October 31, 2016, by David Greenaway
Nottingham in Parliament Day
I stood looking over the House of Commons Terrace at 2200 on Tuesday evening after the final event of Nottingham in Parliament Day feeling enormous pride in what had just unfolded, and wondering, ‘how on earth did we pull that off’?
The day had started the day before, with a radio interview when I was explaining what a good idea it was to take over Parliament, and was asked ‘well if it is such a good idea, how come no one else has done it?’.
And that’s the great thing about great ideas, once you have had them they can seem so obvious.
This idea began with Alex Miles, Deputy Director of External Relations. All I had to do was say yes or no. It was not without risk, but ‘yes’ it was. Easy really.
Then came the hard yards: building partnerships to ensure that whilst we led, it was not just about our University; energising our University community to underpin events; persuading Parliamentarians to commit time; persuading the Sergeant at Arms that Robin Hood’s costume and arrows should be allowed into the House because they weren’t simply “fancy dress”; and convincing The Speaker that Parliament was safe in our hands.
The resulting day was simply astounding.
I was there for the first event – a live experiment on coral degradation led by Sir Martyn Poliakoff and Universities Minister Jo Johnson – with the Japanese Ambassador and BBC1 dropping in to see it take place; to the last, a Westminster reception for 200 alumni and friends with keynote contributions from Sir Andrew Witty (Chief Executive of GSK) and Sir John Sawers (former Chief of MI6) both distinguished Nottingham graduates.
In between there were another 43 events themed under: Business, Talent and Enterprise; City of Science and Healthcare Innovation; Culture Heritage and Society; Global Connections; Home of Sport; and Nottingham Research Futures.
At the serious end of things these included: a breakfast discussion focused on how the Midlands Engine can drive growth; a forum on ending slavery; anti-FGM discussions; a debate on how we promote exports in a post-Brexit world; a symposium on the future of food – with a double-Michelin starred chef working with our academics to outline Nottingham solutions to global food security challenges… all through one risotto.
At the more light hearted end of the spectrum we had: 3D printing MPs’ heads with pupils from Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology; table-tennis, cricket, archery and football on New Palace Yard and Speaker’s Green; and a special edition University Challenge between Parliamentarians and University staff (the best bit of which was the setting in the Speakers Chambers – we were thumped, and as the Universities and Science Minister captained the Commons’ Team, he’s unlikely to let me forget it).
Overall we had more than 2,500 guests across these 45 events. Over 250 parliamentarians, 6 Ministers and the Speakers of both Houses took part in the day in one form or another (I confess to not expecting to see Alec Salmond MP and Dennis Skinner MP playing “parliamentary ping-pong” with Robin Hood).
This is the first time a University and a City has taken over Parliament. But if that was the be all and end all, it makes it just a media relations exercise, albeit a creative and very impactful one. It was more, much more.
It brought together more than 100 partners from business, education, health, sport and civil society behind a common agenda; it showcased the best that Nottingham has to offer as a place to live, work and build communities; it galvanised our own community; and it highlighted our University’s civic leadership in a totemic way. We were, for this day, “Nottingham Together” – and the combined power of the message was such that this “hashtag” was even out-trending the Heathrow announcement across the UK for large swathes of the day.
We now have to build on the success of Nottingham in Parliament Day to ensure its legacy is not just great memories of an amazing day. And we will be working with all who were involved from the University, and our partners to do just that.
Many individuals and groups deserve thanks for the planning and delivery of this initiative. Alex Miles and his team led the University effort; Chris Leslie MP, Lilian Greenwood MP, Anna Soubry MP and Vernon Coaker MP and their offices led the Parliamentarians who turned out in force.
Finally, special thanks must go to The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP. Nothing like this had ever been done before. He trusted us to deliver, granted access to many areas of the House of Commons reserved for Parliamentary business, including his own Chambers, and turned out as a great Quiz Master for our version of University Challenge.
Professor Sir David Greenaway