Back in the day, I was one of the first women to be admitted to Clare College, Cambridge, to study Natural Sciences. Cambridge was an amazing place once I worked out how to function in it, and it let me travel, experience some extraordinary mountain places, as well as begin to learn to think. An Oxford Doctorate followed. I started out in research, but with ethical and practical considerations I headed out to a new world of community education while embracing the chaos of family life with three children and a supportive husband.
It seemed I blinked, and there I was, retiring from my post as Head of Degree Programmes at a Community College after years of teaching and enabling young people’s education. I went walk-about, slinging my rucksack for a writing summer in Greece interspersed with other adventures including sailing with a crew taking a boat round the UK – grey days in the lochs of the west coast of Scotland were a revelation. Now I am studying for an MA in Writing Poetry with Newcastle University and the Poetry School in London. I write in Cumbria and London, and still enjoy both the hills and the sea. I admire the impact which political and polemic writing can have on raising and exploring issues of the day. I have had poetry published in a number of newspapers and journals, was Commended in the 2016 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, and my poem won First Prize in the 2016 National Poetry Day Message to the Planet competition.
My values have been formed in two main ways. I was not party-politically active at Cambridge, but embraced feminist issues – we marched for abortion rights and women’s rights to freedom of movement, while only being partially aware of the background of deep traditional misogyny which we were operating against. I found out only recently that my Director of Studies had voted against the admission of women to the college not long before I was able to apply. We were denied the right to be offered scholarships that year – although I would have qualified and male students were given them, and I had to earn my scholarship through hard work in my first year. I sought out a wide diversity of friends and was privileged to know the first black student at Clare who was in my year.
These things leave their mark. My work in community colleges was not the academic setting which would have been an obvious destination for me, yet was satisfying and I hope useful. We were privileged to work with a wider ethic and social diversity of students than is often found in standard school settings. I believe passionately in the opening of opportunities for young people who have experienced obstacles in their path – through social or political upheaval, through inadequacies of their education earlier, through mental or physical health problems. Seeing such young people going on successfully to university and rewarding and fulfilling careers has been the satisfaction of my professional life.A spiritual dimension came later, as I raised my children, coped with adversity and illness including cancer treatment, and found that points of pause and calm in my life were a vital source of strength.
|Nicola demonstrating in London recently|
This then is my core belief – that we are a global community who all have talents and skills to offer; that a life well-lived is one based on positive contributions and not fear. I believe that life opportunities are not always the obvious ones, and that access to justice underpins the ability to harness these opportunities. I believe that recent events around the globe denying people the chance to live, to thrive and give their unique talents to the global community is the unfolding tragedy of our age. As writers we can speak, and if we speak effectively and well, we can raise awareness, we can help to explore issues. In a small way, we can make that difference which we seek.