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Posted in Education, Theology, Media and Communication (MA), University of Chester

Studying a Master’s Degree: It’s a MArathon not a sprint.

12 January 2017 was an important date for me, the light at the end of the tunnel. I wasn’t certain if it was the end of my MA journey or  headlamps of an oncoming train. It was the day I submitted my MA dissertation and arrived at the destination I never thought I would reach.

I started my part-time MA in Theology, Media and Communication at the University of Chester in September 2013 bursting with excitement of joining one of the best Theological departments in the country, working with world renowned experts and finally getting the opportunity to study subjects I wanted to study.

At no point in my education, up until this point, did anybody ever ask me

‘What are you interested in and what do you care about?’

But on the MA they did and before long I was talking about; media representations of religion, how religious rhetoric is communicated in the public sphere and how popular culture could be an emerging religious movement in contemporary society. And yep I argued, with conviction, that shopping, club culture and football are all religious movements of some kind. And if truth be told, I have used my undeniable commitment to my pluralistic ‘religion’ as an excuse for my appalling financial affairs. Top tip, not everyone has the same views as you, particularly not your bank manager!

Anyway, here I was, like a kid at Christmas. My heart absolutely committed and my head determined to complete within 2 years. Within a couple of months it quickly became apparent that an MA is a MArathon not a sprint!

I was not a natural academic. I had never studied theology before (my undergraduate degree was Law with Journalism). I had a demanding full time job. I was a school governor, a football player, a social butterfly, a daughter, a sister, a fundraiser, an activist. At one point I was homeless. Another I was training for a marathon. And another I found myself heartbroken and bereaved following the unexpected passing of my Dad.

To top it off, I was a twenty something who seriously wasn’t ready for real life outside of the fun, full-time undergraduate study bubble. The most responsibility I had prior to the MA was to keep myself alive, and even then my house mates did a pretty good job of this for me.

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But here I was, sixths months into the MA trying to juggle a number of competing responsibilities while trying to squeeze in time and head space to focus on assignments, as you can imagine it didn’t go terribly well. I failed on numerous occasions. I cried, like to the point I had snot on my face. I tried to incentivise myself with wine (BAD BAD idea). I drafted at least 4 ‘I quit’ emails to my tutor and sent 5 ‘You can do it’ letters back to myself.

What I learnt during this time was that some people will find an MA easier than others. Some may be halted by adversities out of their control. Yet many do not even attempt to take the first step so the fact I was there (and maybe you are too) giving it a go was a bloody good achievement in itself.

Having reached the finish line and feeling the achievement I now feel, I thought it may be useful and perhaps helpful (even just for procrastination purposes) to share some of the honest lessons I learnt during my journey to help others on the way.

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[Please feel free to add further suggestions in the comments box at the bottom]

  1. Consider your options carefully

Your success will be determined, to some degree by; the course you choose and the mode of study you select. I chose a distance learning course to fit around my existing commitments to work, but on reflection I would have been better being taught within small groups. Distance learning is difficult if you do not have the advanced discipline to set clear boundaries for your study; a skill I have yet to master!

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2. Choose a subject you love

Studying at any level is like entering into a relationship with someone. You probably wouldn’t go out with someone you didn’t particularly enjoy being around. You probably wouldn’t go out with someone who didn’t make you feel good, most of the time. You probably wouldn’t enter into a relationship with someone if it’s going to be a constant struggle and you probably wouldn’t go out with someone unless you could dedicate a decent chunk of time and commitment to them.

Studying an MA in general, but also doing your dissertation is very much like this so make sure you choose your options wisely!

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3. “I have no idea what I’m doing” moments

Don’t worry, we all have them, even your tutors!

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4. Your tutors are there to help

If you are having a  “I have no idea what I’m doing” moment that continues for days and weeks and isn’t getting any better, talk to your tutor. They are there to help and believe me, they will do their best to support you on this journey.

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5. Connect with your peers

Have you ever heard of the phrase, a problem shared is a problem halved? Yeah, it’s pretty accurate. There is nobody else in the world who can understand what you are going through on your MA journey but your peers. In true High School Musical fashion ‘We’re all in this together’.

Attend the MA symposiums, join the Postgraduate Society, attend Wednesday afternoon sessions and if you are not based in Chester get on Facebook and join the ‘Hollybank Society’ or ‘Hollybank Postgraduates’ pages to connect with your peers.

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6. Define and protect ‘your space’

If you are fortunate enough to live in a big house, dedicate one room to your studies. If like me, you do not have a big house, (or at one point no house)  find a space in a library, coffee shop or a desk that is dedicated to your work. However this space needs to have rules!

