 staff and managed strategy during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Trust treated the UK’s first patients and has been at the forefront of the response to the crisis. 

The junior doctor

For many athletes, the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics meant putting their dreams of sporting success on hold. But for Dr Kim Daybell (Medicine 2018) it meant a return to helping those who needed him most. Kim, a junior doctor in North London, has treated Covid-19 patients through the pandemic. Kim, a two-time Paralympian, is a member of Team GB’s Paralympic table tennis squad.

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Raising awareness

Jonta Saragih (MA Global Development and Gender 2017) is gradually changing the narrative of LGBTIQ people in Indonesia. As Program Manager for Rights, Inclusion and Diversity at a human rights organisation, Jonta raises awareness of LGBTIQ issues with religious leaders and politicians. He has opened discussion about diversity with more than 500 religious leaders and 1,000 theological students. Jonta has been interviewed by a range of media outlets and has sensitised many Indonesian journalists to challenges faced by people in this community. His work also involves creating safe spaces for dialogue on gender and sexuality and strengthening the resilience of LGBTIQ people in Indonesia.

Identity drama

Growing up between Leeds and Zimbabwe, playwright and poet Zodwa Nyoni (MA Writing for Performance and Publication 2013) felt like an outsider in both cultures. 

Now, Zodwa explores themes of identity, home and migration in her writing. Critics praised Zodwa’s monologue Nine Lives, recently performed at London’s Bridge Theatre, for bringing compassion and humour to a story about a man trying to build a new life in Leeds after escaping homophobia in Zimbabwe.

Zodwa came to Leeds as a child when her father, Dr Abraham Nyoni (Textiles Science and Engineering 1995; PhD Design 2004), studied at the University. She has been Writer in Residence at the Leeds Playhouse and has written plays for the Young Vic, BBC Radio 3 and Hull City of Culture. She also dedicates time to helping new writers find their voice in the arts.

Zodwa is currently commissioned by the Royal Exchange Theatre and Kiln Theatre and is developing films with BBC Films and the BFI.

Find out more here.

The ultimate influencer

For 15 years, he has influenced global politicians and spoken out about the wellbeing of people worldwide. This summer, Angel Gurría (MA Development Economics 1974; Hon LLD 2010) will step down as Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD brings governments together to address the world’s biggest problems and supplies them with economic expertise, data and analysis. While leading the OECD, Angel has supported a growing need for internationally comparable data on tax evasion, climate change and artificial intelligence.

Busy year for insurer

2020 was a busy year for Amanda Blanc (MBA 1999). In July, she became Group CEO at Aviva, the international savings, retirement and insurance company. She also advised on trade negotiations as a member of the UK’s Financial Services Trade Advisory Group and led a government commissioned review into flood insurance in Doncaster following the flooding of November 2019. Through all this work, she’s maintained her ongoing role as Independent Chair of the Welsh Professional Rugby Board.

United fan

Virgin radio presenter Rich Williams (Politics 2004) welled up that night in Leeds last July. He’d just watched his team reach the Premier League after waiting 16 long years. Rich, a presenter for Leeds United TV and former pitch announcer for the club, has subsequently spoken about Leeds United in the international press. He has hosted sports matches in stadiums across Europe for tournaments including the Rugby World Cup, the Cricket World Cup and the Champions League.

Chillest graduate

Early January brought the voice of Sian Eleri (Broadcast Journalism 2017) across UK airwaves when she took over the Chillest Show on BBC Radio 1. Sian previously presented on BBC Radio Cymru after honing her skills at Leeds Student Radio, where her soothing music selection was similar to what she now plays in her new Sunday night slot.

Eclipsed by the son

Like many couples who met at Leeds, Dominic and Nikki Holland (both Textile Management 1988) married and raised a family. Dominic became an award winning comedian and author while Nikki became a successful photographer. As Dominic describes in his book Eclipsed, their achievements suddenly paled when their eldest son, actor Tom Holland, became Spider-Man. Together the family runs a charity called The Brothers Trust. Dominic’s latest book, Takes on Life, was published in December.

Find out more here.

