Lilian Taylor has graduated from City College Norwich with a BA (hons) English degree at the age of 71. A true example and inspiration to anyone who has ever considered going back to learning as a mature student, Lilian was also presented with City College Norwich’s Higher Education Student of the Year award.
Lilian Taylor says she is one of the many women of her generation who faced a “glass ceiling” if they were not fortunate enough to secure a grammar school place through the old 11+ exam. Missing out on this key gateway to better educational opportunities saw Lilian educated in a Secondary Modern in her native Leicestershire, before completing a 2-year secretarial course at Loughborough College.
After spending time at home looking after her two children, Lilian worked in various secretarial roles. She went on to work for the Ergonomics Society where she served for 22 and a half years as the society’s membership secretary, until her retirement.
During her career, Lilian remained committed to developing herself and advancing her education and qualifications – successfully studying for four GCSEs, whilst in her 40s, and an A Level when she was 50.
Following her retirement, Lilian moved to Hingham in Norfolk to be closer to her elder sister. After completing her maths GCSE through an Adult Education course in Attleborough, Lilian said, half-jokingly, to her sister: “I’ve got 5 GCSEs and an A Level – I could do a degree now!”.
With Lilian’s sister herself having completed an Open University degree later in life, at the age of 70, the response was strongly encouraging. “She said, ‘You’ve promised yourself all your life you would do this – now go for it!’”, recalls Lilian. So Lilian phoned the UEA to enquire about degree opportunities and was recommended an Access Course with City College Norwich as her next step.
At the age of 67, Lilian started on the college’s Access to Humanities and Social Sciences programme in September 2014. She quickly established herself as a lynchpin of her Access groups, drawing on her extensive experience in class discussions, and participating in social as well as academic activities with students of different ages and backgrounds.
After successfully gaining a Distinction on the Access programme, Lilian continued on to the college’s BA (hons) English degree. She made a valuable contribution to the course, drawing on her diverse knowledge of literature, theology, hand bell ringing and the history of the British railway network.
Lilian’s dissertation was on 'Railways in 19th Century Literature and Culture', which looked at the huge cultural and sociological changes that were brought about to all classes of people by the development of steam railway travel. For the literature element she studied Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens and The Signalman, a ghost story by Dickens.
Commenting on her experiences as a student over the last 4 years with City College Norwich, Lilian says:
“I think it’s been absolutely first class. Although I was old enough to be mother or even grandmother to some of my fellow students, both students and staff treated me as just another student. The small class sizes, with lots of support, provided an environment that suited me well.
“On the degree course, we had a particularly diverse group, with students in their 20s, 30s, 40s, one about 50, and me, who made it a really good experience as well. We all became very good friends, we shared everything. One of the students I keep in touch with is 22. I’m almost 72. That says it all really.”
Liz Bellamy, one of Lilian’s lecturers at City College Norwich, says:
“Lilian is proof that education is about much more than employment prospects alone, important though these may be. Lilian’s studies were motivated, above all, by a genuine love of knowledge and a commitment to learning. Her level of commitment is an example to all. Her attendance was impeccable, term-in and term-out, as she drove through ice, snow, rain and wind to come to college. It is this commitment, dedication and dogged determination that makes Lilian a fitting winner of the HE Student of the Year Award.”
Reflecting on her achievement, Lilian says:
“Lifelong learning is one of the most important things you can do in life. There is always something that everybody can learn. It is so good for you and something we all should strive for.”
Now that she has graduated, Lilian continues to seek out opportunities to learn, develop and make a contribution for the benefit of others. She recently trained to become a volunteer reading helper with the charity Beanstalk, which trains volunteers to provide one-to-one literacy support in primary schools. Lilian is also attending a WEA history course in Hingham.