Acknowledgement to the place where dream starts and is realised …

Read Xintong Han’s blog on being an international student in the Drama Department. Han graduated from the Drama Department in June 2018. He is currently studying Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

As one of the very few international students who did their undergraduate degree in the drama department at University of Manchester, I had really a precious experience of living and studying which I believe I could not find in anywhere else. During the three years, my life had been filled up with challenges and opportunities which made me to break out of my comfort zone and eventually made me get so many achievements. I never thought was able to make. Therefore, I would like to share my evaluation and suggestions with the staff and upcoming (international) students about my life in drama department, which I hope would be useful for them to enhance their study, work and life there.

As one of the top research universities in UK, University of Manchester turns out to be a great choice for academic education. During my undergraduate years, all the classes, exercises and assignments I have done leaves me a very solid academic base, which enables me to undertake academic tasks such as research and writing professionally and also made me a competitive candidate in several applications for further study. I owe this to the lecturers and teaching staff in drama department, who are always ready to offer help and suggestions on how to improve my work.

Moreover, I really appreciate the staff who encouraged me to be bold for my course selection and carefully explained the courses I wanted but felt not confident enough to take. With their help, finally I was brave enough to have a try the ‘Writing for Performance’ module in my final year, which is the thing I wanted to do for my career. Although it was still challenging for a second language speaker like me to do creative writing in English, the skills I learned and the plays I wrote during this courses helped me a lot in the process of applying for a Master programme in this area.

Meanwhile, I wanted to say thanks to all the teaching staff who were tolerant to my awkward English writing and left very detailed comments on my assignments, from which I was able to know how to improve my writing and eventually become more and more confident in it. It was really a great fortune for me to have so many chances to have a go at things that I used to think are impossible to do in an English context. Only in this way could I constantly push through my limits and explore my potential.

However, there are still some areas I think might not be very ideal for international students’ life in the drama department. The first thing I think the department could deal with relates to required readings for the lectures. Although I know it is very common and necessary for students to read a lot material in university, sometimes it may become very stressful for international students. Furthermore, when facing with some many readings, sometimes I just felt that I didn’t know what were the key points that I should focus on and that will be discussed in the classes. I suggest that the readings could be assigned as a kind of task, in which the students will be asked to select one or a certain numbers of readings to focus on, and asked find the answer to a certain questions in these readings. In this way students will read the articles with clear goals and aims, which will help them to understand the readings effectively.

It would also be good to have more help with socialising. It’s true that most people in the department are friendly and enthusiastic, but, due to the cultural and linguistic differences, it is still hard for international students to make friend with local students. I think it is very necessary to organise some activities like international students mixer, in which the international students from different majors gather together to know each other, by which they would know more people and enrich their social life. Improving the quality of social life could be relevant to the mental health of international students – who very easily come to feel lonely or homesick.

Finally, I wish there could be some workshops intended for international students in the first year, in which in the teaching staff will chat about their plans about their future and career and give some suggestions on the course selections for the following years. Although the curriculum in drama department is of great diversity, which I was deeply appreciate, the students have to have a very clear about their goals and plan after graduation when choosing the courses for second and third year, as only in this way could they learn about the skills and knowledge they desire in a consistent way.

My life in drama department and University of Manchester was never perfect, but it was one of the most valuable and meaningful stages in my life. After the three years of hard-working, eventually I was able to graduate with a good degree which was beyond my expectation and also get the opportunity to study in my ideal grad school where I never thought I could get admitted to. I attribute all of this to UoM and the drama department. Thanks to these magic places, I was able to meet many adorable and reliable people who taught me many things which are priceless and marvellous, and hone myself to be strong enough to pursuee my dream and goals. I intend these words to contribute to the development of drama department, helping it to improve the experience it could offer to students and to make it become the alma mater I can be proud of for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

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On Audience – Andy Smith

So far this semester one of the things I have been thinking about most is audience. This is not surprising. I think about the audience and the idea of audience a lot.

I think that as students and teachers and makers of theatre, we should think about the audience all the time. We should think about them and we should also be them. We can be and should be both. Even if you are only reading a play you are still in some way an audience for it. When you are watching each other in a practical class it is useful to think and be — as my third year group of contemporary theatre makers hear me say all the time — a good audience for each other.

