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Talks, Lectures & Workshops

OGA Sixth Form Talk

Isobel Williams on Ernest Shackleton

Isobel Williams (Simpson, Malvern Girls’ College 1960) returned to MSJ to give a Sixth Form Talk about Ernest Shackleton and his Polar expeditions, in March 2016.

Isobel has long held an interest in Antarctic heroes, first inspired by seeing a set of pictures by Edward Wilson, Captain Scott’s friend and confidant, in her medical training at St Georges, London (Wilson was a former student).

After a long and distinguished career as a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, Isobel retired and was able to give full attention to finding out more about Wilson and his contemporaries. Indeed, in 2008 she wrote his biography With Scott in the Antarctic: Edward Wilson (Explore, Naturalist, Artist); and that was to be just the beginning. Isobel has subsequently published Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant: Edgar Evans and My Life on Shelter Island.

She now spends much of her time giving talks about Antarctica around the UK and internationally, and has published various papers.

The Sixth Form were lucky to enjoy an insight into Shackleton’s adventures – for many of them, this was the first that they knew of Shackleton and the polar expeditions. The subject is not part of the curriculum, and surprisingly to some, Shackleton’s name is not as well-known now as it was to previous generations.

Thanks to Isobel for sharing her passion and shining a light on a fascinating man with an amazing spirit of adventure and ambition.


Law Workshop

Isabel Evans

Isabel Evans (Malvern Girls’ College, 1974) returned to School to give a Law Workshop to Sixth Form from MSJ and Malvern College on March 11 2016.

Isabel is a Partner in the London offices of Bird & Bird, which specialises in particular in the Energy & Utilities, Tech and Comms sectors. Clients include Amazon, Facebook and many companies based in California’s Silicon Valley. As a Banking and Finance Partner, she provides a full range of consultancy to both bank and borrower clients, advising on cross-border secured lending transactions in Western Europe, Central Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Isabel referred to her time at MGC, when Elizabeth Lane, the first female judge and an Old Girl of MGC, came to talk about her career. This was inspiration enough for Isabel, who after university, first trained at the Bar, and then decided to practise as a solicitor, preferring transactional law rather than contentious law.

Isabel was able to provide our audience with advice on how to make themselves stand out on their CV – firms are looking for applicants with plenty of ‘soft’ skills as well as excellent degrees: much of the job is about interacting with clients and therefore strong interpersonal skills are paramount. Work experience and summer internships can be very useful in terms of both experience and ‘exposure’ – good candidates can be offered training contracts on the basis of a strong internship performance. And would-be lawyers need to give themselves a competitive edge – at Bird & Bird, one of the city’s mid-size firms, over 1,000 applications are received for just 15 annual training contracts. Isabel also advised that for the Bar, typically an Oxbridge First would be required.

Isabel’s love of her job was evident – the diversity, the challenge, the ‘studious’ writing element, but also the dynamics of working with clients and helping them achieve successful business outcomes.

Year 13s, and Law Society Captains, Louise Hayes and Rahama Tanimu reported back that the workshop was hugely useful for girls such as themselves who definitely want to do Law, but also those who are looking more tentatively at career options. After Isabel’s presentation, the floor was opened up to questions, and students explored in greater detail the workings of a Law career. Isabel reported that Law firms are getting better at holding on to female talent, particularly after maternity career breaks.

Certainly, dedication, aspiration and determination will be required by all those looking to get their feet on the first rung; but for those who can cut it, a challenging and rewarding career is in sight.

Thanks to Isabel for kindly giving up her time to come to MSJ to talk to, and inspire, the next generation of lawyers.


Elizabeth Gowing

Elizabeth Gowing (MGC 1990) will give a Sixth Form Talk at MSJ on Wednesday 20th April 2016. Elizabeth now works in Kosovo and has recently published a book about her life there called ‘The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife: an unlikely friendship in Kosovo’. Elizabeth set up The Ideas Partnership charity which has helped the poorest children in Kosovo into education, provides women with an income via its social business and employs a community health assistant.

Here, Elizabeth talks about her experience in Kosovo.

“As I lined up with the others in maroon uniforms for the regular headlice check from Matron in 1980s Lindfield I wouldn’t have ever dreamed that thirty years later I would still be taking part in headlice checks, but this time in a community of rubbish-pickers in Kosovo. The things that a Malvern education prepares you for…

I came to Kosovo in 2006 accompanying my partner who had been appointed as advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo. We discovered that Kosovo gets under your skin (indeed, we were to learn that it would crawl into warm hiding places across your scalp too) and as we learned Albanian and Serbian, and made friends we found ourselves reluctant to leave.

Kosovo is the size of Devon, and we travelled around enthusiastically, leaving the chic coffee shops and jazz bars of the youthful capital (Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe). We discovered Unesco World Heritage Site Serbian Orthodox monasteries, and the villages high in the ‘Accursed Mountains’ where families’ income comes from selling wild-gathered herbs and berries; we visited workshops making silver filigree in the Ottoman capital, Prizren, and the fortified stone houses built to protect Albanian families in blood feud… we thought we knew this country. So it was quite a shock after four years in Kosovo when I found myself by chance in a Roma and Ashkali community just five miles from my home in the capital, but several hundred years away in development. This community lives on what they can scavenge from the rubbish, and children here toddled barefoot across piles of waste. When I got talking to a girl of nine, who told me she wanted to go to school but that the school had told her she was too late, the medieval atmosphere intensified.

When I went to visit the Ministry of Education they assured me that Gjelane was telling the truth. ‘They’re just too difficult to teach,’ the Ministry official confided, despite the Kosovan constitution which guarantees all the rights you’d expect to nine year-old girls, I later discovered that a terrifying 96% of Gjelane’s community have not finished compulsory education.

I spent an afternoon visiting some houses in her neighbourhood with Gjelane and her father and some friends who volunteered to help. In 18 houses we visited we found 21 children in the same position as Gjelane. So this wasn’t just the tragedy of one child…that night I couldn’t sleep. By the morning I’d decided I would try teaching these children while also lobbying to change the policy keeping them out of school.

So this is where the headlice re-entered my life.  We rented a flat above a minimarket and told Gjelane she could let her friends know that there were lessons available there with me and my friends as volunteer teachers. I doubted that many of the children would come, but on the first day we had 23 pupils and by the end of the first week there were 50.

By the end of six months we’d convinced the school to accept these children, but by then we’d realised that it wasn’t just education that these families needed – if the children were to succeed and stay at school we needed to support their families economically because when the children attended classes they were not out rubbish-picking or begging, earning money for their families. There was also a need for health and nutrition education (Unicef found that only 23% of the children in this community have a minimal acceptable diet) and the work of our volunteer team grew. We’ve now employed a community health assistant who supports a weekly ante-natal class for 25 women and regular parenting classes sharing practical advice on supporting healthy childhoods on a budget (did you know that mayonnaise is effective against headlice?). I am also now the owner of a social business which shares all its profits every month with the 30 women employed. They’ve been trained and equipped with sewing machines, craft equipment, vegetable seeds and other raw materials, and are part of the project on condition that their children attend school.

My book about what my friendship with Gjelane’s mother led to, for me and for her community, came out this summer. The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo tells the story of what happens when you find your community but it’s a long way from home.

To learn more about our charity The Ideas Partnership, or about how you can help our work visit www.theideaspartnership.org

Elizabeth Gowing