Charity Spotlight: Bringing Fusion to London

In Conversation with Fusion@London’s President Angela Udemba

~Written for the London Student Paper, Volume 32, Issue 02~

We met in September when the weather was still warm but not ‘climate-change-abnormally’ so.  As I wandered around the Imperial Campus in dire search of the given landmarks I began to soak up the odd aura of studiousness pervading the site and its pre-term inhabitants. I have been on many of the UoL campuses in my time (somewhere having fallen prey to a collect-em-all pattern) but this was somehow a world apart.

At the foot of this scientific summit philosophy felt a shameful three years of whimsy, and my minimal memory of separate science GCSE a deplorable waste of good, solid knowledge. Luckily, Angela Udemba, the President of Fusion, is one of the most welcoming people I’ve met in London, and even graciously side-swiped my awe, “well at least in science there are right answers, in philosophy… I don’t think I could do it”. Spend five minutes with this woman and you’ll know that’s most likely fallacious, but it sure made me feel better, until I realized that I was sitting down to chat with an unassuming, good-natured powerhouse.

Our Saturday rendezvous was the equivalent to a tea break in Udemba’s over-packed schedule. She was in the middle of a weekend of lab work, catching up on her research following a week overtaken by the heavy burden of doctoral level education and organizing a London-wide event (of which we had met to talk).  After an obscene number of required card-swipes we settled in the break room of the chemistry building to get down to the matter at hand, her pet project Fusion@London.

Photo Courtesy of Angela Udemba

Born in York seven years ago, Fusion is a society in the university that brings together the students with a flair for fashion, art, dance, or choreography into three nights of entertainment, all to raise money for a good cause. Udemba first came across the concept in her own studies at York, and was hooked, not leaving it long after her southward migration to bring Fusion to the capital with her. Her reasons were simple “because there’s nothing like it and that’s one of my main reasons… when I came to Imperial and I looked to join societies I assumed there must be something like Fusion because it’s London. I looked around and there was nothing… a lot of societies have their own smaller events but nothing really infuses loads of other societies and especially nothing integrates other universities”.

Although spawned from its northern ancestor, London’s Fusion is in itself a very different event, “London Fusion fuses three different universities, that’s the one major difference, whereas York was just York… it’s a lot bigger. We’re looking to book headline acts, celebrity artists, comperes… although we’re still focused on showcasing student talent; most of our designers come from London College of Fashion, Central Saint Martin’s so in that sense we’ve also involved those two universities. Whereas in York they showcase mostly High Street fashion stores, like Hugo Boss, Mango, River Island, places like that”.

As an outsider looking in the idea of managing to control a team of 18 from three different universities, and wrangle sponsorship, venues, celebrity acts, and a plethora of other tasks it seems a mammoth if not impossible challenge, “yes (she laughed), it’s on a lot bigger scale than York and also in York it was easier because it’s a campus uni so you see everyone around anyway and you tend to work with your friends. But involving three universities and a committee from all those universities you have to in some ways take more of a business or formal approach coordinating meetings. You have to be really organized. There’s a lot to be done!” And indeed Udemba has been chipping away at the to-do list since before the ice had thawed for the year when she first approached the Deputy Pesident of Imperial SU and began mailing out application forms for her team, I’ve been working since February but the team didn’t really start until the beginning of June, we still have a lot to do”.

The Fusion@London project hopes to involve many more students than simply those at the helm, the entire concept being rooted in participation, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many would be in this little army by the end. “Going by what you have in York they have about 150 maybe slightly less than that and that’s including other societies, so I’m hoping to go for that same number in London. Especially with three universities involved I want to give as many people a chance as possible. And in terms of societies… it goes on and on! But because there are so many societies we are going to merge them into official Fusion teams and mix the societies together like ACS in King’s would have to join ACS in Imperial for example, so it’s fusion” she laughs.

And is this something she hopes will continue beyond this year? “I hope so… the whole point is to make this year very exciting and to get all the university students from the different universities to make friends, to stop focusing on the competition and work to bring this one big show to London every year”. The power of the triumvirate heavy weights in the now Imperial free UoL could certainly do with a smattering of intercollegiate cooperation, if only for the one night.

I must admit that on first learning of the Fusion’s launch event I was uncannily excited, not only does it fall on Halloween a childhood favourite that is a bit neglected on this side of the Atlantic, but it affords the chance to wonder at the bedecked innards of the landmark Café de Paris. “We wanted to have our first event around October time which is when freshers are still new and are looking to get involved, and it made sense to call it a launch event. Halloween actually turned out to be one of the cheapest dates to book a venue so it was an easy option to go for! We’ve gone for a sort of fun, classical theme; you just have to put on a mask, look funky, turn up, and don’t have to worry so much about what you’re wearing. We’ve got some amazing acts for then lined up: Sunday Girl… she’ll be DJing; Clement Marfo and the Frontline; The Lorelles; Apollo 5; The Wacktitioners, so it’s hopefully going to be one of the best Halloween parties around at one of the best venues in London”. And, I hastened to add, at a good price (£9 for students), “yeah, compared to what you would normally pay to get in to Café de Paris, it’s a real treat”.

Eager to bond over a shared enthusiasm I enquired what Udemba was most excited about for the night, “just getting the cast and the committee together and having some fun, we’ve been working so hard organizing everything that we’ve forgotten that Fusion is supposed to be fun”. The SATC viewer and occasional Vogue reader within me couldn’t help but wonder aloud if she had her outfit ready (as I mentally attempted a wardrobe catalogue) “I have an idea of what mask I’m going to wear, still looking for the perfect dress –laughs- I’m taking it very seriously!”

In all the excitement over the remarkable entertainment Fusion affords, its easy to overlook that at its core it has a golden heart; the event’s whole purpose being to raise money for Cancer Research UK.  To question why this was the charity of choice would be a bit of an ignorant faux-pas in a world where one in three people will develop Cancer in their lifetime, but Angela’s involvement was a unique point to me. “My PhD is funded by Cancer Research UK and I wanted to give some

thing back. Without just deciding on my own I spoke with the committee about what they thought about Cancer Research UK and they all went for it so it was a very easy choice. I mean, I thought we could raise enough that I could cover how much it cost them to put me through a PhD but actually we wouldn’t get anywhere near that much because I realized it cost about £300.000, its quite a scary amount!” Their aims are more modest, hoping to get all told “at least 50 (thousand), and that’s why we need everyone to turn up and support us. That’s the target which is ambitious for the first event but definitely doable”.

The team have put a huge amount into Fusion@London, and for Udemba the sacrifices haven’t all been hers alone. As she led me back out the warren of electronic doors she told me that later that day she was going to go wedding dress shopping with her sister, the pleasure evident in her beaming smile, and she herself would be the maid-of-honour. I idly asked when the wedding was, “March, just after Fusion… originally it was planned for February but it got moved because I’d been like ‘but I won’t be able to attend!’”

Visit fusionatlondon.com for more information on all Fusion events and how to get involved

Victoria Yates