Starting it: Our ‘Pecket Well’ beginnings (short version)
 
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A group of people met at Horton House Adult Education Centre,  in Halifax in the early 1980’s. They met in ‘adult basic education’ but there was nothing ‘basic’ about what they did.  They were going to make history by setting up the first and, so far, only residential centre for adult basic education in the country.  They were going to fashion a place of learning where people with difficulties with the written word and others who had missed out on education, would feel comfortable. The people were all strong people, very different, but with 2 things in common.  They all had a passionate interest in education, and they were all involved in the movement for the right to read

*      Joe Flanagan, very proud of his Irish roots, a redundant steel worker and family man, who became a father figure for the group.  In a few words, Joe could get to the heart of the matter

*  Peter Goode, who had brought up his 7 children on his own.   Artist, who discovered that the words he weaved in his head were poetry.  Peter was buzzing with ideas and creativity and was a great listener and humane problem solver

* Michelle Baynes (now Ligocki), a mother of young children, whose energy changed the air in the room as she entered, bringing laughter, excitement and assertiveness.  Her forceful words demanded attention and respect

* Sandra Wyatt (now Breeze), mother of young children, committed church member, with her quiet, calm and caring manner, wished and worked to make the world a better place; brilliant organizer and great at putting others at ease and inspiring confidence

* Michael Callaghan, the reader and writer of the group, whose growing confidence fired his thirst for education, and gave him a clear voice to explain the project to others   He wanted a decent education, broad enough to encompass opera, poetry, general knowledge  He was never afraid to ask challenging questions

* Joan Fawcett (later Keighley), our ‘grandmother’, whose involvement in her Methodist church international association had brought her to adult education, willing to overcome shyness for the sake of whatever needed doing, even if it meant speaking in public

* Betty Legg, retired, who had been proud of her work as a silver waitress, who also was an active member of her church, using her phenomenal memory and organizational skills to get everyone ready for the next activity and generally to support the group effort

* Billy Breeze, (who was with the group through the development time at Horton House, and in the early days of founding the college, returning some years later to carry on playing his part) a fighter for the rights of students, and someone who had lived through and emerged from troubled times, including a time on the road.  Billy had a healthy distrust of authority figures

* Portia Fincham, an outreach worker for adult education, employed to encourage unemployed people into adult education and a volunteer tutor in adult basic education.  Portia shared her experience in the co-operative movement with the group, and this influenced how the group was to develop

* Ann Greenwood, volunteer typist for the group, enabled the group to share their writing with each other and to produce publications of their work, becoming more and more interested in what she typed and more and more committed to the group

* Gillian Frost (now Josie Pollentine), tutor and adult basic education co-ordinator, had been influenced by exciting trends in education and national movements which encouraged working class and other oppressed people to speak out, to write and publish their own experiences, to use and share their creativity and to group together to assert their rights and needs

This is just a tiny thumbnail sketch of a group of people, all of them amazing in their own different way.  Most of them were people who had lived with and found ways round their reading and writing difficulties, dealing with prejudice and misunderstanding in their daily lives ; all of them people who refused to be put down or pushed around; all of them demanded respect. The others were people who, as tutors or volunteers, worked with this group as allies, committing their skills and experience to help in this struggle for a ‘real chance’ education and for the voices of people tackling difficulties with the written word to be heard.   The ingredients for magic started to get mixed!

The next magic ingredient was the Thursday afternoon Magazine Group, set up in the early 1980s at Horton House by tutor organiser Gillian Frost and two colleagues. It was set up as a result of all the writing  that had come out of the Calderdale Writing Weekend. Members of the group were strong people with tons of life experience. They wanted a say in how and what they learned and enjoyed working with Gillian in a cooperative way. The group was very successful and:
* Gave people new publishing skills and experiences – for example reading and editing the work of others
* Published the magazine Not Written Off which was a turning point for those previously working alone on their reading and writing
* Encouraged people to gain the confidence to read their own work at socials and outreach events
* Began a Pecket tradition of people writing up their life stories
* Stimulated discussion amongst members about “having a college of their own with no bosses!”
* Attracted attention and invitations from other groups who wanted to hear more about their work
* Resulted in the formation of a Student Committee established to fundraise for further socials, publications, and resources, such as a camera and tape recorders. These tape recordings helped people who couldn’t attend meetings and who had difficulties with reading and writing to ‘listen’ to minutes.

