SIGN benefits from a committed team of staff across the broad spectrum of business development, admin and professional services, skills and training, and academic research, as well as industry partners and collaborators. The majority of the team are based at The University of York.

Andrew Higson, Director

Andrew is the Greg Dyke Professor of Film and Television at the University of York, and the Academic Partnerships and Skills Co-Director for XR Stories, which is closely aligned with SIGN. He is also an Associate Director of the national Centre for Cultural Value, funded by the AHRC. From 2010 to 2017, he was Head of the Department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media, and from 2013 to 2016, Project Director of the HERA-funded Mediating Cultural Encounters through European Screens (MeCETES). He has published widely on British cinema, European cinema and national/transnational cinema.

Kate O’Connor, Industry Partnerships Co-Director

Kate is an experienced and senior consultant in creative industries, working with both private and public-sector clients in the UK and internationally. Since setting up her consultancy practice, Kate has specialised in providing expertise in areas of education and training policy and industry/education engagement at a strategic level.

In addition to running her consultancy practice, Kate is also currently Executive Chair of Animation UK, now part of the newly formed UK Screen Alliance the trade body for VFX, post-production and film studios. She represents the sector at senior government level, developing business, export and skills related policy to sup-port the growth of the industry. 

Kate is a Co-Director of XR Stories and SIGN, and Chair of the Partnership Steering Board, as well as chairing the BFI Screen Industries Research Advisory Group, and a Trustee of You Make IT-a London based charity providing support for women in the creative industries. 

Kate is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of BAFTA and a representative and advisor to the BAFTA Learning and New Talent Committee.

Emma Brown, Programme Manager

Emma has operational oversight for the day-to-day running of SIGN and the associated project, XR Stories. Emma leads planning, and oversees that SIGN meets defined goals on time and within budget. Emma has worked at the University for over a decade, and in her previous role supported academics to engage with industry, and to understand what external organisations need from academic research. She has supported the transfer of academics’ knowledge and research through spinning out, licencing, collaboration and networking. Emma has also worked with numerous academics to frame the benefits their research can bring and to figure out the best route to engage external organisations with this research.

Damian Murphy, Director of XR Stories

Damian is a leading researcher in Audio and Music Technology at the University of York, with his work on virtual acoustics, auralisation and audio signal processing placing him in over a hundred leading journals and conferences. His creative work has appeared in galleries and festivals of international reputation: these specialisms combine in his role as the University of York’s Research Theme Champion for Creativity. Damian is also the Director of XR Stories, which is closely aligned with SIGN.

Catherine Hardman, Partnerships and Strategy Manager

Catherine joins us from the University of York’s Arts and Humanities faculty where she was the Research Development Manager. Catherine brings a wealth of experience to her new role of Partnerships and Strategy Manager across both XR Stories and SIGN projects.

Anna Einarsdóttir, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead

Anna is the academic lead for the equality, diversity and inclusion workstream for SIGN and a Senior Lecturer in Critical Diversity Management at the University of York. Her research concerns workplace experiences of LGBT+ employees and how employee networks can be mobilised to build a more inclusive working environment. With a longstanding commitment to EDI matters and substantial experience of working with public, private and third sector organisations on this topic, Anna now chairs a European COST Action network focusing on LGBTI+ social and economic (in)equalities and is a member of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Chartered Association of Business Schools.

Wendy Sissons, Internships and Bursaries Manager

Wendy is a placement, bursary and employer engagement specialist. Her role at SIGN is centered around working with partner universities, regional networks, local communities and SMEs to develop opportunities for those working in or wishing to break into the sector. She is responsible for designing and implementing the SIGN internship, mentoring and bursaries programmes in order to support the growth and retention of talent within the creative industries in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Jon Swords, Research Lead

Jon is the lead for SIGN’s research work stream. In this role, Jon oversees the development and implementation of SIGN’s research strategy which will help inform both the other work streams and academic outputs from the project. The research work stream will help us to identify and understand screen industries in Yorkshire and the Humber, and to design interventions for developing them. 

Jon is an economic geographer with an expertise in cultural and creative industries, and local and regional development. He has worked on and researched various parts of the creative industries, predominantly film and TV, heritage, and immersive media and technology. Jon is also a research fellow on XR Stories, which is closely aligned with SIGN. 

During his time as a researcher, Jon has spent time examining processes of creativity, mapping the creative industries and looking into how creative industries develop through funding and policy regimes. He specialises in a range of research methods, from quantitative approaches such as social network analysis, to qualitative methods such as interviews, visual methodologies and participatory approaches.

Lauren Ward, Research Fellow

Lauren is an audio engineer and researcher. Her fellowship with XR Stories explores how new media formats can be used to make media more accessible to diverse audiences. She also leads the SIGN funded project ‘A3i – Accessible Audio for Autistic Individuals’ with the Sheffield Autism Research Lab.

Lauren has worked for a variety of broadcasters and research organisations in the UK and Australia. She completed her PhD as a General Sir John Monash Scholar at the University of Salford in 2020 and also holds a Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Philosophy from the University of Tasmania.

John Mateer, Business Support Lead

John is the academic lead of the business support workstream for SIGN. In this role, John aims to help screen media businesses survive to ultimately thrive in these challenging times.

