the team

Bernie Whelan, Events coordinator

Bernie Whelan is events coordinator at the Academy of Ideas and a reviewer for spiked. She has written on a wide range of topics from Elvis Presley to Seamus Heaney. She worked as office manager at the East London Science School and is a member of our Arts and Society Forum.

CONTACT Bernie Whelan


Alastair Donald, Associate Director

Alastair Donald became associate director of the Academy of Ideas in January 2017. He coordinates planning and programming across projects including Battle of Ideas and Battle of Ideas Europe, and is co-founder of our residential school, Living Freedom, which allows 18- to 25-year-olds to explore the meaning and ideals of freedom in the twenty-first century.

Alastair is an experienced cultural programmer having worked in the UK and internationally to develop festivals, exhibitions and curated programmes. He is a founding member of New Narratives and also of mantownhuman, which published Manifesto: towards a new humanism in architecture (2008). The Manifesto featured in Penguin Classics 100 Artists’ Manifestos. He is also co-convener of Critical Subjects, mantownhuman’s international residential architecture school based in London.

Alastair is the co-editor of The Lure of the City: from slums to suburbs (2011) and The Future of Community: reports of a death greatly exaggerated (2008). He has written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Independent, City Metric, Architectural Review and Blueprint.

CONTACT Alastair Donald


Andrea Seaman, Intern

Andrea is interning at the IoI in the run-up to the Battle of Ideas 2016.

CONTACT Andrea Seaman

Tony Pierce,

Tony established the 250 New Towns Club. He has over 20 years experience as director or head of service in planning, property, engineering, surveying and housing services in various councils in London and the South-East. He recently advised the Mayor of London and Croydon Council on how to set about building a 20,000 strong community in Croydon town centre.

CONTACT Tony Pierce

Bríd Hehir, member, Battle of Ideas Committee

Bríd started her career in nursing and midwifery in Ireland, before working as a volunteer in Africa. She then embarking on a 15 year career in Health Visiting in London. During that time she developed a critical interest in the politics of work and health in the developing and developed world.

The orientation towards patient engagement in healthcare led to a change in career direction and she worked in this arena, in the NHS, for 10 years. She also continued clinical practice in reproductive and sexual health.

NHS reforms offered redundancy opportunities to NHS managers in Jan 2011 which she availed of. This prompted a career change to fundraising and she worked in that capacity for over three years, establishing a successful sponsorship campaign for nurse training in Sierra Leone and Malawi.

Now retired, she engages critically with the shifting terms of debate around female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) via the Shifting Sands website. She also writes a Good News Blog for the Royal College of Nursing.

CONTACT Bríd Hehir

Maja Schwoerer, Intern

Maja is an MA student in International Conflict Studies at King’s College London.

CONTACT Maja Schwoerer


Stefan Rhys-Williams, Intern

Stefan studied philosophy at King’s College London and is an intern at the IoI.

CONTACT Stefan Rhys-Williams


Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos,

Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a member of the Battle of Ideas organising committee and a regular speaker at Battle events. He received his PhD from University of Kent, his thesis focusing on the demise of radical progressive politics under the influence of anti-modernist ideas dominating Western culture since the 1960s. He currently teaches Environmental Sociology and Social Policy at University of Kent.

CONTACT Nikos Sotirakopoulos

Adam Rawcliffe, Partnerships Manager

Adam joined the Academy of Ideas in October 2014, having graduated from the University of St Andrews, where he studied Modern History. Adam has produced debates at the Battle of Ideas on everything from dating apps to ‘killer clowns’. A proud Prestonian, Adam competed in and won the 2010 Debating Matters National Final with Hutton Grammar School, going on to achieve success in the International Final against the Indian champions. In his spare time Adam is a keen NFL fan and vice-captain of the world-famous Black Squadron FC.

CONTACT Adam Rawcliffe


Dominic Fisher,

Dominic is a former blogger at PragueTory who now lives in Malta.

