School & College Debate Judges

Photo: Dan Clayton


Taneesha Ahmed is an artist, curator and educator from Manchester. With a Masters in Curating from Chelsea College of Art & Design, she was also awarded a First Class Bachelors Degree in Fine Art from the University of Leeds. Over the years she has been a successful benefactor of grants from Arts Council England for Shed Show (2012) and Ahmed and Carpenter presents (2012-2013) and has curated many exhibitions across the UK. With over eight years experience working in the arts, she was previously Education Officer at Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, and is currently the Participation Producer at The Tetley. 

Teresa Aksamit-Hollingworth is the Careers Manager at the University of Law, Leeds. She has taught law at undergraduate level for fourteen years. Her areas of teaching specialism are contract, tort, property and equity law. Prior to working in higher education, Teresa was a senior litigation executive in private practice. Teresa’s background enables her to transfer her working experience to trhe classroom so that subjects are taught within a relevant context and from a practical perspective. Working with young adults new to university is of particular interest and has led her to undertake a doctorate in education focusing on the transition of learning and teaching from school to university.

Peg Alexander is an award-winning TV, radio and online broadcaster, radio journalist, event host and occasional writer. She mainly reports on news, politics and current affairs but she also hosts a music podcast.  She originally started life on the debating floor herself, active in politics. At 25 she was the de-facto leader of a national political party. But now she prefers asking the questions. 

William Atkinson went from an academic career spanning Sports Science, Management and Environment Studies to a professional career working for an environmental education charity in London, working for a range of universities in Yorkshire, and now leading Leeds Beckett University’s school outreach team. In this, he is responsible for ensuring young people throughout the country have as much information and as many experiences as possible to help them make a confident progression to higher education.


Sally Bavage is the Fundraiser for Headingley LitFest. After qualifying in Biological Sciences, she worked initially as a secondary science teacher, before moving on to work with younger pupils and teach across the curriculum.  A master’s degree in Education, advisory and consultancy work in science, mathematics and IT followed before becoming a secondary deputy head responsible for implementing curriculum change.  Work for the local education authority, and working to get free access to wide-ranging out-of-school opportunities for some of the most deprived young people, completed a career spent enjoying chances to broaden minds and extend opportunities.

Natalie Bennett was the leader of The Green Party from 2012-16. She was the founding chair of Green Party Women and a candidate in Holborn and St Pancras in the general elections of 2010 and 2015, and in Sheffield Central in 2017. Natalie has been a journalist for two decades and before entering politics she was editor of the Guardian Weekly and has worked previously for The Times, the Independent, the Bangkok Post and Australian provincial papers. Her academic background includes agricultural science, history, politics and mass communications.

Nathalie Bethesda: After teaching English for 18 years in high schools in Leeds and Sheffield, Natalie is now a campaigner for holistic education as a vehicle for social justice, as well as a researcher in the Philosophy of Education and part-time lecturer at Leeds Beckett University. She is also a writer of plays, poetry and prose; walker of hills and fells; sufferer of gym and swim; and frequent theatre and cinema goer. She believes that family and friends go well with food and drink.

Justine Brian is Director of the schools programme for the think tank Civitas, and was formerly the director of the Institute of Ideas Debating Matters sixth-form debating competition. She believes in education and grappling with big ideas – and practised what she preaches by completing a degree in Classical Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, as a mature student. She loves good food and hates food snobbery, and learned to cook at Westminster College. She is an occasional writer on food issues, and her greatest media claim to fame was being on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on the issue of ‘frugal food’, which made her Mum extremely proud.

Dr Kate Brown lives in East Leeds and is a Lecturer in Social Policy and Crime at the University of York. Before studying for her PhD she worked in the third sector for around ten years supporting vulnerable groups such as young women who sold sex, young drug users and families affected by domestic violence. Her book Vulnerability and Young People: Care and Social Control in Policy and Practice was published by The Policy Press in 2015. Kate is also Chair of Trustees for Basis Yorkshire, a sex work and sexual exploitation support charity.

Paul Butterworth studied Government and Politics at the University of Manchester in the 1980s. After then gaining an MSc in Human-Computer Interaction at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, he began what turned out to be a career in the IT industry installing monitors, and now monitors installation of NHS IT services. Both NHS Digital and Paul are keen to collaborate with young people and academic institutions about opportunities in 21st century healthcare IT – it’s a very interesting and challenging area, covering many disciplines – not just IT, but also legal, project management, clinical and communications.


