Women’s history has lasting legacy at Beds

Tue 02 March, 2021
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As part of Women’s History Month, the University of Bedfordshire is looking at the inspiring women who have given their names to important components of its vibrant campuses.

In 2020, the University appointed its first ever female Vice Chancellor in Professor Rebecca Bunting and continues to support the paths of women in research, performance and professional practice as a widening participation institution.

However, women have been making their mark on Bedfordshire throughout history, leading to their memory being commemorated in new, state of the art facilities.

Mary SeacoleThe Mary Seacole Building situated at the renowned Stoke Mandeville Hospital is a prime example of using pioneers of the past to inspire a future generation. Used for educating nurses and midwives – and recently as a space for the NHS to carry out PPE training – the building was opened in 2020.

Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse who travelled to the frontline during the Crimean War to support injured solders, established the British Hotel – comfortable quarters for recovering soldiers – in 1855. These amazing acts were carried out independently after being rejected by the War Office to be included in the British nursing contingent.

Dr Louise Grant, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, believes it is this caring display of drive and determination to help others that will inspire the nurses and midwives of today. She said:

“The building was named after Mary as we at the University of Bedfordshire share many of the values that she espoused.

“Staff and students are proud to be educated in a building named after her and I am sure they will go on to embody her vision and values, achieving great things.

“I think it is fitting to recognise Mary when the theme for this year’s International’s Women’s Day is to #ChooseToChallenge inequality and work for an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

“Women’s leadership in Heath, Social Work and the Social Sciences has been significant and it is important to pause to celebrate their leadership. Much of our world-leading research in social work, health and the social sciences is led by women all committed to achieving better outcomes for all and in addressing social and health inequalities.

“We had planned to have a celebration of nursing and Mary Seacole in March 2020, but this was postponed due to the pandemic. We hope to be able to have a retrospective celebration in the near future.”

(Image credit: Mary Seacole Trust with Winchester College)

Tilda GoldbergMoving into the 20th century, Tilda Goldberg, a pioneer researcher in social work studies, made huge advancements in research into mental health, family influence and the social work sector.

It was with great honour therefore that the University founded the Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care in 2010. The Centre, based on the Luton campus, houses a team of experts in children’s services, evidence based social work practice and adult safeguarding.

These research focuses come as a result of the extraordinary life of Tilda Goldberg herself.

Born and raised in Berlin, Tilda Goldberg and her family came to England in 1933. Following work in a child guidance clinic in Hertfordshire and as a regional aftercare officer in Newcastle, she moved into the field of research – putting a heavy focus on clear objectives and collaboration with other professionals.

By the time Tilda retired in 1977, she had been editor of the British Journal of Psychiatric Social Work (1961-65), been a leader in the establishment of the British Association of Social Workers (1971) and completed well over a decade as director of research at the National Institute for Social Work (1963-1977).

Dr Sarah Wadd, Director of the Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team (SMART) at the Centre, says the work and research carried out by Tilda Goldberg has had real, tangible impact on the field and on people’s lives. She said:

“Tilda continues to be an inspiration to us. 

“She believed that social work should be evidence-based and carried out the first Randomised Controlled Trials in British social work in the 1960s and 1970s. Her bequest enabled the Centre to carry out further Randomised Controlled Trials which led to genuine improvements in social services and better outcomes for the people whose use them. 

“Today her legacy lives on in our work and I’m so proud to work in a Centre which bears Tilda’s name.”

In the performing arts, Judith Blake’s life and career is one heavily celebrated by the University.

Opened in 2004, the Judith Blake Theatre is a teaching and performing space that houses theatrical productions, film screenings, workshops and masterclasses. It is the primary teaching location for the Media Performance course, which was founded by Judith Blake herself in 1993, alongside Paul Bannister.

Named RADA’s ‘Most Promising Actress of the Year’ in 1969, Judith was part of the founding of Paines Plough – a touring theatre company – in 1974 and worked with Steven Berkoff in his famous adaptation of Metamorphosis.

After time spent living in Australia, Judith returned to England and set about sharing her knowledge and experience with the next generation of performers at what was then the University of Luton.