CONTACT Dominic Fisher

Rob Lyons, science and technology director

Rob is a journalist, specialising in issues relating to science, technology, health, food and the environment. He is a columnist for the online magazine, spiked, where he worked for over a decade before joining the Academy of Ideas as science and technology director in 2014. His writing has featured in the Daily Telegraph, The Australian, The South China Morning Post, and numerous other publications. Rob is also a frequent commentator on current affairs on radio and television, and has appeared on Newsnight, Channel 4 News, BBC Breakfast and The World Tonight as well as other national and international programmes. He is author of Panic on a Plate: how society developed an eating disorder. He is also convenor of our Economy Forum.



Rossa Minogue, Associate fellow

Rossa was founding producer of the Podcast of Ideas, took care of the our audio and video content, and has been one of the organisers of the Battle of Ideas festival. Prior to that he was a staff writer at the online magazine spiked and before that a tour guide in Rome where he spent eight years living La Dolce Vita giving tours of Italy’s ancient ruins, art galleries and churches.

CONTACT Rossa Minogue

Joel Cohen, associate fellow

Joel co-ordinated volunteers for the UK’s toughest schools’ debating competition, Debating Matters, and was instrumental in setting up the competition in Israel. Joel is now communications manager at BeyondMe and drives the development and delivery of campaigns, which comprise communications and events activities, to support BeyondMe’s growth. BeyondMe brings professionals, businesses and charities together to make a meaningful impact on the world. As an associate fellow of the Academy, Joel is a regular convener and chair of debates at Europe’s premier ideas festival, the Battle of Ideas, and has written on a range of issues across civic life, education, politics, international affairs and the arts. Joel graduated with a BA in Politics from SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and once survived driving from London to Ghana in a Ford Fiesta.

CONTACT Joel Cohen



Jason Smith, Associate Fellow

Jason Smith is an Associate Fellow of the Academy of Ideas and was previously Partnerships Manager for the Debating Matters Competition.

He writes and comments, on a freelance basis, about food, farming and attitudes toward the countryside and developments in agriculture. He has been a member of the Battle of Ideas organising committee since 2010 and produces many of the food-related sessions each year. He now spends his time helping companies with their communications and marketing.

CONTACT Jason Smith


Simon Belt, Technical Consultant

Simon Belt started his IT career working in the rather restrictive environment of the civil service, moving into the more flexible and innovative international outsourcing world. Looking to implement technology the way it is meant to be deployed, rather than what suited any given contract, in 1999 Simon Belt established his own IT Consultancy - Simply Better IT. His passion is delivering end-to-end IT solutions for small businesses to help transform their use of technology and business processes, to those best suited for engaging larger businesses and institutions as equals.

Born and brought up in Yorkshire, he moved to Lancashire on a civilising mission some 20 years ago. After some success there, he’s moved on to sunny Derbyshire where he’s now based.

CONTACT Simon Belt

Helen Birtwistle, Associate Fellow

Helen is a history teacher in a South London school. Working with our Debating Matters Competition for six years, she has been inspired to teach by the teachers, colleagues and students she worked with during her time at the competition.

Helen is also an associate fellow of the Academy of Ideas and has a Masters Degree in Intellectual and Cultural History.

CONTACT Helen Birtwistle

Justine Brian, Associate fellow

Justine is director of schools at Civitas. She was formerly the director of the Institute’s Debating Matters sixth-form debating competition.

She believes in education and grappling with big ideas – and practised what she preaches by completing a degree in Classical Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, as a mature student. She loves good food and hates food snobbery, and learned to cook at Westminster College. She is an occasional writer on food issues and has produced a number of debates at the Battle of Ideas festival on food-related topics. Her greatest media claim to fame was being on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on the issue of ‘frugal food’, which made her Mum extremely proud.

CONTACT Justine Brian


Shirley Dent, Associate Fellow

Shirley Dent is an Associate Fellow of the Academy of Ideas and was formerly Communications Director.

She worked as Head of Communications and Campaigns Advisor for the UK’s phone-paid regulator, where she led work on children and connected devices such as smartphones. Shirley recently set up Spark Mobile - an organisation that uses mobile and digital technology to connect the best ideas with the brightest people, whoever and wherever they are.

Shirley has written and commented widely on arts and literature, including a blog at Guardian Arts Unlimited, and reviews for the Times Literary Supplement. She researched the editorial and bibliographic history of William Blake’s works for her PhD, co-authoring a book on the subject with Jason Whittaker, Radical Blake.

