The launch of the Oxford Cultural Collective
28th August 2017
Donald Sloan outlines the founding principles and objectives of The Oxford Cultural Collective
I don’t recall when we started planning the creation of The Oxford Cultural Collective. There have been countless conversations, so much time spent sharing ideas over the last few years – but thankfully, step by step, we have reached consensus on what it should look like and what we believe it can achieve. By ‘we’ I am referring to a group of like-minded friends and colleagues, all ‘food professionals’ from a diverse range of occupational backgrounds – academics, food writers, journalists, broadcasters and chefs. Our settled aim is to engage multiple audiences in food and drink education, enabling personal fulfilment, professional development and positive social change. Our intention is to provide opportunities for collaborative learning, in a distinctly creative and convivial style. We know from experience that learning about food and drink provides a window to the world, helps us understand and appreciate those from other cultures and results in strong and fulfilling relationships. As with the others who have contributed to this progressive planning process, my inspiration has come from numerous sources: those I have met who are pioneers in their fields; insights gained through travel; great journalists and writers; colleagues working to effect positive change in society; and, importantly, interactions with students.
To achieve our rather high-minded aim we will follow some very practical steps. Our Foundation will provide students with valuable learning opportunities; our lively programme of cultural events will engage the public; and we will run a diverse range of educational and cultural projects worldwide, with partner and client organisations.
I recently stood down from my post as Head of the Oxford School of Hospitality Management at Oxford Brookes University to devote myself full-time to the Oxford Cultural Collective. From 2003 to 2017 I led a multi-disciplinary team of around 25 academics in a school with approximately 550 students from over 60 countries. Throughout my time in this role I embedded experiential learning as a defining aspect of the school’s educational provision. For those students with a declared interest in food, drink and culture this meant national and international field trips, ongoing interaction with luminaries from the food world, and opportunities to provide voluntary support at cultural and culinary events. Whether travelling with Yotam Ottolenghi and Jeremy Lee to be hosted by the legendary Jessica Harris in New Orleans, or exploring the local food network in Devon in the company of Marc Millon and Michael Caines, students gained access and insights rarely available to regular food enthusiasts. Such opportunities transform their university experience, fuelling their desire to learn more, enhancing their enthusiasm for pursuing careers in food and hospitality, and providing them with lasting memories. This will be the focus of our Foundation – the delivery of extraordinary learning experiences for students.
Our commitment to staging cultural events for the public stems in part from our long-term partnership with the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. The team behind The Oxford Cultural Collective has, for the last ten years, hosted food-focused lectures, panel discussions and themed dinners at this prestigious celebration of the written word. Public fascination with food and drink has reached unprecedented levels, and having the chance to meet admired food writers and chefs proves immensely popular. One of our many contributions in 2017 was a dinner in honour of Anna Del Conte, the doyenne of Italian cookery, before which Anna, Nigella Lawson and I held a discussion in the magnificent Sheldonian Theatre, attended by over 600 guests. In the future, The Oxford Cultural Collective’s programme of public events will grow considerably, with many being staged overseas as well as in the UK.
The power of creative and collaborative learning will also be harnessed on behalf of The Oxford Cultural Collective’s partner and client organisations. Already, we are working with hospitality companies to help them overcome challenges posed by changes in the international labour market. As all operators will testify, the sector’s rapid growth is intensifying competition for talented staff, a problem exacerbated in the UK by the prospect of Brexit. Providing employees with opportunities for immersive, experiential learning, develops their talents, strengthens their loyalty, enhances levels of retention and helps employers find success despite current labour market conditions. On a similar theme, our Thai scholarship programme, to be launched in Bangkok in October 2017, is designed to enhance the appeal of food, drink and hospitality careers amongst talented prospective employees. Once again, an example of how we will use creative collaboration to help stakeholders achieve practical and positive results.
Whilst we have set a clear path, there is no doubt that The Oxford Cultural Collective will grow and develop in ways we cannot imagine. As its title suggests, it is an inclusive organisation, open to all, the activities and successes of which will be shaped by all those who participate – those who have one thing in common – a thirst for knowledge about food and drink, their place in our lives and defining role in culture.