Feona Carmichael: Having completed a law degree at Leicester University and the Law Society Final exams at the College of Law in Guildford, Feona qualified as a solicitor and worked in private practice in Newcastle. She then moved to the University of Law where she is a Principal Lecturer, specialising in Property and Family Law. She teaches on the LLB and post graduate law courses. She is based at the Leeds campus where she heads the Legal Practice Course (which is a compulsory part of the training for law students wishing to qualify as a solicitor).

Jo Caswell has worked in the creative field for almost 30 years, previously heading Hallmark Cards as Creative Director and now delivering innovative projects to the local community through the Harrogate Business Improvement District.

Dawn Cameron is a self-employed researcher, project manager and evaluator in the Armstrong Cameron partnership, working primarily in the creative arts and cultural sectors. She has attained Masters of Arts degrees in Social and Public Policy and in Creative Writing and works to combine those areas of artistic and academic interest in her self-employed assignments. Much of her work involves listening to people tell their stories and finding ways of documenting them. Dawn is interested in working on projects which seek to deliver social change, and which enable individuals to engage in creative practice.

Josie Clarke is a paralegal working in the Court of Protection at Switalskis Solicitors. and her goal is to become a solicitor. She went to the University of Birmingham and has a degree in English Literature and Philosophy. In her spare time she likes to read, run and travel when she can. At university, Josie and a friend had a radio show where they would discuss topical issues, so she is looking forward to being involved in some more debating!

Dan Clayton is a freelance researcher, writer, cameraman and Documentary Film Maker. He is also a self-employed builder, and has also worked in IT and as a handyman in French ski resorts. Dan has a degree in History from the University of Birmingham, he helped research and produce the documentary Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible, and he is the Leeds Salon video manager.

Cathy Cook is an Associate Solicitor at LCF Law based in Leeds. Until February 2016, Cathy was Head of Company and Commercial Law at Jordans Solicitors in Wakefield, where she set up its Wakefield Sixth-Form Debating Competition. She has also previously set up and run a community art day. Originally from the North East, Cathy arrived in Leeds as a student to study English Literature at Leeds University and other than a short stint in London as part of her training contract she hasn’t left.

Simon Cooke is a retired professional marketer and politician, having been account planning director at one of the UK’s leading direct marketing agencies. He was a Bradford councillor for 24 years, including periods as council deputy leader and Conservative Group Leader. He has a degree in South East Asian Studies, an MSc in urban regeneration and a diploma in communications from the CAM Foundation. He is married to Kathryn and he blogs at The View from Cullingworth (the beautiful South Pennine village where they live).


Robert Davies works as a Paralegal in the Court of Protection team at Switalskis Solicitors, assisting vulnerable people who lack mental capacity to varying degrees. Robert frequently deals with applications brought pursuant to Section 21A of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, representing clients with dementia, learning difficulties, autism or with an acquired brain injury. Robert’s work includes drafting Court documents, attending Court and attending meetings with clients and other parties.

Dr Mark Davis is Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Leeds, Founding Director of the Bauman Institute and Director Building Sustainable Societies. He is interested in the capture and translation of the social world into economic interests, specifically how individual freedom is reduced to market choice and how this can be reconciled with the challenge of creating fairer, more resilient, and more sustainable societies. He is author of Consumer Culture and Society: A Critical Introduction, and editor of Liquid Sociology: Metaphor in the Writings of Zygmunt Bauman’s Sociology. Mark was elected a Fellow of the RSA in 2010.

Sarah Derbyshire-Thomas is originally from Lancashire, and graduated from the University of Liverpool in 1994 with a Degree in Economic and Social History. Following a two year period teaching English in Madrid she embarked on a PGCE in History at the University of Leeds. After teaching History and Social Sciences in Hong Kong and West Yorkshire Sarah joined Leeds Beckett University in 2002 in the Widening Participation Department. She is now the Widening Participation Projects Manager and help to set the agenda and strategy of outreach programmes within our University.


Nat Edwards is the Chief Executive of the Thackray Medical Museum. As a museum curator and community activist, he has worked in museums, galleries and archives for over 30 years – developing exhibitions, education and community-based projects as well as major capital projects. Nat is a Fellow of the RSA and a member of the Society of Authors and is the author of ‘Caledonia’s Last Stand: In Search of the Lost Scots of Darien’ trying to find something to smile about in the history of Scotland’s disastrous Darien Scheme.


Dr Julie Firmstone is an Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. Her research analyses the role of news, journalism and political communication in local democracies, editorial journalism at newspapers, journalism ethics and regulation, and the communication of European politics. She is currently working on a project that compares journalism ethics and regulation in Europe and is researching public attitudes to journalism regulation. She publishes her work in academic journals and books


Dr Susan Grant-Muller is Professor of Technologies and Informatics in the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds She is a grounded statistician, inspired by the potential of communication technologies to reduce the carbon-energy burden from the transport sector. She is currently researching the potential of positive incentives delivered through innovative mobility schemes to reduce the use of conventionally fuelled vehicles for EMPOWER.


