Robert Lochrie obituary

Robert Lochrie (1940 – 2018)

It is with deep sorrow that we have learned that after a long illness, our colleague and friend, Robert Lochrie, who between 1982 and 2003 served the WEA as its General Secretary, has passed away.

Robert played a huge role in these seminal years in our history, years which shaped the WEA's future and radically changed its structure and how it operated.

In 1982, the WEA was composed of autonomous districts. By the time of Robert's retirement it had become a unitary, though still a democratic organisation, more strategically focused on promoting education for social change. This transformation reflected the overhaul of adult education funding, the revised priorities of the WEA and the character and background of Robert Lochrie.

In 1962, following graduation from Glasgow University, Robert worked as a WEA Tutor Organiser, helping to develop educational opportunities within the Co-operative Movement. After teaching economics for four years at the Glasgow College of Building, he returned to the WEA in 1969 as West of Scotland District Secretary, where he remained for 13 years. Here he worked tirelessly on various literacy, adult and community education bodies. He was also a governor of Newbattle Abbey College, a residential institute for adults returning to education.  

Education must go hand-in-hand with social change

These were exciting times for the WEA. There was a vibrancy based on dynamic trade union involvement and a renewed commitment to social action in reaching out to marginalised and disadvantaged communities.

Apart from his day job, Robert was a local councillor from the age of 25 and was familiar with deprivation at its rawest. He was a town councillor in Paisley, which was a byword for poverty and neglect. Crucially, he believed that education must go hand-in-hand with social change to reverse the dire inequalities prevalent in post-industrial Scotland.

Robert looked back warmly on this period when, at the coalface, he experienced the impact of good quality, targeted education on the lives of students. Experiences of which, at both a strategic and operational level, he was to bring to the wider WEA.

Growth under his leadership 

Robert was appointed General Secretary in 1982, then based in Temple House, London. But the election of Margaret Thatcher's Government three years earlier had ushered in a lean period for the WEA.  However, two significant events were to change the WEA’s fortunes. In the 1990s an Employment Appeals Tribunal defined the WEA as a single employer. The 1992 Further and Higher Education Act transferred further education colleges from local government control, with a consequent and potentially devastating impact on the WEA. Robert “shrewdly did a deal with the new masters, getting central funding to replace the local funding that was being lost. Lochrie, by common consent, saved the WEA.” The Guardian, 23 Nov. 2004.

Subsequently, from the mid 1990s to 2001 under his leadership, community learning within the WEA increased from 30% to 42% of overall provision (not including workplace learning which also increased). In 2000, the Further Educational Funding Council praised the WEA for its “successful widening of participation and significant contribution to lifelong learning.”

The new ability to plan strategically meant that women's education programmes, links with the trade unions, return to learn projects, literacy courses, diversity initiatives, to name a few, were widely supported within the WEA.  Robert was an adept and fearless negotiator who was able to cut across divergent views while arguing for the benefits of adult education on communities and society at large.

While overall responsibility within the WEA had moved to the centre with the advent of FEFC funding, Robert still maintained a commitment to the democratic ethos of the WEA, even though at times he could be impatient in the face of long-winded speeches or unnecessary verbosity. Despite this, Robert was an affable and approachable man, who hadn't forgotten what it was like being in a class of learners.  

As our size and student numbers grew, requiring proper accountability by funders, there were tensions from some Districts over what they saw as the dilution of their independence. Yet the WEA was legally obliged to demonstrate that the contract with FEFC was being delivered. The transition, which some of us still remember, was not easy. Besides identity and governance disagreements, there was urgent need for technology catch-up, which many adult education providers were also experiencing. Notwithstanding, much innovative work began in the Districts and was disseminated throughout the WEA via Good Practice publications.

Robert retired from the WEA in 2003. He loved the WEA and brought and gave so much to it. It is only right that we honour his memory.

Contribution by Charlie Lynch

He is survived by his wife Margaret and his step-daughter Greer. Our thoughts are with them both.

Robert’s funeral will take place on Thursday 15th February at 11.20am at Mortlake Crematorium, Townmead Rd, Richmond TW9 4EN followed by a gathering at the Anglers Pub 3 Broom Rd, Teddington TW11 9NR.

Margaret has created an online memorial where friends can post memories, anecdotes or photographs if they are unable to attend the funeral.