Spark of inspiration

Kate’s knowledge of East Anglian History is phenomenal. Her courses are intensely prepared, exceptionally well devised, intricately researched, fabulously presented and totally engaging. She goes above and beyond in terms of researching related books, music, websites and historic documents and providing the meaning behind antiquated vocabulary. Described as patient and kind by her learners, it’s no surprise her courses fill up very quickly. 

It’s vital that we provide courses that people enjoy. The best way to learn is through osmosis when you’re having a good time.

While studying for my doctorate, I was introduced to the WEA by my one of my mentors, who had worked here since the 1970s. He handed on the baton. The award was a huge surprise, to be honest. I got an email out of the blue from the CEO. But it was lovely. 

I'm really interested in ordinary people's everyday lives – in particular the festive culture. How did mediaeval people – and especially women – enjoy themselves and have fun? We’re very lucky in East Anglia as there is such a rich heritage of places where you can experience what it must have felt like to live many centuries ago. I would love to go back in a time machine to experience it for myself (although I would have missed our healthcare system). My courses are designed to provide that time capsule for students. 

There were some fascinating characters such as Julian of Norwich and Marjorie Kemp, who were famous mystics of the period and also pioneers in the world of literature. Julian is the first lady to write in English. Marjorie is the first female autobiography writer and probably the best travelled person in 14th century England. But she was also a complete nutcase and forever having upsetting visions. I'd like to sit down and chat with them. 

Designing new courses is probably the hardest part of the job. Like anything in academia, you need a spark of inspiration.

Lockdown and online teaching has provided me with enormous opportunities, if I’m honest.  Before, I might be able to teach just one class a day, with all the travelling. Now, I can do three from home. I’ve also been able to open up the classes nationwide, which has attracted people who are genuinely interested in the subject, as opposed to just the social side. Don’t get me wrong, those sessions were always really good fun and engaging. But we’ve been able to dig deeper into the subject online and enjoy contributions from students with a specialist area of learning such as spinning cloth or Latin translation. I love it when students know more than I do. 

You can’t just teach courses on mediaeval drama, so I have branched out into other areas. My most popular course since lockdown began is called ‘A Jolly Good Murder: the Rise and Fall of Crime as Entertainment from 1810-1940’. Why did gory crimes become so sensational in Victorian Britain? We looked at melodrama and the penny dreadfuls, before finishing with Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and his influence on the golden age of crime writing with Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. I know my students are waiting for next instalment. I’m sure it will happen when inspiration strikes! 

View more stories