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Poet Lemn Sissay becomes Manchester University chancellor


THE AUTHOR and writer Lemn Sissay has been officially announced as the next chancellor of the University of Manchester.

Sissay beat off strong competition from former Labour politician Lord Peter Mandelson and Hallé Orchestra music director Sir Mark Elder to be elected to the post.

In a ballot of university staff and former students, Sissay received 7,131 votes while Sir Mark polled 5,483 and Lord Mandelson received 5,269 votes.


Sissay said he was proud to be chancellor of the university and extremely grateful to everyone who voted for him.

He told Manchester Evening News: “My primary aim is to inspire and be inspired. As a boy I walked barefoot from a village in Lancashire to the city of Manchester with just one aim - to learn. The Caribbean community took me in and taught me about a culture I didn’t know anything about. In fact, all of the communities in Manchester have given me so much. My poems are written on parts of the city.


“It’s a success story and one that will continue. Manchester is not the Northern Powerhouse, it’s the Northern Poetry House.”

Sissay added: “Reach for the top of the tree and you may get to the first branch but reach for the stars and you'll get to the top of the tree."

The writer, who has authored plays and books of poetry, is also an associate artist at London's Southbank Centre. He will start the seven-year role on August 1, replacing current chancellor, property developer Tom Bloxham MBE, the founder of Manchester-based company Urban Splash.

The celebrated poet was born in Wigan and was brought up in care. Much of his work, such as the radio documentary Child of State, is informed by the search for his identity and his experience of growing up in care in Lancashire.

Sissay said he hoped his new role at the university would inspire other children in care to pursue an education, as he did.

“If ever a child in care needed to be inspired then let this be their moment,” he said. “To be inspired to get an education and to learn. Whether they go to university or not, just to learn is the most important thing. Manchester is my family and has been throughout my life, and it’s good to be home.”

The poet was elected with 7,131 votes, followed by Sir Mark Elder with 5, 483.

Sissay recently campaigned successfully for a police investigation after complaints of historical, physical and sexual abuse at a former children's home in Wigan.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, who is president of the university, congratulated the poet on his new role. She said it was a ceremonial office, which involved “significant ambassadorial responsibilities in helping to promote the university's achievements worldwide".

She said: “I look forward to welcoming him to the university community and working with him to promote our ambitious plans over the coming years.”

Rothwell added: “Each one of the nominees had excellent credentials and would have made a fine ambassador for the university. I would like to pay tribute to Tom for his tremendous work over the past seven years and thank all three candidates in the election to be his successor for their interest in the chancellorship.”

The chancellor presides over meetings of the university’s General Assembly and undertakes other ceremonial and representative duties on behalf of the institution. The office is held for a period of seven years and the holder may not be re-elected.

A university spokesman said there could be “other ways" that Sir Mark and former Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson could support the institution, which has nearly 38,000 students.

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