Sue Hordijenko, a charismatic and compassionate local politician and public engagement expert has died aged 54. As a Labour and Co-op Party Councillor for Bellingham on Lewisham Council where she lived, Sue supported local residents including the family of a murdered young man in Bellingham. This was at a time of heightened community tensions and her empathetic nature shone through as she tenaciously fought for their housing and welfare needs.
As an active board member of Phoenix Community Housing, a co-operative, resident-led housing association in south Lewisham, she emphasised the need for public and resident engagement saying:
“I believe in people power. Decisions about where we live and how we live are far better when our residents are part of that decision-making process”
Sue had lived in the borough of Lewisham since 1985 and in Bellingham since 2001. She was an alumnus of Goldsmith’s College when the Brit Art movement was taking shape. She was proud of her Irish and Ukrainian heritage and her cousins were planning a family reunion after the Covid19 pandemic restrictions.
Sue began her career in public engagement with science in 1994 when she joined the Wellcome Trust to work on the public and schools programme for its permanent in-house exhibition on the biomedical sciences ‘Science for life’. She joined the British Science Association in 1999 initially to manage the Association’s special millennial festival ‘Creating SPARKS’, a month-long science and arts festival involving all of the cultural institutions of South Kensington, and then went on to manage the Association’s ‘Science in society’ programme. This involved developing the annual national science communication conference and co-creating the online mass participation psychology experiment ‘Laugh-lab’. In 2001 she moved to the Natural History Museum and worked with the Museum’s scientific curators and researchers to instigate a programme of daily onsite and online public events involving museum researchers in the newly opened Darwin Centre. She returned to the British Science Association in 2004 as Director of Programmes where she had overall responsibility for the British Science Festival, National Science and Engineering Week, the Association’s ‘Science in society’ programmes and its press and PR operation. The largest public showcase for science in the UK.
Her experience communicating difficult scientific concepts to the public led Sue to be a co-author of the book Successful Science Communication – Telling It Like It Is.Successful-Science-Communication-Telling-It-Like-It-Is-feat-Sue-Hordijenko
Famously, the presidential address of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008 was used by the former Chief Scientist to the Labour Government, Sir David King to demand a greater focus on climate change.
“It’s all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it’s all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson; but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilisation is really crucial.”
“We will have to re-gear our thinking because our entire civilisation depends on energy production, and we have been producing that energy very largely through fossil fuels; and we will have to remove our dependence from fossil fuels virtually completely, or we will have to learn how to capture carbon dioxide from fossil fuel usage,” going on to say: “Finding and exploiting clean energy sources was now imperative.”
This was controversial because that year the UK began to celebrate its participation in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest physics experiment.
In Bellingham, Sue was a supporter of the Bell Green masterplan where green energy using the former gasometers site has been proposed.
Sue was a great ally to the LGBTQ+ movement. She loved the frenetic 1980 and 90s club and music scene. And, like so many others, she saw friends and colleagues succumb to the opportunistic infections of HIV and AIDS.
The theatre meant alot to Sue, she was incredibly proud of her godson, the actor Noah Thomas who played the lead, Jamie in the west end musical, Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, she said: “I have known Noah since he was born and I am really proud he is playing Jamie – I know that Noah fully endorses and supports LGBTQ+ History Month.”
In a government initiative to raise awareness of science among young people, Sue promoted a website www.laughlab.co.uk that allowed people submit jokes and rate those submitted by others on a five-point ‘smileometer’ scale. With her trademark laugh, she said: “Laugh Lab looks set to be the most far-reaching psychology experiment ever.”
The joke that went on to win the ‘best joke submitted by a well-known scientist’ category, was submitted by Nobel laureate, and professor of chemistry, Sir Harry Kroto:
A man walking down the street sees another man with a very big dog. The man says: “Does your dog bite?” The other man replies: “No, my dog doesn’t bite”. The first man then pats the dog, has his hand bitten off, and shouts; “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite”. The other man replies: “That’s not my dog”.
Katherine Mathieson, current Chief Executive of the BSA, worked with Sue when they were both Directors at the BSA. She said: “My own memory of Sue is that she was a breath of fresh air. She had a wonderfully distinctive and creative approach to her work, and was passionate about working with scientists to create content that was accessible, relevant, and entertaining. She was an excellent champion for newer colleagues and was never afraid to speak up in support of her colleagues and collaborators.”
Since the BSA learnt of the news of Sue’s passing, we have been collating the memories of our colleagues (both current and former) to share as well.
Sir Roland Jackson, former Chief Executive of the BSA, who worked closely with Sue, said: “She was a superb director of the British Science Festival and many other programmes. One of those generous and larger than life characters who could establish new relationships in new places every year. She was great to work with, no-nonsense, decisive and really supportive of her staff.”
Further tributes from the British Science Association are on their website here.
Cllr Sue Hordijenko’s funeral took place on 8th April 2021 at Hither Green Crematorium. This maybe viewed at https://www.obitus.com/ enter Username: yuhi1440 Password: 872409