John is a Professor of Film and Television Production at the University of York, and one of the four founding members of the department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media.  His research considers the relationship between academia and media industries in different commercial contexts as well as the impact of new technologies on film and television production.  He has worked in the industry for over 30 years, recently as Executive Producer for the feature film The Knife That Killed Me, backed by Universal Pictures UK, and as Visual Effects Producer for the feature film Macbeth, produced by Goldfinch Entertainment.

Robin Cramp, Industry Development Manager/Executive Producer

Robin is the operational lead within the industry development strand of SIGN. His role is to work across the TV, film, digital media and games sectors, developing and delivering a portfolio of knowledge exchange, innovation, and business development activities to support the work of regional SMEs, micro-businesses, start-ups, and sole traders within the screen industries.

Robin has a wealth of expertise in bridging the cross section of digital and broadcasting, and has specific interests in innovation technologies, content creation, and business growth.

Jude Brereton, Skills and Training Lead

Jude is a Senior Lecturer in Audio and Music Technology at the University of York with research interests in interactive acoustic environments for musical performance. She is a strong advocate for gender equality, serving as UK Athena SWAN panel member and chair. She is dedicated to promoting inclusive engineering, through innovative, creative approaches to teaching, which are grounded in interdisciplinary research and sit at the boundary between arts and technology. Before beginning her academic career, she worked in arts and music administration, and is still active in promoting research-inspired music and theatre performance events combining art and science for public engagement and outreach.

Phillipa (Pip) Rackstraw, Skills and Training Manager

Pip is our operational lead on development and implementation of industry skills and training activities. Pip is a qualified Careers Consultant with experience in career guidance and coaching. Her expertise is in the delivery of a wide range of skills and training programmes, with a background in employer engagement and recruitment. She has previously worked in partnership with the non-profit and public sectors. Pip also has experience in leading career development diversity initiatives for under-represented groups. 

As Skills and Training Manager, Pip oversees the development and implementation of screen industry skills and training activities with the objective of creating a larger, more diverse, more talented and more creative workforce for the screen-related industries and associated research units. Pip is responsible for delivering skills and training activities, engaging with businesses, freelancers and new entrants, managing a portfolio offer to business and ensuring that robust processes and procedures are in place to support this activity.

Nicola Thomis, Communications Manager

Nicola is a digital marketing and communications specialist who has experience across both the public sector and higher education. She is responsible for developing and implementing the communications strategies for SIGN, and for the closely aligned XR Stories project. Nicola enjoys thinking creatively in order to deliver effective communications strategies.

James Wilson, Network and Events Coordinator

James is the Network and Events Coordinator for XR Stories and SIGN. He is responsible for generating interest and engagement in the projects, by the organisation and delivery of high-profile events, and by building networks.

Previously, James managed commercial events, graduation ceremonies and Sounds Like THIS festival for Leeds Conservatoire. He is also an interdisciplinary musician and in 2020, starred in Quantaform, a short film based on music of the same name by Ambrose Field and produced by Screen Yorkshire. James is a trustee of Bradford intercultural arts hub, Kala Sangam.

Livy Potter, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Livy is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for SIGN and XR Stories, delivering communication campaigns for both projects through email marketing, social media and website content.

Previously, she has held communication roles in arts and cultural organisations across the Yorkshire region, including York Theatre Royal and the Geraldine Connor Foundation.

Sophie Palmer, Administration Manager

Sophie is the Administration Manager for SIGN, and for the closely aligned XR Stories project. Sophie leads a team of four administrators in the support of the two projects. Applying skills and knowledge from six years of experience in University project support, her role at SIGN is to create, manage and review administrative systems for recording and maintaining project data, and to manage expenditure in line with University and funding body policies. She enjoys providing admin support to project stakeholders and using cloud-based technology to implement administrative systems which facilitate collaborative working by the project teams.

Sophie Caswell-Jones, Administrator

Sophie is an Administrator for SIGN, and for the closely aligned XR Stories project. Sophie is responsible for supporting the operational team and maintaining the operational plan that covers SIGN’s four work streams, organising and supporting meetings between the SIGN team and our group of external HEI partners, and collaborating with the admin team to ensure the smooth running of SIGN.

Conor Harrigan, Finance Officer

Conor supports both projects with any financial matters and is part of the Administration team at XR Stories and SIGN. Conor’s responsibilities involve forecasting and budgeting the project expenditure as well as dealing with any financial queries or tasks that arise. Previously Conor has worked across various Arts and Humanities departments providing financial admin support.

David Cooke, Administrator

David is an Administrator for SIGN and the closely aligned XR Stories. His responsibilities include committee servicing, financial administration and supporting the R&D team in running the creative projects associated with XR Stories.

An avid gamer and cinephile, David enjoys supporting and learning about the research that shapes how stories will be told in the future and the platforms on which they’ll be delivered.

Harriet Camp, Administrator

Harriet’s role as Administrator is to support the overall SIGN project and the different work streams in providing assistance with the organisation of various meetings and daily administrative tasks. She is responsible for things like arranging travel, organising catering needs for the project team members, and handling internal and external enquiries.