Guest writer Jasmine Baines shares her takeaways from Mandy Barker’s talk

Posted on: February 22nd, 2024 by mlpEditor

On 19th February 2024, artist Mandy Barker delivered a poignant online talk on her evocative photography of marine plastic debris.

Introducing herself, Barker explained that she began photographing mass accumulations of plastic to draw attention to something that has become commonplace: litter on our beaches. Barker talked us through her projects, spanning a career laden with global recognition.

A number of her works capture plastic on a black background, arranged to mimic the natural world it is invading – dolphin pods, jellyfish, even plankton – reflecting how plastic permeates, altering nature’s very building blocks. Nurdles, for example, absorb oceanic toxins and are then consumed by wildlife, thus polluting fish and birds. I was shocked by the incessant, all-encompassing nature of plastic dominance that Barker’s work foregrounds.

Barker’s work has a scientific grounding, and her presentation reflected this. After attending a talk by a scientist that detailed the plastic-laden stomach contents of a 30-day-old albatross chick, Barker was shocked that this was not common knowledge. Determined to assist, she has worked closely with scientists since.

In 2012 Barker joined a scientific expedition sailing from Japan to Hawaii. Trawling across the debris field, they tracked plastic waste and rafting organisms still circulating from the Japanese tsunami a year earlier. Her emotive images emit the urgency her lived experience has instilled within her to raise awareness of the dangers of marine plastic pollution.

Emulating the Edward Degas quote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, Barker’s message was one of raising awareness – interestingly, she targets children, capturing Smartie lids, bath toys, and action figures of Shrek, Hello Kitty, and Mickey Mouse, speaking the globally transferable language of childhood.

A member of the audience echoed my thoughts when they queried if it would be more appropriate to target industrial leaders, responsible for causing, and surely correcting, the most damage. My mind wandered to the effects of instilling anxiety amongst children, potentially making them feel unjust responsibility. Barker responded simply that both audiences are crucial. And by educating children they will consume less, and place pressure on bodies wielding the power for large-scale change. As her work has been published in fifty countries, including within the school curriculum, Barker is certainly achieving her goal to educate and influence consumer choices.

When asked at the conclusion if the oceans can be cleaned, Barker explained we must first halt the stream of debris – “if a bath is overflowing, tackle the tap before you mop the spillage”. The awareness Barker raises is the first step – hopefully those in power are listening.

Plastic Ocean

Posted on: February 21st, 2024 by mlpEditor

In this recording of an online talk, we explore a photographic artist’s response to the worrying state of our oceans today.

Oceans are essential to life on earth. They cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface, regulate the climate, and supply the oxygen we need to survive. But every year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans, affecting marine environments, biodiversity, over 700 different species, and ultimately human health.

For more than 13 years, artist Mandy Barker has created different series of work to try to engage new audiences with the harmful effects of marine plastic pollution. Captions alongside Mandy’s work detail the ‘ingredients’ of the plastic objects photographed, list brands, or provide descriptions about locations and countries and what was recovered there. The aim is to provide the viewer with a realisation of what exists in our oceans. It is hoped that raising awareness of the scale of plastic pollution that is affecting our oceans, through the passing on of these facts combined with scientific research, will ultimately lead the viewer to want to make change and take action.

Mandy writes:

“Art alone cannot change the world. But by bringing attention to marine plastic pollution in this way, it is hoped my work will help inform, and raise awareness about the overconsumption of plastic and the wider issue of climate change, and in doing so encourage a wider audience to want to do something about it.”

Interview with Professor Tony Redmond OBE

Posted on: February 15th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: What was the first humanitarian aid mission that you got involved in and what motivated you to take part in it?

A: The first humanitarian mission I got involved with was in 1988, following the Earthquake in Armenia. What motivated me was the size of the disaster (which is now estimated to have caused between 25,000 and 50,000 casualties) and the poignancy of it being part of the then Soviet Union with its President, Gorbachev, visiting New York at the time.