You might have also heard me say (the third years have) that I think that the audience is the only essential component of the theatre. I do think this. I can think of examples of theatre that have no lights, no actors, even no theatre, but I can never think of a type of theatre that does not have an audience.

This tells me something. The first thing it tells me is not to ignore them. I think it tells me to see them as the foundation and fundamental component of what theatre is. And so as we learn and think about theatre — and I hope we are all thinking about and learning more about theatre here at Manchester (I know that I am) then I think that we should continue to think about audience.

I don’t just mean that all theatre should look at the audience and say hello (as my work often does). Sometimes the people on the stage are pretending to be in another space and time and looking at the audience might not help matters. Look up the first line of Hamlet, for example. I think that line is also in some way for the audience. But I certainly would not expect (though there is nothing to say that it might not happen) a production of that play which is delivered directly to them all the way through.

This is complicated. The point I suppose I am trying to make is that we should never forget that an audience is there, and then find the appropriate way for that to happen with the particular work we are trying to make. Any production, however it does it, should be addressed to an audience. If we forget that then the whole enterprise feels like it could be lost.

I haven’t got enough words to even begin to scratch the surface of what being an audience might mean, but I can offer a few starters. I think it means being in the room with what is happening in the play or performance. Being invited to it (even though we might have paid). Unpacking it, interpreting it. Looking at it and hearing it, and considering what it makes you think or feel, or hopefully both. If you were not there then it would not be happening.

So my invitation to you is to be good audiences. Be curious audiences. Enjoy the work you see. Ask questions of it. Bring an open mind to it. It takes practice, though. Continuous practice. However experienced we are, we are always new audiences. The play might be hundreds of years old. It might be the three hundredth time the performers have performed it, but it is the first time we have seen it, so it is the first night for us. It never stops. For me, that’s part of the joy of it.image1

Begin, again

New member of staff Andy Smith (Lecturer in Theatre Practice) writes about new beginnings …
 
I have just begun rehearsals for my new play, SUMMIT. Even though I have worked in the theatre for years this is a first for me, as it is the first time I have written a play solely for other people to perform. It is a new start, and in just under three weeks the play will happen for the first time in The John Thaw Studio Theatre in The Martin Harris Centre. Many of the audience for these first performances will be made up of students from the department of drama. Many of them will be at the start of their three years at Manchester. It is, and will be, a moment of many beginnings.
 
As well as this, alongside these students, I have just joined the department as as a part-time lecturer in theatre practice. I’m in a similar situation, then. In the process of understanding new rhythms and systems and operations. Meeting lots of new people. Getting new information. Working to understand the particulars of a place. How something works and what my part in it might be.
 
How we begin, and move forward into what feels like a sometimes unknown future happens to be one of the concerns of the play. The first act is actually set in a place one thousand years from now. In this future, people gather together in a room like The John Thaw Studio Theatre to reflect on and tell a story from the past. They do this — as I think we often do in theatre practice — to consider where we are, how we got here, and where we have been. To consider how we have moved forward, and how we might move forward some more. Keep going even when we aren’t always clear about what lies ahead.
 
All three acts of the play think about this in some way. And when the play is over, one of the hopes — for me anyway — is that the audience go out into the world and something begins again. 
 
I have often thought that theatre is a good place for this kind of beginning. As Peter Handke suggests in a play called ‘Offending The Audience’ — a play that I am sure you will encounter or have encountered during your studies, a play can be a prologue. A prologue to everything that happens after it, when the doors have opened and the audience have returned to their lives outside that room. It is a common theme in a lot of plays. Look out for it as you move through your years here.
 
Beginning something — a new course, a new process of rehearsals, a new job — brings with it a mix of exhilaration and excitement. And also, let’s be honest, it comes with a a few nerves and sometimes even a little fear. This is OK, I think. It’s what makes something worth doing. If we can get the balance of all these elements right these beginnings can be intoxicating. At this moment, at the start of rehearsals, as we approach a new semester, everyone will be feeling this in some shape or form. It is a new year. Something is starting. Something unknown and new is there to be navigated and explored. Fresh territory lies ahead.
 
Let’s begin.