Rock of ages

The International Society for Rock Mechanics gave Dr Junlong Shang (PhD Earth and Environment 2016) the prestigious 2020 Rocha Medal for his PhD research, which has implications in the mining and nuclear waste industries. The society rewarded Junlong’s work looking at how, over millions of years, tiny fractures can develop into fully open fractures as rock weathers. He determined the tensile strength of the fractures at stages in the process. Junlong’s study will support geotechnical investigations for slope stability. He is now Lecturer in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics at the University of Glasgow.

All dressed up, nowhere to go

To those in the know, Olivia von Halle’s (Textile and Fashion Management 2007) take on luxury loungewear has made her the doyenne of decadent dressing. Her directional approach to down-dressing translates into luxurious silks, rich screen-printing and glamour. Olivia puts sustainable development at the heart of her business strategy and aims to positively impact both people and planet. Her brand is sold in such stores as Harrods, Browns Fashion and net-a-porter.com. Bella Hadid, Selena Gomez, Rihanna and Oprah Winfrey are among Olivia von Halle clientele. “I was a nightmare student and changed degrees every year until a kind Spanish professor pointed me towards the fashion department,” said Olivia. “I have a lot to thank him for!”

Find out more here.

Best central banker

Caroline Abel (Economic Studies 1999) won an ‘Oscar of the African banking community’ for her work as Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles. The African Banker Awards named her central bank governor of the year. Since 2012 Caroline has guided the Seychellois economy, which has tourism as 30 per cent of its gross domestic product. The committee praised Caroline for developing transparency and guidance to markets, supporting digitisation and collaborating across ministries to provide stability for her country’s economy. 

Action man

He’s flown British fighter jets, looked for dinosaurs using Nasa technology, ascended various peaks across five continents and earned a world record by circumnavigating the globe in a London taxi. This year, Matt Prior (Aviation Technology with Pilot Studies 2006) is enjoying being a new father, advising tech startups, flying commercially and running expedition companies AdventureX and 101 Meridian. Matt lives in Hong Kong and is a former Director of the Hong Kong chapter of the Explorers Club.

See Matt’s instagram here.

Ray of hope

Ray Pope (Popular and World Musics 2007) is Head of Creative Talent Acquisition at Universal Music UK and its subsidiaries. 

As a member of the Creative Differences project for the creative industries, Ray explored the experiences of people with specific facets of neurodiversity such as autistic spectrum disorder, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome. They produced a guide that gives first-person insight into ways to increase recruitment and career development for people who think differently. Ray sits on the UK Music Diversity Taskforce, which works with the music business, government and other stakeholders to boost inclusion and diversity across the industry. She is a classically trained musician and lover of soul music, R&B and gospel.

Find out more here.

The Dransfields

“I am done, kid,” said Peter Meal (Geology 1951) to his cousin Pauline (Sociology 1952). The year was 1949, and they were enjoying their first taste of freedom at a Friday night bop. “Some other poor fella will come and dance with you.”

That “poor fella” and future husband was Philip Dransfield (PhD Chemistry 1951). The couple enjoyed 49 years of marriage and two of their sons, Graham (PhD Materials 1988) and Patrick (English & History of Art 1985), also studied at Leeds. “It’s not a coincidence we chose Leeds,” says Patrick.

The Mitchells

Veva Porter (Chemistry 1924) was one of a small number of women to graduate from Leeds in her time. She came from Hartlepool, the daughter of a seafarer.

Years later, Veva’s daughter Jane (Medicine 1954) met Phil Mitchell (Medicine 1954) in their first year labs. She married the Yorkshireman in 1956. Their son Robert (Medicine 1982) was amongst the first to study in the Worsley Building.

In July 2017, Robert’s son Samuel followed in the footsteps of three generations before him when he received his Leeds degree – in Medicine, of course.

The Freestons/Zupniks

Leeds is so ingrained in the lives of Claire Freeston (History 2009) and new husband Anthony Zupnik (MPhys 2011) that they held their marriage blessing in the Great Hall. “It was great to celebrate our big day somewhere that’s so important to us,” says Claire, who also works at the University. “We both have many happy memories of Leeds.” The couple met during Freshers’ Week over a drink in Old Bar.

