Oxford University Society East Kent Branch

The East Kent Branch organises several events each year, including a spring lunch, a summer garden party, the AGM and a pre-Christmas lunch, as well as an outing to Oxford if there is something going on that appeals to members. Often we have informal talks on these occasions, given by members. These are all daytime events, normally on a Saturday or Sunday.
Many of these events support our student grant scheme.
This year our AGM will be a real live event, taking place at the King’s School, St Augustines on Saturday 2nd October at lunchtime – Jayne will be sending out details soon


(Because such meetings in person were prohibited by law at this time, by virtue of the pandemic, but in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution for an AGM each year, the committee had decided that the meeting should be held remotely by Zoom, whereby those attending remained at their computers but were visible on screen)

The meeting opened at noon with the Chairman saying a few words about the lives of Marjorie and Laurence Lyle, who had died during the year, and about their support for the society. A short silence was then observed, in remembering them and those members of the University who had died in the service of their country.

The President then took the Chair.                                                                                                                                                           

1. Apologies were received from: Patrick Wheeler, Gail Swainston, Edward Clark, Timothy Stevens, Lorna and Osman Durrani, Beryl Shilling, Gillian Bull, Mary Butcher, Simon Partridge, Sara Wheeler, David Hornsby

2. The Minutes of the last AGM were approved.                                                                                                                                

3. There were no matters arising from these.

4. Nigel Beevor as Hon Treasurer presented the Accounts which disclosed funds of £2544.71 available for grants. A further generous donation had since been received. The question of subscriptions would be reviewed in the spring of 2021. The President stressed the importance of sustaining contributions.

5. The branch Chairman gave his report. He reminded members that no events had yet been held this year because of the pandemic, but referred to the meeting last December for a buffet lunch at the Sands Hotel, Margate with an opportunity beforehand to visit the Turner Gallery. He then reported on the virtual meeting of this year’s Freshers, which had been arranged by the West Kent and East Sussex branches through the medium of Zoom. It had been expertly hosted by a member of Oxford 10 (a group of alumni  of 10 years’ standing) and had been a great success. Our Hon Secretary had attended and had been given the opportunity to explain and draw attention to our grant scheme. It was the hope of this Branch that we would hold a party for Freshers when life returned to normal.

The branch Chairman expressed his thanks to the Hon Treasurer, the Hon Secretary (who in addition to her other duties had set up the technology for this meeting) and all the members of the committee. He offered his apologies to those members who were unable to attend a meeting in this format.

6. Peter Berg, Vice Chairman, reported on the website, and indicated that he wished to keep the news page up to date, asking members to contribute appropriate items by contacting him directly at . Members were also asked to request deletion of items on the website which they have contributed, when they become out of date.

7. No other business was raised.

8. Diane Worth reported that no applications for grants had been received this year, because of the pandemic, but that it was hoped to relaunch the scheme in January, repeating the point that contributions would still be needed. She then introduced four video presentations contributed by grantees as follows:

AUGUSTINE ALLAN – LOUBON (Corpus) outlined how our grant had enabled him to attend an immersive Latin speaking camp. He went on to give a vivid insight into Oxford this year, with libraries and other amenities closed, making the place seem less friendly than before, but he explained that a marquee in the college garden had made it still possible to socialise, and that activities such as the choir had been able to continue. He added that generally the student body had remained phlegmatic in the face of the difficulties, pointing out that for example some international students would not be able to return home for Christmas, and he hoped that his family might be able to host some of these.

ROBBIE WHITTAKER (St Hugh’s) described his visit to the Vatican, reviewing rarely seen documents never before translated into English, which had assisted him in preparing his thesis for his degree course (in which he was awarded a First). He explained how this year Finals had been an open book exam but that, although one might think it an advantage to have textbooks available, it was not really an advantage in a subject such as History because of the time constraints in completing the papers. He described how students and staff had been  resilient and adaptable, so that the community remained dynamic and vibrant. Despite the difficult job climate, he reported that he has secured employment as a business strategist with Accenture.

RAMANI CHANDRAMOHAN (St Anne’s) with the help of our grant had attended a course in Cornwall towards her degree in Classics and French. She is now studying for a Master’s Degree. She too described the unsettling buildup to Finals, with limited access to the Bodleian and uncertainty as to what the format would be for the exams. For example, in the end it was decided that oral French was too difficult to move online, and such changes meant students had to adapt their revision strategies. She was surprised to find herself sitting her Finals in her childhood bedroom in Canterbury! Sadly celebrations after the exams, and Commem Balls, all had to be cancelled but it was hoped that the students affected would be able to meet to celebrate at some time in the future.

MEGAN BELL (Trinity) had been reading Chemistry, and reported how weirdly quiet the city had been, but in a way even more beautiful without tourists. Even the laboratories had been online, as had lectures (with the unexpected advantage of the fast forward feature, on occasion). Her presentation was accompanied by, and enhanced by, video footage of Oxford this year with shots of e.g. a deserted covered market.

In closing the meeting, the President spoke for all those attending in saying what an astonishing group of resilient and talented young people these were, and how lucky we were to have been in a position to support them, and to hear from them a fascinating insight into Oxford in this unusual year.

The meeting was closed at 1.15 pm.