Natasha Hardy has worked for Michael Lewin Solicitors since June 2013. Natasha graduated from university in July 2013 with a 2.1 LLB Law Degree with Honours, and her Masters in Law and Bar Professional Training Course qualification. Whilst working for Michael Lewin Solicitors Natasha completed her Legal Practice Course, become a Chartered Legal Executive and qualified as a Solicitor. Natasha works as an Industrial Disease Solicitor and handles a range of Industrial Disease claims from initial instruction to conclusion including claims for: Asbestosis, COPD, HAVS/VWF, Lung Disease, Noise Induced Hearing Loss and RSI.

Simon Hill joined YPO in July 2011 from former regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, where he was an Executive Director. Previously, Simon was Managing Director for electronic automotive manufacturer Kostal UK Limited. With 20 years commercial experience across procurement, sales and general management, he also has 16 years of relevant public sector experience. Simon is an elected Executive Council Member of BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association and Company Secretary of YPO Procurement Holdings Limited.

Richard Horsman is a radio journalist with 30 years’ experience in West Yorkshire. He was news editor at The Pulse in Bradford, and he also served as a consultant to Real Radio when it launched, overseeing the station’s education and training initiatives. He is now a Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Leeds Trinity University, and received the BBC North Education Partnership Achievement award for Developing Talent two years ago, and is Chair of the Radio Academy in Yorkshire.


David Jones is a Trainee Solicitor at LCF Law based in the Leeds office. David began working for LCF in April 2016, and progressed from the role of Conveyancing Assistant to Trainee in September 2018. He is currently stationed with the Corporate Law team, but will be able to try a further three areas of law as part of his training contract before qualifying as a solicitor. Originally from Chester, David arrived in Leeds as a student to study law at the, then, Leeds Metropolitan University and hasn’t left.


Simon Kay OBE FRCS is a Plastic Surgeon and Professor of Hand Surgery at the University of Leeds. He has spent his career treating major nerve injuries, and abnormalities and injuries in children’s hands; and he has integrated psychological care into the surgical system, working closely between the disciplines. In the last ten years he has developed and led the UK Hand Transplant program, and paid particular attention to the ethical problems with which this practice is beset. He is a keen educator and debater and enjoys finding the strengths and weakness of each case, whilst cheerfully challenging orthodoxies.

Steve Kelleher is a working class entrepreneur with 20 years experience in foreign exchange investment banking, and 15 years in financial consulting. He is currently running for Mayor of London for the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Steve is a father of five, a school governor and a cricket coach, as well as being a political activist and the lead singer in a ‘dad band’.

Patrick Kelly is a special educational needs consultant and works for Leeds City Council.  His background is in Linguistics; he is a masters graduate from Birkbeck College where he researched language development in children with special needs. He has a degree in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College. Patrick is fluent in written and spoken Japanese and lived in Tokyo for 3 years. Particular interests include anything food related, anything wine related, postwar art and cinema. His favourite debaters include Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens.


Michele Ledda is an English teacher and co-founder of The Leeds Salon. He was previously the director of Civitas Schools, a group of Saturday and evening schools teaching English and maths to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Michele has written articles on education, the curriculum and the teaching of poetry for various publications, and is the author of a chapter on English teaching for The Corruption of the Curriculum (Civitas, 2007).

Dr Simon Loseby read Ancient and Modern History at Oxford University, followed by an MA in Medieval Studies at the University of York. He returned to Oxford to complete a doctorate, holding junior research fellowships at St. Anne’s and Wadham College, the latter in conjunction with a British Academy post-doctoral research fellowship, before taking up his post at the University of Sheffield in 1995. His teaching and research concentrates on the fall of the western Roman Empire and its aftermath.

Mo Lovatt is the national coordinator for Debating Matters, a national debating competition for sixth form students. She is also a programme coordinator for the Academy of Ideas. Mo read PPE at the University of Oxford and has just completed a PhD exploring the sustainability of Arts and Culture programmes in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation. She is a lecturer, public speaker and a commentator on TV and radio where she reviews the newspapers for Sky News, Times Radio, GB News the BBC.


Michael Meadowcroft has been active in Liberal politics for over fifty years. He has been a Leeds City Councillor, a West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Councillor, and was MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. Over the past twenty years he has been mainly concerned with new and emerging democracies, and has led or been a member of some fifty missions to thirty-five countries. His academic thesis was on Leeds City government and he has lectured extensively on Leeds local history. Michael has had a lifetime’s interest in classic jazz and still leads the Granny Lee Jazz Band. Visit his website.