Hopes were so high that the Cold War might be thawing and then the terrible earthquake occurred. Remarkably, Gorbachev asked for international help so me and some colleagues from the volunteer prehospital care team we had established in Manchester felt compelled to offer our help, which was accepted.


Q: The armed conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have been widely reported on in the Western media. What sort of work are you and UK-Med, of which you’re a founder, doing in these regions?

A: I founded UK-Med (a frontline humanitarian medical NGO) in 1988, originally as the South Manchester Accident Rescue Team (SMART), which acted in support of the rescue and ambulance services here. Since our first overseas aid mission to Armenia, we have responded to every major earthquake thereafter, disease outbreaks around the world, including Ebola in Sierra Leone and the DRC, and conflicts in Sarajevo, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Gaza (twice), Yemen, Myanmar, and Ukraine.

We have been running a range of programmes across Ukraine since a week after the war began. Currently, we are running programmes in reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation, mobile primary care clinics, mental health support, advanced trauma training, and mass casualty training.

In Gaza we have had a surgical team there for a few months and are treating war injuries, especially in children.


Q: There have been significant advancements in technology since you embarked on your career 30 years ago. What sort of improvements in international response efforts, if any, have you seen as a result?

A: There have been huge improvements over the last 30 years. For example, we have established international minimum standards for medical teams and an international registration system to ensure the right care, from the right teams, gets to the right people, at the right time.

The biggest technical improvement has probably been the mobile phone and, when these fail (not commonly now), lightweight handheld satellite phones. These mean you can consult with anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. They also improve security. When I was first deployed, I was unreachable until I got back.

“From a medical perspective, the advent of portable handheld ultrasound machines means you can now perform lifesaving internal examinations at the bedside, in a tent. We now have a portable digital X-ray machine which we can use on patients. We can even use it in remote areas as it’s run off the generator that we use to power the field hospital.”

We can now also use handheld ‘point of care’ blood testing devices – a pinprick of blood can be analysed at the bedside using a small handheld device. It gives you an instant readout of most of what we used to need a full laboratory for. (I introduced these into the Manchester Nightingale hospital, of which I was Medical Director during the Covid-19 pandemic, as there was no onsite laboratory).


Q: Delivering medical assistance in such crises is incredibly dangerous. To give readers a further insight into the unique and extremely high-risk nature of humanitarian aid work, would you mind sharing details of some of the dangerous situations you have found yourself in.

A: The work is definitely dangerous. It takes its toll on those who do it and, especially, on those nearest and dearest to them. It’s certainly not for everyone.

“You will be scared – and I have been terrified many times – but you must be able to contain your fear and function. You equally can’t be cavalier, as doing so places both you and your team in danger, and if you or they die, you won’t help anyone. I still bear the physical and mental scars of this work.”

I was poisoned with heavy metals in Kosovo which hospitalised me and required many months of treatment. It left me with permanent neurological problems. I broke my back while working on a remote island in the South China Sea which has since left me with a shortened, curved spine, and ongoing symptoms.

I have found the constant threat of danger, that something could happen any minute, almost more stressful than when it does. I worked in Sarajevo for almost 4 years and the stress was terrible. There was constant shelling and sniper fire and I twice narrowly missed being shot by snipers, with the bullets going just over my head. Tank shells frequently exploded nearby, once just outside where I was sleeping. Colleagues died. I still have nightmares.

I was in Ukraine a year or so ago when 55 cruise missiles went over in the night. Most were shot down, but the debris killed people on the ground near to where I was staying. Having worked in the wars in Sarajevo and Kosovo I was prepared and found that I could draw on those experiences during these times.


Q: How do you remain optimistic, hopeful and motivated about your work and your desire to provide aid around the world, in such challenging conditions?

A: I have seen so many people do such good things. Giving of themselves so selflessly despite the awful risks, doing it simply to help someone in need. I have also received the most enormous kindness from those in greatest need. I have obviously also seen very bad people doing very bad things.

