University of Brighton Alumni Association

Happy retirement to alumna and colleague Vikki Haffenden

Vikki Haffenden first studied at Fashion Textiles 1970’s and then went on to study for her her PhD. She has worked for the university for 30 years and is retiring at the end of February. Happy retirement Vikki.

Here is her story…

I came to Brighton as a student in the late 1970s. It was as very different place from today, a bit seedy; poor housing, (at least for students) but a wonderful collection of genuinely unpretentious, everyday shops in the Laines. The Cork Shop, the fascia of which is now in the Museum, Funny Farm selling vintage dresses before they became anything special and numerous small shops selling anything from dolls eyes to beeswax; if you ventured upstairs the floors creaked and groaned scarily. This was before the ‘cafe culture’, chairs on the pavements would have been in danger of being kicked out of the way by the punks, or stolen. I make it sound pretty bad, but it was stimulating and exciting to me coming from the sleepy West Country. Clubs like the Hungry Years, the Alhambra and of course Friday Night Club at the Art College Basement are now legendary but were not for the faint-hearted.

That I was able to go into Higher Education is completely due to the educational grant system of that period. I was the first of my family to study for a degree and could not rely on my parents whose own incomes were hard won and pretty much hand-to-mouth.

In our second year we went on a trip to European historical and industrial textile centres in Germany, Italy and France and our third year was an industrial placement which offered learning opportunities far removed from the academic environment. These experiences inspired my interest in industrial production, and after graduating I became a designer in the knitwear industry. This was at the start of computer aided design andmanufacture (CAD/CAM) in knitting, and I designed and programmed on these systems. Latterly I moved into freelance design consultancy which gave me flexibility to acquire teaching qualifications and become a VL at what was still Brighton Polytechnic and other colleges. After my children came along I didn’t want to travel as much, so when the role as Knit Technical Demonstrator became vacant I was pleased to be able to focus my skills in one place and continue to share my knowledge with students.

The Fashion Textile course was then based in Finsbury Road, a former Victorian school with high ceilings and tall windows, echoing wooden floors and an abandoned playground. The basement housed the industrial textile machinery;  when this was in use the whole building vibrated. Next to the industrial equipment was a labyrinthine yarn store in which a person could become engrossed for hours! Of course a major disadvantage of this glorious resource was having to carry crates of yarn across the former playground and upstairs to the workshops and then back again. In 2000 the course moved to Grand Parade and a new chapter began, in which the department managed to retain its unique flavour whilst integrating with other courses.

Over the years I developed my teaching skills through internal training. I knew that I wished to remain in education but only if I could expand my research interests, something not possible as a Technical Demonstrator. I will always be grateful to Janet Emmanuel, the Head of Department at the time, for mentoring me through my PhD application. Researching a doctorate is so much more than the certificate or title. It enabled me to evolve new concepts through fresh ways of thinking, learn new things and consolidate what I learned into focused and coherent outcomes. Professor Lou Taylor was my Supervisor and steered me to craft what was at the time unusual practise-based research into a manageable thesis.

Post PhD, as well as becoming a tenured lecturer, which is rewarding in itself, I have been involved in external and internal projects which have taken me all over the country and abroad to work with varied and interesting people on fascinating research. Alongside these activities I have published work relating to my research and written several books on knitting. One of these came about whilst I was still writing up my thesis; Lou Taylor commented that it wasn’t the best timing, and she was of course right. However, I believe one must take opportunities when they come along, and somehow managed to complete both.

My personal philosophy is to be creative, never stop learning and to be generous when sharing knowledge and skills, so working in an educational environment has been a perfect career for me. I have many happy memories of working as a member of the Fashion Textile team and with numerous cohorts of students. They will keep me company for years to come.

Nic Ashton • February 17, 2022

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