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Inspiring Individuals

Another article written and researched by Stephanie Ross on a Barbican resident whose life and achievements are indeed quite remarkable.


hirty gifted and talented 10 year olds sit on the floor in Westminster Abbey staring at the large slide of a nineteenth century

Atlantic shipwreck, Sreela Banerjee tells them “Almost every last plant, insect, drawing and live animal that Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) collected from the Amazon sank before his eyes. For seven days he then floated, parched and starving in a leaky lifeboat before his rescue by a cargo ship”. Piano music then plays the turbulent middle section of “Sailing” by Benjamin Brittan, further illustrating this disaster. We are hearing about the life and times of famous people buried in the Abbey: Sir Isaac Newton (1643- 1727) – gran raised him when small, mother unsuccessfully pushed him into farming at seventeen but he studied tirelessly, graduating from Cambridge University to transform maths, physics and astronomy; Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1845) - wealthy Scot, left law to make huge advances in geological research, supported Darwin and Wallace’s work on evolution; But we focus mainly on the political/social times and the life of Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) - surveyor apprentice, nature lover, traveler, social activist, evolutionist and bio-geographer. Music from Elgar (1857-1934), Britten (1913- 79), Herschel (1738-1822), Bennett (1816-75) and Howells (1892-1983), all buried in the Abbey, is used to illustrate events in this enthralling program by the four Pyr Project members.

Sreela Banerjee is a Barbican

mother, London School of Economics graduate, Bengali Brahmin, wife and business partner of Investment Advisor Charles Gillams. She has an intelligent, thoughtful, unhurried disposition. She set up The Pyr Project a couple of years ago to develop a cross curricular, “joined up thinking” workshop showing early

twentieth century life and how seemingly diverse themes and subjects inter-relate. The story context was Iva Ibbotson’s book “Journey to the River Sea” in which a young orphaned British girl’s experiences are chronicled as she travels to the Amazon to live with disagreeable relatives but finds the strength of character and passion for nature to succeed in her own ambitions.

Sreela had used Wallace as a key theme and so Westminster Abbey Education Dept asked her to adapt the program for them, thus creating “Making a Noise about Science”. Sreela’s collaborators are: Charles Matthews, Birmingham Conservatoire Tutor; Marcus Davidson, Composer and musician; Daniel Pollendine, Artistic Director of Bigintent Theatre Company. They are all bright, capable, kind and affable people with a flair for working with children. The next step is to take this project into mainstream schools. Mr Edwards at the Worshipful Company of Educators has encouraged Pyr to contact the Livery Companies Schools Link, whose charitable works support this type of cross- curricular project. Following her father’s death three years ago Sreela contemplated her upbringing in 1960’s Calcutta where kids in the family were encouraged to think, have opinions and self belief, embrace knowledge and view the world around as a rich fabric of related subjects to which they could contribute. The house was always full of academics and musicians, conversation and hospitality. In 1975 her surgeon father moved the family to Britain and her history graduate mother simply built a new life here (at seventy three she is currently a Conservative Councilor). As a new LSE graduate Sreela was to start work at Reuters for the Evening News, but its sudden closure meant she was sent to set up

Exchange & Mart’s Prestel (precursor of Ceefax) division, which sold their car marketing service. She had no experience but found herself to be an optimist, good problem solver and resourceful (she furnished her drab office very cheaply with good quality, unwanted ex-photo shoot furniture from a friend at Vogue Magazine). Her next job was doing research for a friend who worked at the Economist magazine, where she noticed that the Central Electricity Generating Board had a proposed policy of growth and investment. She therefore asked them for a job and started there as a graduate administrative assistant, a role that proved not terribly challenging. Her supervisor recognized the value of her skills, character and international background and moved

Sreela Banerjee


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