Introduction to Pecket and how we’ve written our oral history
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The aim of this publication is to tell the story of Pecket Well College through the voices of those who have been involved in it as:
• founder members
• directors
• workshop leaders
• participants
• volunteers
• paid workers
• partner organisations
• friends
• funders
• carers and
• education workers
• community workers
• development workers

The number of people whose lives have been touched by Pecket Well over 30 years adds up to many thousands so all we have been able to do here is to interview a small number. Our focus has been on interviewing all remaining founder members as well as a limited number of key (and traceable):
• college directors/volunteers
• participants
• carers
• paid workers
• funders and
• other people associated with the college from its earliest days to the present time.

Some of our founder members at their reunion meal 2012:

Founder Members Reunion 12 March 2012

It is important to say something here about founder members. There are 7 founder members named on the blue plaque on the Co-op building at Pecket Well College which was made for opening day:

Ann Greenwood

Michael Callaghan

Portia Fincham

Joe Flanagan (deceased)

Gillian Frost (now Josie Pollentine)

Peter Goode (deceased)

Betty Legg (deceased)

Joan Fawcett (now Joan Keighley) (deceased)

The plaque acknowledges those who were involved from the beginning and who were still involved in the college when the building formally opened. However as with all histories, the story is much more complex than this and many Pecket Wellians would agree that there are names missing which could be added. Not only is memory a fallible thing but people’s priorities and involvement in activities inevitably shift and change over time.

Not everyone was around the College when the plaque was forged. For example people take up caring responsibilities, relocate for work, move house, cannot attend meetings, become ill and so on. It is not absolutely clear therefore, who constitutes a founder member of Pecket or perhaps as importantly, when and how we can most easily measure the ‘founding’ moment. People who have been involved from the beginning (or almost the beginning) of Pecket – either at Horton House Adult Education Centre, on the residential writing week at Nottingham, at the meeting in Gillian Frost’s flat or in other early meetings to discuss the College – would also include: Billy Breeze, Sandra Wyatt (now Sandra Breeze), Michelle Baynes (now Michelle Ligocki) and Eric Boylan.

A number of others who have played a massive role in Pecket over many years such as Barbara Flanagan, Billy Cryer, Barbara Picken (now Barbara Callaghan – deceased), Pat Smart, John Smart (deceased), Corinne Shires (now Corinne John), Barry Goulding, John Glynn (deceased), Malcolm Burnside, Florence Mana Agbah and Rena Watson may not have been there right at the very beginning but along with others, such as Robert Merry, helped to set up and run the college, gave crucial encouragement, advice and support and worked with the project over many years and in many different capacities. Some are still involved and fully embrace the Pecket way of doing things.

How we did our interviews:

In total we have conducted 39 interviews, mostly one-to-one, with the gender balance of interviewees roughly 50/50. Different interview schedules were drawn up containing generic questions, which were asked of everyone, but also questions suited to the person being interviewed. We were flexible in the interviews and were quite happy for the person being interviewed to introduce what they felt was important. Interviews lasted for around one hour though some lasted longer.

We recorded interviews using digital recorders and on occasion, interviewed people via Skype technology when contacting Pecket Well visitors and partners who live abroad. Interviews took place in people’s homes, at the offices of Pecket Learning Community in Halifax and in a range of other locations.

Ideally all interviews would have been transcribed so that they could be archived and used in a number of different ways. However, funds were limited and we wanted to try to digitally archive as much information as possible in addition to conducting this oral history.

Directors agreed to prioritise the transcription of interviews with the ‘founder members’ of Pecket. Permission has been sought from everyone interviewed to share their story more widely.

How we recorded people’s words:

There is another important thing to note with regard to how we have used the interviews in the text. Where words are indented or in quotation marks, they are direct quotes from people. We have not corrected grammar but have recorded words as they were spoken. We have occasionally removed any names mentioned to protect participants’ privacy. Where text has been taken from books, the reference to the book and when it was published has been given.

A short bibliography can also be found at the end of the publication. Sometimes, within quotations, a number of full stops […] appear. This indicates that some text has been left out – usually to make the quotation shorter. Care has been taken not to distort the meaning of quotations and a full list of those interviewed can be found in Appendix 2.

How is our oral history different to others?

In some ways what is written above looks like a traditional approach to doing an oral history – the often hidden history that is all around us, that we pass on through our memories and stories and that lies in our own families, communities and workplaces.

However in other ways, we have produced this history differently, in the ‘Pecket way’. For example an Oral History and Archive steering group – consisting of old and new ‘Pecket Wellians – has been responsible for deciding the questions to be asked and the people to interview.

A series of training workshops means that some Pecket Wellians have also been responsible for conducting and filming key interviews. One aspect of the ‘Pecket way’ is how ‘users’ were invited to the Pecket office for a series of meetings when the draft oral history was read aloud.

As some founder members do not use the internet and cannot read long documents independently this was essential for their full involvement. Some directors had periods of illness during the project which meant they could not leave their homes. The project coordinator went to their homes and read drafts aloud so they too were fully involved. This collective involvement provided giving important and practical feedback on ease of understanding. This has been part of the process of producing this oral history.

As mentioned previously the history project has developed alongside the website and archive project – managed by the co-ordinator and Pecket Wellian Steering Group – allowing each to inform and contribute to the other. The co-ordinator, Pol Nugent, has been tireless in tracking down people associated with the College 10 or 20 years ago but Pecket Wellians have also ‘re-discovered’ earlier participants and invited them to be interviewed.

This democratic and inclusive user led approach has characterised the history of Pecket, as well as the process of this publication.

The story of Pecket – from a group of individuals meeting in adult ‘basic’ education at an adult education centre in Halifax in 1982, to the struggle for a physical college and its opening in 1992, to College closure and its new offices in Halifax in the present day – is a complex one.

Our aim here is not to tell a linear story (one that starts at a beginning and ends up, date by date, at the end) but one which organises the story through the themes and events which early discussions with Pecket Wellians showed to be the most important to them and their history.

The history charts the ups and down of Pecket Well, its victories and struggles and its strengths and weaknesses. It tells the story of an incredibly committed, campaigning group of people and the lessons that can be passed on to others who want to do ‘education’ differently. The story is about all of their learning journeys.

Words used at Pecket:

Finally, a note or two on the words we use. Adult Basic Education is a familiar term but one that carries with it a great deal of baggage. It may be that many people have only experienced basic formal education for a combination of reasons but they are not without education or ‘uneducated’ – far from it. Education is far too often narrowly defined anyway. Reading and writing are, after all, only two skills amongst thousands of others.

Adult literacy, another term, was rejected by some Pecket Wellians as unacceptable because of its close proximity to the word illiteracy. However we now use this term widely in terms of ‘improving knowledge of’ something thus we have, for example, digital literacy (improving IT skills and understanding the culture of these skills.

The term ‘adult learners’ suffices for many of us. It is the case that Pecket is a charity and company limited by guarantee run by and for people who have difficulties with reading, writing and/or numbers but this only tells a small part of the story and raises many questions about what we mean when we talk about skills.

Secondly, Pecket, Pecket Learning Community, Pecket Well and Pecket Well College are sometimes used interchangeably in people’s stories. Pecket is shorthand for both Pecket Learning Community (the current name the organisation takes) and Pecket Well College, the college building the organisation used to have in the village of Pecket Well near Hebden Bridge. To complicate matters further prior to even having a physical building, the organisation called itself Pecket Well College!

In the final section, after we have worked  our way through the themes, we will describe the wider background to the development of Pecket