Meet Ian Dancy: Happy to Chat project sponsor

Ian Dancy, Executive Director of Operations, Campus Experience & Infrastructure, met with Pip Jackson, Astrea Co-chair and Head of Inclusive Environments for a chat on World Mental Health Day.

What was your involvement in the Happy to Chat bench project? 

The Happy to Chat Bench project won funding and sponsorship at the 2022 Professional Services Conference, based on the votes of the hundreds of attendees online and live in the room. I was asked to be the sponsor for the work, based on my work considering the overall Campus Experience. I was delighted to do this.

Why do you think the benches are important and why do you think Astrea is important?

UCL is large and complex university, even more so post pandemic with people moving between the home office and physical UCL. The benches won the PS Conference because the project caught the imagination of the room at a time when people wanted to increase opportunities to chat, even if that meant talking to a complete stranger. The benches provide a vibrant addition to our campus and provide opportunities for people to chat, with no pressure, during a time when we need to work harder to shape a community. Astrea led the project and put it forward to the PS Conference, championing the importance of both taking time to chat and combating loneliness.

Astrea is important, creating opportunities for women in professional services at UCL to network, support each other and discuss important matters. When I started in my role, the Estates team was very male dominated, and working with Astrea I was able to understand how to reset the team and structures. I’m proud today that over 50% of the Estates leadership Team is not a man! Astrea saw an opportunity with the benches to continue to recognise the impact of women and each is linked to important UCL women over the last 200 years.

Who would you most like to have a conversation with and why on the bench?

I would speak to the team who built the first UCL building in 1826. I would take the opportunity to talk about what London was like then and blow their minds with what London and UCL is today. I would like to understand how they built so central to our identity today and what challenges they faced.

Can recall your strangest conversation?

In 2016 I ran the London Marathon. One morning I was training, running up and down the Thames, with my work clothes and shoes on my back. As I ran along my shoes fell out and having returned, I noticed a man asleep on a bench (it was 6am) wearing my shoes. I approached him, rather cross, and after a few minutes I was sat next to him with my shoes safely resecured, enjoying an interesting conversation about his struggles. It was a very surreal moment but demonstrated to me the power of taking time to have a chat!

Find out more about the UCL Happy to Chat benches