The Difference Festival, a week-long celebration honouring the history and roots of the University of Westminster, celebrated its five-year anniversary in 2021. As we build up to the 2022 edition, it seemed like the perfect time to look back on the Festival’s history.
Designed to spark conversations and promote public engagement between communities within and external to the University, the first Difference Festival was launched in 2017 by Professor Andrew Linn, now Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Following the first year’s successes, the Festival returned as a week-long series of events aimed at increasing engagement with the wider public. By its third edition, the Festival had grown even bigger, offering a wide selection of activities within the theme “Radical Ideas to Make a Difference”. In 2020, the Difference Festival focused on the theme of “Truth” in the context of a contemporary world of fake news, orchestrated social media presence, individual-specific advertising and advanced editing software making the very idea of reality questionable.
Current event lead Dr Bradley Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Physiology, said: “I am delighted to see how the project has developed over the years. In 2021, because of the Covid-19 pandemic the Festival took place online. That gave wider opportunities for more people than ever to join us. The audience could choose from a variety of event formats, apart from lectures and interviews with fascinating external speakers, they could join workshops, attend a photo exhibition and see a play hosted entirely online. As a result, the number of attendees almost doubled in comparison with 2020. For those who didn’t have the chance to attend this year’s Difference Festival 2021, we developed a blog posts series on topics covered by the event.” Professor Debra Kelly, who led the Difference Festival in 2018 and 2019 added: “The University strives to make a difference, embodying the link between theory and practice and changing the world for good. From the beginning, one of the key objectives of the Festival was to revive the heritage of the institution and share ideas and knowledge. We wanted to encourage the public to get involved and to collaborate with our learning, teaching and research.”
Over the years, the audience has become more diverse, inclusive, and younger. The format has evolved in parallel, while retaining an academic foundation, the Festival now mainly offers workshops and talks with even more space for public engagement.
The University of Westminster has always been different and diverse. Founded in 1838 as The Polytechnic “to delight as well as to instruct”, it was described at the time as “an intellectual treat”. Our university was established as a place where the public could explore great ideas, discover the latest inventions and learn new skills. As we keep working under those values, the Difference Festival nourishes from the work of the University community, integrated by academics, lecturers, students and staff to continue to be different and make change.
The Difference Festival is one of a number of diverse initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences designed to showcase the way in which our colleagues’ work makes an impact in the wider community and promotes interdisciplinary conversations between groups. Other ways to spread the knowledge include the Different Conversations podcast and weekly blog posts, where we feature newsworthy and topic pieces that are linked to current research or activities within the university.
If you want to keep up-to-date with our initiatives, don’t forget to keep in touch by following us on Twitter, where we share all the most exciting news. You can also listen or watch Different Conversations on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or any other channel that suits you best.