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Who is Cabot Institute? Amanda Woodman-Hardy

Amanda Woodman-Hardy (third from left) with Cabot Institute volunteers

In conversation with Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Communications and Engagement Officer at the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

What is your role at Cabot Institute?

Hi there! I'm responsible for all our communications and running our biggest events and public engagement activities. I’m in a job share with the lovely and wonderful Adele Hulin.

How long have you been part of Cabot?

I’ve been part of Cabot since the very beginning, 10 years ago! It’s been my baby for sure. I’ve watched the Institute grow, learn valuable lessons, and mature into a beautiful thing.

I’d say we’re at the young adult stage now but thankfully past the awkward teenage stage where we were learning who we were and what our purpose was.

Now we are moving forward with our awesome tagline - Many Minds, one mission – protecting our environment and identifying ways of living better with our changing planet.

What is your background?

I grew up by the sea on the Devon/Cornwall border in a working-class family. I spent a lot of time outdoors because my home was depressingly cold, mouldy, and noisy as it was under a constant state of DIY. My parents took out a mortgage on a very cheap derelict bungalow as it meant I could be in the catchment for a good school...and they do like a challenge! It took them 20 years of hard graft, with their own hands, to finish the home! I spent a lot of my free time on the beach, in or on the sea, cycling around, hiking across Dartmoor, roaming around my local fields with the neighbours’ kids or digging up mud and looking at insects in our surprisingly ok garden. My connection to nature and the environment started at a young age, it was the place I could be happy and completely free, and I was always in awe of how beautiful and powerful it was.

I was the first in my family to go to university. My dad had dropped out of school at 14 to work as a mechanic and my mum got a diploma from college but no one had ever gone onto university before, so it was all new to me! I studied Geography at the University of Plymouth, living at home and working two jobs to help pay my way. It was hard but I had the time of my life! I moved to Bristol to find work after graduating. I got a temp job as an Admin Assistant at the Soil Association. I stayed there for 5 years, moving to Business Development and then into Policy and Standards as Administrator and PA. This gave me a good background in the organisation of multiple working groups and boards under several different environmental themes. It helped me understand the importance and value of bringing in different voices of people who lived and worked the subject areas, who had hands-on expertise, not necessarily lots of qualifications.

Towards the end of my time at the Soil Association, I decided I wanted to study part-time for a Masters in Sustainable Environmental Management at the University of Plymouth. I would be a mature student! I started a second job in a coffee shop to help me pay the fees and associated costs of doing a masters and then a year later I was made redundant from the Soil Association just as I was about to start my thesis. The redundancy was a complete shock but unfortunately the whole organisation had to be downsized due to the financial crash. I finished up my Masters and then did some temping in Payroll at UWE. I moved to a local job as a Library Assistant for the next 18 months and did some voluntary blogging for an environmental consultancy on the side to keep my CV relevant to the environmental sector.

I then got quite ill. After 9 months of severe weight loss, vomiting and absolute agony and an emergency admission to hospital I was told I needed to have my gall bladder removed. Two weeks into my convalescing after the surgery, I saw a job at the Cabot Institute and thought it was too good to be true. It certainly looked like my dream job and I had all the skills required. To my delight I got an interview and I attended with bandages still on my tummy and my suit trousers smarting around my surgery wounds. I managed somehow to smile through the pain, and I got the job as PA and Administrator! After I settled into the role, I found there was a need for more and more communications and engagement of what Cabot academics were finding out through their research and so I naturally fell into the role of doing communications and engagement. It's an absolute privilege working at the University of Bristol as they encourage training and learning so I've been able to do lots of courses and learn on the job for my current role. I also work across many departments so I learn lots from the super talented people I collaborate with too.

Why did you want to join the team?

I wanted to join Cabot because of what it was standing for. It was like a beacon of light in so many ways. I am so passionate about the research areas and working here means I can support people who are positively changing the world. It has been an absolute privilege to be a part of and I thank my lucky stars that I get to spend every day with such an incredible bunch of people on the biggest issues of our time.

What do you think is the biggest environmental challenge facing us today?

Without a doubt – justice.

Justice for all.

There will be no saving the planet or indeed a safe planet unless there is justice for everyone. There are so many valuable voices that need to be heard that my white privileged colleagues and I need to amplify, and bring into our research agenda because ultimately, those people, those communities, are resilient AF. They have been living at the sharp edge forever, dealing with many horrors and traumas, yet still somehow living. Living in their environment and within their means. They know how to solve the environmental problems we have.

We just must listen to them; ensure they are brought fully into decision making and act quickly. We have to ensure everything we (Cabot does) is fair and just. I'd also like to see more people of colour hired by the University, especially those working on environmental research. 

There is A LOT of work to be done but I’m up for the challenge!

What is your favourite part of your job?

That’s a tricky one as I love so much about it. I love working with my colleagues and the people I meet on the job – they inspire me every day and I’ve learned so much from them. I love the public engagement aspects of my job, where I get to communicate the work of our researchers and put it into Plain English or support work with an artist so that academics complex work can be understood by everyone.

When you see people approaching an artwork for example, or they come and talk to you about some research they’ve read about, their eyes go wide and their mouths drop open in awe and wonder, and something clicks in their brain that makes them more engaged with environmental issues.

I love that side of the role. That’s why I do this. The more I can communicate what our academics do, the more people will see that there can be a positive outcome for our planet if we all work together.

What are you most looking forward to over the next 10 years of Cabot?

I can’t actually believe I’ve done ten years already; it’s been an incredible decade! Just this year we’ve had some really cool stuff come out in the run-up to COP26 including Cabot Conversations, and the Annual Lecture in October 2021. A few months ago we had a collaboration between Cabot academics, Rising Arts Agency and the incredible artist Emma Blake Morsi which lead to the creation of artwork which was displayed on billboards across the City of Bristol to highlight environmental issues in the run up to COP26.

As for what’s coming up next year, watch this space! Plenty of events, public engagement activities and fingers crossed more collaborations with creatives around the city.

Looking further ahead, I would hope that we have really nailed the justice side of our work, fully embedded equity and inclusion into everything we do and help to positively influence policymakers and government on just how crucial this aspect of environmentalism is. I would also love to see us known the world over for our excellent quality research and expertise. I think we’re getting there, but there’s much more work to be done!

Come and join us, we’ll do it together!

Find out more about Amanda here.

You can follow her on Twitter @Enviro_Mand and find out more about her background on LinkedIn.

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