Alumni interview: Robin Rowland OBE

After a degree at Kent University in American Studies (1980 – 1984), Robin joined Whitbread PLC as a pub area manager, going on to develop and lead multiple pub & restaurant brands including Diageo, Scottish & Newcastle and The Restaurant Group. In 1999 he joined YO! Sushi as CEO, building the iconic fast-casual popular restaurant chain from 3 to 100+ company restaurants both in the UK & USA, including 16 franchise restaurants in international airports and the Gulf. From Jan 2018 Robin joined the Trispan Rising Stars team as an Operating Partner and retains NED roles with Eathos, YO! Sushi, Marston’s & Caffe Nero, as well as sitting on the sectors UK Hospitality Board. He received an OBE in 2016 for his service to the UK hospitality industry.

What motivates and inspires you?
I’m motivated by great food and service. I’m inspired by people who are driven, consistent, and possess extraordinary vision. I am a strong believer in ‘happy teams and happy guests’ and can’t stand lazy operators. I believe ‘people work with people’, and my management philosophy is simple as I look for ‘continual improvement’ on the ‘5 Ps’: People, Product, Property, Promotion and Profit.

Name one more career ambition you’d like to realise before you retire
I’d like to add value to a few more businesses. It’s very challenging to survive and thrive in the restaurant business: there are a handful of us who have managed it with the same business for 15 years or more. I truly believe It’s all about employing great people and understanding the importance of good managers, who value their teams.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV or Wikipedia page?
My Father sadly died when I was six. He was a very promising labour MP and a contemporary of Roy Hattersley and Shirley Williams. It’s strange to think he could even have ended up becoming Prime Minister in the 70s.

Also – my wife and I used to drive a London taxi – it was quite a thing among the Surrey set, seeing us driving the kids to school in a London cab!

What has been your most embarrassing moment?
At one point we’d been having a problem with rogue chefs who had been rumoured to be putting mussels on the YO! belt. I was sitting at one point with an investor and assuring him this was no longer happening. As we talked I glanced up just in time to watch a dish of mussels going past me on the conveyor belt!

What’s the most trivial hill you’re willing to die on? (i.e. the one thing you believe you’ll never concede on, no matter how much people argue with you)
I strongly believe that the O has to be the same size as the Y in the YO! Sushi logo.

Also the base quality of the food you serve is crucial – the quality of the food comes right down to the core ingredients which must never be compromised.

What is your favourite spot on campus?
On campus I’d say sitting infront of the library on a sunny day – that view down to the cathedral. Off campus it would probably be a pub we used to frequent called the ‘Bat and Ball.’

During my second year in Kent we actually lived in an amazing house called The Edge at St Margarets Bay looking out across the channel which was pretty special – but a little far from campus!

When were you last back on campus?
I actually came back in Summer 2017 with my son Chris to look at the university, as he is thinking of studying Business. It was interesting to go back to Rutherford, my former college – the campus has changed so much!

What is your favourite memory of Kent?
We booked U2 for just £150 to play in the Rutherford Bar! Quite a coup. I was part of the social committee – we also had a great time seeing bands like the Cure, UB 40 & Ramones at the Odeon.

What do you wish you knew while at Kent that you know now?
I wish I had got more involved in outdoor pursuits and sports, I didn’t do enough of that sort of thing. I was probably a little too ‘cool for school’ – I grew up in Blackheath and arrived at University having taken a year off already and foolishly felt quite worldly.

I also wish I’d spent more time thinking about careers, though I was very lucky to get three job offers straight out of uni through the milkround!

Why do you think specifically conveyor belt sushi restaurants have such appeal?
It’s partly novelty, but it also goes beyond that. It’s fast, fun and fresh. You can be in and out very quickly, you’re fully in control of your own meal, and you don’t need to order and wait for the food to be prepared. I like to think of it as ‘elegant fast food’. It’s a great place to do speed dating and also perfect as transit food e.g in airports (YO! Sushi’s record-holding branch is Terminal 2 at Heathrow which whilst small once did well over 100k in one week!) A distinct advantage of YO! is also that it can work out of a floor plate as small as 1000 square feet which gives a basic kitchen plus a conveyor belt, and really it offers three different types of experience – it can be a transactional experience at airports, a default offer in a shopping mall, or can be a total restaurant experience. It’s really rather niche.

And finally: you’ve been given a campus rabbit, you can’t give it away or sell it. What do you do with it?
I’m sorry to say but I’d have to cook and eat it – probably fricasseed!!

Development Office Beach Clean

The Development Office took part in an environmental leave day on 30 July at Reculver Towers which saw staff from the DO giving back to the local community whilst helping the environment.

Armed with rubbish bags and pickers the staff were able to collect 20 kilos of rubbish and waste with items varying from articles of clothing to shotgun shells.