“I am not at all religious, but I know from experience that there are far more good people than bad people, and that goodness always prevails, no matter how long it takes.”


Thank you to Tony for taking the time to answer our questions.

Tony Redmond will be giving his talk – How can we best help those in need during and after a Humanitarian Crisis?– at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on the 12th March 2024.

The Longevity Imperative: Building a Better Society for Healthier, Longer Lives

Posted on: January 17th, 2024 by mlpEditor

We live at a unique time in human history. For the first time ever the young and middle aged can expect to live long enough to become old. That requires all of us, regardless of age, to behave differently. Crucially, we need to ensure lives are not just lived longer but also lived healthier, more productively and more engaged for longer.

With global life expectancy now over 70, a first longevity revolution is coming to an end, as the majority can now expect to live a long life. A second longevity revolution now needs to emerge to ensure that we age well. Even at a time when in low-income countries the biggest lifetime health burden the young face are ageing-related diseases, it is certain that we are entering a new era.

And life will never be the same again. Past progress created longer lives. Future progress is about how we make the most of this additional time by changing the way we age. We need to shift away from an “ageing” society narrative towards a “longevity” society agenda, that aims to make the most of the extra years we have gained.

In this talk by Professor Andrew J Scott – co-author of the global bestseller ‘The 100-Year Life’ – we will look at the implications for every aspect of life for both individuals and society. We will consider how to achieve a longevity agenda which keeps us ‘evergreen’, including what is needed if we are to achieve a three-dimensional longevity dividend – longer, healthier, more productive lives.

Scott’s new book, The Longevity Imperative, outlines the fundamental changes needed in our health system, the economy and the financial sector in order to seize the advantages of longer lives. It also looks at the critical cultural and political shifts that need to happen as we adapt to a new longevity era. Given only a minority previously became the old we do not invest enough in our futures. Scott argues that if we continue along that path, the result will be an ageing society – which will undoubtedly bring new and unexpected challenges for us all. But if we invest in our new longer futures, we can achieve better outcomes and stimulate economic growth.

At this crucial point in the emerging second longevity revolution, can we seize new and exciting opportunities to improve our culture, institutions, and individual lives in preparation for longer futures and a new era for humanity? Can we move away from the negativity of an ageing society and elevate a longevity society, alongside climate change and AI, as a key factor that will determine our individual and collective future?

Manchester Lit & Phil Voices: Nazir Afzal in conversation with Darryl Morris

Posted on: January 11th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Nazir Afzal speaks to Times Radio’s Darryl Morris about his life and career on the frontline of the British legal system. From tackling Rochdale’s sex ring, to risking everything with pioneering cases against perpetrators of honour killings and modern slavery. Nazir’s personal reflections on his ground-breaking prosecutions reveal unexpected insights that anyone interested in justice needs to hear.

Recorded live on 30th October 2023 at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester.

The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter

Posted on: December 13th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How do the recent influx of Chinese migrants from Hong Kong compare to previous ones in British history?

The Chinese in Britain are a simultaneously visible and invisible community. Historically rooted in the port cities of Liverpool and London – as witnessed by their once bustling Chinatowns – the Chinese diaspora in Britain has now spread to towns and cities throughout the UK.

Much Chinese immigration to Britain has stemmed from political upheaval in China in the last century. Compared to the diaspora in the US, the influence of Britain’s historic ties to Hong Kong has been apparent. Families are overwhelmingly from Guangdong, China’s southern region, and mainly Cantonese speaking.

The economic and social pressures that greeted many of these refugee families were often similar to those experienced by the Windrush generation. The pace of Chinese immigration to Britain picked up as Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997 became imminent.

Another influence is the role British universities have played since the 1970s, in training successive generations of Chinese scientists. Bilateral exchanges have created valuable connections to a multi-ethnic country of continental proportions. Cultural and educational links formed with Britain have meant that Chinese migration, predominantly from Hong Kong, has been enriched by a small but growing settlement from other Chinese regions, together with inward investment.

