In today’s blog, our Administration Officer Georgina, describes her journey through Higher Education and how this took her from Colne, Lancashire, to study Fine Art at Leeds Beckett University.
I studied Fine Art at Leeds Beckett University from 2006-2009. I moved from Colne, an ex-mill town between Preston and Leeds. I think I went to university as my way out of the lack of opportunities back home – jobs were largely dull and badly paid, and I had always loved art.
I knew that I wanted to stay in northern England, because I didn’t want it to be too difficult or costly to go home. Home was less than 30 miles (about the same distance as Carlisle to Maryport, or Barrow to Ravenglass) away but it still took 3-4 hours to get there.
The university is split over a few campuses so no one campus is very big; it was really easy to find your way around. Most of the student accommodation was also off-site. I quite liked living off-campus as it encouraged me to get to know the city, which made me feel more settled and happy.
If you wanted to have a drink or catch up with friends on campus, there was a coffee shop which was in the perfect spot for people watching, and a Student Union bar which did amazing hash brown rolls (I’d hate to think how many I ate over three years). Leeds city centre is also great for cafes, pubs and bars. Each student on our course had their own studio space which was absolutely ours, and we mostly ate, chatted and studied here as that’s where everyone else tended to be.
The only timetabled activities we had were weekly artist talks and art history classes; otherwise we were working independently making art – it was great! I also worked part-time in a supermarket so the fairly free timetable was also very useful for arranging shifts.
It was a struggle to fit in enough time to study, work, call home, and go out and have fun. I had worked between one and four part-time jobs alongside school and college since I was 14, so my time management skills were pretty good by then, but I chose to put in a lot of work on my course as I just loved making art – so I suppose it was a combination of doing more than I needed to at university, and working more hours than most as I was always short of money. You need to look after yourself – I tried to make sure I got the sleep I needed to function well, and to make time for relaxing and having fun.
When I first walked into the student accommodation, which was a flat share with five others (separate bedrooms with shared kitchen, living room and bathrooms) two flatmates who were really welcoming were in the corridor outside my room, and it was nice to get some introductions over with straight away. Everyone else had moved in the day before, but as soon as I had unpacked I went straight to the living room and sat with everyone who I would now be living with for the next nine months. It was quite scary at first, as I think we were all a bit shy, but I knew that I just needed to have that first conversation with someone and everything afterwards would feel easier.
The student accommodation was bigger than I expected – I was in one of the cheapest halls but it felt like I had some space for the first time! I had my own bedroom and my own little space in the kitchen cupboards… amazing. I kept a photo album on my bookshelf for when I missed my family and friends, but I actually enjoyed making a space my own – I had always either shared a bedroom or used my grandparents’ guest bedroom and this was the first time I had a whole room which was ‘mine’. It wasn’t that I couldn’t wait to leave home, not at all, but I knew that my grandparents shouldn’t have had to take in a teenager and I was pleased to be able to give them their space and privacy back.
Leeds felt so different to home! It took me a while to get used to the fact that people didn’t say ‘hello’ to each other in the street, and you could go weeks without bumping into someone you knew – I was used to living in the same place where I had grown up and knew lots of people, and suddenly you were more-or-less anonymous. It was surprisingly easy to find your way around the city centre, and until I knew it well I just remembered that if you keep heading uphill you won’t get lost and will eventually find the main street. My part-time job was also great for learning about the city from people who had lived there longer than me. A friend from my course came into town with me on a few occasions just so that we could explore Leeds and try to familiarise ourselves with where everything was.
At first, it just felt odd – I wasn’t far from home, but I could only see my family on one day a week (if I spent 6-7 hours of that day travelling). It was, however, really good for me to get out of my home town, which is the kind of place that no one leaves. Years later when I was still living in Leeds I would drive back home (2-3 hours of travelling a day, much better!) and my family would be really surprised that I would drive ‘so far’ (30 miles each way) in one day; it’s just not usual to go anywhere outside of your immediate area. I also needed a change of culture and to widen my experience, and to allow myself to not do what you were expected to in terms of education and a job. Our expectations were very much around getting a ‘sensible’ job and settling down, and I can’t imagine ever wanting that having once decided to have a go at something else.