Long service volunteer
Liz Armstrong joined the WEA as a volunteer in 1971. She has seen decades pass with the organisation and seen leadership change five times. Looking back on 46 years of voluntary service, we try to capture some of Liz’ impressions and ask her about what drew her towards adult education organisation the WEA and what got her hooked.
Liz recalls, “I had left my six weeks old son in the care of his Dad to head out to a WEA class on ‘Politics in Victorian England’ being held on the university campus. Two wonderful things happened. Father and son both survived the experience, and I was introduced to the WEA”.
On attending her first course Liz recalls how the tutor, Clive Kent, spoke to them about the WEA’s ethos and explained that opportunities to get involved were open to all members of the community.
“He told us he’d left school at 16 and got his higher education as an adult so it was clear he could relate to those who had barriers to learning. Higher education was only for the wealthy and privileged and the WEA in the North East was seriously addressing that imbalance by offering three year tutorials as a kind of degree equivalent. He said the Newcastle Branch were looking for members so I offered to address some envelopes for them if it would help. It was early September and by October I became the branch secretary.”
Liz says’ “Whenever you walk into a room of WEA people you get the impression you are amid some erudite and warm people. You feel a sense of integrity and you get a sense of unified purpose”. Still today Liz and her husband get together with her ex-tutor Clive and his wife.
Liz went on to become a branch representative and then sat on the Northern district committee as Treasurer from 1976 – 1980. She saw how the women’s movement really started to take a hold in the 70s and 80s and how the WEA reacted by making courses more accessible to women. However, Liz has observed, “There is now so much competition in the way people live their lives. They work longer and harder and there is less time. When I became a mother there was no maternity leave, you gave up your job, so at the time I joined I was full of energy and desperate for a hobby and to be involved in something.”
Liz continues to praise the WEA for how much it has given her “I have got far more out than I have ever put in. For anyone interested in joining I would say, you learn skills, like managing a meeting which was very useful for me when I went back to part time teaching in 1977. You gain self-esteem and have a sense of helping something that is really important and addresses disadvantage in society.”
Liz was presented with a letter of recognition for long service from the WEA National Chief Executive and General Secretary Ruth Spellman at the Newcastle Branch AGM on Wednesday 8th November.
(Liz Armstrong being presented with certificate of recognition from
the WEA by Chair of the Newcastle Branch, November 2017)
(Liz Armstrong of Newcastle Branch with two Tutor organisers,
Skeff Vaughan and Victor Cadaxa. WEA North East Regional Office, 1970s)