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Mind how you go! Boys step out on sponsored charity walk

Pupils headed off into the countryside on a 10km walk and raised more than £4,500 for QE’s long-running Indian charity appeal and for the Piano Fund.

Torrential downpours forced a last-minute change of route, but the walkers were not to be denied their day in the Dollis Valley and relished the chance to stretch their legs in support of the Sathya Sai (English Medium) School in Kerala, southern India.

Extra-curricular Enrichment Tutor Katrin Hood, who is in charge of the School’s charity work, said: “It was a joy to see the boys chatting and laughing with their friends as we walked through the beautiful countryside around our School. Our heartfelt thanks to go all of those who have so generously donated.

“Before heading out, the boys attended an assembly to learn more the fantastic Sai School and our long-standing link with it. It was fascinating to hear from past and current students, as well as teachers from the Sai School themselves via video,” said Ms Hood.

During the assembly, the boys watched a video from Old Elizabethan Major Charles Russell (1997–2004), who spoke about his experience of visiting the Sai School in 2004. He still sponsors a child there. He is one of number of former pupils and staff to have visited, including former Headmaster Dr John Marincowitz (1999–2011).

The Sai School has both boys and girls and caters for primary and secondary-age children. Over the two decades the appeal has been running, QE has funded improvements including the construction of a new building, various repairs and, recently, the provision of a computer room that enables pupils there to sit digitally-based examinations.

During the assembly, the boys learned first of the problems caused by flooding in 2018 attributed to global warming and then of the current desperate plight of the Sai School because of the deleterious effects of Covid-19 on the Indian economy. Parents in the struggling rural communities have been unable to pay the school fees and teachers are not being paid, they were told.

The walks were part of QE’s Enrichment Week and were held on separate days for the two year groups. The Piano Fund, which was also a beneficiary along with with the Sai School Appeal, was established to help equip the new QE Music School opening this autumn to the highest standards.

The event followed a two-day football tournament earlier this month for Years 7, 8, 9 and 12, which also raised funds for the Sai School Appeal.

 

Young Enterprise team wins award for their eco product

QE’s Young Enterprise team won an Innovation Award after impressing judges at a trade fair with their eco-friendly phone cases.

Adjudicators at the Young Enterprise Trade Fair at Old Spitalfields Market praised the InDex Young Enterprise company for their creative approach and for the salesmanship they showed there.

The Year 10 team also won plaudits from an Old Elizabethan attending the fair. Ninety-two year-old Elliot Page spoke highly of the phone cases, commenting specifically on the quality of the fit.

QE’s YE Co-ordinator, Academic Enrichment Tutor Alex Czirok-Carman, said: “The boys have worked very hard on this project and, despite the interruptions inevitably caused by the pandemic over the year, they have produced an excellent product and, most impressively, have grown as a team. The judges’ comments show how successful they have been.”

The judges were from Mastercard UK, the London Stock Exchange Group and bandwidth infrastructure provider euNetworks.

At the fair, the team sold their phone cases to the general public as well as answering questions from the judges about their product. The cases are biodegradable and have sustainable packaging.

In addition to these initial products, the boys have also been researching and designing cases with attachments to make them more user-friendly for people with difficulties in gripping. These are not yet on sale, although work on the production process for them is under way. The team’s InDex name is derived from ‘Inclusive Dexterity’.

“Our team impressed the judges massively,” said Mr Czirok-Carman. “They were extremely active – and very successful – in finding sales, and the judges therefore commented both on the creativity of the product and on their excellent sales techniques.

“The fair gave the team the chance to see a different side of business, and they learnt a great deal about how to interact with customers,” said Mr Czirok-Carman. “It was a great chance to learn about how to effectively run a business. The boys spent time interacting with teams from other schools who were there and swapped some of their products.

“This was a great way to round off an interrupted, but productive year for the YE team, who plan to continue to sell their products.”

The boys who attended the fair were: Kyan Bakhda; Abhinay Kannan; Ugan Pretheshan; Anban Senthilprabu; Sai Sivakumar and Varun Srirambhatla.

Our rich heritage open to all: proudly presenting QE Collections

Eighty-nine people joined a special Zoom event held to present QE Collections – Queen Elizabeth’s School’s new fully digitised online set of archives relating to the School and the Barnet area.

Guests at the public evening ‘town hall’ event, including Old Elizabethans and others with an interest in local history, were given a virtual guided tour and shown how to get the best out of the extensive high-quality online assets spanning more than four centuries.

Headmaster Neil Enright and QE’s Curator of Collections Surya Bowyer (OE 2007–2014) explained that the School held a variety of historic material and was keen to make it accessible to everyone. QE Collections is therefore offered online free-of-charge for all to enjoy.

In his address to the guests, Mr Enright pointed out that QE has been part of the Barnet community ever since its foundation by royal charter in 1573. “QE Collections therefore includes three different sorts of histories, nevertheless intertwined. These are the history of the School itself; the history of the local area, as viewed through the lens of the School; and the shared social histories that connect us.

“I am very excited that we are now able to share QE Collections with a wider audience.”

He paid tribute to the key role played by the late Richard Newton (OE 1956–1964), who promoted digitising the School’s archives and making them freely available to all, and also provided generous funding.

“It is certain that without his support, we would not have been able to launch this project – one that will be part of his legacy to the Elizabethan community,” Mr Enright said.

Mr Bowyer, who has played a central role in developing the platform and curating the material uploaded so far, pointed the guests towards a number of current highlights of QE Collections:

“We are constantly putting new material online, so the highlights would be different if I did this event in a few months’ time, or even next month,” Mr Bowyer added.

The event included tips and tricks for getting the best out of QE Collections, together with an explanation of how the various collections are organised, with ‘access points’ provided for the digitised objects – for example: People & Organisations; Subjects; Places.

All printed text in digitised objects is almost invariably fully searchable. Anyone wishing to search for a full name or phrase should put it in double speech marks in the search box, Mr Bowyer said.

Work continues on making archival material online. “Among several exciting projects that are currently mid-digitisation are the QE Governors’ minute books going all the way back to the earliest we have in 1587. The first is available now, with more coming soon.

“There is also our 20th Century History Project, which recreates life at the School during the last century through photographs, written records and ephemera. Lots of material from the 1940s to 1980s is already available and, again, more is coming soon.”

QE Collections was given a ‘soft launch’ three months ago. Since then, there have been more than 1,300 users from over 35 countries, with the Group Photographs and Everyday Life (Photographs) collections proving the most popular so far.

QE Collections uses professional digitisers to ensure its digitised files are of very high quality and has employed an industry-standard digital preservation system to ensure long-term availability for these digitised files, Mr Bowyer said, adding that while digital files are excellent for improving access, they are harder to preserve than physical objects, as digital storage media can become obsolete and data can become corrupted.

“All this work takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. If you like the work we are doing and are in a position where you can consider supporting this work, please consider contributing to our Digital Fund, which supports QE Collections.”

“Go with your heart”: Ed’s career advice after half a century at the forefront of the battle to protect the environment

As an academic scientist and a world-renowned first responder to oil spills, Ed Owens has had a more varied life than most – and certainly one with more than its fair share of excitement.

He has worked on some of the world’s biggest and most infamous spills, such as Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

At a rough count, Ed (OE 1956–1964) has travelled to more than 70 countries over his long career, including frequent visits to some of the planet’s most remote locations. He has survived involvement in “a couple of aircraft crashes”,  being chased by the Argentine army, and being kidnapped in the Amazon; he has run training for coastguards all over the world, and he has trained sniffer dogs to detect oil leaks underground.

In the years immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union, Ed made five or six visits annually to work on the development of oil fields on Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. “I have many stories about those trips!”

There was also the time he found himself stuck on an Arctic island without a radio: just one episode in his many visits north of the Arctic Circle, where he had been every year for more than three decades until 2020, when Covid put an end to this remarkable run.

