Prior to going to Ruskin College I was a craft bookbinder and trade union activist (SOGAT). Before that I was at a non-supportive secondary school, and being dyslexic I was in the ‘remedial’ class, so I came out of school with two low grade CSE’s. But I loved books so decided to become a bookbinder.
To cut a long story short when I was an apprentice I became involved in trade unionism and politics. I met my wife who also helped open my eyes to the possibilities. Up to then I’d never heard of Ruskin, but I had started to dream about the idea of going to university. Then one day I came across an advert in the New Statesmen. It could have been written with me in mind. I had no academic qualifications, but was passionate about changing society and deeply interested in ideas. Ruskin seemed to be a place full of other people like me. A place committed to nurturing and supporting people like me who would sometimes struggle with work and how to function in this very strange new world. The tutorials were both wonderful and scary at the same time.
When I applied you had to write an essay as part of the application, I sweated blood on this but Ellen helped me a lot.
So I was interviewed and offered a place to do Labour Studies.
We loved living in Oxford, where our first child was born. But it was not always easy, the work could be challenging and put strains on our marriage. I know this was true for others.
But we were in this beautiful city; I was eating up books, exploring ideas, arguing and being taken seriously. I was developing in confidence and ambition. Going to some wonderful pubs and making great new friends, standing on the picket lines outside the Randolph Hotel in support of staff demanding union recognition and seeing my first child born in the new maternity hospital.
When I graduated from Ruskin, and, along with 15 others, I went to Sussex University to read Politics. I then went on to complete an MSc in Science Policy. We have lived in the amazing city of Brighton ever since.
On leaving university I became a Community Development Worker. Working with communities to support their empowerment and to help them self organise. I ended up managing a team and then, taking voluntary redundancy, I had after a short spell as a policy advisor in the Home Office (on community empowerment), this was during the Blair years. I then went on to become a writer and researcher. One of the greatest moments of my life was launching my book Rethinking Community Practice: developing transformative neighbourhoods, (co-authored with my friend Gabriel Chanan at Ruskin).
Since retirement I have become deeply interested on how we can create a deeper, more inclusive democracy and have become deeply involved with the progressive organisation Compass. Compass played a key role in developing the Progressive Alliance in the last election and in now working on the development of a Common Platform.
I guess this is not bad for a dyslexic with not many qualifications who attended a truly non-supportive school. But it was the combination of Ruskin and my wife that enabled this. They provided the support and when required a bit of pressure to continue to motivate me.
So thank you and I would urge anyone thinking of giving Ruskin a go to do so, it will change you life, it will fill your head with ideas and it will open opportunities to do things you’d never imagine possible.
If you’re interested in finding out more about my work on democracy check out my new web site www.deeperdemocracy.org.uk (warning it’s still under construction, but let me know what you think).
Check out Compass here: https://www.compassonline.org.uk/
Colin Miller, Labour Studies Ruskin Student 1976-78