Peace champion, 77, graduates with degree in conflict studies

Geoffrey Whitfield

When the University of Sussex opened its doors in 1961, university chaplain Geoffrey Whitfield was there to greet its first students.

Now, nearly 50 years later, he will be joining the class of 2010 when he graduates with an MA in Conflict, Security and Development today (Friday 28 January).

Times have changed, says father-of-three and grandfather-of-seven Geoffrey, but he is as admiring of today's students as he was of those first undergraduates in the 1960s.

"I was Baptist minister for Moulsecoomb as well in the 1960s, and involved the students in building an adventure playground in Moulsecoomb Way for the children on the estate. The students were very keen to help out and it was a wonderful achievement."

While students back in the early days would wear suits and ties lectures, today's students impressed Geoffrey with their intellect. He says: "The students on my course were so bright I thought I didn't belong there."

However, Geoffrey can look back on an impressive career, following the end of his university chaplaincy in 1978, as a youth champion and peace campaigner.

He is one of the founding figures behind The World Sports Peace Project, which he ran with former Brighton College of Education student and former world-champion athlete David Bedford. Together the pair promoted football among Jewish and Muslim boys and girls in Israel and Palestine, a project that was later supported by the University of Brighton and numerous sporting celebrities. He was awarded the MBE by the Queen in 2004 for his efforts.

But Geoffrey isn't ready to sit back now that his studies are complete: he is currently working with the Next Century Foundation - a charity that supports peace initiatives across the Middle East - helping children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Geoffrey will be accompanied by his wife Jean and daughter Sarah at Friday's ceremony.

Last updated: Wednesday, 26 January 2011