Yet, in speaking to Alumni News, Ed said he prefers to reflect not so much on his own remarkable exploits, but on his origins, on his memories of QE in the 1950s and early 1960s – including what made it a good School even back in those culturally very different days – and on passing on some hard-won advice to the young Elizabethans of today.

“I’m 76 years old, still working full-time, still publishing multiple technical papers each year in scientific peer-reviewed journals, and still loving every day of my family and professional life. A full and productive life.

“How did I get here? My paternal grandfather was a shepherd in Rutland who spent most of his life living outdoors tending the animals year-round. Just coming home on Saturday night to have a beer in the pub, bath on Sunday morning, then church and Sunday lunch with the family and then back to the fields. My maternal grandfather was a ‘horseman’, which in those days meant that he looked after all the horses on the farm. He had Christmas Day off, when the farmer would start the morning routine.

“Out of all the many cousins – I think 15, to be exact – I was the only one that went to grammar school, then I was the only one to go to university until another cousin some 10 years later who, like me, went on to do a PhD.

“Luck? Good fortune? No, not really. As many people have said I wasn’t lucky, but I worked hard – and I also would have to add that many people worked very hard on my behalf: my parents and the teachers at QE, especially my House Master, John (‘Poker’) Pearce, and subsequently a couple of mentors who shaped my professional career.

“Needless to say, the School was very different in my day. While the buildings and grounds still appear familiar, there was a great focus on sport, with Wednesday and Saturday afternoons devoted to the range of seasonal choices, and with classes on Saturday mornings to make up for the ‘lost’ Wednesday afternoons! That did not leave much time for other things, though several of us made up a soccer team that played on Sunday at the Underhill Playing Fields.

“Those days, almost everybody lived in the Barnets or the Borehamwood-Elstree-Brookmans Park area: basically within a ½ hour bus ride of the school. It was a predominantly white Christian population, probably less than 5% non-Christian or otherwise ethnically diverse. And, like today, no girls of course!

“Did that prepare us well for the big wide world? On reflection, in my own very personal situation, for some reason I have been quite oblivious to the ethnicity or the sexual preference of people with whom I interact. Quite often when a third-party says something about that topic, my reaction is ‘oh, I didn’t notice that’. I certainly did not get that from my parents. who were very Victorian and “straight”, so it must have come from the School and the tolerant and intelligent teachers that we were fortunate to have.

“Most of the group at that time were Arsenal supporters because that was the nearest football ground from Barnet by British Rail. I don’t understand why, but a couple of our contemporaries actually supported Chelsea or, even worse, Tottenham! Sadly, Charlie Eggington, the Underne House Captain who followed me, is a Spurs supporter – clearly I failed in that part of mentoring him.

“The point is we still support those teams today when we have our Zoom conference calls. It’s not about football, it’s not about the team; it’s about just following and believing in those things that have some value. The great thing about sports is that the results are totally unpredictable. That gives enjoyment to following whatever sport, whatever team, whatever person one might be interested in following.”

Ed stayed on into the Seventh Form and was a Prefect and the House Captain for Underne. On leaving QE, he took his first degree, in Geology/Earth Science at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth – “three amazing years of playing rugby, rock climbing and mountaineering”.

After that, he wanted to take a postgraduate degree – “go to grad school” in American parlance – but there were limited opportunities at that time in the UK, a country which, as Ed points out, was still recovering economically from the Second World War and had yet to develop North Sea Oil. So, in 1967, he went to Canada on a graduate student fellowship to take his Master’s in Physical Geography at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His new life got off to an exciting start: “On Day 7 in North America, I was on a four-engine Super Constellation flying to a remote field camp in the High Arctic, north of the 60th parallel!”

That first Arctic trip set a travel of pattern which was to become the norm in the decades to come. “Some years, I was in more than ten countries – a whirlwind life.”

His first experience as an oil spill first responder came in March 1970 at an oil tanker spill in Nova Scotia, Canada. It was five years after this that he completed his PhD at the University of South Carolina in 1975.

In 1993, he established his own company, Owens Coastal Consultants, which for the past 28 years has been providing worldwide scientific and technical support for spill response operations and spill response planning and training. Today, he is based on Bainbridge Island in the State of Washington, with a rural office from where he can look east towards nearby Seattle.