With the help of Coastal Development Officer, Thomas Hawkins, from Foreshore Services the University were able to learn more about the environmental hazards and problems on our shorelines and were able to start making a difference to the local area.


SMFA EED graduate Kerri Layton performing at London’s premiere jazz venue

Photo by Gigi Giannella

On Tuesday July 17th, from 8pm, SMFA BA (Hons) Event and Experience Design 2011 graduate, Kerri Layton, is performing at legendary Pizza Express Cabaret venue, The Pheasantry (Chelsea), which was nominated for Best Live Music Venue in the London Lifestyle Awards, and considered to be one of London’s major venues of New York-style jazz-singing, musical-theatre-influenced cabaret work.

Kerri is enjoying a successful career as a performer with her live band and as a solo artist, and heads up independent record label Dixiebird Records, [3] which runs live music events all across the capital, featuring some of London’s finest musicians, as well as running her own Creative Event Consultancy.

Her E.P Songs For A Rainy Day is produced by bandleader, saxophonist and composer, Mick Foster and is due for release in July 2018.

Interview with MA Fine Art alumnus Matt Bray, co-founder of the Medway Print Festival

Drawing in the snow at dockyard during MA. Photo by Gaz Bray

Matt Bray is a practising artist, freelance curator and arts consultant, who graduated from SMFA in 2012 with an MA Fine Art. He co-founded the Medway Print Festival, which is running until 24th June at present, and multimedia group exhibition Sick!  More at

Studio shot with work from ‘Sick!’ exhibition. Photo by Rikard Österlund.

Matt kindly took time out from his busy schedule to chat with SMFA’s Marketing & Communications Officer, Jane Seaman.

How did your time at Kent prepare or equip you for the role you have now?
My time at Kent equipped me with a far richer understanding of contemporary art and its relationship to the longer stream of art history. That has afforded me a more nuanced understanding of both my own work and the work of others, allowing me to curate more mature and interesting shows, and I’ve developed confidence in my abilities as an artist and curator as a result.

What does your job involve?  Is there a typical day?
There are no typical days. Networking is key though, so I can often be spotted having coffee with artists and gallerists (tough life I know). Funding is the least glamorous and most important element of putting exhibitions and festivals together, so that is something I have had to learn on the job – how is the project going to be funded? Arts Council? Local council? Paid by the artists? Somehow it needs to be paid for and that requires good clear ideas and being able to articulate those ideas well. Once funding is secured the rest of the project is normally plain sailing to a large degree.

What kind of opportunities offered at Kent were especially beneficial for your career development?
Putting on the degree show was obviously a pretty important experience, and it was such a great place to host an exhibition.

What have you been doing since graduating?
Since graduating I have been in the studio whenever possible, I have also been running several key projects like ‘Sick!’ and ‘Medway Print Festival’, both of which have been very successful and I have been lucky enough that the people I run those with are very good friends, so although it can be very hard work sometimes, it is always super fun.

What would you recommend to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If anyone wants to get involved in curation, then the only real advice I can offer is to put shows on.  My first exhibition was in a bookshop with my buddy. You can start small if need be, but just put shows on, as often as possible, of your own work or other people’s, it doesn’t matter. You will learn so much from every show – like anything else, the more you do it, the more you will learn. Before you know it, the shows will have become quite sophisticated and you will have made all the obvious mistakes which you can then learn to avoid.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Kent?
Probably my favourite memory of my time at Kent was meeting my mate Billy Childish, who had a studio in the dockyard too and taught me a lot about being a painter.

What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to create the Medway Biennial.

Who or what inspires you?
My parents.

Thanks, Matt.

You can catch the Medway Print Festival until 24th June.  Now in its 3rd year, the festival celebrates printmaking and fine art in Medway, with over 40 events and activities to showcase some of the best printmaking being created today as well as highlighting the fascinating local history of the medium. More

SMFA students and alumni feature in international festival of moving image

On Saturday 2nd June, SMFA students featured in a large-scale, outdoor screening of artists’ films and video projected on the exterior wall of The Old Neptune Pub, Marine Terrace, Whitstable, facing the seafront. Presented by 51zero/voyager at Whitstable Biennale as part of the Decreation international festival of moving image and digital arts Touring Programme. The event ran from 9.30pm – 11.30pm.

Many of the participating artists have taken part in international art Biennials, and were showcased alongside emerging talent selected from open calls and SMFA Fine Art students, including graduates Rose Sizer and Nicola Baxter, and Alfie Killick (Little-Blood) (3rd Year), Jordan Colbert (3rd Year), Constanza Marques Guedes (3rd Year), Olu Taiwo (MA).

