The inspiring people who make up our global alumni community.
BA English Literature 1984
Award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and founder of Spora Stories
Ade Solanke’s latest play was a site-specific commission for the 2018 summer programme at Hampton Court Place. The Court Must Have a Queen features John Blanke, a trumpeter in Henry VII and VIII’s courts and first black person in the UK for whom we have both an image and a written record. Ade’s many achievements are celebrated on our online Wall of BAME, including the Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award 2016. She was also a popular speaker at our City Connections event held in London, for over 30 current Arts and Humanities students.
Meeting the students was absolutely inspiring. They were sparky, keen, excited, attentive. My message was there’s no tried and trusted way to success in the arts – you have to make your own path. I felt really privileged to be able to share my journey as a Sheffield arts graduate. We talked about equality and inclusion and how as a black female creative I’ve addressed the challenges.
Some were cynical when I said the landscape around women’s and BAME arts has changed, but it has. We have Lisa Burger, Sheffield alumna and Executive Director at the National Theatre, and other women in positions of power, and male cultural leaders who are willing to share power and resources with the other half of the population. We stay positive and keep pushing for an arts ecology where merit matters more than race, class or gender. The audience is ready; the issue is in the arts world itself.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently immersing myself in bygone eras – then finding out how similar they are to our own. I always say Phillis Wheatley (c 1753–84) was my ‘gateway drug’ into historical fiction and I’ve been developing my project and play about her, Phillis in London, for a few years now. She was the first African person to publish a book in English. I’m in love with her story and extraordinary life as a prodigy, poet, celebrity – and slave! Having researched the Tudor court and John Blanke’s life, it’s been fascinating to look at England 200 years later, at the height of the Transatlantic slave trade, as a young woman becomes the toast of London but is still enslaved. She came here from Boston as Americans refused to publish work by an African. It’s a play about the writing tribe of the day, featuring Blue Stockings, Ignatius Sancho and Samuel Johnson, all with the backdrop of the American Revolution brewing.
I was delighted that a scene from my first play, Pandora’s Box, was included in New Daughters of Africa, the recently published anthology of work of more than 200 women writers of African descent. I was thrilled when the editor Margaret Busby asked me to contribute. I’m also writing about African artists in 60s and 70s London and growing up in Notting Hill, next to Grenfell. Lots to do! I’m so privileged that my work allows me to explore my personal history and share it with others, so enriching our collective story too. Studying English literature at Sheffield started me on this journey and I’m so grateful.”
MA Global Journalism 2016
International Public Relations Executive, NetEase Inc and Co-founder of Shanghai Direction Cultural Media
A deep interest in television journalism led Eric Yu to study the subject at HuaZhong University of Science and Tecnology, China. The high reputation of the School of Journalism at Sheffield then attracted him to study here for his masters degree. Since returning to his home country he has embarked on an exciting career, working on both sides of the camera. He is also the Chief Operating Officer of our Shanghai Alumni Group, hosting events and communicating with hundreds of fellow graduates.
I have a lot of unforgettable memories of Sheffield. I remember that I was so excited when we had our first lecture in St George’s Church. Our lecturer said, “Welcome to the University of Sheffield and thank you so much for coming to study here.” This is my first class, the building is so beautiful and the Sheffield English are so friendly – I found I loved the city from that time. Another favourite memory is when I was the official host of the Chinese New Year show in Sheffield City Hall and I interviewed the Lord Mayor. However, my most important memory is that I met my dear wife Yao in Sheffield – we fell in love in Sheffield, we got married in Sheffield!
The media environment in China is totally different to that in Britain and my Masters degree helped me expand my field of vision and understand more about journalism across the world. My first job back home was with Shanghai Dragon TV, part of the Shanghai Media Group. I helped to create two top-ranking reality comedy shows – and I performed on stage with celebrities as an actor and a host.
I next spent two years with Versus Programming Network, the biggest e-sport tournament operator in China, where I designed large tournaments and I was the only broadcaster working in English and Chinese. I was also the only official guest to be invited to a London finals tournament. Last year, I joined NetEase Inc, which develops and operates some of China’s most popular computer games, e-commerce businesses, music streaming platforms, digital advertising and email services. I have responsibility for media and digital communications and marketing activities.
I have also established my own company – Shanghai Direction Cultural Media. Together with my partner, we have plans to succeed in e-sports, ACG [Anime, Comic and Games], media, television/film and advertising. Over the next few years, I will add to my work experience, improving my professional skills in order to gain more expertise in my field. I will also further develop our new company and expand our business in the media industry. I want to produce creative content and we want to have several of our own productions that are financially successful.”
