Exploration: Its all about living.

It’s been a beautiful day here up North, leaving the snow on the hills in Blacko for a bit of intellectual warmth in the form of TedXSalford at the Lowry. With an amazing line up of speakers ranging from explorers, futurists, biologists, human rights activists, CERN physicists, musicians, psychologists, entrepreneurs, innovators and even astronauts I’d been looking forward to this event for a while and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

After a bit of a mishap with a naughty sat-nav  (promptly abandoned in favour of old fashioned road signs) who wanted to take us god-knows-where, it was a really comforting sight to see the familiar shapes of the Salford Quays come onto the horizon for two reasons. The first being I was glad we simply made it before 10am, the second being that I hadn’t visited the Lowry for a while and I found the architecture by Stirling and Wilford still as stunningly breathtaking as it ever was. The bridge over the Quays is a familiar silhouette that leads to the striking curves of the Imperial War Museum and the shapes of the Lowry itself are incredible over the water but also this time there was an extra addition I didn’t recognise. The UK’s first Media City, housing the new BBC and ITV buildings,  now lies opposite. Although I think architecturally its overshadowed by both the Museum and the Lowry visually, it was pleasing to see a new media hub so close to home.

Upon entering TEDxSalford we were greeted with a gift bag full of goodies and shown to where the event would be taking place, The Compass Room, a room which boasts outstanding views over the entirety of Salford (something much admired later in the evening). The first session boasted some pretty impressive speakers and I was sat next to an artist from Fallowfield with the most spectacular moustache ever (the curly kind), I knew I was in for a good day. 😉


The first talk was by Irene Khan, Ex-Secretary General of Amnesty International. As a truly inspiring and extremely intelligent woman she didn’t ease us in gently, but instead dived into the issue of violence against women with incredible vigour for 10am on a chilly Saturday morning. She highlighted how when we think of human rights, we think of men in orange jumpsuits, but that really human rights violations are happening right under our noses here in the UK, with a woman making a call to the police or services to report abuse every 2 minutes. She also discussed her work with women in Afghanistan, where to run away from home or an abusive husband can land you in a women’s prison and where the idea of justice is exclusively established for males. It was inspiring to hear her speak about her work with IDLO, the International Development Law Organisation who work with the legal systems in countries such as Afghanistan, and over the past 3 years in Afghanistan alone have managed to oversee at least 700 prosecutions for violence against women. Her main message was this: Any individual can make a difference and everyone needs to know their rights.

The next two speakers were completely different. Both adventurers by profession and by nature, Ed Stafford and Benedict Allen shared their experiences of their time in the Amazon. Ed was the first man to walk the entire length of the Amazon river, a feat which took him two and half years and taught him more about himself and the importance of mindset than ever before. Benedict Allen also explored the amazon, but after living with tribes and being literally abandoned in the middle of nowhere, stressed the importance of knowledge and also of taking things one step at a time in difficulty. As a man who came close to his own death, his advice on overcoming obstacles really hit home. Both of these men had a fantastic sense of humour also, which is always a cheeky bonus!

The next session saw more of a futuristic turn. Anna Lise Kjaer argued that the world would be more dominated by women in future generations, leading to a balance in male/female power and also from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ economy. She bases all of her predictions upon current trends, mapping them into maps which can then be read and analysed. Her future economic model is based upon the 3 P’s, People, Planet and Profit. Some of the future products and designs she showed us were amazing – like a mirror which allows you to contact your GP whilst brushing your teeth, or a large video conference wall for Skype sessions, or even an interactive and digitalised lego table. Everything she predicted was rooted in interconnecting web of current trends and basic human needs and desires, creating a logical and believable base to what otherwise might seem to some like fantasy.

Tom Hingley (musician in the Inspiral Carpets and lecturer in Business at Salford University) also spoke to us about music copyright. At a time where SOPA and PIPPA have caused so much controversy, it seemed extremely appropriate and was very interesting from a business perspective. ‘Music is not a wheelbarrow’.

Punk rocker from ‘GoldBlade’ John Robb also gave his insight into the world of punk music and rock’n’roll, a talk which was honestly enthralling from start to finish. He spoke about women in punk, rebellion against the mainstream and just the need to ‘make noise’. He believes everyone can sing, that you dont need to be in tune, you just need to be alive. He looked like he was just riffing from the top of his head (a impressive feat if he was!) but his charisma carried through perfectly. You know when you watch someone speak and think, ‘I want to speak like that’? Yeah, that feeling.