SMFA EED alumnus Chris Carr’s company Lucid Illusions chosen to create new area for 2018 Parklife Festival

SMFA BA (Hons) Event and Experience Design (2010) alumnus Chris Carr’s design, fabrication and production company, Lucid Illusions, were chosen to create an amazing new area for the recent 2018 Parklife Festival called The Valley, which took place on 9-10 June at Heaton Park.  They designed an enormous immersive stage set, influenced by brutalist architecture, dystopian film and Carnival, with integrated video and lighting.  See: [2]

Based in Kent near Sittingbourne, Lucid Illusions are making some groundbreaking projects, with clients who include Adidas, Austrian Tourist Board, Oxford Street Christmas Lights and Max Factor.

More here

SMFA Fine Art Alumna Nadia Perrotta Artist in Residence Exhibition in Kent

Since September 2016, SMFA alumna Nadia Perrotta (BA, 2015,  and MA Fine Art, 2017) has been artist in residence at The Rabbit on The Moon Nursery in Sittingbourne, and there will be an exhibition showing the works the children created with her throughout the past year.

Because I am: A children’s journey across self recognition and discovery of the world around them through the arts takes place on Saturday 23rd June, 12-3pm at Kemsley Community Centre, The Square, Ridham Ave, Kemsley, Sittingbourne.

Nadia is a film maker, visual artist, art writer and event organiser who works mostly with time based, installations, digital work, creative writing and performances. An experienced curator and art director, she was Project Leader for Wetlands Medway.

More info about Nadia here:

SMFA Fine Art alumni create art intervention for Whitstable Biennale

SMFA alumni Nadia Perrotta (BA Fine Art, 2015, and MA Fine Art, 2017) and Fiona Townend  (MA Fine Art, 2017) together created an art intervention involving photography and creative writing for Whitstable Biennale. The project, called Cuttlefish Bones, ran from 2-10 June, and was an artistic and poetic treasure trail winding through the streets of Whitstable suitable for adults and children alike, a fusion of poetic text, domestic mini tales and photographs of the unnoticed.

More info

Work by SMFA Fine Art alumna Nadia Perrotta selected by UNESCO for Human Rights Contemporary Art Exhibition

A moving image installation about art and children called Because I am, written and directed by SMFA alumni Nadia Perrotta (BA, 2015, and MA Fine Art, 2017) and featuring Lalita Bailey, (BA Fine Art 2017) and the children of Squirrel Lodge and The Rabbit on the Moon nurseries, has been selected for a major UNESCO event in Italy about art and education.

Presented by Associazione Internazionale Arti Plastiche Italia, Spazio-Tempo Arte and Fondazione Opera Campana dei Caduti, Human Rights? #EDU 2018 is an International Exhibition of Contemporary Art from 23 June – 23 September at the Fondazione Opera Campana dei Caduti, Rovereto, Trento, Italy which features 161 artists from 37 countries defending the human right to education.

The event asks the artists to represent and tell, with their own artistic language, a personal vision of the problem of the right to education representing a story, a concept, a complaint, or showing a future perspective as message of hope or as a concrete proposal on the opportunities to be pursued to achieve this fundamental goal for the construction of a fair and right society.

More about the event here:

Nadia’s film Because I Am was created during her artist residency since September 2016, at The Rabbit on The Moon Nursery in Sittingbourne, and there will be an exhibition – Because I am: A children’s journey across self recognition and discovery of the world around them through the arts  – on Saturday 23rd June, 12-3pm at Kemsley Community Centre, The Square, Ridham Ave, Kemsley, Sittingbourne showing the works the children created with her throughout the past year.

See Nadia’s film here: [3]

Nadia is a film maker and visual artist with experience in exhibiting and organizing events, art writing and curating.  She works mostly with time based, installations, digital work, creative writing and performances. An experienced curator and art director, she was Project Leader for Wetlands Medway. More info about Nadia here


Kent Beauty Queen Competing in International Pageant

Former Miss Africa GB Miss Sarah Jegede from Kent, will be representing Kent at the UK Power Pageant finals on Sunday the 24th of June 2018.

The Model who is a foreign language teacher and also a graduate from the University of Kent is using her platform to raise funds for The Christie Charitable Fund, leading experts in cancer education, research and care. The Christie is dedicated to supporting cancer patients and their families and have put many fantastic facilities in place, one of which is a mobile chemotherapy unit. 

‘I am grateful for the enormous support I have received and I hope to make Kent and all those that have supported me throughout my journey proud’ says the beauty queen. 

 The UK Power Pageant crowns seven winners to represent England, Scotland, and Wales at Miss Intercontinental, Miss Grand International which will be held in Myanmar, and one winner to represent the United Kingdom at Miss International which will be held in Tokyo this year.