On Saturday 15 July 2017, Holywell Manor and the Ditchley Foundation co-hosted a Festival of Ideas: an innovative event that brought together over 150 graduate students from across Oxford and beyond in the spectacular setting of the 18th-century mansion at Ditchley Park in west Oxfordshire. A truly collaborative initiative, with the student organising committee from the Balliol MCR working closely with the Ditchley Foundation to shape the programme, the Festival was an opportunity for graduate students to discuss cutting-edge issues of our time with experts from many fields, as well as a chance to connect with other students.
A diverse group of 19 speakers contributed to the programme of panel discussions and individual talks that engaged with the Festival’s theme of ‘Future Human: Adapting to an Ever-Changing World’. This theme generated a rich selection of talks, ranging from a panel discussion on ‘A Values-Based Politics in an Age of Trump and Brexit’ featuring the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP and writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown amongst others, to a talk by Dr Andrew Pinsent on ‘Saints and Superhumans: Science and Divinisation’, and a poetry workshop led by Caroline Teague exploring what it means to be human.
The speaking programme for the day culminated in a keynote talk on ‘The Future of Power’ with Jami Miscik, who served as co-chair on President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, in conversation with James Arroyo, the Director of the Ditchley Foundation and previously director for data at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In the gaps between sessions, many graduates took the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful grounds of Ditchley Park by participating in the outdoor activities on offer: walking with dogs around the lake, honey and mead tasting with a local beekeeper, lino printing, stone carving, mindfulness and yoga.
The Festival finished with drinks and canapés on the Churchill Terrace, where participants and speakers could enjoy more relaxed conversation and reflect on the day’s events. Many graduates found the day both stimulating and relaxing - Mohamed Elmi, for instance, commenting: ‘The food was great, the talks engaging and I especially enjoyed the outdoor talk by the beekeeper.’ Fanny Louvier, the chairperson of the student organising committee, says she thoroughly enjoyed organising the Festival of Ideas with the Ditchley Foundation. ‘After all our hard work, I was delighted that the event was such a success. At no other event would I have been able to attend thought-provoking panels, walk dogs around a beautiful country estate, and enjoy the company of graduates from across Oxford.’ Ditchley Director James Arroyo says: ‘The festival was a great opportunity to introduce a dynamic coming generation to Ditchley as a place that combines intellectual rigour and creativity to tackle the challenges of the future.’
Below is a selection of photographs from the day (by Jenny Aston, Silver Apples Photography).
Report by Helen Taylor (2013), DPhil Law
The Festival was made possible through generous support from the Ditchley Foundation and from the Holywell Manor Fund, which helps preserve Balliol’s Graduate Centre as a place that is not only graduate members’ collegiate home but also a community that enriches their intellectual, cultural and social experience while they study at Oxford.