The Easter holidays were a bit crazy in Nottinghamshire. While other colleges and schools were breaking up for their two weeks off, we were still in session right up until the first week of April. The students were flagging by the end of term and so were the staff. Energy levels weren’t helped by the perception that the rest of the country were having lie-ins while we were still slogging it out.
But we got our reward: by the time they were back in the classroom, we were eating bacon butties in our pyjamas while watching the Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or planning days out to the city or the seaside.
Before we broke up, I asked one of our mechanics students what his plans were for the Easter break. He stared at me blankly. It’s not surprising: we live in a pretty poor part of the country and an even poorer part of the county. Holidays are something of a rarity. I wasn’t expecting him to have planned a grand tour of French vineyards, but I did think he might be going somewhere and doing something. Not so. The geographical world that Carl inhabits is very small, and he’s fairly typical of many of our students (and some of the staff, too).
It’s easy to sneer and gently ridicule the narrowness of people’s horizons. But as well as being pretentious, this shows a lack of understanding of our students’ cultural backgrounds.
Take Lacey, for example. At this point last year she sat wide-eyed in the chaplaincy office looking up universities. The money side of things worried her, but what was more terrifying was the postcode of some of the places on the table. I worked out that not only had Lacey never been to “that London”, she’d also been to Nottingham only once. Sheffield (about 30 miles away) was somewhere she’d often thought of visiting but hadn’t. Lacey isn’t unusual. Worksop is not a place where people come and go; by and large, generations live within shouting distance of where they were born.
And while, with my middle-class sensibilities, I might consider it a wasted opportunity, there’s something wonderful about it. It’s also incredibly powerful. The Laceys and the Carls have a strong sense of community identity. They know everyone and everyone knows them. And even though their aspirations may not be lofty and their challenges seem parochial, they are goals and challenges all the same. Perhaps my job is not to push them to venture into a place they might find frightening but rather to encourage them to bloom where they are planted.
Because as much as we need young people to be pioneers and adventurers, we also need some to be settlers and builders. Maybe there’s something to be said for staying close to home. Lacey decided that the time wasn’t quite right for university in a far-off city. Perhaps she’ll think about it another year. I’m still waiting to find out what Carl did in his holidays. I think he was considering Cleethorpes.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley