The China Exchange staff team works to curate activities and experiences that offer people the chance to become more curious about China and to present an alternative perspective on Chinese culture.
Freya Aitken-Turff, Chief Executive Officer
Freya has led China Exchange since September 2015. In 2017, she was awarded a fellowship by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to research how Chinatowns around the world are responding to the challenges which London's Chinatown faces.
She started her career in public affairs working in Government Relations and Public Policy teams for Zurich Financial Services, HBOS plc and HSBC. In 2007 she left corporate life to study Mandarin at Fudan University in Shanghai and then worked in a Mandarin-speaking environment for a small family business where she renovated and developed The Phoenix - a popular hostel, bar and activity centre for travellers to the city. She returned to the UK to manage international public affairs for Prudential plc and ran the company’s engagement programme with the World Economic Forum and the Mayor of Shanghai’s International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, among other projects.
During her time at Prudential, Freya was seconded to Asia House to develop the organisation’s communications and stakeholder relations activity as part of the senior management team. Her role at China Exchange blends the experiences of corporate life, charity management, building a small business and her passion for sharing Chinese culture.
Freya is a mentor for Westminster University’s International Student Programme, a communications advisor to the Pan Asian Women’s Association, and a committee member of the Yan Kit So Memorial Prize for Food Writers.
Helena Zhang (currently on maternity leave), Programme and Venue Manager
Helena has a Master’s degree in Museums & Galleries & Creative Economy from Kingston University. Her previous experience shows her passion for the art world including roles at Sotheby's, British antique dealers, Sotheby's Institution of Art and Meridian Society. Helena runs the Cultivate programme and manages China Exchange as a venue. She works with clients who wish to hire the space for successful events and has particular expertise in staging exhibitions. Her motivation for working at China Exchange is to use her skills to introduce the public to her home country through exciting and stimulating activities.
Helena hails from the forefront region of China that greets the Siberian chill every winter. She speaks English and Mandarin fluently, as well as intermediate Cantonese.
Salema Khanum (currently on maternity leave), Programme and Partnerships Manager
After graduating in European Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, Salema went on to work with several prestigious venues and companies as a programmer and producer. She spent 5 years as Head of Asian Arts Development at Watermans Arts Centre where she discovered her natural skills lie in developing new writers and arts projects, all the way from research and development to fundraising and organising national tours. She’s an international woman of the arts, having worked at HERE Arts Center in SoHo New York, Seoul Fringe Festival and as Asia House’s Cultural Programme Manager.
In her role as Programme and Partnership manager, Salema creates an exciting calendar of events driven to stir the curious mind and engage a wider audience in understanding and exploring the many facets of China and its culture. As part of her regular programming activities, she leads on the Curators of Taste series exploring design, fashion and food in an interactive way.
Debbie Gerrard, Finance and HR Manager
Debbie is an experienced finance manager. She started her career within the finance team of Granada Group’s Retail division, working in a variety of finance roles for 15 years before moving across to the successor company, Boxclever. More recently she has worked as Financial Controller for an independent mortgage broker and for a media business before taking over responsibility for the finance and HR functions at China Exchange.
She lives in Bedfordshire and enjoys travelling, keeping fit, going to the theatre and spending time with her family.
Xiao Ma, Coordinator
Xiao is from Gansu Northwest China, an important stop on the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and West. She has a passion for promoting cultural understanding and has experience with cross cultural facilitation in different fields. Xiao worked as a multi-media journalist and news producer for Okhiwi Media, helping to deliver UK arts and culture events to a Chinese audience, often being featured on Xinhua News (CNC). She later explored the art market with work experience at Christie’s and leading British Asian art dealers before joining China Exchange where she enjoys sharing the vibrant Chinese culture, both old and new, in engaging ways. She manages China Exchange’s social media channels so you can say hello to her here.
Xiao holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Media and Enterprises from the University of Warwick and a Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Art from SOAS with distinction. She loves working within walking distance of the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery where she likes to challenge her own way of seeing.