“My roles in all of this are as a response operations planner, a first responder to develop strategies to accelerate environmental recovery, and a scientist to monitor that recovery. While major spills can certainly have a disastrous on nature in the very short term, long-term studies have shown how remarkably well and quickly the environment recovers from even large oil spills.”

His most recent spill was in late November 2020 at a pipeline break in the suburban San Francisco Bay area, where he had to contend with Covid constraints and where he used dogs – ‘Oil Detection Canines’, in the industry jargon – to find the leak.

Over the years, he has been called out to destinations as far flung as Arctic Russia, the Amazon and the Middle East (he cherishes memories of seeing Dubai Creek in its pre-development days).

“But,” he adds, “I always seemed to managed to arrange my schedule to be on a business trip so that I could be in London during the first week in December for the Annual Brewer’s Dozen Dinner, joining a motley group of 15 friends – mainly 1962-65 First XV rugby players – which included two School Captains, multiple House Captains and even one person who did not go to QE!  Such was the bond formed at the School – quite remarkable. The chain was not broken even in 2020, but then it had to be by Zoom.”

Sadly, since that last meeting, the group has been depleted by the death within a few days of each other of two of Ed’s very close friends – Richard Newton (School Captain 1963-64 and First XV and First X1 Captain; Head Boy of Harrisons’: School Governor in the 1980s) and Roderick ‘Rod’ Jones (Prefect and First XV Captain 1964-65; Head Boy of Staplyton).

As he looks back on a career that now spans more than half a century, Ed counsels patience for current pupils and recent alumni of the School: “It’s important to remember that your first job is not your last job. I went through a progression of working in government, university and then private sector consulting. My real career path really did not emerge until I was 35 years old! Which, if you put in perspective, it means that I had been working after graduation for 14 years. I’m now over 75, 40 years later.

“So, there’s no need to be in a hurry – to think that when you leave QE or leave university or college that this is going to be the single path that you’ll follow for the rest of your life. There are many twists and turns; the important thing is to understand when choices present themselves to go with your heart. If you’re never happy in your work, you’ll never be happy in your life! That’s why I’m still working at 75-plus – and all the other aspects of a balanced life – family, social activities, and so on – are reinforced by that solid foundation.”

  • Pictured, top to bottom: a winter beach survey on Unalaska Island, Alaska, in April 2005; presenting a paper at the 2017 International Oil Spill Conference in Long Beach, California; in front of QE’s Main Building in July 1962; at Resolute, North West Territories, Canada, August 1967: Ed (wearing the red cap, centre), briefing Admiral Yost, the United States Coast Guard Commandant, to his right, during a shoreline inspection following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Prince William Sound, Alaska, May 1989: Colville Delta, North Slope, Alaska August 2002.
Take it from us: last year’s leavers give current sixth-formers the benefit of their university experience

QE’s University Convention may have gone online this year because of Covid-19, but the alumni still turned out in numbers to support current Year 12 boys.

Well over 50 Old Elizabethans – mostly those who left the School last summer – took part in the video convention for Year 12 pupils considering their university options.

With 19 sessions on 14 subjects delivered over seven days, the virtual event was a major organisational and technological feat.

Michael Feven, Assistant Head (Pupil Development) said: “We were determined to ensure that the current Year 12 did not miss out on opportunities and I am tremendously grateful to our former pupils who supported us. Their participation means that the University Convention was this year once again one of the biggest examples of alumni participation at the School.

“The event allowed boys to find out more about quite a wide range of university options and, of course, to discover how our alumni’s university student experiences have been affected by Covid. All Year 12 boys were free to drop in as they chose, and the sessions proved popular, provoking plenty of discussion afterwards.”

In normal years, OEs visit the School together for the convention, which therefore also becomes a reunion for them after their first two terms at university.

This year, however, their contributions were given on Zoom in a series of lunchtime sessions over the seven days.