  • No alcohol
  • No social media
  • No distractions
  • No ‘visitors’ (cute dogs and small children are the worst for distraction!)
  • Keep your working ‘tools’ here (books, laptop, post its, notebooks etc.)
  • Keep water handy
  • Keep track of success and plan your work
  • Focus and develop a routine of studying that works for you (For me it was work for 45 minutes, play for 15 and repeat until the point I couldn’t remember my own name)

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7. Set boundaries for yourself and others

I am a self-confessed Little Miss FOMO (fear of missing out). Like literally, if my house mate went to the supermarket I would want to go with her in case I missed out. It’s pathetic. Yet towards the end of my MA I recognised that without boundaries for myself and others I would never complete. I took the decision to take some time out, at one point leaving the country to concentrate! I set clear dates and times for my studying, I announced my hibernation from social situations with a social situation to end all future social situations for the foreseeable future and logged out of social media.

It’s hard to say ‘no’ but putting a reasonable cap on the ‘yes’s’ helps to free up time for your studies.

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For those with families and jobs, I would suggest that from an early stage you are honest with your dependents and if possible say ‘on X day I will be working in my space for x hours and would not like to be distracted, unless you are bringing me a cup of tea!’. People who love you and respect what you are doing will see this as a reasonable step, your MA will then become an embedded part of your weekly routine.

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8. It’s a MArathon not a sprint

How do you eat an elephant? (Or other alternative large Vegan option?) One bite at a time.

How do you run a marathon? One step at a time.

How do you complete a Master’s? One nap at a time  One essay at a time.

Break your work down in to manageable chunks. Be realistic. Be consistent. Be mindful of progress. Keep chipping away and focus on triumphs rather than tribulations.

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9. Self-care

I expected my MA to fit with my existing life like a pair of fluffy totes on cold feet in Winter; nice and snug.

WRONG! Although I was pretty good at pulling it off, my master’s fitted with my life like a leotard three sizes too small. UNCOMORTABLE, IRRITATING AND OFTEN PAINFUL.

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But actually, ask any PG student and this is normal. You absolutely should expect to feel challenged and stretched. If studying for a Master’s degree was all cartwheels and rainbows then everyone would be doing them, and they aren’t.

But … it is important to invest in self-care from an early stage to keep well and focused.

If you don’t want to go to that party, don’t. If you would rather have a bath and an early night, do it. If you would rather spend a weekend catching up on reading rather than having a day out, do it.

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It took me two years to be selfish about self-care only because I got to the point when I had to be; I was failing academically and struggling mentally. I had to be honest with myself, my peers, my family and my tutor and make the difficult decision to defer my studies until I was capable of focusing again. I knew that if I didn’t take some time out and ask for help then I would definetely fail my MA and more than likely lose my mind.

When I was ready, I came back and achieved a Distinction in my dissertation. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have a clear mind, a sharp focus and the drive to succeed.

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Like a race, you have to look after yourself physically and mentally in order to have the best possibly chance of crossing the finish line, with an achievement you are proud of. What is the point in dedicating one/two/three/four years of your life and huge financial investment if, when you get to the end you have an exorbitant list of ‘What ifs?’

10. Enjoy it

Studying an MA provides a wonderful privilege to study a topic in such depth that you will ultimately become a master of, and maybe a Doctor of one day! Immerse yourself in it, plunge into the depths of research and rub shoulders with the mighty scholars that have been before you. Take time to smile at your achievements and take pride in the small yet significant steps you take along the way.

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Try, whenever you can to enjoy your transformation and remember where you have come from. That shy little caterpillar that had multiple “I have no idea what I’m doing” moments is well on it’s way to becoming a confident intellectual human being; with the wings to prove it.

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If I can do it, so can you.

Now stop procrastinating and get on with it!

Posted in Uncategorized

IWD2017: Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most beautiful of them all? You all are, darling.

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Once upon a time, I was called Joseph. I was a boy.

On 4 January 1991, I was welcomed into the world quashing the assumption I would be the third son of the Lees litter. A slightly small, jaundice but beautiful girl who from that moment was the apple of my Dad’s eye. They called me Rebecca Jo by law and Becky Jo by name, you know ‘just in case you want to change your name to Rebecca when you are older‘. I am now twenty something and Becky is just fine.

From day one I have always been a little different, a little rebellious to the tyranny of life. From a young age, I was always arguing against the assumptions made by grown men in the pub about the less advantaged and oppressed, then later congratulated by my parents for standing my ground and giving them my all.