A new-bee’s guide to studying Drama at the University of Manchester

A blog post by UoM Drama graduate, Cara Looij (Class of 2018)

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U nderstanding is what you strive for as a curious person.

N urture your curiosity, but I’ll warn you – the more you learn… the less you know…

I magination is, however, something that will continue to grow.

O pen your mind to the universe’s abundance in the years to come. The

F uture is scary as hell, but remember to have fun.

M ountains come in different forms: reading, exams, essays and more

C reativity is something to keep alive in your core

R emind yourself frequently of why you started the climb

D rama is culture, art, space, action and time

R emember, your craft has the power to disrupt the paradigm

A rt is important, don’t let people convince you otherwise

M anchester will show you what I mean, it is a hive of busy bees

A nd their buzz is the bustle of the city’s life – you’ll see

D on’t compare yourself to everyone around you

E merse* yourself in what you make and do

P lease bee you, you’re best when you’re authentic

T hree years will be over before you know it.

(*deliberate spelling error alert*)
Are you a new student at the University of Manchester’s Drama department? Are you currently shitting yourself about what is to come over the next three years? Are you seeking some reassurance from an older and wiser soul to comfort you? Well good luck finding one because I have no idea what just happened but I somehow managed to graduate and Jenny has asked me to write a blog for the newbies … or new bees because we’re in Manchester! Here are my thoughts:

  1. Forget your a levels, they’re done, they were stressful as hell but they’re over now … they are not a barcode on your forehead. If you came to an open day you heard David Calder say “you are more than your a level results”. He is a wise man and I trust his judgement – you should too.
  2. You WILL make friends, on the course, in halls and beyond, it might not happen straight away, and it will feel like everyone else has more friends than they know what to do with and you are alone, but I assure you, this is not the case!
  3. University essays are different to a levels so read your feedback, meet up with your academic advisor, and go to the study skills sessions. It took me 3 years to figure out how to write an academic essay, I wish I’d spent more time in first year grasping an understanding of it because that’s when you have the “space to fail”. (on a side note – failure is not bad, often your downfalls are the things that you learn the most from!)
  4. Talk to people, stay in touch with your peer mentor and academic advisor, the latter is a particularly important person to have a strong rapport with. Eventually they will be writing references for you, so it’s good to get to know each other over the three years. Furthermore, life happens and things get challenging – you need to let your academic advisor know if you are struggling with anything that might be affecting your work, they can’t help if they don’t know.
  5. Get creative. Manchester is an incredible creative hub with so many opportunities for young artists, performers, writers, musicians, designers, photographers… you name it. Put yourself out there and try some new things- societies are a good start, but try to branch out, it’s good to have a diverse range of friends. I’ve included a list of organisations below!

List of things to get involved in:

  1. Contact theatre:
    has a young company and the focus of the theatre is to engage people under the age of 30 so see what’s going on with them- they’re currently based at HOME.
  2. Royal Exchange theatre:
    has initiatives for young directors and producers- definitely have a look.
  3. Stockport conversation club:
    always in need of volunteers to teach English to refugees!
  4. Whitworth Art Gallery:
    Has lots of workshops and events as well as some amazing rotating and permanent exhibitions!
  5. Islington Mill:
    plenty going on there, though it’s in Salford it’s great for people who are interested in lots of different kinds of creative practice.
  6. Young Identity:
    a poetry group based at Contact theatre (currently based at HOME) who meet weekly for creative writing workshops and are incredibly well connected in the literature and performance scene nationally.
  7. Drama Society
  8. Creative Writing society
  9. Shakespeare Society
  10. Studio Group: is usually in the John Thaw on a Wednesday evening from 6-9 … think of it as an experimental
  11. (IN)SANE:
    is a multimedia arts platform which aims to open discussion around mental health through providing a space in which creatives can express their testimonies through creative practice. The first event was hosted in March of this year and their next event will be in October.
  12. Girl gang Manchester:
    A creative event series + community promoting creativity, collaboration, confidence + positivity, to help inspire + support women to succeed in life work + society.
  13. Musical Theatre society
  14. Raw Forms Magazine:
    A zine which was launched in March 2018. They are a platform for queer and minority voices to write about politics and culture.
  15. M(.)ist Collective:
    a Queer women’s art collective who do events such as lesbian speed dating, exhibitions, performance evenings and parties.