Pre-Christmas lunch 2019
This year, at the suggestion of our committee member Andrea, on December 14th we went to the Turner Contemporary gallery at Margate for a guided presentation of the winning entries for the 2019 Turner Prize, followed by buffet lunch at the Sands Hotel.
Two of the Turner entries were videos: one concerning interpretation of sounds, “earwitnessing”, centred on the experiences of inmates in prison in the Middle East; the other considering victims and perpetrators of violent acts of “terrorism” or “resistance”, especially women. Femininity and feminism were the subjects of a room-sized installation of sculpture with an accompanying audio text; and, finally, we had papier mache versions of the workers of the world – brought down from London seated on the High Speed train – facing the bleak prospect of a black curtain obscuring the view of the sea, with just a torn crack allowing a glimpse of the brighter world outside. So, all political and all needing the insights that the guides provided. The four short-listed artists, by the way, requested that their work should be regarded as the product of a collective, so were awarded the prize jointly.
Afterwards we fought our way against a westerly gale to the recently refurbished Sands Hotel – owned by an Oxford graduate – where our private room had a dramatic view, looking straight out over the breaking waves.
OUS East Kent AGM 2019
Videos of some of our scholars will be posted here shortly (Jan 2021)
The meeting took place on Sunday 20th October at St. Augustine’s again – many thanks to the King’s School for excellent service and catering.
It was chaired by our President, David Freud, in the absence of the Chairman, and began with a minute’s silence to remember John Simpson, our former President, and Terry Wheeler, both of whom died since the last AGM.
Four members of the Committee, Peter Morgan, Peter Berg, Gail Swainston and Jayne Cohen were re-elected nem con (note use of Latin, vide presentation below).
Peter Morgan’s report, which was read out, included thanks to the members of the Committee, in particular to Talbot Penner who served as Secretary for many years and was instrumental in setting up the Grants Scheme. The Alumni office in Oxford had also been very helpful during the year, sending out letters about our group to all alumni in our area. An area of concern is the lack of large houses and gardens for future fundraising events, so that subscriptions will have to be the principal support for grants in years ahead, implying that we need more subscribers and, possibly, raised minimum donations – see below.
The Treasurer, Nigel Beevor, presented the accounts for the year (full details under History and Accounts). The figures demonstrated very clearly that in order to maintain grants current levels and numbers, increased subscription income will be vital – a motion was immediately proposed and carried to raise the minimum from £10 to £20, due on 1st November.
Gail Swainston gave an enthusiastic account of the volunteer groups conference that took place in Oxford in September together with our Secretary, Jayne Cohen – and delegates from all over the world. The Alumni office clearly now sees groups like ours as important for the future of the University, and we can learn much from one another.
We awarded six grants this year, costing £3550.  The recipients were:
Megan Bell. Trinity. Chemistry. Took part in a 6 week project at Imperial College London with a research group investigating the solar-driven splitting of water to produce H2 and 02 as a fuel source. This is intended as a more efficient way to ‘store’ solar energy.
Ben Smart. Worcester. Engineering. A project with Cleen in Uganda helping to research the heating element in solar panelled ovens and then doing on the spot market research checking the satisfaction with the performance of the stoves and interviewing further potential customers.

Augustine Allain-Labon. Corpus. Classics. Attended a month-long summer school at the Academia Vivarium Novum in Rome in immersive Latin, the aim being to attain near fluency in Latin.

Robbie Whittaker. St Hugh’s. History. Undertook primary research in the archives of the Venerable Collegio Inglese in recently catalogued documents regarding the foundation of various overseas training establishments set up by the Jesuits in the 16th century, Rome, Seville, Douai etc. Robbie is learning Latin for this, the documents having not yet been translated.
Oliver Stapel. Worcester. Geography. Travelled to the Netherlands to undertake research into the integration of immigrants into Dutch society, specifically Anglo-American immigrants from a culture not deemed ‘different’ thus contributing to the understanding of the extent that immigration is a function of difference or a less binary process.
Ramani Chandramohan. St Anne’s. Classics and French. We helped Ramani with the fare to the ‘Warwick Translates’ Summer School.
Three of the grantees were present at the meeting and gave presentations about their projects:


Augie was introduced by our President with a few words in Latin – what else? – though most of the account was in English. Who’d have thought that Latin could be so much fun? A month spent with formal classes, tours of Rome, games and music, all in Latin. And Augie, by popular request, finished with a rendering of a short song to a text by Catullus.



Ben’s time in Uganda was spent with a small volunteer project looking at environmentally friendly ways of improving daily life for ordinary people with few financial resources. The traditional method of cooking, burning wood or charcoal in a pottery oven inside the hut, often leads to breathing and other problems. The aim of Ben’s group was to develop a solar-powered electrical oven. The first problem was to find components that were up to specification – not easy, but they were able to demonstrate how the set-up would work using mains electricity. The rest of the time was spent looking at ways of marketing and financing these systems – banks were remarkably flexible in their approach to providing the necessary, modest, sums.



Hydrogen may well be the clean energy source of the future, but the classic way of producing hydrogen by electrolysis using carbon electrodes is very inefficient and, therefore, costly, but Megan told us that the process can be improved dramatically by coating electrodes with various chemical compounds. Her project was to synthesise a complex compound including barium and niobium – quite a challenge, as it turned out to be dramatically sensitive to moisture, air and almost everything else. Success at the third attempt, and tests on the electrical properties turned out most promising.

Ben, Augie, David Freud, Megan

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