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This is a guest blog from RSA Fellow Chris Kington.  Chris leads the network of Fellows in Cambridge and together they organised the recent RSA East of England conference which featured workshops and keynote talks from RSA Chairman Vikki Heywood and John Bird, Founder and Chief Executive of the Big Issue.  You can read more about the day on their conference programme.

RSA Chairman Vikki Heywood presents her future vision

The beautiful Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) building is located about half way between Cambridge old city and the University Observatory. Two hundred years ago the astronomers of Cambridge moved their telescopes from the town, recently lit by gas light, to  rural darkness far beyond urban lighting. The East of England RSA conference was about light and enlightenment. The CMS is now in the centre of the rapidly expanding university which has more than enveloped the Department of Astronomy. Learning and research shines all around.

The conference was designed to showcase Fellows' activity in the region – for each of us to get out of our silos to see what else is going on - to allow light into previously unlit areas.  Any Fellow who needed a voice was encouraged to be heard. We had a potential rag bag of contributions yet somehow our four themes were transformed into an elegant programme by facilitators – Loic Menzies, Wendi Pasco-McGregor, Lynette Warren and Sam Weller.  After a period of learning, each group turned to decide what activities need to be planned for the future. Change and social improvement is what the RSA is about.  We encouraged the discovery of others in the region with similar interests and discussions. It has re-energised local networks and set up potential new networks and projects. More of this in our upcoming newspaper “No Boring Reports”, published later this month. Not quite the pedigree of “The Big Issue” whose founder and editor in chief – John Bird – electrified us and helped galvanise our will to get on and make change happen.

This regional conference was set in Cambridge providing an opportunity to get 500 or so Fellows based in or near the city up and running. I was tasked by the regional team to get this conference off the ground. For half a year a group of Fellows – many of whom knew no others prior to this – put imagination and energy into assembling a programme of some complexity. It was a bit of a gamble – but one that came off.

Gavin Shelton FRSA at the conference marketplace

We had to remind ourselves the conference had to be relevant to all Fellows in the East of England Region. The range of presenters and exhibitors ensured this was not just a local show. The marketplace comprised 23 exhibitors, was a triumph of organisation and became the centre point of the day enabling much networking. Again the iconic new building was an appropriate space to realise our vision of buzzing endeavour.

At the end of the day I lead an informal walk into the City centre in order to open eyes of delegates to Cambridge as a city which has plenty of issues to deal with as it builds from its historic roots towards a hi-tech bright future.

All in all it was an immensely satisfying day with so many new links made… and plans are taking shape.

If you'd like to get involved as a Fellow in Cambridge get in touch with Chris Kington


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