On the 4th May 2018, I met with James Dyke, a lecturer in the Department of Geography and the Environment, as he was preparing for the event the next day. He worked on assembling the iconic TEDx Southampton sign as we chatted.
TED, as you probably know, is an organisation which is all about ‘ideas worth spreading’. In this case, the TEDx umbrella allows regions to curate their own TED-themed events. What James and his team have done over the past six years is build communities of people within and outside of Southampton who want to share what’s new and exciting about their area, inviting both experienced performers and those who just want to share a story.
We showcase people and ideas that would otherwise not have the opportunity of having that stage.
The theme this year is Growth. Interpreted broadly, growth underlies much of what drives society, whether that’s personal development growth, economic growth, or regional growth. What TEDxSouthampton have succeeded in doing is curating a wide range of speakers who have very different interpretations of growth. This year, they had someone speaking about economic ideology: why continual growth dominates political discourse, someone talking about human knowledge: better understanding who we are in terms of memory and physical brain size, and then a community journalist, all about growing inclusive neighbourhoods.
The interactive events are an important part of the show; the aim is to get the audience to engage with the ideas that they hear at TEDx events from the main stage and give them a chance to exchange their reactions with other audience members and speakers. This year, they have even put on a series of stalls, interactive exhibits and stands that showcase the exciting things that are happening around Southampton. James notes ‘we are fortunate to have two large universities, with engineering, film production and TV students who regularly produce exciting projects such as the Human Powered Submarine, and the Human Powered Aircraft‘.
The main aim is providing a forum for people to interact, share ideas, and connect with each other.
TEDx is a space where those achievements can be showcased and celebrated. They also invited the Southampton Roadshow, a community bookshop, October Books, the ECS cybernetic rhino, to name a few. Whilst the show has the potential to be quite passive in that there is a speaker and an audience situation, James makes it clear that it does not constitute the whole show; he wants to get people to explore ideas inside the venue and then long after they leave.
James himself is involved in a lot of events outside of university including public engagement and external lectures on sustainability, he hopes to facilitate activism in the local community. He recently chaired an air quality hustings event before the recent local elections which brought together the public and politicians, where concerns about air quality were raised.
He is always looking for opportunities to utilise staff, the facilities, network, and the resources at the university to make a positive action in its local community. ‘We must make sure we’re a neighbour!’ he laughs.
People talk about how the university contributes to the local economy, but it also has tremendous potential to help transformative change in Southampton. We aspire to change the world, and that change can happen at home.
James is hopeful about the future of community outreach events such as these in Southampton. Although he wakes up the next morning tired and aching, seeing the impact and feedback always get him excited about the next one. He says, ‘every year, it’s bigger, there are more people and better stalls’. It is clear that there is a strong desire for events such as this in Southampton, as all of this is done with very little marketing and promotion, and we should embrace that.
We must maximise what we do well: finding exceptional people to tell amazing stories.
Students have always been intimately involved with the running of TEDx Southampton, it was initially started by James and a current student. It started as an event in a lecture theatre, and even though now it’s a city-wide show, we have over 30 student volunteers involved in exhibiting, front-of-house, backstage, technical support, the whole lot! If any student wants to see how it works and is excited about TED out in the community, he urges ‘talk to us, and we’ll get you engaged – there’s always more work to do!’
I rounded up by asking, the simple but quite difficult question: “Any final thoughts?”. James wants to emphasise that students have spoken at events. A current medical PhD student, Nazira Albargothy, is one of the speakers this year, she is currently researching Alzheimer’s, and is the winner of the three-minute thesis competition. He says, ‘this year’s event is diverse without intention. We wanted to faithfully represent the local community and it emerged that the people we really wanted to speak were predominantly women’.
We have so many stories from different people, representing diverse communities and sharing diverse ideas, and that’s what it’s all about.