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Memories from 'An Honorary Northerner'
 
Prior to 1982, I’d never heard of Chester. It was the cover photo on the prospectus and the Combined Studies course that enticed me to apply and in the autumn of 1982 I was invited for an interview and audition.
Tuesday 9 November 1982: As I waited in the foyer at Porters Lodge, I wished I was exploring the rows with my parents. Just before 12.30, a lad arrived and announced my audition was with a concert pianist. That’s all I need I thought, a concert pianist! But Mr Slater soon put me at ease with his friendly Barnsley drawl and I managed to get through my audition.
“You like that sort of Romantic music don’t you? I bet you read all the slushy books," he grinned, grabbing my hand and asking how I’d feel about moving away from home. ‘I think I’ll be a bit homesick,’ I replied nervously.
After my audition he suggested a tour round the campus. It was personal tutor time and his tiny room in the Tower Block was crammed with undergraduates. Kath, a second year student, responded to his request and that’s how I sprained my ankle on a ramp outside Gladdy Hall. I saw it as an omen but Kath’s enthusiasm and Mr Slater’s friendly manner had already sold the College to me.

A few weeks later I attended an open day at Keele. The campus had its own bus service and the nearest town was a car ride away. I didn’t want to be a number in a sprawling university and was even more determined to get into Chester, which at that time had around 800 students.

The following September after a tearful goodbye to my parents, I sat in my room in Astbury.
Monday 19 September 1983: Begin the Beginning. What a daunting experience and what a strange feeling being here all alone with no one to worry about but little old me! Made one friend!                                                                                                     The Music group with John Trevor Slater
In the dinner queue that evening a girl had turned to me and asked, “What’s your name then?” and that’s how I met my good friend Sue. We paired up during Fresher’s week joining clubs and activities and inventing our own entertainment.
Saturday 29 October 1983: Went down town shopping, for a pub meal, to an antique fair. Got a shopping trolley and pushed each other up and down the steps near the De Bunsen and screamed.’ (The shopping trolley was already on campus.)
Sue was sporty. I wasn’t. In the early 1980s, Chester catered for PE Students. The 3rd and 4th years of 1983 were the last in the line of the secondary teaching course and back then the ratio of girls to boys was 3 to 1!


But I still managed to throw myself into a session of basketball, one class of popmobility and my one and only Rag Run where I came last.
 
I found it easier as a screaming supporter at swimming events, attending club dinners and enjoying copious amounts of alcohol. When we shared a house with three other girls the following year, I was less enamoured with the social activities.
Tuesday 30 April 1985: In the evening I did some work and went to bed but didn't get any sleep because the SC (Swimming Club) all came back from their annual dinner. And they made a helluva noise.
My English Lit, Education and Music Studies took up the rest of my time. I had enrolled for Combined Studies, the only course in the country at that time which allowed students to swap from BE.d to B.A. after the first year, without retaking the year. I soon discovered teaching wasn’t for me and exchanged Professional Studies for French in my second year.
As a music student, membership of the Choral Society was obligatory, and being a small department, absence from rehearsals was noticed. We attended many events in College Chapel including one Candlemas service where I nearly set fire to a pew!
Living in digs was a challenge. Juggling meals, housework, studies and socialising sometimes took its toll, but we had more money and most Sundays friends and I would club together and cook a roast dinner. The rest of the time I survived on pot noodles, canned Irish stew and the occasional trip to Diners Den or Spud-U-like!
You could be forgiven for thinking my memories only relate to having fun. I spent many hours in the library
poring over English texts, in halls and digs munching rounds of peanut butter on toast and sipping coffee as I tried to work out keyboard harmony. But I’m sure our social life mirrored the energy we put into our studies and dipping into the College fountain after exams was compulsory (pictured right).
In those heady days of ‘Come on Eileen,’ it felt like our time at Chester would never end.
But it did, and after our finals there were numerous celebrations including our music party.
Tuesday 17 June 1986:  It was strange seeing tablecloths over the grand piano for all the food we had provided. The lecturers brought ale and three large bottles of wine, all consumed in less than an hour. Needless to say there were some very merry people about and we laughed at the situations Mr Slater’s dog had got us into as Radio 1 blared out ‘Hold a Chicken in the Air.’
Three weeks later I was standing behind a white line.
Wednesday 9 July 1986: For a few brief seconds all eyes were on me as I crossed the stage of the Philharmonic Hall to receive my handshake from Viscount Leverhulme, but it felt like an eternity. After the ceremony, I toured Liverpool Cathedral with my family. Relief and pride jostled like the waves on the Mersey and I felt I could conquer the world! 
I’d struggled with homesickness and an unknown health condition and at times thought I would never get my degree. My family offered constant encouragement, but my College ‘family’ shared my ‘on the spot’ joy and tears.
Through my goodbye on that September afternoon in 1983 I had found it hard to believe my Dad’s words of comfort.
“You wait. In three years time, you’ll be crying because you don't want to come home.”
When I finally left Chester he proved to be right.

(From L-r): Adele Thompson, Alison (?), Gill Bamford and Me...
 ‘Chester’s like Toytown,’ and I can see why my friend Rachel saw it that way. Its compact size, facilities, the inviting walls and River views make it a lovely place to work and study and its proximity to College, especially on Deva Mile helped us students connect with the real world. But Chester like all institutions had to evolve.
On my return visits as a member of the University of Chester Alumni Association, I am always pleased to see the campus has retained the intimacy I loved it for, whilst embracing the 21st Century. For alumni, it is still recognisable as yours no matter when you graduated.
My love of the city, life-long friendships, connection with the Northern way of life and my College experience made an indelible mark on me so when it came to a lifestyle choice in 2013, there was no competition. I guess that's why Rachel dubbed me 'An Honorary Northerner.'
Since moving to Chester in March 2014, it has been an honour to be involved with the University and to give something back to the institution and city that has meant so much to me.
 
Over the years I've kept in touch with Christine Elvy, Brenda Bickerdyke, Jane Speakman, Arabella Yandle, Moyra Pullar, Craig Jones, Pam Catherall, Chris Green, Rachel Binns, Gill Dolan, Lawrence Bee, Sue Hall, Phillipa Bull and Christine Tate, many of whom came to my wedding in 1994. I've also reconnected through mutual friends with Anne Firmin, Gill Nelson and Adele Thompson, and met up with Gill Burns at the 2014 reunion. We are very much looking forward to our reunion event later this year.