How Croydon will host the World Memory Championships 2013

By - Wednesday 13th November, 2013

In outlining a great coup for Croydon, Liz Sheppard-Jones explains how our town is the most memorable in the world

In autumn 2013, the attention of the world (or at least that part of it fascinated by mental gymnastics) will be fixed upon Croydon Conference Centre. At the former site of Folly’s End Church in Surrey Street, now re-born as a successful conferencing and events location, 126 competitors from 33 countries will spend three days locked in combat for the title of World Memory Champion 2013.

Hosting the World Memory Championships is a real coup for our borough. It will be a high profile event – the current British memory champion, Jonas Von Essen, appeared on BBC Breakfast the morning after his victory and amazed 7 million viewers with his exploits. The BBC and Channel 4 will be in attendance this November and there’s widespread media interest, giving us an opportunity to showcase Croydon town centre as a venue for major national and international gatherings. Conferencing is already an important and successful aspect of the local economy, although not necessarily associated with us in the public mind, so this is an exciting opportunity to raise our profile.

Croydon has its own conference bureau, Destination Croydon. It’s operated by the Croydon Business Improvement District (BID) – and project-managed by one Liz Sheppard-Jones. Although over the last 22 years the championships have been held elsewhere in London as well as in Oxford, Bahrain, Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou, China, in 2013 General Secretary of the World Memory Sports Council and local resident Chris Day decided to bring them home. Following an approach to Destination Croydon earlier in the year, he selected the conference centre in Surrey Street as his venue.

Croydon can teach the world a thing or two about teamwork, and thanks should be expressed to everyone who’s working hard to make this happen: the town centre hotels offering special rates to competitors, their families and the squad of international arbiters (judges) who will scrutinise the event; conference centre manager Jo Chesney and her team, preparing for the complex logistics of three days’ intense and closely-regulated competition.

Feats include memorising a sequence of 4,140 binary digits in 30 minutes and the sequences of 28 packs of cards in one an hour

Thanks most of all must go to Croydon’s mayor, councillor Yvette Hopley, who has been an enthusiastic supporter from the start. Yvette, along with BID chief executive Matthew Sims, will be rolling out the red carpet at a civic welcome ceremony to open the championships at the town hall on Friday November 29th.

So what can a memory champion actually do? The championships were founded in 1991 and attract competitors from all over the world. Feats include memorising a sequence of 4,140 binary digits in 30 minutes and the sequences of 28 packs of cards in one an hour – and yes, you did read that last sentence correctly. The most useful skill for everyday life must be names and faces – surely an answer to prayer for anyone who’s ever floundered in recalling a key introduction at a crowded party. Envy the German memory champion Simon Reinhard, then – he can memorise 84 names from photographs within five minutes.

Croydon Conference Centre – host venue for the World Memory Championships 2013

According to Chris Day, the techniques behind feats like these can be learned by any of us and what separates those who will compete in Surrey Street this autumn from the average Joanne struggling to recall her grocery list is diligent practice. In the nicest possible way I’m doubtful of his assertion – it seems a bit more exceptional than that. Just as the difference between youthful me and youthful Jessica Ennis was rather more than her diligent training, so my brain does not, I am convinced, have the capacity to memorise a shuffled deck of playing cards in 21.19 seconds, the current world record. But I’ve never practised, so I could be wrong.

It’s going to be quirky, it’s certainly unexpected, and it packs a real intellectual punch – three qualities which to my mind make it all somehow rather ‘Croydon’

‘Memory is a lost art’, according to World Memory Sports Council founder Tony Buzan. ‘These days we rely on our phone, iPads and computers to memorise things on our behalf, and as a result we are not exercising our most important muscle – our brain’. He has a point, and I’ll certainly exercise mine to make the championships here in Croydon a big success for the WMS Council, for everyone who takes part, and for our borough.

It’s going to be quirky, it’s certainly unexpected, and it packs a real intellectual punch – three qualities which to my mind make it all somehow rather Croydon. For three days at the end of November, we’ll be making this place the most memorable place in the world.

Want to get involved? The organisers are recruiting local volunteer arbiters to supplement the international team of 15 professionals. You need to be 18 or over and available between Thursday November 28th and Tuesday December 3rd, although not continuously. Training will be given and on completion you will gain a qualification – level one of the four stage International Arbiter’s Certificate. Call 020 8686 9706 for more information.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    I hope it’s a big success – good luck with it