I was always ready to pierce wicked sentences with truth and rebuttals with my sharp, witty tongue. They would say I was ‘gobby‘ and ‘outspoken’, yet never rude or impolite however. I was brought up well and knew exactly how to play it. I wouldn’t raise my voice when they raised theirs, I would merely strenghten my argument.

Then I almost killed a man. I was about 13. It was New Years Eve and he grabbed me from the armchair I was sitting in and ordered me to dance. He was drunk. I wasn’t interested. After 3 times of saying no, get off me and him continuing to pull me like a rag doll I kicked him in his stomach sending him backwards into the TV standing cracking his head as he fell to the ground. He must have been 16st, it was a hefty fall.

I didn’t care. It was a victory. A very George and Dragon-esque one at that. (Not according to everyone else who witnessed it, apparently he was just ‘trying to have a bit of fun with me.’ We’ve heard that one before haven’t we ladies?).

After a while, he came round and never bothered me again.

Looking back at my younger self I am proud of the way I stood up for what I believed to be right even if I didn’t have the support of others, yet now being twenty-something I often feel sad. I feel sad that I have almost become immune to discrimination and accepting of inequality, particularly when it is aimed at me.

I walk by when someone wolf whistles.

I cross to the other side of the bar when someone touches me inappropriately.

I delete people off social media when they express perverted slurs on my pictures.

I roll my eyes and take a gulp of wine when a man publicly declares his desire to sleep with me in front of a crowd of 300 people, all of whom are laughing and jeering.

‘Calm down dear, it’s only banter.’

I ignore decent men in fear they will be like him, the one who didn’t ask.

I avoid conversations about how I play football so to deafen the homophobic abuse that of course isn’t aimed at me, because I ‘don’t look like I play football’.

I am a victim but also a fugitive and an antagonist. 

But most importantly, I am a woman with a voice;

to challenge assumptions.

to fight inequality and prejudice.

to protest against behaviour we deem inappropriate.

But do I use it? Yes, when I have to.

When you have to? Yes, I often wait to hear the slur before I challenge.

Isn’t there more to be done to challenge assumptions in the mind before they become words and actions? Absolutely, but I am scared I will get it wrong.

Let’s get one thing straight, to challenge oppression you do not need to be qualified, but you do need to be educated; not in the sense of books and degrees but educated in the sense of having an understanding of what is right and wrong, what is moral and oppressive. 

Pretty straight forward isn’t it?

There are thousands, millions of women in the world who are deprived of having a voice. The least you can do is use your right to free speech to liberate the oppressed, educate the naive and fight for a better society where we may one day all be equal. 

Crossing the road, pretending like it isn’t happening and wondering what life would have been like as ‘Joseph’ is almost as bad as being one of them, and actually this isn’t just about highlighting women’s issues on International Women’s Day, it’s about opening our eyes to discrimination on all levels taking place every. single. day and doing something about it. 

Stop being a total tit Becky Jo and learn to embrace being a beautiful strong woman with a sharp tongue. It’s people like you who can empower voices to release others from the cages of oppression. 

Sort your shit out girl, you have a lot of work to do.

And you, yes you reading this do too.

#IWD2017

To find out who the women are who have changed my world, check out my blog from IWD16 here. 

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Posted in Uncategorized

International Women’s Day: Women who’ve changed my world

“Women have always been the strong ones of the world. The men are always seeking from women a little pillow to put their heads down on. They are always longing for the mother who held them as infants.” —Coco Chanel

International Women’s Day 2016

When we think of the words ‘strong woman’ what images spring to mind? Have a little think …. tumblr_n8amiqcd7S1r9qdkno1_400

For me, a strong woman is a person who chooses to look at her reflection in the mirror every morning. She chooses to roll her shoulders back and paints a smile so perfectly it hides the cracks of whatever has been thrown at her the previous day, weeks, months or years. She speaks softly despite her screams pushing against her teeth wanting to break through, she closes her eyes, breaths in 1, 2, 3… and swallows the lump for now. Her best friend is her cushion who she will call later, holding the phone in one hand and a bottle of Pinot Gritio/cup of tea in the other  (It’s good to talk!). She glides like a swan; one foot in front of the other with sublime elegance, her stilettos supporting her as the weight of the world is rested on a 1cm wide piece of plastic. Her eloquent grace masks the burning blisters and the endless fight beneath the surface.