Peter Moor is a first year student studying English with Linguistics at Queen’s University, Belfast although he certainly prefers English to Linguistics! He is part of the university debating society, having previously debating in his sixth-form with Silcoates School in Wakefield; with whom he was a runner-up in the Debating Matters Yorkshire Regional Finals in 2016. Peter now also works with Debating Matters as an Alumnus.


Zoe Nicholson joined Whitaker Firth Solicitors in 2018. She graduated as a Bachelor of Law from Sheffield Hallam University and went on to undertake the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law at York. Following her training contract, Zoe qualified as a solicitor in 2005. Since qualification Zoe has specialised exclusively in Private Client work bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge to her team. She is currently studying for the STEP qualification and will be taking the exams to become a fully accredited member of SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly) in 2019.


Dave Oxley is head of information security at thebigword working with clients such as the ministry of justice and Ministry of defence and the NHS. He has been a long-time supporter of Debating Matters and a life-long fan of Middlesbrough football club a keen cyclist


Dr Kate Pangbourne researches sustainable travel behaviour at the Institute of Transport Studies, University of Leeds. She came to Leeds from post-doctoral research at the University of Aberdeen, having gained an MSc in Sustainable Rural Development and a PhD in Geography. Prior to that she worked for Scottish Natural Heritage for 10 years, after a brief stint in the commercial fish-farming sector. She also has an MA in Philosophy with English Literature from the University of Edinburgh. Thirty seven years ago she was in the first female team to win her school’s debating competition.


Nathalie Rawson (see Nathalie Bethesda above).

Lindsey Rhodes was a specialist in Community Care and Mental Capacity Law at Switalskis Solicitors, Leeds. She has a wide range of experience working in the public and not-for-profit sector in community care and welfare rights, and has been a trainer in community care law for public sector employees and social work students. Lindsey is particularly interested in furthering the legal rights of people with disabilities, and regularly receives referrals from the Official Solicitor to act in Court of Protection matters. Lindsey was shortlisted for the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards Health & Social Care category in 2006.

Mark Rowlinson studied Mathematics with Physics at the University of Leeds, is a Fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and a Member of the British Computer Society. He is a Partner at First Actuarial, where he’s been since the company formed in 2004, and helps companies and members with their pension schemes. Mark likes numbers, programming, economics and sociology but dislikes statistics and legislation. He is therefore perhaps only half suited to a career as pensions actuary and divides his time to run the company’s software development team. Mark has been a school governor for 8 years and in 2015 led a successful bid to open a new free school, gaining 5 minutes of fame on ‘The One Show’.

Zoë Sawyer is Curator at The Tetley, and has curated and co-produced projects with Project Space Leeds (which runs The Tetley) since 2009. Zoë also maintains an independent curatorial practice, producing projects across a variety of formats including exhibition making and publishing. Having trained as an artist at University of Leeds and UC Berkeley, she co-founded theartmarket & kunstfreund gallery, a curatorial project and art bookshop which ran a rolling exhibition programme in Leeds’ Merrion Market from 2006 – 2012. In 2011 she co-founded curatorial project space and collective MEXICO which she currently co-directs with artists James Maxfield and Simon Boase.

Andy Shaw writes political satire for the Spectator and other magazines. He is the co-organiser of London’s free-thinking comedy club, Comedy Unleashed. The club hosts contrarian and free-thinking comedians from across the political spectrum. Anything is allowed and there is no censorship. The club’s motto is ‘If it’s funny… it’s funny’ – the audience is the judge.

Jack Simpson was born and grew up in Leeds, studied Philosophy and Politics at Leeds University and an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at York University. He’s generally interested in questions surrounding moral and political philosophy. In particular questions around distributive justice. Alongside this, Jack co-founded Leeds’ main music magazine, Vibrations, co-owns the recording studio/venue Eiger and has recently launched The State of the Arts, a cultural resource aims to enhance Yorkshire’s arts infrastructure.

Richard Smyth is a novelist, journalist and critic, among other things. His work has appeared in journals including the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, New Scientist and New Humanist. His first novel, Wild Ink, was published in 2014, and he is the author of five books of non-fiction. He also compiles crosswords and is part of the team that sets questions for BBC Mastermind.

Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a Lecturer in Sociology & Criminology at York St John University. With a background in Politics and Law, he is interested in how political philosophy and economic theory shape social phenomena. His research has focused on how in the last decades some of the core values and concepts of modernity and the Enlightenment, such as individual agency and material progress, have been problematized in the narratives both of the New Left and of the mainstream and extreme Right. He is the author of The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: from New Left to Occupy (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016).


