Mind the Gap associate artist Daniel Foulds and York St John student Holly Mecrow reflect upon their shared passion for history and the value of buddy systems in helping widen access to higher education for learning disabled learners.
In 2021 YSJ validated a Cert HE in Performing Arts for people with learning disabilities. Delivered by Mind the Gap, a learning-disabled theatre company, based in Bradford, and is the first degree-level course of its kind in the UK. This course is part of a wider partnership with Mind the Gap, providing educational and work placement opportunities for people with learning disabilities and giving YSJ students opportunities to gain experience and understand of learning disabilities.
Daniel Foulds is a learning disabled associate artist at Mind the Gap, who has a passion for history but has never had an opportunity to pursue higher education. In autumn 2021 it was arranged for Daniel to audit a history module, an opportunity to gain experience of university. He was assigned a student buddy – Holly Mecrow – who could support Daniel, ensuring he knew how to get to rooms and had assistance in note taking and reflecting on live lectures. In this blog both Daniel and Holly reflect upon this experience.
From the first day in October, it was amazing to get a sense of what university life really is like. From my limited experience in mainstream education, life on campus is far away from the stereotype of what I thought a student was. When I arrived, I was very sceptical about how accessible the university would be for someone with a learning disability. I was genuinely surprised by how welcoming and open the university was. From the occasional hello to the pointing in the direction of where to go.
One of the highlights of my experience was the buddy system and how that can be of a benefit to any student, learning disabled or not. When I met Holly, it was great to meet someone with the same level of interest in history as I have. Conversation was easy and put an end of first day nerves. Before we went into the first lecture, we had a very open conversation about how Holly could help me. For example, I required some help both with navigating the campus and finding my way around the library. I also needed help in taking notes during the lecture which Holly was great in helping with. As the course moved along Holly always was more than keen to assist if I needed to do any preparation work a lecture or seminar. Holly even gave me a crash course in how to cite and reference.
The lectures though very fast paced were amazing and fascinating. I’ve found myself going down a research rabbit hole and haven’t looked back. From various history books to looking at the source material itself I’ve found myself coming to more of an understanding of American history and how the Civil War has shaped America today which has been fascinating.
All the staff at York St John have been great and it was good for Dr Jim Cooper (Associate Professor in History). It would have been a misjustice if I didn’t say thank the brilliant staff at Northern Rail as well for providing me with a train pass to get to and from York and Bradford. Without that this whole endeavour would have been very hard financially and practically. The entire experience has been a real pleasure. Meeting new people, learning about a new subject for history. This has been a great experience for myself and has really encouraged me to apply to York St John University as a full time student in the future.
When I began the student buddy role in October 2021, I was incredibly keen and excited to share the tips and tricks to university that my academic experience had provided me so far. However, through the process I have also been learnt a lot about how everybody engaged with education differently, including about myself.
Daniel and I were to attend the lectures for the module ‘A Nation Divided: America in the Era of the Civil War.’ The lectures were incredibly engaging and insightful, and we both soon found ourselves participating in debates surrounding the subject, and continuing research outside of the lectures too. Dr. Cooper’s teaching style ensures everyone comes away with an understanding of the lectures content that day, and he also made effort to answer some of Daniel’s questions outside of lecture time regarding the subject.
Due to the wide range of material covered in this module, both of us struggle sometimes with keeping up with the substantial information provided in the lecturers – and this is where I believe the buddy system became extremely effective and valuable. Being in this system meant that we could arrange extra time outside of these lectures, exchange and discuss the notes taken and engage further in the subject. With the accessibility of the university library’s resources, we were both able to digest and gain a better understanding of the material. I really enjoyed this aspect of the buddy system, and I thoroughly believe it would be an incredibly helpful and valuable addition to universities, to make education just that little more accessible.
Daniel is an incredibly enthusiastic student, and engages in his studies in a manner which is truly a breath of fresh air. Daniel introduced me to the issue of lack of representation of the learning disability community in many areas of academia, in which has since become a matter I am passionate to challenge and aid in resolving. Overall, this position truly exceeded my expectations, and I am grateful to Daniel for providing me with the opportunity to widen my perception of university life. I am incredibly excited to see where Daniel takes his academic career, and hope to see more universities challenging accessibility in the future.
Written by Daniel Foulds and Holly Mecrow. Edited by Lauren Hall.
As associate artist at Mind the Gap, Daniel Foulds has produced three outdoor theatre events at heritage venues. Lauren Hall is completing a PhD in collaboration with Mind the Gap.
Thank you to Professor Matthew Reason, Dr James Cooper, and Northern Rail for making this project possible.