Where did you grow up?
Colne, East Lancashire.
What did you study in higher education?
BA (Hons) Fine Art at what is now Leeds Beckett University (it used to be called Leeds Metropolitan University).
Why did you decide on this subject?
I enjoyed reading about and creating art from being really young, and decided to study what I loved – Fine Art is not the sort of degree you tend to associate with getting a related job, but if you don’t study what you love then you’re only reducing your chances of doing what you love!
Why did you decide on this university?
A tutor at college recommended it to me as a university which encourages innovation and experimentation in the creative arts. I also applied to other universities but decided that they weren’t for me, usually because of what I saw as restrictions placed on students’ creativity. Leeds Beckett really encouraged you to experiment.
What did you want to be as a child?
I really wanted to work in a library and work those clunky old machines when checking books out (I would have been devastated by the new self-service machines), mainly because I just wanted to read books all day.
Has your career or education taken any unexpected turns?
For a short time I considered going to Oxford, and against all my expectations was accepted for a place on their new History of Art course – but the visit really put me off, I felt like a fish out of water and like I would struggle against feelings of not belonging all of the time. Aged 32 I would absolutely go for it now – though studying a different subject – as I am much more confident, but I am so glad that I studied Fine Art. It was the right choice for me. My final year of university made me realise that, although I love the arts, I did not like the industry and since graduating I have worked at a drainage company when the 2008 recession hit, in a range of nature conservation roles, and have been supporting education outreach since 2012.
Why did you decide to study for a degree?
I really wanted to work in the arts, so a degree was definitely going to help, and I also wanted to learn from professionals and peers to develop my work, which is exactly what I got.
What did you study at sixth form / college?
I studied Fine Art, Photography, Psychology and – until the course was cancelled due to such low numbers of students – History of Art. I absolutely loved all of these subjects and was so excited at the prospect of studying them at A Level that I knew I had made the right decision. I then studied a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design as a lot of arts courses prefer you to also have this when applying for a degree, so I thought it would give me more time to decide what I wanted to study, and more options in terms of where I would like to study.
How did you decide what to do after college?
I really struggled to decide between a more traditional academic route (studying Art History or Art Conservation) or one that, deep down, I knew I would enjoy more (Fine Art practice). I decided to go with my heart.
Did anyone help you to decide?
I didn’t have anyone at home I could talk to about it – my family wanted me to do the ‘sensible thing’ and either study a non-arts subject or get a ‘safe’ job at the local supermarket. I decided for myself but my love of the arts originally came from my grandad who encouraged me to draw and paint from a very young age (I ended up doing installations and performance art – sorry grandad!).
Who influenced you?
Aspirations at my school and college were not exactly high, but my closest friends attended a school which encouraged everyone to apply to Russell Group universities after sixth form, so our conversations around the future were thankfully steered more by their influences than my own.
What support did you get?
I didn’t receive support from family or my college, but I was confident in being able to fill in the paperwork and attend interviews. I was quite independent.
What was the best thing about studying with your university? What was the best thing about your course?
Leeds Beckett gave me an incredible amount of freedom, and in my final year I was paired with a new tutor who understood exactly what I wanted to do and really supported me in my rather bizarre year of performance art in London, Leeds and Liverpool.
Did you find anything difficult about applying for and/or starting a degree?
I had quite a complicated application as I was estranged from my parents (years later I discovered that there is often financial support for students not supported by their family) but I didn’t really struggle to apply and, once I was in Leeds, I was far too busy to be homesick.
I was also unable to attend open days as I had to work to support myself whilst attending college, and used up any annual leave (and cash) I had just attending my interviews. Open days are the best way to decide if somewhere is right for you, but without this option I chose where to apply to based on prospectuses, recommendations from college staff, and where I thought I might like to live, and then contacted each university to request any tours or meetings with course staff which could be arranged on the day of my interview, as well as asking if I could take myself off around campus – this allowed me to get a flavour of an open day within what I was able to manage at the time.
Any tips for anyone choosing to study your course?
Do not be afraid to tell people exactly how great you are – my interview feedback from Leeds Beckett was that I needed to sell myself better, and that a portfolio of work isn’t enough on its own to tell a university who you are.
What advice would you give to someone from your area?
The main barrier to accessing university in my area was travel and insularity – it’s an isolated part of the country with not great connections to the outside world – but ‘the outside’ was absolutely the making of me.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Ten years is such a long time, I have absolutely no idea – ten years ago the company I had my first job with had folded, I had decided I didn’t want to work in the arts, and I had no idea what I was going to do. Since then I have had amazing jobs and opportunities in the environment, nature conservation and supporting education outreach, lived in Gloucestershire, moved to Cumbria, picked up new hobbies, and joined Hello Future. Who knows what will happen in the next ten years.