School of History, Classics and Archaeology

News Items

An Olympiad with a Difference

Dr Keith Brewster, Senior Lecturer, writes about a recent initiative in the School of History, Classics & Archaeology combining sporting activity, fundraising and bringing together a community of colleagues, students and their families.

​​​​On 25 May 2020, it was my proud honour to preside over the official opening of the first HCA Community Olympics (disappointingly, the ceremony was not covered by the BBC but can be found on YouTube). Devised by Head of School, Helen Berry, a gauntlet was thrown down for anyone connected to the School of History, Classics and Archaeology to engage in a range of vaguely sporting activities. With the ultimate aim of helping to lift the spirits of colleagues, students and their families during the Covid-19 lockdown, the initiative also sought to reach out to the broader community by raising money for a local charity.

Reflecting my own research interests in the history of the Modern Olympics, I judged that such an auspicious occasion was worthy of a suitable opening ceremony.  So, with 'Olympic torch' in hand (a butane gas burner), I entered the 'arena' (the back garden), lit the 'flame' (a chiminea), and read out the opening declaration from a 'scroll' (some left-over lining paper).  That was the signal for imaginations to run wild and HCA participants to run wilder.  Colleagues, students, and alumni jumped at the chance of using some lock-down, pent-up energy to engage in a range of physical activities that included moving a pile of stones from one place to another, chess, lime-passing, cycling, and North Sea swimming.  Among the more unusual sporting competitions was welly-wanging; a sport that should surely be included within the summer Olympics schedule.  One notable contribution to the Cultural Olympics was an array of imaginative chalk drawings in a back garden; a more questionable contribution was Helen Berry's threat to run five miles in fancy dress.  

By the end of the day, with the Olympic flame reduced to little more than dying embers, the fruits of our labours amounted to far more than the imaginary gold medal that each of us believed was rightly ours.  The HCA community had raised the splendid sum of £892 in support of The People's Kitchen, a charity that provides local people with clothing, sleeping bags, shower facilities and programmes designed to help towards independent living.

The invitation to light the torch and, indeed, to write this piece was no doubt a result of my impending retirement from academia. Never really wanting to make a big deal of it, the present lock-down has provided a deft way out of having to make a cringing speech of farewell. In its stead, I can think of no better way to emphasise the camaraderie, good nature and, indeed, sporting prowess of my colleagues than to reflect upon their combined efforts in what I hope will be the first of many HCA Community Olympics.  

Screenshot of Dr Keith Brewster opening the HCA Community Olympics

published on: