In conversation

A reunion tour of the campus

It’s a commonly-held view that the friendships you make at university last a lifetime. That’s certainly the case for one group of graduates who despite being on different degrees, gravitated together in Plymouth and have remained in the orbit of each other’s lives ever since. 
Last summer, they returned to their university for a reunion tour of the campus, more than 30 years after they last saw it. Here are their reflections…
<p>Alumni students standing by the James Street Vaults pub</p>
<p>Outside the Student Union on an Open Day</p>
<p>Charles Seale-Hayne Library</p>
  • ( What was it that led you to come to Plymouth?
Sally Edwards, BA (Hons) Social, Policy and Administration: I grew up in Cambridgeshire and had the option of going to Birmingham, but particularly back in 1988, the city had a bleak reputation, so Plymouth looked like a very attractive option from a lifestyle point of view. It was by the coast and a long way from home so you could really feel independent.
Nigel Edwards, HND Business and Finance: I grew up in Surrey and went to Royal Russell School. We had a school University trip in my lower sixth year and we visited Plymouth. I thought it was a great city and made it my first choice Polytechnic at the time.
  • ' What were your first impressions of the university and the city?
Sally: I arrived with a little yellow Yamaha Bop moped so was able to scoot around the city. It was sunny and bright, and I was amazed that people really did say "hello my lover / my petal"! The city felt friendly and safe and you could walk everywhere. As students we really felt the city was ours and that we were a big part of it.
Nigel: I loved being in a smaller city where you could walk everywhere very easily. So much was geared around student life the town had a great young vibe and feeling. Every night of the week there was a different club or venue you could visit usually free of charge as a student. Great memories.
  • | What do you think drew your group together?
Sally: Our group was a mix of people and it was really the housing situation that brought us together. A guy called Graham Drennan organised us – he used to write the article called Groove Thang in the student rag Fly On The Wall, AKA ‘Fly’. We melded well as a group. We shared most things, we had a washing up rota and a kitty – it all worked perfectly. I was the only female in the house in my first year – it was like turning up to a set of The Young Ones
Nigel: I think we all knew of each other through going out to different pubs and clubs in Year 1. For me at least moving into the house on Wilton Street for our second year really cemented the group.
  • ` Do you have any particularly strong/fond memories of your time here as a social group?
Sally: For me, it has to be standing as Women's Officer in 1989-90. It was hard and I lost 'friends' because feminism was a dirty word (still is sometimes). I banned The Sun (or anything with boobs in it) from the SU (not sure how long that held!) and introduced rape alarms in the welcome pack free to the women. It was the sensible thing then! I also arranged a band night which was very good. I received Lifetime Membership of the SU – although they never got me a card!
Nigel: Too many to remember if I am honest. Mainly great friendship. We never really had any fall outs as a group and that friendship lasts today. This was rare especially in student houses.
  • b What do you recollect most vividly about your degree experience?
Sally: Our lecturers were published and well known - Mike Thrasher and Rob Mawby for example. I also remember having to queue in the library to get on a computer, then wait days to get it printed out on computer paper!
Nigel: To be honest I cannot remember working that hard! There was work but it seemed the focus of Plymouth for me was more about being independent for the first time and making my own life decisions. If there is one topic, it was setting up and running a clock company for the course. It was called Designs on Time. We basically made CD clocks or added clocks on to various items. We sold the business at the end of the year to an upcoming Year 2 group. 
<p>Roland Levinsky building with rainbow background</p>
<p>View towards student union during welcome week</p>
<p>Campus towards Portland Square building</p>
  • ? Has your degree informed, helped or shaped your career?
Sally: My degree certainly shaped the way I think and helps me understand the problems involved in taking real social science and turning it into policy. Perhaps it even makes me feel more sympathy for politicians! I learned to think critically, I learned to live independently, I met people from all over the country, I undertook roles like Women's Officer and had the chance to sail off the beautiful Devonshire coast. I met my husband. They were some of the happiest days of my life.
Nigel: No question. Having a good grounding in Business & Finance linked into my love of computers and IT technology has totally shaped my career. I am now Vice President of Western Digital’s EMEAI (Europe Middle East, Africa and India) business. This is a massive corporation with 65K employees and over $20B of revenue a year. Without my HND I would not have succeed to this role in my view.
  • x Have you kept in regular contact since you graduated – and what was the inspiration behind this reunion?
Sally: I kept in contact with most of the house mates and came up with the idea of the reunion. A 30-year reunion roughly as most of us graduated in 1991. One of our student friends, Mandy, couldn't make it, which was a shame as recently we commissioned three paintings from her! She used to study architecture and is now an artist. Facebook has a good way to keep connected, of course.
Nigel: Yes we have kept in contact as a group but some more than others. We all talked before COVID about getting back together again and finally this time we got it sorted.
  • ~ What was it like to see the campus again? Does it still feel like your university – or has it changed beyond all recognition?
Sally: It was a mixture of joy and bewilderment. We recognised some areas but, of course, much was changed and improved and so many years have passed that it was hard to have a clear memory. We were sad to see the Student Union's glass pyramid gone! But we were impressed with the library and the Roland Levinsky Building. It was also wonderful to see the James Street Vaults still there and looking good - our spiritual home! 
Nigel: To be honest I really struggled to recognise anything on the campus. I thought I would recognise the GTB but even this is currently being rebuilt so there was very little I recognised. Even the JSV pub seemed in a different location to me!