Spotlight on... Emma Bull

Emma Bull
Emma Bull
This week we meet Emma Bull, Senior Schools Engagement Officer, UCL East. Emma chats to us about her work connecting and partnering with local schools, running creative Saturday clubs for teenagers in East London and the joys of interrailing.

What is your role and what does it involve? 

I am a Senior Schools Engagement Officer for UCL East. My team works with schools in East London and connects them with UCL’s rich resources and inspiring spaces. We also support UCL East academic programmes to reach teachers and students in the local area, offering advice and guidance to help create meaningful outreach activity. There is a lot of partnership work in the role: with schools and UCL colleagues, but also with other cultural and academic entities in East London, especially on the East Bank, so our offer is holistic and fully serves our audiences.  

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role? 

I’ve been in my current role for 18 months. I came to UCL from the British Library where I worked for six years as Schools Programme Manager. I started my career as a teacher but always wanted to broaden my experience beyond school settings, so I’ve also worked at an agency, a film-industry funded education charity and at the National Theatre. My connection to UCL goes back to my Master’s in Digital Media, Culture and Communication which I took part-time whilst working.  A few years after I completed the MA I returned in a freelance capacity to give supervisory support to students on the programme for a short time, which felt like a happy full-circle. When I saw this role, it seemed the perfect opportunity to come back to UCL again.  

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of? 

As a new team, we are in the early stages of our work, and it is an exciting time: we can already see the potential for UCL East to be a transformative presence for young people growing up in this area.  

Recently we forged long-term partnerships with five schools in East London boroughs and I’m looking after two of these, developing a long-term plan of activity which will see us closely support students and staff at each school for at least three years. There is huge scope and potential for this work and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow. Also, Marshgate is a very impressive building and I love taking visitors on a tour! 

My parents grew up in east London and it’s utterly different since their childhoods here. Neither of them had an education after the age of 15 so I feel very fortunate that I was able to attend university, and even go on to postgraduate study.  

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list? 

This term we started the second year of our Saturday Clubs for east London teenagers. These run weekly, giving students the chance to develop their creative talents and a broad set of skills. We recently took the students on a cultural visit - my Club saw Julianknxx: Chorus in Rememory of Flight at the Barbican. We also held a screening of their short films at the end of term, with students’ families in attendance. It’s always a lovely moment in the calendar to see the pride on the young people’s faces reflected on those of their families.  

What is your favourite album, film and novel? 

I am terrible at picking favourites, I usually end up making lists instead. My film tastes are quite broad so it’s very hard to choose but I really like Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, and thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in Phantom Thread. I’m a big Shakespeare fan as well and I find Hamlet always draws me back: I used to love teaching it and would show my students clips from many different film adaptations of the play. Reading Dickens generally brings me joy, especially David Copperfield - and I think Armando Ianucci’s screen adaptation is truly heartwarming and life-affirming. Musically I might pick Massive Attack and Max Richter for a bit of contrast. 

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)? 

A Hackney joke: How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb? It’s like, some really obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it.  

Who would be your dream dinner guests? 

I’ll go for a heady mix for my imaginary dinner party: Shakespeare, Baz Luhrmann, Hilary Mantel, Dame Judi Dench and Zadie Smith. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart would be glorious, also Ira Aldridge and Patterson Joseph. Then Mata Hari, Frida Khalo and Professor Brian Cox to top it off. I think we’d have a lot of fun! 

What advice would you give your younger self? 

To have greater self-belief, and trust her own wisdom and courage.  

What would it surprise people to know about you? 

I had figure skating lessons as an adult for a few years. During the first lockdown, I took up rollerskating instead and occasionally bring my skates to work at UCL East. 

What is your favourite place? 

I love London and bustling, beautiful, diverse cities in general. I particularly enjoy taking train journeys on holiday and so I spent a few weeks this summer interrailing for the first time, which was wonderful. There’s a magic to that mode of transport, and perhaps my favourite place is an interstitial, illusory one: the beautiful view from the window of somewhere that you’re only passing through.   
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