Sadly, Judith passed away before being able to teach in the newly opened facility, now known as the Judith Blake Theatre, following a cancer diagnosis.

Rachel Clark, Senior Lecturer in the School of Media Performance, worked alongside Judith from 1994 and helped get the Theatre named in her honour with the help of colleague Margo Annett. She said:

“Margo and I worked to get the Theatre named after Judith as a tribute to her contribution to the University, the school and the course.

Judith Blake acting“Judith had a great zest for life. She was a wonderful person: funny and creative, with an incredible warmth to her students. Not afraid to give strong feedback, she taught students to take a professional approach in a very competitive industry.

“Judith was my mentor and I learnt such a lot from her and have carried her torch forwards, now that I am the course coordinator.

“Judith was very passionate about her work and her legacy is this Theatre, where many students can nurture their passion, develop the skills needed to be who they want to be and launch their careers.”

Margo Annett added:

“If it hadn’t have been for Jude’s enthusiasm, drive and talent, then the Media Performance Course – which is now Media Performance for Film TV & Theatre – would not have been created.”

Gemma Hunt graduated from the University’s Media Performance course in 2003 and has gone on to become a successful television presenter – currently as the main host of CBBC’s Swashbuckle. Now also running workshops, Gemma says she enjoys sharing the knowledge that Judith once bestowed upon her. She said:

“Judith was an inspirational woman, not only in her passion for performing, but in how she led by brilliant example.

“I learnt so much from her as a performer that I now share with others that I teach, such as ’not to interlace your fingers on camera, as they look like a bunch of sausages’!”

The Alexander Sports Centre in Bedford takes its name from Eileen Alexander, Principal of the Bedford Physical Training College (BPTC) from 1951-71.

A revolutionary institute for the area, the BPTC educated women to become teachers in physical training from 1903 until its absorption into the Bedford College of Higher Education in 1976.

The BPTC was located at 37 Lansdowne Road – where the University held a campus until the opening of Polhill in 2007. Founded in 1903 by Margaret Stansfeld, the BPTC was key for removing the stigma of women attending college in the area during the early 20th century.

When Eileen Alexander took over in 1951, she oversaw a huge expansion of both staff and student numbers, as well as the construction of new facilities and the gaining of approval to award degrees, and subsequently honours degrees, all of which was crucial to the institution’s survival.

After retirement, Eileen founded the Alexander Trust which provided generously to individuals, schools and projects that allowed her to continue her passion for physical education and was awarded an OBE in 1973.

Dr Joanne Hill, Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Sociology, has a particular interest in the socio-cultural issues that face physical education. Continuing to tell the story of history-changing women is of vital importance to addressing this, according to Dr Hill. She said:

“It's really important to remember pioneering women in physical education, because sport and physical activity still have a bit of an association with being designed and run for boys rather than girls.

“Actually, physical education as a school subject was founded by women for girls; Bedford Physical Training College was one of the first of its kind.

“Often that heritage as a subject for girls has been lost, so we highlight to our students how physical education began life, as part of our critical examination of the political and social influences on physical education and school sport, as well as providing a basis for analysing innovations in physical education, movement and pedagogy.

“Occasionally, something that is considered innovative has been done before, but it has been forgotten or marginalised. It is crucial to remember women physical educators in celebrating how women continue to tackle barriers in participation and leadership. We persist in making that story known. 

“The Institute of Sport and Physical Activity Research, the School of Sport Science and Physical Activity, and the School of Teacher Education, have all continued to highlight the heritage of Eileen Alexander and other BPTC leaders by hosting an archive of letters and artefacts from BPTC at the library on Bedford campus, and events on the women's tradition in physical education.”

Today, the Alexander Sports Centre is home to eight badminton courts, two indoor tennis courts, two indoor and two outdoor football pitches and a number of other facilities used for academic sessions, competitive training and the University’s Get Active scheme.

In the past, the University has also had facilities bearing the names of other BPTC leaders Margaret Stansfeld, Molly Petit and Phyllis Spafford.

The University is proud to represent such inspirational figures and strives to educate the next generation of women who will shape and revolutionise their respective industries.

For information about studying at the University, visit: www.beds.ac.uk/howtoapply


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