Why I loved being a Ransacker!

For ten weeks from April-June 2013 I lived at Ruskin College, Oxford enrolled on the Ruskin Ransacker course. This unique and wonderful course is open for older learners with few or no formal qualifications. Described as an “educational adventure”, it certainly was and achieved the aim of helping us undertake and write-up our research, working for the most part at degree level.
My final project printed and bound The Ransackers Project offers an opportunity for older learners to undertake a ten-week residential term and carry out a piece of original research.  Our group were lucky as we were able to carry out research on our own topics to answer the burning questions we each always wanted to find an answer. Mine was entitled Nourish & Flourish and I explored the reasons for the slide towards obesity in the UK. It was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience, made possible by the expertise of my tutor, David Bliss, who expertly guided us through the process of study. The opportunity to study in the Bodleian Library and the ability to be residential were central to the success of the course. This meant that the intense 10 week study plan was not hampered by the ins and outs of home life and made it much easier to focus on my study. There were seven of us in the group and each of us benefitted from the experience. Without a doubt the best part was spending time in the Bodleian, studying the books we had sent there and writing up notes. The swearing in ceremony to use the library highlighted the importance of the study process.  I especially liked the upstairs reading room, but also enjoyed the Radcliffe Camera, although this tended to get busy coming up to exam time. Just drifting around Oxford watching the students scuttling about was inspiring, like a dream come true.

Like many Ransackers before me, I got the learning “bug” and am now embarking on an Open University Degree. I left school at 17, leaving my home in Wales to work for the BBC at Bush House. Having subsequently run my catering business for the last 20 something years, returning to study was daunting, and leaving my family to study for three months seemed crazy. However it was such a beneficial and life changing thing to do and I now cannot wait to continue my studies. A lot of things slotted into place for me after this course; like why I’ve always questioned things and wanted to know where people obtained their information. I clearly had a quest for study and finding stuff out in depth, which I simply didn’t know how to do before. The course makes you evaluate and present the information you are reading and is a great preparation for further study. In practical terms,  I shared a small two bedroomed flat with a lovely lady called Felicity, who had taken retirement especially to do the course,  and we both enjoyed walking into Oxford from the Old Headington site through Cuckoo Lane and through the park. This quick 40 minute march each day helped to keep us fit, as did the great yoga sessions in Headington Hall with the lovely Hazel Faithful on a Tuesday evening. We also got up really early to listen to the choir on the Magdelen Tower singing as dawn broke on May morning, as well as went to the different museums, colleges, parks, famous pubs and some lovely walks.

I loved being a Ransacker and being at Ruskin College and feel very privileged to have experienced this amazing opportunity. It was truly a life changing experience.


May morning, Oxford

Can older learners still cut it in the classroom?

A few years ago, I  left home for three months to live at Ruskin College, Oxford on a Ransackers Course. This was an incredible initiative designed to inspire older learners who had not previously benefited from higher education. An intensive course it’s aim was enable new students to write a full dissertation and included tuition, accommodation, free meals and most wonderfully, a pass to the Bodleian Library.  Ransackers was aimed at those from a generation that has had limited opportunities for education and who have burning questions or a project they are deeply committed to. I applied for the course  and went along to meet the tutor and to present my project and discuss if I would be able to commit to the learning process. They seemed to think that I was eminently suitable, but I wondered how I would take to full time study. I know that I am capable; I have run a business for over 20 years, but reading for me has been more entertainment than for learning.

When I left home in Wales  I had a clutch of O Levels and a lot of enthusiasm for life. My first job was in London employed by the BBC as a secretary in The Urdu Service at Bush House in London. Whilst I learnt a lot about people in that building and their very different cultures , I was a terrible secretary. My typing was so bad that for important letters, my boss, a journalist called Towyn Mason, would type them himself very quickly and accurately with two fingers.

After working in different areas of the BBC, I finally found my niche in food by winning Cosmopolitan Cook of the Year Competition. The first prize was a year at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, sponsored by The Butter Council. In fact I won a whole new career via this prize and my first job was as the chef of Justin de Blank’s country house hotel in Norfolk. From then on I ran various kitchens and set up my own outside catering business, specialising in large events.

Now after 27 years of marriage and combining bringing up our two boys with running a catering business I  left home to study. After a life as a food writer and caterer I was able to explore  the way we eat now and the lost cooking skills of at least one generation. More specifically I examined the benefits of cooking from scratch and  the lack of knowledge the youth of Britain have towards the food they eat. I am always interested in hearing how people manage to cook, eat and share food with their families, whilst juggling different timetables, jobs and social commitments.  As a caterer I learned  to be highly organised, how to manage people and organise my time.

I was so inspired by the Ransackers experience that I am now studying for a BA (Hons) degree in Philosophy & Psychological Studies with the OU and aim to take a Masters in Business Psychology. I am particularly interested in technology from a psychological aspect and how we are evolving (or otherwise) to cope with the rapid changes taking place in our work and personal lives .