Good Afternoon and Welcome.
It is with mixed emotions that I welcome you all to our meeting here this afternoon, members and friends.
This is the third meeting of our Socialist Educational Association North East branch and it is our first meeting since the unexpected and deeply saddening news two weeks ago of the passing of our friend, of our Founder and Chair, Nigel Todd.
Our Secretary, Paul Daly, has shared with you some of the lovely contributions that have been written about Nigel, his life and achievements. I don’t wish to replicate those but I would like to say a little about how I think Nigel made things happen.
The news came through very late on Friday 26 March. Early on Saturday morning, as I fired up the laptop, images of Nigel’s smiling face filled my social media feed and the sad, sad reality hit me.
I was up early that Saturday morning because, as some of you may know, I teach Reiki. I was nervously preparing my notes because I had been asked by one of my teachers to teach her about Quan Yin the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion. In a humanist model of education the loop of student and teacher is endless; both learn and both teach. That understanding of the cycle of learning helped me in grief that morning.
There is a particular mantra that is associated with Quan Yin: Om Mani Padme Hum.
Om represents everything that is wrong in human nature and the opposite, the ideal. As socialists we might understand this as hunger, war, racism, corporate greed, violence and the opposite, then, as co-operation, sharing, equality, peace.
Mani is jewel and is Compassion. Padme is lotus and is Wisdom.
Hum resonates the most with me: Om Mani Padme Hum.
Hum is Unity. It is a word us socialists and trade unionists speak and understand so well – unity – together. And here it is the Unity of both Wisdom and Compassion, that together, in combination are the route to a better world.
And that was Nigel: Thoughtful, loving action to benefit the community.
This links to pedagogy too with a purpose in learning as Paulo Freire says, being to fully understand a problem so as to know what transformative action to take to be able to create something new, something better, to make a better world, a better community.
And so learning is collective – we need to learn together to grow together, to transform together.
Many of you will have heard Nigel say that he defined his City Councillor and community roles through a trade union lens, referring to himself as a ‘Community Shop Steward’, giving in service to others.
A social-ist. And as Hegel affirms, true solidarity is stepping down from the title and fighting alongside, campaigning alongside to fully transform a situation.
Socialist is more than a noun, more than an adjective. Socialist is a verb: Nigel was a socialist in every breath that he took, in every word that he gave.
Nigel didn’t just believe in co-operation and co-operatives – he banked with them, shopped at them, surfed the internet on them and lived in one.
Nigel wasn’t just a biophiliac, a lover of nature – he worked with his local community on the brilliant Greening Wingrove project to beautify the West End of Newcastle, to connect residents to nature and to each other. Greening Wingrove and The Bike Garden are really quite some legacy in themselves.
Nigel didn’t just believe in equality – he marched for it, he campaigned for it, he acted in principle of it in all areas, be it misogyny, anti-racism, anti-austerity and in recent years, taking action for Palestinians and The Rohingya.
Nigel was firmly rooted in his values, he lived his values and he acted completely in alignment with them. This grounding gave him a lightness of energy that enabled him to focus attention, engage empathy, apply discernment and to connect to what really mattered.
Education matters. And education mattered to Nigel. Through learning, he believed, we could understand the ‘other’ and work our way through it together.
An ardent proponent of Adult Education and former teacher of adults, Nigel pushed to engage more women in further and higher education creating the Women’s Access Course and he strategised and campaigned for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning throughout his long involvement with the Co-Operative movement and Workers Education Association.
Nigel drove to create this branch of the SEA and we, as a branch, can work together and learn together to secure his legacy whilst supporting campaigns that were close to his heart.
And so … it feels as though the cards are aligned and we are blessed to be joined by our guest speaker today, Gordon Marsden, former Shadow Minister for HE, FE and Skills under two administrations (albeit with slightly different remits) and here today to tell us more about the superb Right2Learn campaign which sets out a blueprint for the right of everyone to be able to access education throughout their lives.
Losing your seat in 2019 was galling – the post-16 education sector lost an ally, a voice that really cared about the purpose and function of education for students and for educators.
Gordon, welcome and thank you so much for joining us today.