The Byfords

“There’s clearly some hidden magnet in the Refectory (or Old Bar!) that attracts us to Leeds,” says Mark Byford (Law 1979, LLD 2008). First Lawry Byford (Law 1956, Hon LLD 1987) studied at Leeds whilst serving as a police officer, then went on to become Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Sir Lawrence’s son, Mark says “I met my wife Hilary (English 1980) at a Valentine’s disco. She remarked she’d never seen such ridiculous dancing.” Mark became Deputy Director General at the BBC. Most recently, the Byford alumni attended the graduation of Mark and Hilary’s children, Harry (Philosophy and Linguistics 2017) and Lily (Psychology 2017).

The Intekhabs/Khans

When Adnan Intekhab (MSc Global Supply Chain Management 2016) graduated, he proudly wore a University of Leeds pin that belonged to his great-grandfather, Motaber Khan (Commerce 1932).

“I have been able to retrace my great-grandfather’s footsteps,” says Adnan. “He lived on Regent Park Terrace, Hyde Park, and I lived nearby on St Mark’s Street. It is strange to think of him being there all those years ago.”

The Sobels

Alex Sobel (Information Systems 1997) was born on campus to student parents. It was 1975, and Alex’s mother Ruth (PhD Russian Literature 1977) and father Leopold (PhD Viking History 1978) lived in married accommodation on Springfield Mount.

“I had a great time studying a stone’s throw from where I was born,” says Alex. “I was particularly interested in student politics.” Alex is now the MP for Leeds North West.

Writer of merit

“There is a bird in my heart, craving for a perch on the absent tree,” writes poet Niyi Osundare (MA English 1974) about the political situation of his native Nigeria. His censorious poems and essays tackle subjects such as socio-economic problems, leadership, and the struggles faced by the poor. “I interrogate Nigeria and Africa,” he explains, “their politics, culture and life.” Seventy-year-old Niyi has had an illustrious literary career. Author of
18 books of poetry, four plays, and numerous essays, he is also Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans. Niyi received the Nigerian National Order of Merit in 2014.

Setting the world to rights

Apparently, Jeeja Ghosh (MA Disability Studies 2006) is “incompetent to fly alone”, which was news to her when she was removed from a flight in 2012.Jeeja, who has cerebral palsy, successfully sued the airline in a case which brought about significant recognition of equal rights for disabled travelers in India. As Head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Jeeja works daily to challenge perceptions. “My MA at Leeds really inspired me to get involved and make a difference to disabled people’s rights”, she says. Jeeja’s life was recently explored in an award-winning documentary, “I’m Jeeja”. For Jeeja, the shooting was an enjoyable experience. “The film will go a long way in establishing the rights of the disabled”, she says.

A key piece of the puzzle

The fashion career of Jigsaw Chief Executive, Peter Ruis (Politics 1989) began at 21, when he wrote to Marks & Spencer asking to become a buyer. From that first position, Peter has risen through the high street ranks and led John Lewis through the recession of 2008. Now Peter is spearheading the revival of high-street brand Jigsaw. The past four years with Peter at the helm have seen annual sales breaking £100 million for the first time and the opening of a flagship store in St James’s Emporium, London.

Setting the world to rights

Apparently, Jeeja Ghosh (MA Disability Studies 2006) is “incompetent to fly alone”, which was news to her when she was removed from a flight in 2012.

Jeeja, who has cerebral palsy, successfully sued the airline in a case which brought about significant recognition of equal rights for disabled travelers in India. As Head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Jeeja works daily to challenge perceptions. “My MA at Leeds really inspired me to get involved and make a difference to disabled people’s rights”, she says. Jeeja’s life was recently explored in an award-winning documentary, “I’m Jeeja”. For Jeeja, the shooting was an enjoyable experience. “The film will go a long way in establishing the rights of the disabled”, she says.

Keeping records

A bulging box containing records and photographs from more than 80 years of the Leeds University Old Students’ Association (LUOSA) now sits for posterity in the University’s archive.

The items were donated by Doreen Bayley MBE (English Language 1949, Hon MA 1988), who was involved with the Association for several decades. Membership cards of some of the University’s earliest students include Elsie Ward (Geology 1919), who was the first woman Fellow of the University. “LUOSA members have always been enthusiastic,” reports archivist Jen Zwierink. “Photographs in the collection recall ice skating trips, hikes and theatre nights, amongst many other social events.” LUOSA continues to this day and welcomes former Leeds students to regular meetings and events.