The alumni spoke on 14 subjects in the first four days, from Architecture to Computer Science, Law to Medicine & Dentistry, and from Geography to Languages.

The final three days involved sessions structured around topics such as the year spent in industry during Engineering degrees and the different types of universities available, with sessions including Campus vs City, Oxbridge, International and London.

To ensure full coverage of the planned topics, the first-year alumni were joined by a number of OEs from earlier years , such as Nik Ward (2003–2010) and Danny Martin (2010–2017) speaking on studying Architecture, and Rhys Bowden (1996–2003) and Simon Purdy (2009–2016) on Music.

 

Entrepreneur Akshay named in Forbes 30 Under 30 list

OId Elizabethan Akshay Ruparelia has been named in one of the influential Forbes 30 Under 30 lists, following the success of his online estate agency.

Still only 22, Akshay (OE 2009–2016) is the youngest person named on the Europe Technology list and is significantly younger than the Forbes Under 30 Europe lists’ average age of 27.

Published annually by Forbes magazine since 2011, the lists recognise young people achieving success across a number of sectors.

In the citation for Akshay, the judges noted that his company, Doorsteps, has not only raised £1.4m in investment funding, but that last year it generated more than $2m (£1.46m) in revenue, turning a profit for the first time. Charging a flat £99 to sell a home with no commission, it has sold properties worth more than £1bn to date.

Responding to news of the accolade, Akshay said that the list was one he had always aspired to be in and that he was humbled by his inclusion. “This may be a recognition of my determination, but [is also] greater recognition that I have the right people in our Doorsteps.co.uk team.”

He paid tribute to the love and support from his family, friends and advisers. Akshay added that the award “doesn’t mean success, yet” but was “a nod to the hard work, grit and commitment of those excelling in their field.

“Onwards and upwards. This is just the start, and yet it if all disappears tomorrow, we’ll go and try again.”

The past year has been a busy time for Akshay. In addition to steering Doorsteps to profitability, his coaching and consulting business has been named a Department of Work and Pensions Approved Kickstart Gateway. The Kickstart scheme aims to help young people facing long-term unemployment because of Covid-19.

In March last year, Akshay became a board member of The Prince’s Trust’s RISE2025 campaign, which comprises a group of young professionals committed to social change and social mobility.

And since May 2020, he has been an ambassador for the Royal Association for Deaf People.

As Akshay explained to the boys on a visit to QE in 2018, his parents, a care worker and a teaching assistant, are both deaf, so in addition to the customary demands on a QE boy’s time, he had responsibilities in caring for them. He had therefore been motivated to start Doorsteps by a desire for financial freedom, he said.

Akshay, who had already displayed his entrepreneurial inclinations at school by selling sweets and perfume, spent the first year of his A-level studies working on an app to help people buy homes cheaply and easily. He then used the lessons he had learned to create Doorsteps.co.uk.

In an interview with Forbes Advisor UK last summer, he stated that his ambition remained for Doorsteps to be the UK’s number one agency. “But in life,” he added, “I want to leave a legacy and to make a difference. I want to make a fundamentally positive difference in a way that can inspire or drive changes in individual lives, across the country, or world. And I want to help my parents retire in whatever way they desire.”

 

 

At your service: Andrew’s human-centred approach to technology

Andrew Kettenis’ work as a digital experience consultant can be both diverse and sometimes high-profile: recent projects have included working on the UK’s vaccine roll-out and providing support for an AI-powered automatic ship, the Mayflower.

And the ship’s purpose – gathering data about the oceans for scientists looking at climate change, pollution and marine conservation – points to an area of focus for Andrew, namely sustainability.

After four years with IBM, he is currently transitioning to a new job as a UX (User Experience) designer with a leading London agency – “exactly what I enjoy doing”.

And yet Andrew (OE 2003–2010) acknowledges that his professional life today is very different from the career he expected when he was at School. “When I look back at my subjects for A-level, the two I focused on myself were Maths and Economics, but when I look at what I use, it’s Design. I use the principles I learned in it every single day, yet it felt at the time like a bit of a rogue one!” (Andrew also pays tribute to the support of Ian Clift, his Design Technology teacher.)

