How do you save the home of coding? Social media, of course

28 Oct 2016

Still from Bletchley Park: Saving the home of codebreaking. Image: Inspirefest HQ/YouTube

At Inspirefest 2016, Dr Sue Black, author of Saving Bletchley Park, spoke of her mission to ensure the home of coding wouldn’t vanish from existence. Relentless activism, Twitter and a dollop of fortune meant her efforts were rewarded.

Made famous by the film The Imitation Game, Bletchley Park was where the British forces finally cracked the Enigma code, which helped them win the war.

However, despite its position as one of the Allies’ primary weapons against Axis forces, Bletchley Park was in real danger of disappearing – until Sue Black got involved.

Future Human

Bletchley Park

Heading there for a tour, Black’s preconception was that the history around the venue would be of “50 old guys, wearing tweed jackets, smoking pipes”.

However, like many preconceptions, Black got it all wrong.

“I got there and found out it was 10,000 people who had worked there, around 8,000 women throughout the WWII.”

The codebreaking achieved at Bletchley Park saved as many as 22m people according to Black, who was astonished at how little was known about it in the general populace, even that it was a museum at all.

Add to the fact it was “teetering on a financial knife edge”, Black was called into action.

Starting small, Black set up a blog on the park, writing of the numerous fantastic women who helped shape both Bletchley Park and the war effort itself.

Given her position at the time as head of the computer science department at University of Westminster, Black sent an email to her extensive list of contacts, pleading with everyone to help save Bletchley Park.

“There was a petition, set up by someone else, sent to 10 Downing Street. Amazingly, there were loads and loads of famous professors signed up,” she said.

A contact in BBC got her a slot on TV and radio to drum up support and, gradually, the blog took off. Then one chance tweet to Stephen Fry changed the game.

“Stephen Fry tweeted out my blog! That meant my blog went from 50 visits a day to 8,000. That was incredible.”

Support was such that now Bletchley Park is a viable museum, with Black’s book charting her journey throughout the process.

What’s next on her list of campaigns?

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get half-price Super Early Bird tickets before prices go up on 15 December.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic