Richard Abraham left school aged 15 with no qualifications. This summer, aged 69, he graduates with a BA in English Literature and Community Engagement from the University of Bristol. At school he “seemed to know things but couldn’t do exams”, and the reason was only confirmed six years ago: dyslexia.
Despite this learning disability, he has had a successful career, starting out at aero engine manufacturer Bristol Siddely, then joining the armed forces, and later becoming a full-time Trade Union official.
“I’m satisfied with what I ended up doing, but if my dyslexia had been recognised when I was 16, there are things I could have achieved a lot quicker.”
After seeing an article about the ELCE degree in the Bristol Evening Post, he decided it was time to give formal education another go.
“I’ve always read. In my day I’d have two or three books on the go, so I’ve always been interested in literature.”
His experience in the forces, having two dyslexic children who were diagnosed early and went on to university, and support from the University for his dyslexia made the difference for Richard. He found the confidence he needed for the degree.
The community engagement part of the course particularly appealed to Richard “because from my trade union work I had experience in looking after people with financial problems, people with ill health, people who were terminally ill, etc.”
His project was a local book group, which has proved a hit: “I’ve lived in my house for nearly 30 years and I realised I didn’t know anyone around me. So I knocked on doors with flyers to set up a book group. We ended up with about 12 people. After four years, we’re still going. Now it’s very unusual to go from the house to the shop without talking to somebody. It has turned our square into a little village… it’s worked really well.”
When asked what the best bit about the course is, Richard responds: “Verification for myself. The degree has given me some self-esteem. It’s made me feel better in myself. I think I’ve done it on behalf of my brothers and sisters as well, who all left school before 16.”
So, what would Richard say to somebody thinking about applying but still undecided?
“I would say that no matter what you felt your academic background or your knowledge was, that shouldn’t deter you, as long as you have belief that, A: you could do it, and B: you’re interested in books. I would say, however, that if you can afford to, do the one-year foundation course first. Also, come to the induction meetings and talk to the other students.”
In an interview with the Bristol Evening Post at the beginning of his degree, Richard was asked what he hoped to achieve: “to survive.” Despite two strokes, his highest mark to date is an impressive 68. “I’ve only missed three classes with all my health issues. To be honest, I think being a student has kept me younger!”