Thursday, September 28, 2023

in praise of the laundrette

In the past, I've waxed lyrical about how great libraries are.

And if you've ever been on any sessions I'd led about getting to grips with bookkeeping, or feeling more confident in how you can understand accounts, you'll know I also rave about museums too.

But I now want to create a trilogy of destinations that are often overlooked, but which we should all really recognise and value more - laundrettes.

Once a bastion of high streets, they still offer a critical and unparalleled role in our communities, when you consider what they represent and offer (beyond the ability to do a large load): 

  • they are meeting places = offering people a neutral space to come together and so help tackle social isolation, and facilitate community cohesion through enabling people to share time, and conversations together who might not otherwise meet.  
  • they are warm spaces = in an age of increasing fuel poverty, a bank of tumble dryers will definitely keep the chill off, without having to use energy to turn on additional heaters.
  • they help us reduce carbon emissions and reduce environmental impacts = every so often, I hear about a community somewhere that's launching a tool library (how often do you really need to have a power drill?) Surely better in lots of ways to be able to borrow one occasionally, rather than buying it and only using it once a year. Laundrettes offer us that option of shared equipment that we all need to varying degrees of frequency, but may struggle to otherwise (1) have the space for, or (2) afford.
  • they act as community hubs = no laundrette I've ever visited has ever not had noticeboards and information about local events and services.
  • they offer economic inclusion = machines are usually not contactless, instead relying on coins. And that's important, because here in the UK, over 1 million people don't have a bank account (about 1 person in every 70).
  • And on a purely personal note, who doesn't love the smell of freshly laundered sheets..?

So please - next time you're passing one, even if you don't have any bags of laundry with you that need a quick rinse, just as with libraries and museums, step inside and savour them.

They've been closing at the rate of about 4 every week for the last 45 years - when the last one goes, we'll loose all of the above, and probably won't realise just how important they were until it's too late...

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

why not being an academic means university students get more benefit from my teaching

Over the last 25 years or so, I've found myself approached from time to time to speak as a guest / associate lecturer within within various universities and faculty schools. And sometimes, I've also been asked to help design new degree course content around themes of social entrepreneurship; social innovation; and there's even a podiatry degree that now has an enterprise start-up module in it thanks to me!

The feedback is always that students enjoy my sessions, and they seem to get more out of them than they do in their usual taught syllabi (a group of students who were part of a startup bootcamp I was part of told me that they'd gained more useful knowledge from the 2 day sessions I'd delivered, than they had from the last 2 years of their business degree!). 

However, despite this consistent appreciation and validation from students, I'm sometimes not invited back...

So there's obviously a dilemma here: students enjoy it, but the university doesn't.

This relates to the old-school marketeers story of the bakers dilemma: understanding that your customer and consumer are often two very different groups of people, each with their own divergent expectations and needs: 

- students want new experiences, they want to learn in new ways, they want to develop their own critical skills in new ways;

- but further and higher education is a regulated teaching context, where curriculum content has to be covered, and assessed in pre-determined ways.

I'm therefore always trying to walk the line between ensuring a university is able to ensure compliance with its teaching requirements, but at the same time, students get an experience different to what they might usually enjoy.

But I also recognise that I'm not 'academically gifted' in the traditional sense: I scraped through school with a clutch of GCSE passes; similarly limped through College with only 2 A-Levels just about passed; and was only offered a place at a business school through clearing (which subsequently saw me graduate with a 'Desmond'* after 5 years) - but I've since gone on to create, co-design, and develop curriculum content and modules for a number of universities and international colleges; influence national policy and company law, etc. 

And all of this means I carry a prejudice and bias about how I see the value of taught curriculums and formal education - but in turn, this means I'm more emboldened to take risks and do things very differently to how students might usually experience learning in academic institutions. And it's this difference that they seem to appreciate and enjoy: having someone who not only talks about how things can be done differently, but physically models this too, encourages them to re-examine their own wider learning and how they are engaging with it, and in doing so, get even more value and benefit from it.

* if you don't know what this is, then I'm obviously far older than I'd like to think I am for making this cultural reference...