Also as part of this session, Trevor Cox spoke to us about the importance of sound. As a scientist familiar from BBC programming, he created a really interesting presentation on the science of sound, as well as the importance of preserving places of ‘sound interest’. It reminded me heavily of a place I visited whilst at Columbia University last year, where when you stand in a specific place and speak, the surroundings will amplify your own voice back to you in such a way that it sounds like you are speaking into a microphone. Creepy!

Before we died of starvation we grabbed some lunch quickly, only to find ourselves sat with John Robb, Tom Hingley and Anna Kjaer as well as some other very fascinating attendees at the conference, including business consultants, artists and neuroscientist. Not bad lunch conversation! A little girl even gave me her business card as a ‘social entrepeneur’. No joke, she was like 10!! wowzers.

Feeling a bit more full and hearty after some food, we headed back to the conference for the second half of the day. We were treated some lovely classical music by Classical Revolution Manchester, which, although I don’t always enjoy classical music, I really appreciated. Its great to see people who are just good at what they do.


Stuart Nolan then came to the stage, a magician come psychologist who had some interesting psychological tricks up his sleeve, including a bowling ball!

The second of the two CERN scientists then returned to the stage. The first had been in the morning and was by Dr.Umut Kose, a researcher on the OPERA project, all about Neutrinos. The second, by Dario Autiero, lead researcher for the OPERA project built upon this. I loved both talks, but must admit that as a humanities student I think a lot of it went over my head. I know this though: Neutrinos are everywhere, we emit them, everything does, even bananas, they travel faster than the speed of light and their discovery may lead to the explanation of matter and antimatter!! Make of that what you will 😉

I realise I am writing a lot here, and so will begin to summarise the final sessions before I go onto my two favourite speakers of the day! The historian and writer Julie Summers presented an excellent talk on the life story of her grandfather and the real man behind the story of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ during this session, which was an insight into the kind of sacrifices officers made for their men in World War II. Entrepreneur and MBE Dawn Gibbons then made a presentation about her company ‘Flowcrete’ as well as the work of her father which emphasised the need for passion and empathy in business whilst Heather Witney, award winning biologist explained the different aspects of flowers and how they worked in order to seduce nature creating a different perspective on how we look at the vegetation around us. Stephen Venables – mountaineer and first man to reach the peak of Everest without the use of assistive oxygen – discussed the importance of living life on the edge in order to feel alive. (Makes you want to jump on a plane and explore!).

But for me, there were two speakers which really stood out in these last two sessions. The first was Professor Vito De Bari, one of Europe’s most renowned futurists and innovators (how you get these jobs is beyond me, I want I want!). He talked about the huge change in products we are going to see in the future, starting with micro chipped household items and ending with classical but sophisticated reworkings of objects such as perambulators and even bicycles. This man had so much energy and passion about the future, about where technology was going, that you wanted to get up on stage with him! Obviously a very very intelligent man and a great pleasure to watch. His italian accent only made everything sound better!

The second was Colonel Ron Garan (also known as Astro Ron), as a colonel in the American army, NASA astronaut who has lived on the space station and philanthropist who is working hard to set up Project ‘UnityNode’ – a social sharing service which will allow charities to interact and share resources and therefore be more efficient – he radiated brilliance from start to finish. He showed us a time lapse video he had taken from space, describing the 16 sunrises he sees daily, as well as the northern lights and lightning from space which was awe-inspiring. He spoke of what he called the ‘Orbit-perspective’, of how when you are in space you can see where humans interact and the beauty of the planet. He once saw a red line in the atmosphere, only to realise it was the series of lights which split India and Pakistan. His passion for making change, and helping organise that change was incredible. I’m so glad that he managed to make the conference and you should check out his website at http://open.nasa.gov/blog/2012/01/27/unity-node-ready-to-launch/. I’ll definitely include the video above!! Watch it!!!!

Phew! A long but brilliant day, reflected in a very long blog post!! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed (I’ll make them shorter in future!). I could continue writing about all of these speakers for hours, but I think life calls 😉

Lots of Love,

Liv xxx

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