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Read blogs by other UoM Drama current students and recent graduates on their experience of studying at Manchester here –

Sarah Faulkner

Sadie Stanton

Molly Stedman

Cerys Splisbury

Non-directive play in schools

In this post Sarah Eastaff, UoM Drama alumna, reflects on her work with theatre in educational and therapeutic contexts since graduating 

I currently work for the learning department at the National Theatre – a post I took up after being the Learning and Engagement Officer for Education at Oldham Coliseum Theatre for some years. A large part of my role in Oldham involved leading on and delivering the Secondary Partnership Scheme, which focused on building effective relationships with secondary school teachers and supporting the development of students aged 12 to 16. Participating schools had access to subsidised workshops, tours, a fully technically supported main stage production and subsidised tickets to see professional work.

In this work, I regularly observed the power structures at play in education settings and my ongoing training as a play therapist has highlighted the ways in which theatre and play can disrupt the presumed hierarchies at play in schools. This disruption is valuable – it offers students artistic ownership and provides an opportunity to explore different power balances in working and learning environments.

Play therapy is rooted in Virginia Axline’s principles. Axline developed a client-centred method for working with children, drawing on Carl Roger’s person-centred approach to therapy. When in the play therapy room, the child leads the play, with the therapist following and observing, thus maintaining a non-directive environment. While the parent or guardian must consent for the child to come to play therapy, so must the child. The child can refuse to come to play therapy at any time, and this non-directive process provides an opportunity for the client to take and maintain ownership, autonomy and authority.

Formal education, however, is primarily delivered in a directive setting. In a pragmatic sense, schools need to manage timetables, safeguarding, exams and a myriad of unexpected situations. To do this, it is important that there are rules in place, but in the play therapy room, students are told that these rules do not apply. The play room can be situated in the school, creating a small space for rule breaking within the confines of the school. In my experience, this creates an initial exuberance in a child, and this is a moment that effectively informs the ‘client’ that this can be a place to explore emotions or experiences they may aim to avoid in school.

For the child to be able to explore therapeutic play effectively, there must be some boundaries in place. These boundaries include maintaining the safety of both the child and the therapist, as well as the room being safe and remaining consistent. The room can only stay consistent if the symbolic world the child creates stays in the room and so children cannot take toys or objects with them when they leave. Outside of this, the child has full agency and autonomy within the room. While in a traditional educational setting the child’s safety is maintained by the rules of the institution, and the focus is on directing a child’s learning, in play therapy there is an opportunity for the child to take the lead while still being kept safe.

Something similar can happen in ensemble work in theatre in education. When students are introduced to devising, choral work or directing they are handed the reins to the creative process. Many teachers I work with relish the freedom they can offer their students in a drama class, and as visiting facilitators had the opportunity to highlight this.

It is possible to blend some of the play therapy approach in to drama work in a more formal education setting. At the beginning of a devising process in a secondary school we can create a shared and accepted ‘boundary statement’; by creating a contract which enabled the students lead safely and with consent, students can become better able to take ownership of the process. These democratically chosen rules can be revisited throughout the rehearsal process. The contract may contain rules like: everyone respects each other’s opinion, arrives ready to work and can offer constructive criticism. By referencing the contract that the students have agreed, you are reflecting their own boundaries while also keeping them safe.

As a facilitator, providing time to experiment, to fail and to compromise is key. This is a valuable experience for students because they will be expected to direct their own lives as well as make their own theatre if they pursue a career in this area. When children are taught to jump through the hoops of exam questions, follow primarily directive curriculum learning, there may be a lack of experience of working without this structure, as young people are expected to do either at university or when leaving education. In theatre in education, the freedom to make their own work can impact students’ academic and artistic choices but also in a small way, their understanding of taking control. Similarly, in play therapy, the client leads their own therapeutic change.

Another connection relates to play therapy’s focus on non-directive language. As I work primarily in a non-directive manner, instead of asking questions or making suggestions, I reflect the child’s statements and physicality back to them to help them gain insight in their behaviour. This approach has resulted in some moments of illumination for clients I work with in therapeutic play. They have reflected on their statements and actions, having had the opportunity to observe their own behaviours.