After leaving School in 2010, he went to study at Birmingham. “At university, I did International Relations, with Economics ‘on the side’.  In normal QE fashion, I was intending to focus more on the Economics and how that might relate to finance, but I actually enjoyed the politics side more, especially the sociology.

“My whole career view changed quite a bit, taking on a more human-centric focus, particularly with regard to sociology and how technology relates to that.”

Reflecting on all this, Andrew has his own advice for current QE pupils: “Follow the things you love, and lean into the things you love and that you find special or unique about yourself.” Unless boys are set on a very specifically vocational degree, they should choose a university subject simply because they find it interesting, he says.

After completing an MA at Birmingham in International Law, Philosophy and Politics in 2014, Andrew worked for a few months as a technical specialist for Apple. He then headed off to Osaka in Japan, where he spent 16 months as an English language teacher.

“I loved it. It was one of the hardest, but also by far the best, two years of my life,” he says, adding that he was speaking Japanese at conversational level within six months and learned many transferable skills. At QE, he had been a keen member of the robotics club. That experience now came into its own: “I brought a lot of that to my classes, using technology as a medium. I took a very tech-centric approach to my lessons.”

It is an approach which he has followed in his subsequent career. “Technology is an effective tool for social change and is pretty central to any social or entrepreneurial mechanism.”

He worked briefly for specialist IT training consultancy Optimum Technology Transfer – “a really good job” – and then went to IBM in 2017.

“IBM is where I found essentially what I will be doing for the foreseeable future – product and service design.”

Among the projects he has enjoyed most recently has been his work on the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project. “What the Mayflower essentially is, is an AI-powered automatic ship that has been developed by ProMare, a marine research and exploration company, in partnership with IBM. It incredibly important for our sustainable future to understand how our planet is changing. It’s really cool!”

Andrew’s side of the work has been to help design the people-facing digital products that will be used by scientists and by the wider public.

The ship has already been launched and is due to go on its first mission in a few weeks, sailing from Plymouth in the UK to Plymouth in Massachusetts – hence its name, recalling another pioneering venture, that of the Pilgrim Fathers, who established the first permanent settler colony in New England after arriving at Plymouth Rock aboard their own Mayflower in 1620.

He has also been involved in some of the UK vaccination work, re-designing the experience from a service user’s perspective, so that it works better and reduces waste, looking not at apps or the website, but at the general experience being offered.

“UX design is about what the end-to-end journey looks like,” says Andrew, who adds that his aspiration is to cultivate his skills “for a wider societal impact”.

He has developed a specialism in the sustainability of supply chains and products. He has, for example, just finished working with an automotive company to help them with their thinking about the future – “the big stuff, envisioning exactly how they will provide energy and mobility to people – how energy and electric vehicles tie into our future”.

Andrew, who is based in London, helps a number of mindfulness charities on a pro bono basis. He has worked with Dose of Nature, a charity promoting the benefits of engaging with the natural world which “does some really good work in mental health”.

He is encouraged by the ethical approach of many of his fellow OEs: “They are an upstanding bunch of human beings – just really good people, whatever path they have gone down, which I think is super-encouraging.”

A music-lover and media enthusiast, Andrew also enjoys gaming in his spare time. To find out more about Andrew’s projects and interests, visit his website.

 

Harmful and hurtful: asking the hard questions about micro-aggressions

Old Elizabethan Bilal Harry Khan threw down a challenge when he took part in a video conversation about ‘micro-aggressions’ as part of a new series of bitesize discussions on vital issues such as race and discrimination.

Anyone accused of perpetrating micro-aggressions should overcome the natural instinct to go on the defensive and instead be open enough to “interrogate the ideas at the root of things that may be causing harm”, urged Bilal, a podcaster, workshop facilitator and event host.

