Fate inspired Paul to take up education again after 40 years, when he decided to embark on our online Advanced Diploma in Local History.
'My formal education ended over forty years ago when my working career began as a trainee cost accountant with British Steel. A change of direction saw me teaching special-needs children before I left to run my own small business. Whilst teaching, I attended various work-related courses, and when I was finally my own boss, I was able to attend many of the wide range of adult education courses that were then provided by the local council.
'My father had often talked about his early working life: the five and a half day working week, the seven year apprenticeship and the compulsory evening classes in his own time. But as a child/teenager/young adult we have far more important things to do than pay attention to the older generations. It is no surprise that we so often do not see ‘what is right under our noses’. This was brought home to me at my father’s funeral when his old workmates told me that he always wanted to learn more. This was confirmed on finding many documents and certificates from courses he had attended, of which I had been unaware of at the time. Like many people, I then rather belatedly, became interested in family and local history; after a while I decided there was more to family history than ‘who had the most people in their family tree.
'Several years ago I had seen the brochures for the one year Advanced Diploma in Local History course in our local library. Although interested, I didn’t have the free time, and thought that would have been the end of it. However, fate intervened and one Saturday evening, a couple of weeks after my sixty-fifth birthday, I suffered a serious stroke caused by a blood clot. Under such circumstances, fast action is required and after assessment, I was given a ‘clot-busting’ drug within a couple of hours. I walked out of the hospital the following Tuesday morning but many months of physiotherapy followed. After I recovered physically, fate was to intervene again when I discovered a new ADLH brochure in the local library; I thought that this would be a good way to test my mental capabilities.
'I applied and was accepted for the 2012-13 course. The course had six modules and I decided at the outset that my primary intention was just to see how I coped with this return to learning and secondly to at least finish the course. It soon became clear to me that local history is a much more wide-ranging subject than I had realised and that most people on the course knew a great deal more about local history than I did. However, at no stage was there any hint of one-upmanship, as generous amounts of help and assistance were readily given both by fellow course members and tutors. This was a great help and comfort during those periods of extreme tiredness experienced, post-stroke, by half of all stroke sufferers. Little did I think after leaving formal education all those years ago, that one day, after successful completion of the course, that I would be attending an award ceremony at the Sheldonian in Oxford.
'What to do next with these new found skills? I used details from my family history notes and carried out further research to tell the story of my 4x Great Great Grandmother Elizabeth Marriott, in the hope that I was able to produce something that was readable and academically sound. Oxford University’s Local and Social Historians blog has brief details about her life. The next project, which is ongoing, is a study of the Nottinghamshire village of Lambley where many of my ancestors lived, the inter-relationships of the families that lived there and the mobility of these families over the years being studied.
'The course has given me the skills and above all the confidence to carry out historical research, to evaluate evidence critically, to present details using relational databases and then hopefully to go on and produce good, scholarly historical writing.
'A postscript: we were a working-class family, I was the first one in the family to go to university, but my father often commented favourably on Oxford University – why, I will never know – perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.'