In this recording of a Manchester Lit & Phil event with Newsnight Economics Editor Ben Chu, we seek to address questions such as what are the barriers to integration for this specific cohort of young British-born Chinese, sometimes tagged as “BBC Chinese”? How might their aspirations and world view be influenced by the experience of being torn from Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan 24/7 oriental hothouse atmosphere to a distant European alternate “motherland”? Could their imposed isolation and diminished status as refugees give rise to a growing nostalgia for Chinese culture? And might they be susceptible to blandishments from Beijing aimed at the Chinese Diaspora?

Guest writer Sam Abbott reflects on our event with Newsnight’s Ben Chu

Posted on: December 13th, 2023 by mlpEditor

On 30th November 2023, Manchester Lit & Phil’s The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter, featuring Newsnight Economics Editor Ben Chu, brought a packed audience up to speed about an often-overlooked but hugely significant influx of migrants.

The event came just one day after significant cuts to the Newsnight programme had been announced. Quizzed on this, Chu expressed his wish for the BBC’s current affairs output to return to fact-based reporting, and to put less focus on the talking heads debating format which it has been leaning into recently.

Chu began his talk on Chinese migration by outlining the numbers — his specialty — and I sensed that the true scale surprised many in the room: over 120,000 Hong Kongers of a wide range of ages have settled in the UK under the British National (Overseas) visa route in the past two years, and estimates suggest 300,000 BN(O) holders could arrive over the next few years, according to think tank British Future.

Placing this into context, Chu discussed other, far smaller migrations of Chinese people to Britain since the 19th century. Keen to highlight shortcomings in the treatment of previous generations of Chinese migrants, he drew parallels between the compulsory repatriation of Chinese merchant seamen in the post-war periods of the 1920s and ’50s and the treatment of the Windrush generation. The plight of the Chinese seamen, however, seems almost forgotten today.

One of the key comparisons made by Chu, and perhaps an answer as to why the repatriated seamen have received such little recognition, is the comparison between earlier generations of politically-disengaged Chinese migrants and the politically active, educated and wealthy BN(O) cohort. This shift in the nature of Chinese migrants holds potentially wide-ranging consequences for the future politics and economy of Britain.

Amidst an audience of equally keen attendees, I unfortunately did not get the chance to ask Chu for his perspective on why this massive intake of migrants — already one of the largest ever — appears to have received relatively little media coverage and political airtime. For my part, I think many factors are at play. Amongst them, this particular group of migrants’ high education level and apparent low crime rate, along with their accompanying wealth and economic potential, make their arrival much more tolerable to the British people, many of whom are otherwise extremely tired and wary of mass immigration.

A poll carried out in February 2022 by Ipsos/British Future showed 73% support, and only 10% oppose the migration of Hong Kongers through the BN(O) scheme, while a YouGov poll from earlier this month found 41% consider immigration and asylum to be one of the top three issues facing the country. It has long been an important issue for a significant proportion of society and I find it intriguing that, in this context, there has been very little opposition to such a large wave of inward migration.

Apart from BN(O) migrants, Chu also touched on the sharp increase in the numbers of Chinese students attending British universities. He challenged the stereotypes and “fear-mongering” surrounding suspicions of ties between these students and the Chinese government, putting forward his experience interviewing a handful of Chinese students in Glasgow as indication that concerns are unfounded. To my mind though, anxieties about the intentions of certain individuals within the large community of Chinese students in British universities — at a time when many are worried about the threat of foreign interference not being given enough consideration by the government, media and security services — should not be dismissed too readily.

In short, The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter brought great insight into an underreported phenomenon and prompted all in attendance to reflect on both the past treatment of Chinese migrants, as well as the impact that the recent influx could have on contemporary Britain.

Spying through a glass darkly: can espionage be ethical?

Posted on: December 11th, 2023 by mlpEditor

One of the deepest difficulties in war faced by soldiers and their political leaders is uncertainty: how can they know whether their putative enemies might be on the verge of attacking them? How can they know whether their war, and individual acts within the war, are justified? By procuring information about their enemy. And how can they do that? By spying on them.