His ten-minute conversation with Year 13 pupils Thomas Mgbor and Ayodimeji Ojelade was recorded so that the issues raised can be discussed in tutor groups. It is one of a series of Perspective discussions being arranged by the School’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors. Last year, Ayodimeji and Thomas were instrumental in the founding of Perspective – a new forum set up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Michael Feven, Assistant Head (Pupil Development), said: “I am so pleased to see these short, accessible discussions taking place, and I thank especially Old Elizabethans such as Bilal who have agreed to take part. Thomas, Ayodimeji and the ambassadors’ team are to be congratulated on being so assiduous in ensuring that these important issues are both raised and discussed at QE.”

Other conversations in the series so far have included one with Natasha Devon MBE, an activist and researcher in the fields of mental health, body image, gender and social equality.

Bilal (OE 2003–2010) read Theology at Cambridge and then worked in youth engagement. He has designed and delivered hundreds of speeches and workshops in schools and youth settings on behalf of partners such as KPMG, Virgin Atlantic, Boots and Barclays. He is also frequently called upon to speak on issues of social justice, race and masculinity for news and current affairs programmes.

Bilal began the discussion by defining micro-aggressions: “They are statements, actions or incidents which are regarded as indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group, such as a racial or ethnic minority. The key bit for me is the words ‘indirect, subtle or unintentional’…These are things which are unintentional, but are still harmful or hurtful, when somebody might say ‘ah, but I meant that in a nice way,’ or ‘that was just a bit of banter’ or ‘that was supposed to be a compliment’. “

He gave an example from his own experience: “That question: ‘Where are you from? No – where are you really from?’ Where you have said you are really from is never the right answer. They want to know where your grandparents or great-grandparents are from; when I say ‘north-west London’ that is not believed.”

Bilal continued: “It’s the cumulative impact of loads of micro-aggressions that really makes someone feel like ‘I don’t belong here’ or ‘I am angry’ or ‘I am ashamed’ or perhaps that there is ‘something about me that is not right’.”

He suggested that QE pupils should be a true “ally” by challenging micro-aggressions not only when someone who might be hurt or harmed by them is present, but also when they are absent. He urged boys to be “more confident and comfortable to challenge and question, and also just to own up and apologise when we have said and done these things”.

Thomas asked Bilal how he would respond to those who would suggest we are turning into a “snowflake community”.

“This is not about being ‘woke’ or hyper-sensitive or being ‘snowflakes’,” Bilal said. “It’s about recognising that these issues have actually been used as tools of oppression for centuries.”

 

 

Spearheading change in society: PinkNews boss speaks to QE boys

Benjamin Cohen, founder and CEO of PinkNews, dotcom success story and broadcaster, spoke to current pupils as part of LGBT+ History Month.

Benjamin, who was at QE from 1993–1998, took part in a video conversation with the School’s Student Leadership Team and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Ambassadors.

The session was recorded so that it can be used by form tutors to stimulate discussion among all year groups as an eQE online resource within QE’s personal development and wellbeing programme.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Our students will take courage and inspiration from all Ben had to say when reflecting on his career, the success of PinkNews, equal marriage, Section 28, religion and much more besides.”

Benjamin launched PinkNews, a UK-based online newspaper, in 2005. PinkNews describes itself on its website as “the brand for the global LGBT+ community and the next generation”.

But before that, Benjamin had already made his mark as a serial entrepreneur in the dot.com boom around the start of the new millennium.

After leaving QE, he created JewishNet, which he describes as “Britain’s first social network before the term was invented”. It grew rapidly, making him worth £5m at one point.

Soon after, he established CyberBritain – “a dot.com darling for a couple of years” – which, among other things, launched a UK-specific search engine powered by its own technology and attempted to launch a service similar to Spotify.

For much of his time with CyberBritain, Benjamin was also an undergraduate at King’s College London.

He went on to be a columnist for The Times, corporate advisor for ITN, business & technology correspondent for Channel 4, a PR director, and, from 2010 until 2017, was a presenter for the BBC, where his work included writing and presenting a critically acclaimed documentary, I was a teenage dot.com millionaire. He is also a longstanding UK trustee and non-executive director of Humanity & Inclusion, a global disability development charity.