BMedSci Speech Science 2012
Founder of BearHugs
A simple act of kindness inspired the creation of an online business delivering personalised ‘hug in a box’ gift hampers. BearHugs is the brainchild of Faye Savory – Chief Sender of Hugs. She is the recipient of a Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award, a Prince’s Trust NatWest Enterprise Award and a HELLO! magazine #HelloToKindness Award.
I was working on the Isle of Lewis as a speech therapist – the exact job I’d been hoping to get after my degree – when I fell seriously ill. I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. Sheffield was one of the few cities that provided the medical support I needed; being familiar with the city and having close friends here made the prospect of coming back far less daunting than it might have been. I then needed a way to work that was on my own terms and allowed me to work around my health.
I never thought I would run my own business! When I was feeling particularly poorly, a friend sent me a care package full of specifically chosen items. I wanted to create a way to help others do the same. As soon as I started BearHugs it felt like I was always meant to be doing this. The team at University of Sheffield Enterprise helped me in so many ways. I worked with a start-up coach and social enterprise specialist. The biggest opportunity was winning the Startup Showcase. The £5,000 prize allowed me to move to my own office. I also went on courses offered by Business Sheffield and the Prince’s Trust.
BearHugs gift hampers are filled with treats, and each box reveals outstretched paws and a ‘Consider this a BearHug’ message. The contents are made by talented independent British makers, many based in Sheffield. It’s really helpful to have a lovely network of people around to turn to when facing the challenges that come from running your own business.
BearHugs is a Disability Confident employer, which means we are able to successfully employ and retain disabled people and those with health conditions. Over half our team works remotely and flexibility is built into how we operate. Our ‘catch up cuppas’ via Google Hangouts are really important for making us all feel valued. I was thrilled to be able to take Laura, our Hug Outreach Assistant, to participate in a roundtable discussion about inclusive employment at No 10 Downing Street last November.
From the start I knew I wanted kindness to be at the core of BearHugs and I wanted to work out how we could directly convert sales into giving. Now, for every 50 gift boxes we sell, we create and donate a hug-in-a-box for someone affected by serious illness. We are particularly proud to work with Sheffield’s Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.”
Dr Lowell Lewis
MB ChB Medicine 1976, Hon MD 2018
Former Chief Medical Officer and Chief Minister of the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat
As both a respected surgeon and dedicated politician, Dr Lowell Lewis played a vital role in the recovery of the Caribbean island of Montserrat in the aftermath of two calamitous natural disasters. He was recognised with the Montserrat Order of Excellence in 2018 for his commitment to the development and advancement of the island.
I spent many happy years studying and working up and down the UK and have been lucky enough to travel widely, but Montserrat will always be home. The island has been changed greatly by natural disasters in recent years. First, a savage hurricane in 1989 and then a devastating volcanic eruption in 1995. It was the societal cost of these which partly inspired me to take on a second career as a politician.
My medical career began much earlier, in 1971, when I came to Sheffield to study medicine. I have many happy memories: achieving bronze at the UK Universities’ decathlon championships; dances at the Students’ Union; and I can’t help but smile thinking about the time I played a Scotsman in a performance of Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne – kilt and all – at the Drama Society on Glossop Road.
It was always my plan to return to Montserrat. By 1984 I was working as the island’s Surgeon Specialist and Director of Health. It involved performing over 10 operations a week, leading a staff of 150 and managing an annual health budget of EC$3 million.
Everything changed when Hurricane Hugo hit. There was no hospital, no port, no electricity and no fresh water. I’ll never forget that day. I carried 10 bodies to the mortuary by myself. I didn’t see my wife and children for two days. But we got through it. We rebuilt. And then a volcano hit, destroying most of the occupied part of the island. The population fell from 10,000 to 1,800. If it fell to 1,500, everyone was to be evacuated. I did my part in stopping that from happening. I later did my duty as a politician, serving as a member of Parliament for 15 years.
For some of that time I was also working as a locum consultant surgeon at hospitals in Portsmouth, UK, commuting back home to Montserrat every month to attend parliament. On more than one occasion, I stepped off the plane and went straight into surgery to conduct major operations, including kidney transplants.
Having completed a master’s degree in Experimental Surgery and Surgical Education, I’ve now established an Institute of Surgical Research and Education in Montserrat dedicated to improving surgical education for remote and limited resource communities. We have published our first international paper and are inviting medical and postgraduate students from across the world to collaborate with us on research projects.”