Movement of the people

“It’s all down to my great-great-grandfather,” explains historian Lucille Campey (MPhil History 1987) about why she became a leading expert on emigration to Canada. “He left Scotland for Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. I wanted to discover his story and this led me into Canadian immigration history.”

Twelve books written by Lucille have now been published in Canada about the Scottish, Irish and English who left their homes behind to settle lands across the Atlantic and the thirteenth will be published next year. Lucille, herself, crossed the Atlantic in the reverse direction in 1967 when she left her native Canada to marry her English husband. Her MPhil dealt with the medieval settlement patterns of villages in the north of England. “Acquiring the techniques needed for my dissertation provided a grounding for my later immigration research,” said Lucille. In 2016, she was awarded the prestigious Prix du Quebec in recognition of her ongoing contribution to Canadian immigration studies.

From our own correspondents

American politics have been keeping two Leeds alumni very busy. Tim Gallagher (Broadcasting 1997) was Washington DC Correspondent for Sky News until recently, whilst David Smith (English and Sociology 1996) is the Washington Bureau Chief for The Guardian. Their investigative journalism skills were honed at Leeds, as both had a stint as Editor of Leeds Student in 1994 and 1997 respectively.

“When I was political sketch writer of Leeds Student newspaper, I never dreamed that one day I would be standing in a New York hotel watching Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States,” says David. “At the White House for a Trump speech or briefing by the press secretary, I know I’ve got a front row seat for events that will still be talked about decades from now. For a journalist, it is exhilarating to be covering the biggest story in the world.”

Tim concurs. “It’s been a remarkable time to be a journalist in the USA. The election of Donald Trump confounded pundits and pollsters and will no doubt enthral students of history for generations to come. We were lucky enough to witness it first hand.”

Leading Woman

Leading woman Molly Blincow (Economics and Mathematics 2011) is listed in the Hedge Fund Journal’s 50 Leading Women 2017. Molly joined international investment firm Murano straight after Leeds, initially as Head of Research. Within four years, Molly had risen to Director before she turned 30. Molly also sits on the steering committee of the Diversity Project, an initiative to tackle the lack of diversity in the Asset Management industry. “Our biggest challenge is trying to create an inclusive and diverse team to serve our equally diverse client base,” explains Molly. “It is an industry-wide problem that we are trying to confront head on.”

Barely left Leeds

Emma Mackey (English 2016) has seen the drama Sex Education draw 40 million viewers on Netflix since she landed the lead role of sharp-tongued Maeve. Whilst starring opposite Asa Butterfield in this English language production, bilingual Emma has also recently acted opposite French cinema icon Romain Duris in the film Eiffel. Her work has made such an impression that Screen International named her a Star of Tomorrow.

Award winner

Drowning in Plastic, an environmental film by documentary maker Tom Watt-Smith (Geography 2001), beat David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II to a Royal Television Society gong. In November, the BBC aired Tom’s documentary Meat: A Threat to Our Planet? “My ability to make films about our planet and its people has come, in large part, from studying at Leeds,” he says. “I suppose I turned all those qualitative research techniques into a job!”

Producing laughs

TV producer Ish Kalia (International Studies 1996) picked up a 2019 Bafta when his Sky One show A League of Their Own won Best Comedy Entertainment Programme at a ceremony held at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Ish also series produces A League of Their Own: European Road Trip and recently produced panel show There’s Something About Movies, hosted by Alan Carr.

The write stuff

Idris Elba may be Luther on screen but, behind the scenes, the character is the brainchild of series creator Neil Cross (English and Theology 1994, MA English 1995). Neil’s also making Mosquito Coast with Apple and a new four-part thriller, Because the Night, for ITV. He describes the latter as “a tale of psychological suspense, of guilt and ghosts and murder.”

Princess, queen, Shelby

Kate Phillips (Theatre and Performance 2010) joined the cast of Downton Abbey as Princess Mary in the hit show’s big-screen outing. Since her first TV role as Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall, Kate has become a regular face on screen. She has appeared in War and Peace, The Crown – written by Peter Morgan – and Peaky Blinders, in which her character stirred things up by marrying Arthur Shelby.