The Repton Book Prize

 “In our house, reading was the primary group activity. On Saturday afternoons we curled up with our books in the den. It was the best of both worlds: you had the animal warmth of your family right next to you, but you also got to roam around the adventure-land inside your own head.” 

The scene described by Susan Cain in her best-selling book ‘Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ could just as well have been of the Lownds family. Harry in particular loved books with an abiding passion. While boarding at Foremarke Hall he was asked one weekend if he had any books which needed to be returned to the school library. “Not really” came the reply, but with that tell-tale twinkle in his eye which so often suggested that there might just be something more to the situation than Harry was giving away. Low and behold, 10 minutes later, a sum total of 22 library books were found amongst Harry’s possessions, at which point he calmly said, “Well, that’s not too many – is it?”.  In preparing for the family’s move to Moscow in January, Harry similarly packed only the bare essentials: five shelf feet of his favourite books (leaving his bedroom bookshelves merely double-stacked).

It seemed natural, therefore, for Harry’s family to establish a book prize in his memory linked to his other great passion: the Life Sciences. The ‘Harry Lownds Biology Prize’ is to be awarded each summer at Repton School’s Speech Day to the Upper Sixth form pupil who has made the most effort in their approach through the two year A-level biology course. 

 Family members and friends were proud to be in the Speech Day audience on 29 June when the first prize was presented to Katherine Carr.  A few weeks later August’s GCSE results day prompted the Lownds family to catch up with the news feed on the school website where they were very pleased to learn that Katherine had got the A-level grades she needed to be accepted into Edinburgh University’s medical school. Harry would have been wearing his habitual Cheshire Cat grin too.

Graduation Day — with a taste of Latin America (and ice cream)

The Lownds family spent three fascinating years living in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, from 2003 to 2006. During their time there they travelled through Brazil, Argentina and Chile, leaving indelible images in their memories from Salvador and Recife on Brazil’s northeast coast down to the cities of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas in Patagonia – following in Darwin’s footsteps through the Beagle Channel and rounding Cape Horn in the process.  The Latin American restaurant chain Las Iguanas is therefore a firm family favourite – and the natural place to gather in Brighton ahead of the University of Sussex’s Summer 2019 School of Life Sciences graduation ceremony on 22 July.

After a pleasant lunch spent catching up with Harry’s flatmates his family and a few close friends made their way down to the Brighton Centre where the graduation ceremony was taking place.  There they joined hundreds of students and their families there to celebrate their academic achievements and to witness them receiving their degree certificates from the University’s Chancellor, actor and comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar, who shook Graduands warmly by the hand, hugged and danced with them.  

 At the end of the ceremony comes the point where posthumous awards are conferred on students who have died before they have concluded their studies.  Harry was in his final semester at Sussex studying for a BSc in Genetics when he died suddenly and unexpectedly.  But by that point he had already submitted his dissertation [you can read it here] and amassed sufficient course credits to graduate.  The University therefore decided to award him an ‘Unclassified Honours – Aegrotat’ degree; these are awarded very rarely to students who have demonstrated ‘higher level academic achievement’ but who have been unable to conclude their final examinations due to serious illness or death.  Harry was given a standing ovation by the Faculty and Graduands as his Dad, Matthew, collected his degree certificate – a very, very proud moment for his family.  A video clip of the brief, but very moving, ceremony can be seen here.

 After the formalities had concluded the new Sussex Graduates and their families spilled out of the Brighton Centre into a gloriously sunny summer evening – enjoying ice creams and cooling drinks along the sea front. 

The Harry Lownds Memorial Scholarship

The first scholarship to be awarded in Harry’s memory was “The Harry Lownds Memorial Scholarship” was announced by Sussex University on 1 July, alerting students planning to register for its Genetic Manipulation and Molecular Cell Biology MSc of the opportunity for a graduate whose personal circumstances might otherwise hinder them from taking up their place to receive £3,000 in additional financial support.  The University, Harry’s former course-mates and contacts he had made through placements at the MRC Mammalian Genetics Laboratory in Harwell and at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford made sure that the scholarship was widely advertised among potential MSc Genetics students.

Harry’s family were very pleased to learn at the beginning of September that the University had decided to award the scholarship to a recent graduate of the University of Coventry, Ieva Didziokaite.  During her Biomedical Sciences degree Ieva spent a placement year back in her homeland of Lithuania as part of the Erasmus+ programme working for Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics.  There she gained molecular genetics experience and she is now looking forward to expanding her knowledge and skills with a view to pursuing her passion for genetics research in the future. Her aspiration is to work for the 100,000 Genomes or subsequent projects, analysing whole genome sequences in rare diseases and cancer, and to see how personalised medicine can change the world’s healthcare systems.

As a result of fundraising efforts by Harry’s family and friends in the six months since his death over £14,500 has now been raised towards the Scholarship Fund.  This should allow a scholarship to be awarded in his memory through to at least 2023 – and his family intends to continue fundraising to ensure that this can be sustained for many years to come.  

Harry’s Great British Diplomatic Bake Off

Thursday 11th April marked another red-letter day for the scholarship fund established in Harry’s memory when Matt’s colleagues at the Foreign Office in London, British Embassy in Moscow and British Consulate General in Ekaterinburg got together to organise a cake sale to raise money for the fund.
Busy bakers old and young, including Harry’s family and colleagues’ children, contributed a veritable feast ranging from Victoria sponge cake to home-made Pains au Chocolat, banana bread and old-fashioned ginger cake to lemon bars and brownies.  A special ‘science’ cake was raffled in London. And colleagues in the Russia Network prepared local delicacies including Medovik honey cakes and Torte Napoleon.

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How to Donate

This page has been set up by Harry’s family to help create a lasting legacy to ‘pay forward’ all the love that has been shared with them since his sudden death at the age of 21 from a cardiac arrest on 20 February 2019.

The Harry Lownds Memorial Fund offers scholarship support to a graduate student at the University of Sussex whose personal circumstances might otherwise prevent them undertaking the Master of Science degree in Genetic Manipulation and Molecular Cell Biology.  Studying Genetics was Harry’s dream and he had planned to start this course in September 2019 following completion of his BSc in Genetics at Sussex.  Harry had a lifelong love of science which he expressed eloquently in his Personal Statement when he applied for a place at University (you can read it here “Harry’s Personal Statement“)

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Harry’s personal statement

I can’t point to one moment when I became interested in science. I started simply by enjoying the spectacle of it: from the Science Museum bubble show, or my teacher in second grade getting out a box of pig hearts for us to see how blood was pumped around the body, to the fizzing and explosions of lower school chemistry club. As I began my secondary education, I moved into appreciating the real science behind the spectacle and began my love affair with the life sciences.

Above all I became enthused by the sense of potential it offered, particularly when we studied more recent developments such as genetics and the workings of biotechnology. The newspapers seem to report new developments constantly, such as the possibility of organ transplants without donors thanks to a combination of iPSCs and bioprinting; or using genome editing to eliminate HIV.

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