In November 2022 I received funding from Loughborough University to co-host the first wrestling symposium at the Houses of Parliament in conjunction with Playfight Wrestling School and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Professional Wrestling. It was the first time that change-makers from across the wrestling industry (over 60 people attended) have come together to try and make positive change in British professional wrestling. I presented about the British Academy project data alongside my colleague Dr Dominic Malcolm. Other speakers included the Right Honorable Michelle Donelan MP (the Minister Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport); the co-chairs of the APPG Alex Davies-Jones MP and Mark Fletcher MP; Tom Dawkins and Claire Heafford from innovative wrestling school Playfight; Steve Duncan-RIce from the Equity Union; the Ann Craft Trust; and Rhia O'Reilly who gave an impassioned intervention on #SpeakingOut. It was a really successful day and, we hope, will lead to better relationships across the wrestling community.
In October 2022 I took up an invited Visiting Professorship at the University of Malta hosted by Dr Stefan Aquilina. While there I led a workshop on public engagement, taught two classes (on modernist theatre and popular culture), and engaged in some mentorship with a couple of super early career researchers, as well as simply chat about our research interests. It was a wonderful, inspiring and, in lots of ways, restful experience. I also enjoyed some of the beauty of Malta and Gozo while I was there.
This warm summer has been focused on a load of bits and pieces: finishing things off, handing over some responsibilities, and thinking about new paths. One of the drivers for my new thinking has been participation in the Women's Leadership Development Programme from the University of Oxford. This is a 6-week intensive online programme to really help you think through the challenges of leadership through three ideas: self-acceptance, self-management and self-development. It might seem like all this is a bit insular, but actually it is about learning to lead better: to listen more, to make decisions, to have tricky conversations, to create encouraging communities. The course has been excellent and has forced me back into writing assignments again (I now remember what it is really like to be a student!). It is now time to consider all I have learnt and begin to put it into practice.
This feels like a transition period in many ways. Last year, my first year as a professor, was so full of 'things' that I didn't have chance to really think over what sort of professor I am going to be: what value can I truly bring? This summer and into next year provides a little more space to attend to this important question and set up some ambitious plans for the future. I have also been reading Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber's The Slow Professor which is encouraging me to resist speed for the sake of it. It is a very interesting book if you haven't investigated it.
One of the strange things that happens when you (a bit unexpectedly) become a Professor is that you suddenly feel a bit at sea. What difference does this shift make to daily life, to one's role in the University and beyond, to one's plans for the future? What does it really mean to be a Professor in the twenty-first century, in uncertain times, in the face of unprecedented global challenges? I have yet to answer these questions but this Spring I am committing time to at least considering them. To prepare myself for this period of reflection I have been swiftly trying to tick things off. I've then taken a proper holiday in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside with family and my sweet golden retriever puppy Jackson (who is now, unbelievably, 8 months old). And now I am back, spending time finding new inspirations, planning new collaborations, and reimagining the next steps I want to take. It is all quite exciting really.
Most recently I have been inspired by such diverse things. Our November Wrestling Resurgence show (which you can find on our YouTube channel) took our most overtly theatrical approach yet. To see the wrestlers back in the ring, working together and creating such dynamic stories was so exciting. I've been reading some wonderful books about such different topics as US politics, therapy dogs and the importance of rest. I love watching Jackson get excited about such everyday things like meeting a friend or catching a feather. So the first step is finding joy in the small things, something that should not be lost as the focus shifts to the future, to strategic vision, to plans and schedules.
So, the next few months are pretty exciting really. As the bulbs begin to emerge, the days get warmer, and Jackson finally learns not to dive on people by way of greeting (I am being a bit optimistic about this last one!) I am hoping to draft a clear plan for the Professor I am becoming.
I am delighted/overwhelmed to have been made Professor of Performance and Physical Culture at Loughborough University. The promotion process was so wonderfully positive and supportive. I felt entirely surrounded by people on my side, even through the rigours of the system. I could not be more grateful to my family, friends, colleagues and collaborators. I commit to being the sort of professor that I promised myself I would be when I got my first academic job; so if I can be of any help to you, especially if you are feeling in a precarious position/don't know the next step/feel excluded in any way from academia, then please don't hesitate to contact me.
Over the past few months, Sam and I have had some wonderful conversations with wrestlers, academics and creatives as part of the Grappling Arts podcast. We have discussed such a wide range of topics: wrestling and physical culture, how we can reimagine wrestling as a form of feminist resistance, local and global cultures of wrestling, and much, much more. Do check out the new episodes if this interests you. Coming soon will be a recording of our roundtable on Collaborative Touch (with Tom Dawkins, Claire Heafford, Dominic Malcolm, Gareth McNarry and me) which we presented as part of the LU Arts Interface Festival this month, and an episode with wonderful performance maker Heather Bandenburg.
Today we launched the Health and Wellbeing in Professional Wrestling project website. We are delighted with the look of it and hope to be regularly updating this website to document our findings, next steps and making the outputs available to the general public. This project, funded by the British Academy, aims to conduct a supportive healthcheck of British professional wrestling. We have now completed the interview phase and are working through all the mounds of data we have gathered over the past four months. We are really excited to share the outcomes of this project. Do keep an eye on the website if you want to know more: wrestling-research.lboro.ac.uk/
Well, 2021 is zooming by, isn't it?