The Fashion Trade: Past, Present and Future?

We have a fashion problem. No, I don’t just mean that older women often struggle to find clothes they like/can wear/can afford on the high street. Professor Julia Twigg has written about this – how older women ‘have long been subject to social pressure to tone down, to adopt self-effacing, covered-up styles’, although she says to some extent this might be changing. To me the bigger picture is that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world (Lindsay Brown, 2019), using massive quantities of water and producing waste. Did you know that when people return clothes bought online on a ‘try before you buy’ basis, it is common for the returned clothing to end up in landfill? (Harriet Constable,BBC). The drive towards cheaper and cheaper clothes – some worn just once or twice – also means that poorly paid garment workers in low income countries work for long hours in unsafe conditions.

However, many younger people are becoming more active in fighting climate change and recognising that everybody’s well-being is ‘corrupted and compromised by the political and economic systems that promote and support our modern, consumer-focussed lifestyles’ (Extinction Rebellion) I argue that working for change in the way we produce and use clothing is one area where older generations can contribute to thinking differently about what we are doing.

I remember wartime and post-WW2 austerity and make-do-and-mend. Fabrics were in short supply so people had to be inventive: wedding dresses made out of curtains, socks for the troops hand-knitted, clothes and shoes repaired and passed along until they could not be repaired any more. The expectation was for things to last and be cherished, not thrown out after a few wears because ‘fashion’ changed.

So it is encouraging that there has been a move by some young people to shake things up a bit by making businesses that re-use clothes instead of letting them be thrown away (Sarah Butler, 2018, The Guardian). I believe that those of us who are old enough to remember how to improvise, how to alter and adapt clothing, and how to repair and mend, have a lot to offer younger people by sharing these skills. It will be a small contribution to cutting down on the waste of energy and water, but a big contribution to intergenerational understanding and changing how we all think about the clothes that we wear.

Teresa Lefort in conversation with Caroline Holland

Please feedback on this topic. All contributions to the debate gratefully received.

Time to Rethink Adult Education?

Adult education is in crisis: decades of cuts in funding has led to a decline in courses offered for adult learners and around 1.8 million adults per year are not able to access courses to improve their skills (David Hughes, TES, September 2018).

But, unfortunately, the common discourse around adult education is linked to skills for employability and boosting the economy: what about education for the sake of education? Until 2017, I was the head of the Department for International Labour and Trade Union Studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin College, Oxford, an institution founded on the values of education as emancipation for the working class. We actively encouraged adults to study on a wide range of programmes that could, of course, help them to progress in their careers, but, more importantly, to develop critical thinking that can bring about social change.  My oldest student was a man in his 80’s, who had been a success in business but never had the opportunity to study a higher education course. He wasn’t there to improve his chances of getting a better job or promotion in the workplace: he was there to read, listen, think, discuss and debate with the other students (and staff, which was encouraged!)

With the obsession with education and employability, educators find themselves in a situation where everything has to be linked to the chance of the student getting a job at the end: from lesson plans to OFSTED (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, which inspects institutions with students up to the age of 18), and organisations such as Advance HE, teaching has become more about ‘social mobility’ through employment than challenging the status quo. Are we there to produce yet another generation of automatons, who accept low paid, low valued work, zero- hour contracts, when they should be challenging the whole concept of the way work is constructed?

There is a light at the end of the tunnel (well, I think so!): The Cooperative University Project. As a founder member of a new educational worker cooperative, the RED Learning Coop: Research, Education and Development for Social Change, I was thrilled for us to be invited to be part of the development of this exciting initiative. In 2012, the Cooperative College in Manchester, started to explore ideas about ‘doing education differently’ and the 2017 Higher Education Act gave the space for alternative providers. So, what is different about a Cooperative University? Well, the vision for a start:

‘Our vision is to develop a new type of university based on social justice and co-operative values and principles which works for the mutual benefit of all.

A Co-operative University will empower students, enhancing their skills to develop new ways of thinking, working, researching and learning for life’ (Cooperative College website, April 2019).

The University is founded on Cooperative Values and Principles:

  • Challenge injustice, inequality and exploitation in all its forms.
  • Recognise that teachers and students have much to learn from each other and should work together to design and develop content and delivery.
  • Be based on a social purpose and political and economic democracy
  • Enhance wellbeing and enable everyone to explore their full range of abilities.
  • Strengthen and grow a different kind of society with co-operative values at its heart

(Cooperative College Website, April 2019).

The first course starts in September 2019, so watch this space!

Tracy Walsh

Founder Member of The RED Learning Cooperative: Research, Education and Development.

Make dedicated learning spaces accessible

Dr John Miles (9th February, 2019)

Last summer in Manchester Professor Chris Phillipson gave a wide-ranging presentation on ‘recreating “spaces” for ageing – the role of education and learning in later life’. He used space in the sense of ‘making room’ – finding the motivation and encouragement for study and learning – but also to refer to the actual places – libraries, museums, arts centres, classrooms – whose future (particularly outside the bigger cities) is under threat. This year is the hundredth anniversary of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s Report on Adult Education which came out in 1919. A new Centennial Commission, supported through the Workers Educational Association, has been established. It sees the anniversary as ‘a vital opportunity to reflect on the needs and possibilities for adult education today and into the century ahead’ and seeks our views. Much has changed in the last twenty years. Education in later life has dropped off the policy agenda and many of the places where it used to be on offer have disappeared. For various reasons the profile of older people in the current revival of interest in further and adult education is unclear. So there is much to do. But, looking ahead, what sort of places might be needed in response to renewed interest from a future government?

Continue reading “Make dedicated learning spaces accessible”