University of Nottingham in 1984 – Writing week run during national literacy week by Write First Time (a collective that produced a national magazine by people who were learning and teaching in reading and writing centres)

Calderdale Students Committee which had grown out of the Horton House Magazine Group Social Committee successfully fundraised for 12 people to join others from Calderdale and attend Write First Time – a 5 day residential course in Nottingham. This was an exciting time in basic education and there was a growing national trend of student focussed and student led work.

People who attended from Horton House loved the residential experience and being given choices in what and how they learned. The experience changed their views about the type of education they wanted to be involved in and shaped their thinking about where to do it. On the train journey back the idea for their own user-led residential college was born.  At the next Horton House meeting we discovered that coincidentally participants who travelled back in cars or buses had the same idea!

Billy Breeze remembers thinking – “It would be great if people like us could have one”. Sandra Wyatt (now Sandra Breeze) said ‘We had that opportunity to do that with no expense to ourselves and we wanted to give that opportunity to other people, the experience that we had.” A dream was born!

The Poster incident – The Magazine Group had to fight for our rights!

The Magazine Group found itself coming into conflict with the new management structure at Horton House. Read more about the poster incident in our Journeysticks section… it was a key point in our story and spurred us on to take control of our own education!

Getting organised – setting up our group

Gillian and members of the Magazine Group having already worked together on previous shared dreams e.g. ‘Not Written Off’ and ‘The Opening Time Pack’ had loved working together and were by then a strongly knit group. The students in the group had gained enormously in confidence through their experience of organising themselves in the Calderdale Student’s Committee. They were aware of their own strength and had become assertive about their needs. Gillian and others associated with the magazine group, were inspired by this confidence and all believed that in working together it would be possible to achieve their dreams.   They were the founder members of, what was later to become, Pecket Well College.

The founder members mobilised and:

* Met in Gillian’s flat above an old co-op building at Pecket Well where her dining room doubled as a base for the group’s office
* Dipped into their own pockets for all expenses necessary to work towards their dream
* Took advice on fundraising for the rent and conversion of the old co-op into a residential college
* Formed a steering group
* Got an accountant
* Campaigned and got support from many sources including local councillors offering free meeting spaces
* Became members of regional and national groups e.g. FWWCP (Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers – now known as The Fed), and Gatehouse
* Developed a fundraising plan
* Worked hard to draw up a constitution and make sure everybody understood it

Fundraising was successful and founder members secured a grant from West Yorkshire Grants for salaries and office space.  Members received training in recruitment and equal opportunities.  They advertised posts, shortlisted and then carried out interviews with support from Eric Appleby, National Federation of Voluntary Literacy Schemes Coordinator and Viv Rivis, experienced Adult Education Organiser and Janet Mitchell from West Yorkshire Grants to Voluntary Bodies.  They appointed Gillian Frost (now Josie Pollentine) and Ali Mantle (who had been helping the group as community education worker) as joint co-ordinators and Ann as Secretary.

Pecket had support from a wide network of people and organisations that had similar values. By the end of 1986, the original Magazine Group, now calling itself Pecket Well College Group, had secured some initial funding for paid workers, and had some pledges from others. Joint Coordinators Ali and Gillian took up their posts along with Ann as secretary and an office was rented in Gibbet Street, Halifax.  They and the team of founder members and others began the long process of, in the words of an early participant “getting the dream of a residential college”.

What became the Constitution – essential for legal and charitable status and fundraising, bears the hallmark of the Pecket Wellian philosophy:

“Its constitution stated that a majority of directors must have reading and writing difficulties themselves [and other directors should be people who supported our aims and ways of working. In reality, our other directors were people working in adult basic education as tutors, and a range of others with the skills we needed, such as community arts workers, a solicitor, an accountant, an M&S (Marks and Spencers) manager, and funders as advisors/observers, all people committed to our aims stated in the original constitution, to promote the development of communication skills and the creative use of these skills].”