Shirley continues to contribute academic essays to scholarly collections, including essays on copyright, censorship and the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ and its use by the far right.

Shirley was formerly Head of Communications at the Policy Studies Institute and Assistant Editor at the New Humanist.

CONTACT Shirley Dent

Dolan Cummings, Associate Fellow

Dolan Cummings is an Associate Fellow of the Academy of Ideas, having been research and editorial director from 2001 to 2010. He is part of the committee that programmes the annual Battle of Ideas, and a regular participant at the festival and other Academy of Ideas events. He is also one of the co-founders of the Manifesto Club, a campaign group for freedom in everyday life.

He developed the Round Table Rumbles theatre debates at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001-2004, and edited our online review, Culture Wars (2001-2013), which is now an extensive archive. He has edited two collections of essays, The Changing Role of the Public Intellectual, and Debating Humanism. He was also one of the organisers of Debating Matters India, and continues to take an active interest in India and its debate scene.

Professionally, he is now a freelance copywriter and editor. He also works as a speechwriter with Great Speechwriting, and has written for politicians and business leaders internationally - as well for clients speaking at weddings and bar mitzvahs.




CONTACT Dolan Cummings

Geoff Kidder, Membership and Events Director

Geoff Kidder is Director of Membership and Events at the Academy of Ideas. He supervises our administration and event management including the Battle of Ideas festival, runs our associate member scheme and convenes our Book Club. Geoff is also the Academy’s resident expert in all sporting matters.

CONTACT Geoff Kidder


Tony Gilland, Associate Fellow

Tony recently stood down as the director of the Debating Matters competition. Tony led DM for 10 years, overseeing its growth into a UK competition for nearly 300 schools and its expansion to India through a partnership with the British Council. As the Academy’s Science and Society Director Tony organised a number of events and publications on the intersection between science and society at times of public controversy, especially in relation to genetics, public health, energy and climate change. He holds a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford.

CONTACT Tony Gilland


Claire Fox, Academy of Ideas Director

Claire Fox is the director of the Academy of Ideas, which she established to create a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint. She convenes the yearly Battle of Ideas festival and initiated the Debating Matters Competition for sixth-formers. She also co-founded our residential summer school The Academy, with the aim to demonstrate ‘university as it should be’.

She is a panelist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education, media and free speech issues on TV and radio programmes in the UK such as Newsnight and Any Questions? Claire is a columnist for TES (Times Educational Supplement) and MJ (Municipal Journal). She is author of a recent book on free speech, I Find That Offensive (Biteback, 2016), and No Strings Attached! Why arts funding should say no to instrumentalism (Arts&Business, 2007).

Claire is a fellow of Wellington College, an executive board member of the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), UCL and is involved at a board level in the international debate network, Time To Talk.

CONTACT Claire Fox



David Bowden, associate fellow

David is associate fellow at the Academy of Ideas, having acted as its associate director until July 2016. In his time at the Academy he played a key role in the expansion of the Battle of Ideas at the Barbican and the development of Battle of Ideas Europe. He has written and commented for a range of media on issues around politics, lifestyle and culture including spiked, Independent, City AM, Sky News and BBC World Service. He has extensive experience of global PR and communications for organisations including DACS, Bpas and Libertas.

CONTACT David Bowden


Craig Fairnington, Associate Fellow

Craig took part in the Debating Matters Competition in 2006 before graduating with a BSc in Physics from the University of St Andrews in 2009. He helps organise our annual Battle of Ideas festival, where he’s organised and spoke at sessions on topics such as gay politics, climate change and sci-fi. He has written on Scottish politics and science funding for the online magazine spiked, as well as for the Independent and DIVA magazine. He also contributed an essay to the Academy’s publication What is science education for?.

CONTACT Craig Fairnington



Angus Kennedy, Convenor, The Academy

Angus Kennedy was Head of External Relations from 2010 to 2013. He continues to convene our educational initiative The Academy. He is the author of Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination and is currently working on a second book about our turn away from freedom.

what's happening next

Living Freedom 2018

5-7 April 2018, CIEE Global Institute, Russell Square, London