Festival of Ideas 2019

Thursday 22 August

‘I thought the festival was very unique and inspiring in the sense that it was a gathering of individuals from different backgrounds and of different talents, who might normally never meet, discussing very important and thought-provoking topics’ – Bianca‘I thought the festival was very unique and inspiring in the sense that it was a gathering of individuals from different backgrounds and of different talents, who might normally never meet, discussing very important and thought-provoking topics’ – Bianca Dinkelaar (2017, MPhil Greek and/or Latin Language and Literature)

Natalie Hill (2015, DPhil in History), Ditchley Festival of Ideas 2019 Steering Group Member, writes:

On Saturday 13 July 2019 the Ditchley Foundation and Holywell Manor co-hosted the third annual Festival of Ideas, bringing together over 150 outstanding graduates, postgraduates and early career professionals to engage with new ideas and make new connections. The Festival was a day-long event offering a programme of discussion, debate and thought-provoking activities on the theme of ‘Future Human: Future Self’, all set in the beautiful rooms and gardens of Ditchley Park in west Oxfordshire. The collaboration provides an opportunity for students from Balliol Middle Common Room to work as part of the steering committee, inviting forward-thinking speakers, and working with Ditchley to create an exciting and innovative programme of events for the day.

The day itself involved a range of events, focused on small group discussions with two to three speakers in conversation, interacting with participants to consider wider perspectives and ideas. Sessions ranged from a dynamic and timely conversation between Amy Orben, Lecturer in Psychology at The Queen’s College, Oxford, and the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP on ‘Authenticity, self and social media in modern politics: how to discuss facts in a politics dominated by personality?’, to the topical subject of climate change, and how our actions and inactions contribute to changing the future, in a lively discussion on ‘The self in a repairing world’ featuring Kirsty Gogan, Managing Director, LucidCatalyst, Charles A. Foster, writer, barrister and traveller, and Tobias Thornes, researcher and writer (The Problem with Money, Completely Novel, 2018), moderated by Rohan Nuttall, Research Assistant, The Energy, Technology and Architecture Lab.

The day also included individual talks and more practical sessions connected to the theme, including inspirational workshops on mindful photography; an exploration into the African philosophy of Ubuntu, ‘Self and ecosystem’, considering our connections with the natural world around us; and discussions and practice in physical intelligence.

In a thought-provoking divergence from the structure of previous years, the programme began and ended with facilitated whole-group discussions. The ice was broken by Nik Gowing, co-author of Thinking the Unthinkable and formerly main news presenter for BBC World News, enabling participants to start the day by considering their own ideas of self and their place and actions in the future world. Later Dianne Regisford, author, poet, social sculpture practitioner and energy healer, created a space for everyone to reflect on the day’s experience, revealing insightful and long-lasting thoughts and ideas on the theme which were shared with the group. The day ended with a chance for these ideas to be mulled over and further discussions to be sparked, with a glass of bubbly on the Churchill Terrace. Drinks and canapés were enjoyed to the uplifting beats of the Budapest Café Orchestra, and participants and speakers alike shared their personal take on the questions and possible solutions that arose from the event.

Many graduates from Holywell Manor attended and enjoyed the day, citing highlights as the diversity of speakers and the chance to think about their place in the world with other intellectually engaged participants. One of those graduates, Mirko Vintar, commented:‘We often live busy lives: we rush from project to project, responsibility to responsibility and hardly ever stop to reflect on what’s happened to us as a person during the process. I appreciated Ditchley for providing a space to stop, reflect, think a bit differently - and for bringing together a community willing to listen. It has truly been a unique day!’ Bianca Dinkelaar, another first-time attendee from Holywell Manor, remarked: ‘It really felt like being in a kind of energetic bubble of creativity and open-mindedness!’ Rudin Petrossian-Byrne stated: ‘It shook me out of my intellectual comfort zone. It was an enriching experience full of continuously stimulating discussions, both as part of the official schedule and arising spontaneously with many new interesting acquaintances.’

The photographs above and below by Silver Apples Photography illustrate a variety of the sessions on the day.  

The Festival of Ideas was a collaboration between The Ditchley Foundation and 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.

More information about Ditchley and its programme can be found here: www.ditchley.com.

Festival of Ideas 2019 (photo: Silver Apple Photography)

Festival of Ideas 2019 (photo: Silver Apple Photography)

Festival of Ideas 2019 (photo: Silver Apple Photography)

Festival of Ideas 2019 (photo: Silver Apple Photography)

Festival of Ideas 2019 (photo: Silver Apple Photography)