He explained the importance to PinkNews’ success of its leading role in the campaigns to legalise same-sex marriage: “Since then, we have just grown and grown and grown.” Having expanded further during lockdown, PinkNews now has more than 40 people working for it and 50m consuming its content monthly, he said.

During his talk, there was plenty of time for questions from the boys, which Benjamin was happy to answer.

Asked about whether religion comes into conflict with LGBT rights, Benjamin, who comes from a Jewish background, said it was partly to explore such questions that he had chosen his degree subject – Religion, Philosophy and Ethics – at Kings. “Some faiths have moved on quite a way, but others still have a long way to go,” he said, reflecting that families often found their own ways to adapt, including that of his (non-Jewish) husband.

Questioned on barriers still facing LGBT people, including school pupils, Benjamin spoke of how much things had changed in schools from when he was a pupil. At that time, the ‘Section 28’ law that made the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ illegal in state schools was still in force. “This would have been literally against the law,” he said, referring to the discussion.

Today, the situation was very different, he said. “With me as a gay man, I can pretty much do everything I want within the UK…but trans people do face some challenges.

“It generally takes an example – so, if a student was to come out as trans or something, that would create the atmosphere to enable pupils [and] the school to move on.”

He reflected that there was a growing acceptance in society that families can differ from traditional patterns.

Benjamin, who applauded QE’s policies in areas of sexuality and relationships, said that the national introduction of ‘compulsory Sex and Religious Education’ over the last year had been a significant step: “We are in a pretty good place.”

 

Light at the end of the tunnel: Max’s positive message on mental health in the pandemic

Old Elizabethan Max Hassell gave a virtual talk for senior pupils on his experiences with ADHD, anxiety and depression as the country marked Children’s Mental Health Week.

In the lunchtime address, Max (OE 2002–2009) reflected on his own journey and underlined to the boys the benefits of seeking help, should they need it. It was only when, quite recently, he received his medical diagnosis that he was finally able to make sense of some of his own reactions and behaviour in the past, he explained.

Max concluded with an appeal to the boys to look out for themselves and for their friends. “Especially because of Covid, a lot of people are struggling in these times and people’s mental health has gone down a bit…Don’t be afraid to show weakness with each other…check up on each other; talk about things…be kind to each other.”

At QE, Max was a keen sportsman, playing in the First XV and representing Hertfordshire at U16 and U18 levels. “I absolutely loved it [at QE],” he said. “I grew up just around the corner. I was a really confident kid, and it was only later that I started to get these feelings around possible depression and possible anxiety.”

After gaining straight As in his A-levels at QE, Max went to Bristol to read History and continued his rugby there, playing in the university Second XV.

In his talk, Max said it was beneficial for the boys to hear from an alumnus of the School – somebody who had been in their shoes. He explained that he sought to open a dialogue on important topics around which there can still be stigma and to challenge the stereotypes of what someone with ADHD is like: great progress had been made in society, he acknowledged, but there was still further to go.

Left to their own devices and with their own thoughts, people could find themselves in a “dark place”, he said, which was why he urged the boys to check up on each other.

Today Max is a football agent – “my dream job” – with Sync Global Sports, a London-based agency.

“You can be diagnosed with these kinds of medical conditions, but you can still have a very happy and fulfilled life and it does not have to hold you back in any way,” he said.

The Headmaster, Neil Enright, said it had been a privilege to be able to hear Max’s talk, which was timely in the context of the lockdown and ongoing pandemic. “Prioritising wellbeing and encouraging boys to talk about their feelings is at the core of the daily pastoral support and guidance sessions in eQE, our virtual school.

“Thank you, Max, for being a great role model, for raising awareness about some of the barriers to positive mental health young men may face and for prompting so much discussion across eQE.”

Assistant Head (Pupil Development) Michael Feven also conveyed his thanks to Max: “He spoke so openly to our current boys about his experiences of being diagnosed with ADHD and living with anxiety and depression. This is such an important message for young men to hear, and we are hugely grateful to Max for sharing his story in this way.”

The talk was recorded and remains available on the QE Connect network, where it can be accessed by alumni and senior pupils.