Yet there are deep disagreements about the morality of espionage. Some argue that it is clearly morally justified; others think that it is immoral, or ‘dirty’.

In this talk, Professor Cécile Fabre will argue that espionage is morally justified, indeed morally mandatory – as a means to serve just war ends, but also as a means to minimize occurrences on which soldiers, leaders, civil servants, and citizens will act unjustly.

This is the case, Cecile argues, even though spies often have to lie, deceive, manipulate, and exploit their enemies. Her reasoning will be illustrated through some historical examples, such as the Allies’ deception operations during the Second World War, or the recruitment of human sources from within the enemy who, if found out, will be regarded as traitors.

Can espionage be ethical? Join us to hear the argument for its moral justification, and then decide for yourself.

How can we make our cities greener? Andy Burnham on transforming Manchester

Posted on: December 4th, 2023 by mlpEditor

**We are extremely sorry to announce that this event has been cancelled as Andy Burnham will now be on an international visit on the 18th January. If you purchased a ticket, your refund will be issued via Eventbrite**

In an era marked by unprecedented urbanisation and environmental challenges, the importance of creating a sustainable future for our cities has never been more pressing. City leaders and citizens are playing pivotal roles in steering the course towards a greener and more sustainable urban landscape.

As cities continue to expand and evolve, their sustainability becomes a critical factor in ensuring the well-being of both current and future generations. The interplay between city leaders, who set policies and make strategic decisions, and citizens, who drive demand and catalyse change, is at the heart of this transformation.

Manchester is no stranger to this challenge. City officials have long recognised the need to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions, with a first Zero Emission plan launched in 2009.

Since then, mayor Andy Burnham has pledged to make the Greater Manchester region carbon neutral by 2038. But the process of implementing some of the changes to realise the pledge has been far from straightforward.

The implementation of the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) has sparked a heated debate, pitting environmental concerns against economic considerations. Advocates stress the urgency of cleaner air for future generations, while critics emphasize the need for a balanced approach that doesn’t undermine economic recovery. It’s undoubtedly a complex issue, and Andy decided to press pause on rolling out CAZ in February 2022. Manchester continues to grapple to find a consensus that effectively addresses both environmental and economic imperatives remains a formidable challenge.

What other plans do Greater Manchester leaders have to transform our city into one of the greenest regions in Europe? And can citizens and leaders work together to make this happen? Join us to explore this complex issue with our special guest Andy Burnham.

Seeing Britain through the eyes of an insider/outlier: in conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Posted on: November 23rd, 2023 by mlpEditor

In this second collaboration with MACFEST, a now internationally recognised Festival, the Manchester Lit & Phil are delighted to host an online conversation with the multi-award-winning journalist and author Professor Yasmin Alibhai Brown FRSL.

Led by our former President, Ian Cameron, the conversation will weave its way through Yasmin’s incredible career – from exile in Uganda, to critically acclaimed scholar and commentator in the UK. Hers is a story worth listening to.

Yasmin will reflect on the many insightful, cutting-edge contributions she has made over the years on a wide range of political, social and cultural issues. And through these reflections, she will speak of the challenges she has had to face, in an often caustic social media environment, particularly as a woman of colour. Her commentary is often delivered with unwavering passion and conviction. And always underscored by a fearless intellectual rigour.

Journeying through a substantial catalogue of successful books and novels, including her latest book Ladies who Punch, Yasmin will illuminate the personal beliefs and values she holds dear: on Feminism, Culture, Art and Activism. And she will offer her personal and nuanced views on matters that continue to demand our attention – including diversity, equality, inclusion, freedom of expression, racism and populism.

In this hard-hitting discussion, Yasmin will be asked questions such as: what is the state of multiculturalism in Britain today? Does she see it as an unqualified success, or in dire need of re-evaluation? And something many of us have been reflecting on in recent years: what does it mean to be British today?


TO BOOK: Please visit MACFEST’s Eventbrite page

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