What happens when this is applied to work as facilitators in schools? If a student devising a piece of theatre tells me, “I feel like we made progress this afternoon”, I might reflect “You feel the work this afternoon was good.” In the first instance, this allows the student an opportunity to examine their original statement, and potentially analyse it further. It also allows other people in the group to engage with the statement and offer their own opinions. In theory, students could respond immediately to the student’s statement; however as the facilitator you are in a position of power, and by reflecting students’ statements back to them you are redistributing some of that power and agency to them. In play therapy, there is a belief that the child has the tools to instigate their own change, and I apply this to theatre in education.

I am not advocating for the use of therapeutic practice in theatre in education. Therapy is based on a contract and an understanding of the boundaries in the sessions, the safeguarding procedures in place and the therapist’s professional experience and training. While the process of making theatre can be therapeutic for an individual, it can never be the aim. However, as this blog shows, I am very interested in utilising non-directive approaches to build an understanding of ensemble working and artistic control. If you are assisting groups of student actors on their devised piece, other cast members can direct and offer insight, for example. The shared rituals that we create can be suggested and led by different members of the group. In a school setting, you will always have the power as the adult in the room. While we as facilitators may aim to work against this, I believe that half of the battle is acknowledging your power and where possible, redistributing it.

References

Axline, Virginia M. (1964) Dibs: In Search of Self. London, Penguin Group.

Axline, Virginia M. (1969) Play Therapy. London, The Random House Publishing Group.

Follow Sarah on twitter @SarahEastaff

Creativity conquers conflict

Announcing a new phase of In Place of War – Blog post by Ruth Daniel, CEO, In Place of War and Honorary Research Fellow in Drama, University of Manchester

In Place of War is pleased to announce that we have won a £1million research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (led by Professor Oliver Richmond, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute – University of Manchester). In Place of War was born in the Drama department at The University of Manchester, and over the course of its nearly 15 years of life we are now a global organisation that uses artistic creativity in places of conflict as a tool for positive change. Our vision is to live in a world where creativity conquers conflict.

We enable grassroots change-makers in music, theatre and across the arts to transform cultures of violence and suffering into hope, opportunity and freedom. The organisation began with research led by a panel of leading academics into the transformative power of arts in places of conflict. This kick-started the creation of a new network of young creative change-makers spanning 24 countries. Today in Place of War helps to support the network across three pillars; the creation of cultural spaces, education & entrepreneurship and artistic collaboration.

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The Art of Peace

“I fear we [peacebuilders] see ourselves to be – and have therefore become – more technicians than artists. By virtue of this shift of perception our approaches have become too cookie-cutter-like, too reliant on what proper technique suggests as a frame of reference, and as a result our processes are too rigid and fragile.” J.P. Lederach, Peace Scholar.

International interventions aimed at building peace in conflict and post-conflict societies have a rather negative track-record in achieving their objectives. One of the main explanations for this is the apparent inability of international actors to reach out and connect with local communities and leaders who are key in transforming societies and enabling a lasting peace.

In recent years, arts based approaches to peacebuilding have gained traction as an emerging area of research and practice typified by the work of Cynthia Cohen at Brandeis University and programmes delivered by NGOs Search for Common Ground and In Place of War and countless community projects. Despite these advances, arts based approaches to peacebuilding as an area of study and practice remains under researched. In particular, there is a deficit in understanding the impact community devised and led arts projects can have on peace formation at various stages of conflict amongst diverse actors. Thus, this project investigates the potential of grassroots led and devised arts projects in undertaking a key role in how peace emerges within a country and stresses the agency of local people to change their society. We aim to determine how arts can positively contribute to peace; this project builds a community of practice between academics, artists, practitioners and policy-actors to explore the transformative power of the creative arts in the context of conflict and peace. Creating an evidence-base around the impact of arts can shape new policies and NGO programming to improve the life of people in conflict-affected societies.

To this end, we will develop a methodology to assess the impact of arts-based peace projects and their legacies. The project’s starting point is the simple notion that the nexus of aesthetic, cultural, and social engagement can be powerful and offers an ‘undercommons’ upon which to build peace. The project distinguishes between contexts of ‘war’, ‘diffuse war’, ‘transitions from war to peace’ and ‘post-war’ contexts to investigate the role that performative arts can play in each of these conflict stages. We will rely on the case studies of Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Colombia and Bosnia- Herzegovina to analyse the complex interplay of the arts and war.