Kenn Taylor has been Head of Participation at The Tetley since 2014, and has over eight year’s experience in the management of arts and heritage learning and participation programmes with organisations including Tate Liverpool and Sir John Soane’s Museum. This work informs his research and writing on culture, community, participation and the urban environment which has appeared in The Guardian, The Big Issue, Museum Practice, Mute and Liverpool University Press. Kenn has also lectured and delivered talks for institutions including the Royal College of Art, Liverpool John Moores University, the Institute for Education and London South Bank University.

Russell Thomas is a senior manager in HM Revenue & Customs based in Leeds. Having started in the most junior civil service roles, he worked as a VAT inspector before successfully completing the Civil Service Fast Stream. He has held senior leadership roles in HMRC’s Excise Policy, Compliance and the Risk & Intelligence Service. A father of two, in his spare time he enjoys volunteering as a scout leader, gaming and conducting often disastrous experiments with home-brewing.

Aylaia Tombros-McIvor is a commercial solicitor for the Government Legal Department, based in Leeds. Prior to that, she trained in-house and then worked for an international law firm as a Projects solicitor. Aylaia has a degree in politics from the University of York, and masters degrees in both politics and law from the University of Leeds. In 2016, she judged the University of York vs the University of Nottingham’s public / criminal law mooting competition. In her spare time, Aylaia plays the guitar, reads fiction, writes creatively and volunteers with a national women’s health charity.


Jake Unsworth took part in Debating Matters over a decade ago with Guiseley School, and was awarded the highly commended prize at the National Finals. He holds a degree in History from Newcastle University and a Masters in Law from Leeds. Since leaving University, Jake worked in finance project management and is now a solicitor with law firm Womble Bond Dickinson. He has produced sessions at the Academy of Ideas annual Battle of Ideas festival of debate and is a governor at a local Leeds school.


Neil Walshaw is a councillor representing Headingley Ward on Leeds City Council for the Labour Party. He is Chair of the North & East Plans Panel & sits on the City Plans Panel & the Development Plan Panel. So lots of planning features in his World. He is married with three young children & therefore frequently tired! He likes history, science fiction and computer games.

Dr Mark Wanstall has a BA (Hons) degree in Geography and a PhD in Geography from the University of Leeds. He gained a PGCE in FE/HE from Huddersfield University in 2003, and was a Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies, and occasionally in Education Studies, at Leeds Beckett University.

Dr Paul Wetherly is Reader in Politics and member of the Politics & International Relations Group of the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University. His teaching and research interests include political ideologies, governance, and migration & diversity. Political Ideologies, edited by Paul, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

Richard Wilcocks is Secretary of the annual Headingley LitFest and is a member of the steering committee of Leeds Peace Poetry. He has been a journalist, a teacher, an examiner, and has worked for the British Council at the University of Poznan in Poland. He was closely involved with the Stephen Lawrence Education Standard at Education Leeds, and has recently published a book Stories from the War Hospital, based on eighteen months of research into the First World War hospital which was at Beckett Park.

Dr John Willott: Following a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, John gained a Royal Society Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Manchester University. For this, and research on tropical forest loss, he managed a research station in northern Borneo. He subsequently worked on the EU-funded MEDALUS programme at Leeds University on climate change, desertification and land use in the Mediterranean region. After a career break, he joined Leeds Beckett University, securing EU funding to deliver projects on social inclusion and improving access to HE and employment. His research interests include marginalised groups, particularly refugees.

Diane Wilson has spent the majority of her career as a teacher and senior leader in education both in the UK and Europe. Recently she decided to change her focus and now works in the third sector at a well-known Leeds charity, People Matters. Diane’s interests are current affairs, reading, gardening, cooking, and she is a member of the Women’s Equality Party.

Dr Katy Wright is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Bauman Institute, University of Leeds. Currently, she is critically exploring theories of community resilience through qualitative empirical work in South Wales, involving the development of an alternative approach to understanding resilience. Previously, Katy has worked on research projects covering topics including human rights in post-conflict societies; health and social care; and disability and employment; and she has a particular interest in the themes of community, engagement and risk/vulnerability.


Sunny Zaman is a trainee solicitor within the Real Estate & Commercial Property team at Switalskis Solicitors, where his work focuses primarily on freehold and leasehold acquisitions and development work. Sunny studied psychology at Northumbria University and later attended the University of Law (Leeds), where he studied his Law Conversion and Legal Practise Course. He also once hit Princess Anne in the face with a flag.