Contributing to social change, engaging with people at a human level, fostering advancement in education and developing intercultural dialogue are only a few of the goals that the British Council has sought to accomplish in recent years.
Language, and particularly English, is considered in the European Union as a veritable stronghold of culture, and the British Council in Budapest has always been seen as the most authentic source of knowledge about the country. “The British Council connects people worldwide with learning opportunities and creative ideas from the UK, and we have been building bridges and long-lasting educational co-operation between the UK and Hungary,” explains Simon Ingram-Hill, Director of the British Council in Hungary. The British Council has played an instrumental role in determining the future welfare of the world by creating a vision that strives to “make the world a better place”. Simon Ingram-Hill talks about past accomplishments and future plans.
Diplomacy & Trade (DT): It was only a year ago that you spoke about the role of the British Council as being a soft tool to address social issues and reach masses of people. How successful do you think this mission has been in Hungary?
Simon Ingram-Hill: I hope very – we have introduced a number of programs each of which has reached different target audiences and together cover a wide range of what we do in the context of fostering cultural relations. In Education, we bring together schools in Hungary, UK, France and Romania through “Connecting Classrooms” emphasising the European dimension of schooling today; our “Active Citizens” program links up hundreds of Hungarians working at the community level with like-minded professionals in 9 other European countries; Creative Cities has focused on urban development with senior officials at the municipal level; elsewhere through the “Challenge Europe” project young environmental professionals generate greater awareness and offer alternatives to dealing with the effects of climate change.
How did you manage to securely implant the idea in people’s minds that the British Council is not only a place where the English language is taught, but also an inspiring community that aims to create engagement and trust?
At the heart of what we do is our overall corporate purpose, that of building trust and understanding at the community, national or international level. But we can only really successfully do this through strong partnerships. These take time to build and we are fortunate that we have such excellent partners here in Hungary. Without singling out specific organisations either governmental or non-governmental, we include amongst our partners a highly-respected theatre, a pedagogical institute, an association of young environmental professionals, a foundation in Northern Hungary dealing with social inclusion and an English language teachers’ network.
In what ways did your new programmes, introduced in 2010, attract significant attention in Hungary? What visible results are you able to share with the readers of DT?
It’s difficult to answer this question without giving some quantitative evidence. So just a couple of examples: The collaboration with UK choreographer Nigel Charnock on the production “Revolution” that he devised early in 2011 with two Budapest-based art houses resulted in sell-out initial performances, and it has already been brought back twice to more packed houses and spawned workshops for hundreds of young Hungarians. Next it is due to travel outside Budapest and indeed Hungary. Another example is the sheer volume of quality applicants that we received for our Empowering European Citizens program, launched in September 2011, three times the number we could accept.
A common language is a defining feature of a country’s national identity. Instead of defending the language and culture of Britain, your organisation has always searched for ways to connect all parts of the world and develop mutual understanding among people of different social and financial backgrounds. Do you have any large-scale projects for the future which seek to endorse this noble goal and are in line with the corporate vision of the British Council?
We are currently working on a Creative Entrepreneurs initiative; a citizenship program with a more global reach, perhaps focusing more on youth, and a number of products for English teachers, trainers and language learners that will extend our reach and services, both digitally and face-to-face. This is of course separate from, though complementary to, our newly re-established teaching operation. The challenge for designing large scale projects is that they need to be flexible enough to have wide international reach while achieving local relevance.
Initiatives, such as “Learn English Family”, are a great way to encourage people to learn English and develop an awareness of UK’s democratic values. In your personal opinion, what other forms of promoting British culture do you think could work effectively in Hungary?
Your mention of our “Learn English Family” program is illustrative of the importance of going beyond the formal school setting when encouraging foreign language learning. But beyond English, which is indeed a very important part of our work into the future, let me mention the radio program “Selector” which every Saturday afternoon brings to ever growing audiences in Hungary the very latest of British music which lately was described by British daily “The Times” as “the most cutting-edge music show coming out of Britain, delivering a soundscape of young British life ... the country’s coolest radio show ... created by the British Council”. It is a good example of how we can effectively promote contemporary British culture.