I’ve now graduated from Media and Environmental Communication BA (Hons), but this is only the beginning of my academic journey and I continue to consider myself a MEC advocate. If you’ve seen me at a University of Brighton Open Day, you’ll know that my enthusiasm for the course is borderline obsessive. However, I truly believe that in the current social, economic, political – and, most importantly, environmental – climate, courses dealing with these issues are a necessity. This blog post outlines some of the opportunities I’ve been afforded throughout my time on the course, and what’s next for me.
In second year, I opted for a module named Community Engagement: Actioning Sustainability, which involved an element of voluntary work. Immediately in activist-warrior mode, I’d wanted to volunteer at Brook House, a detainee centre in Crawley, as a welfare officer for those being held in the appalling conditions there. However, circumstances (not least my supervisor’s rightful concern about the impact on my own mental health) meant that I could not go for this. Disappointed and disheartened, I ended up at Age UK Brighton & Hove, just off Seven Dials, and bemoaned the whole situation.
Little did I know this would be the start of a greater project. I quickly began to enjoy the work I did there, particularly interacting with the service users who, at the time, I (patronisingly) viewed as cute little old people (ladies, mostly) who made me laugh. As a Receptionist, though, my role was limited, and I found myself wanting to help more. So I applied for to work as a Domiciliary (Home) Care Worker (DCW) at a local agency, and got the job thanks to my experience with the charity.
‘But don’t carers have to wipe bums?’
The short answer, yes. However, since becoming a care worker, I have realised how important it is for people to know that it’s so more than just wiping bums, but also that the ability to wipe your own backside is a privilege. These aversions to talking about care in a holistic way are incredibly damaging, inform policy about the Health & Social Care sector and, in turn, impact the (precarious) conditions which these workers are expected to operate in. I was working a lot alongside my studies, and I begun to see the potential for research; I decided to explore the definition of DCWs, using my other passion, photography, as a visual method.
Duty of Care
And so, Duty of Care was born – a photo series interrogating the current definition of DCWs, informed by qualitative interviews and focus groups with a cohort of care workers in Brighton and Hove. Whilst I was working on the project, I was made aware of an opportunity to apply for a fully-funded Ph.D. scholarship, operated by the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership. At the time, I was considering a career in Social Work, or studying Medicine on a fast-track post-graduate programme. I didn’t believe my work was anywhere near worthy of this level of funding, but after much encouragement from MEC’s own Dr. Patricia Prieto-Blanco, I applied. My brief January holiday in Sweden quickly became a working break as I grappled with writing a dissertation and a Ph.D. proposal simultaneously.
To my delight and utter surprise, I was awarded the scholarship. My life, for possibly the first time ever, began to feel as if it were falling place around me.
A Canadian Adventure
Following the celebration, I was granted a place on a summer school held at University of Concordia, Montreal, where I met a fantastic group of people with their own stories to tell. The course, entitled ‘Beyond the Body: Recasting Ageing’, interrogated many of the beliefs we hold about ‘ageing’ and the stigma associated with people who are growing older. This took me back to those moments at Age UK, with the ‘cute old ladies’, and made me realise the work that we, collectively, need to do to challenge widely-held assumptions and systemic ageism. This is where my work now begins, and I’m grateful to MEC itself and the incredible staff for teaching me to think critically and for equipping me with the tools to do so which, most of all, was the confidence to believe I could succeed.
My Words of Wisdom
- You reap what you sow; just ‘getting a degree’ is no longer enough and – truly put the work in at University and you will see a return far greater than just ‘getting your money’s worth’, which I’ve heard is the yardstick of value.
- You really don’t have to have it all figured out: things are changing constantly, including yourself. Open doors to experiences and challenges because you never know what you might find behind them.
- Be nice to old people. They are people, with needs, wants, ambitions, fears. So if your grandparents, parents, or someone older in your life is scared of technology, send them a letter, call them, or – if they want to be taught – teach them. Don’t participate in creating an environment which ages them; ageism is everyone’s problem.
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