Comparing and contrasting these case studies in terms of where the arts are situated, who runs the arts projects and how they work best as a partner of peace formation, the project asks:

  1. What role can grassroots arts play in different types and stages of war?
  2.  Based on these insights, under what conditions can the creative arts and peace formation processes be best integrated with each other?
  3. How can we understand the extent to which creative arts projects help external or internal norms of peace to be adopted on a broader social level, or do they highlight local norms?

The project will be run by the University of Manchester, Durham University, and In Place of War with the support of several local researchers and artists, combining insights from the field of academia with local arts practitioners on the ground. Project leads will form a partnership with local organisations and actors in each of the case countries to conduct the research and devise a toolkit for grassroots and NGO practitioners on the one hand, but also to co-produce art productions on the other. The latter include exhibitions, an audio archive, community performances and web-based content, all of which will be accessible to the communities in the countries themselves as well as to UK audiences.

To find out more:–

www.inplaceofwar.net

info@inplaceofwar.net

@inplaceofwar

Ruth Daniel is CEO of In Place of War and Honorary Research Fellow in Drama at the University of Manchester

Graduation, prizes, best wishes, we will miss you, please keep in touch!

It was a complete honour to read the names of all our brilliant graduating third years last week. All seemed to go by without major mishap and I really enjoyed the way Vice Chancellor Lemn Sissay so warmly welcomed every single graduate on stage and managed to find a new and different thing to say to each person! The graduation ceremony was – as in previous years – beamed out across the web-waves, and for the first time this year, so I heard, people could watch in Virtual Reality. This was also the first year that I’ve seen tweets from students sharing audio-visual clips of their moment on stage, as Caoimhe Hale did via twitter (1137 views so far!).

I want to use this blog post to confirm the student prizes that were given to this year’s graduating third years. Before I do so, it is worth noting that for many years Drama staff debated the merits of giving prizes to individuals. We are committed to the principle of drama, theatre, performance as an ensemble-based discipline and practice, and singling out individuals seems to go against the grain. I still feel this – a bit – but after years of sitting through lists of prizes given by other departments to their students at graduation, we decided to give it a go. This is the third year that we have given prizes. It is important to say though that we are extremely proud of every graduate, prize winner or not. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with each and every one of this year’s graduates over the last three years.

Back to the prizes – here they are: –

The Viv Gardner Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement went to Cath Snow, in recognition of her brilliant academic profile – the highest of the cohort.

The David Mayer Prize for Outstanding Dissertation went to Molly Stedman, in recognition of her fantastic Dissertation, entitled ‘Discourses of Empowerment in Learning Disability Theatres: A New Debate’.

The Tony Jackson Prize for Outstanding Student Citizenship went to Cara Looij, in recognition of her much valued and trusted presence as student ambassador, student rep and peer mentor over the last three years, and her co-leadership of (In)sane – a new initiative that uses live art to engage with and raise awareness of experiences of mental distress – follow (In)sane here

The Meera Syal Prize for Outstanding Practical Work – we had a hard time deciding on this one, with so much incredible practical work happening inside and outside of the curriculum this last year! In the end, we decided to split the prize three ways. Dominic Chan and Rebecca Hatch each won the prize for their beautiful solo pieces created as part of the Contemporary Theatre-Making module with Andy Smith before Christmas. The team who made ‘Fluffy Come Home’ on the Video Project with Johannes Sjoberg also won the prize – Emily Brocklehurst, Katie Howarth-Ankers, Lily Mcginn and Amy Newell. Watch ‘Fluffy Come Home’ here

Very unusually, and to their absolute credit – we also had four students who received the Dean’s Award for Achievement this year. They were: Iona Champain. Lily McGinn, Cath Snow and Molly Stedman.

Thanks to all graduates for your contributions to Drama at Manchester over the last three years. Please keep in touch – you can join our University of Manchester Drama Alumni facebook group and follow us on twitter of course, but please also do drop by and say hello whenever you are passing!

Best wishes

Jenny