Perhaps the image of a strong woman for you differs to mine? Perhaps the strong women in your life wear crocks and cry a lot? That’s ok too. What will be most similar between our inspo’s will be their approach to life.

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A strong woman for me:

  • Does not scold a wrong answer but educates you to come up with something better;
  • Does not trample on others to reach the top, instead, they join forces with their fellow women to support each other, to win their battles and celebrate when victory has been achieved;
  • Does not judge your story based on your cover. Instead they celebrate your differences at every opportunity (while trying on a pair of your tie dye harem pants to see what the fuss is about);
  • Can be compassionate, caring, defiant and ruthless within the time it takes to drink a cup of tea;
  • Respects your choices; may advise otherwise but will certainly not say ‘I told you so’ when it goes tits up;
  • Is travelling in a forward direction, even if that means carrying a child under one arm, a briefcase under the other and dragging the iron board along for the ride.

We all have an image of a strong woman in our mind. It may not be a single person you are thinking about but a patchwork of the qualities you strive to develop in yourself over time. Alternatively, it could be someone you will never meet like Princess Diana or Hermione Granger.

It may sadly  be somebody who has gone from your life; your mum, your grandma, your Auntie, your sister, your daughter, your friend, your hero. How remarkable to think about how much is left from that person when so much has been taken away. A small token to confirm that you were blessed with the best, and not one single person can ever take that away from you.

They are your memories, their qualities, and your turn to inspire someone else like they did to you.

The women who changed my life

These are the strong women in my life and here are our stories:

  1. Donise Lees, my momma bear.

Until the moment I was born my name was Joseph, I was meant to be a boy. Not biologically, (my Mum never actually tested positive when she was pregnant with me, never mind got the gender test!) but having already had two boys my parents were adamant I would follow suit. Third time lucky and their princess had arrived, I can only imagine the joy on my Dad’s face. From the moment I was born into the crisp, cold world my mum showered me with endless love and devotion, wrapping me in her warm arms protecting me from the world like she still does today. Sometimes embarrassingly so.

My mum inspires me every single day because:

  • She is an educator: Donise is one of those people that every time you see her you learn a little more about the world, about her and about yourself. Always helping you to become a better person.
  • She gives every inch of her heart to others: Whether to her family, friends or the stranger on the street, if you need support Donise is always there. I can’t understand how one person can have so much love to give, and the way you loved my Dad for 39 years (and continue to do so), I don’t think is humanly possible. Thank you for making him the happiest man in the world.
  • She can laugh like a child: at childish things that aren’t even funny but it’s infectious and you can’t help but join in. Tears stream down your face, you are  doubled over wanting to roll your eyes but you are paralysed with hilarity to be able to do so. This is Donise’s unique way of being able to find humour and life out of the most minute, irrelevant things.
  • She is trusting: growing up I was pretty much allowed to do as I pleased because my mum trusted me 100% and the upbringing I came from. It was so cool – I was allowed to drink Lambrini at 16, at home before going out, Mum (and sometimes Dad) would drop me in town in the Merc while all my friends were sat in the back having to lie about where they were. A number one tip for parenting: your children can’t break the rules if there aren’t any rules to break!
  • She is a friend: Donise isn’t just the person who had the pain of bearing me for 9 months (thanks for doing that though!), she is my best friend. Although I am not one to talk about boys, feelings and all that crap I know if I need advice or a shoulder, Donise will always be there. Or even when I don’t ask, she will tell me what I need to hear even if I don’t like it.
  • She is one of the strongest people I know: The one who tells you to get up, brush yourself down and get on with life. She is one of the women who chooses to roll her shoulders back, puts on her war paint (Chanel and lippy) and sometimes pretends to protect everyone else, when she really doesn’t need to. #teamLees
  • She is empowering: I speak to Donise at least twice a day, even when we are in different countries. I love to hear the sound of her voice, tell her my news and make her proud, I do everything for you Momma B. And on days when I am hating on life she is always there to remind me of who I am and not to let people ‘clip your wings’ Rebecca Jo, go out and change the world girl!

In short, Donise Lees has changed my world because she is my life. 

2.  Catherine Lees

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Catherine Lees is married to my oldest brother Matthew, they have one adorable child, Erin, aged 3 and have been together since I was 8 years old (a whopping 17 years!). Cat is an inspirational woman who changed my life for the better.

Cat joined the Lees family at an awkward age for me. I had a ginger, bob hair cut and was torn between two lives, perhaps two genders. Not in the sense that I wanted to be a boy, I just didn’t know how to be a girl. My parents brought us up in a world where it was ok to run around with hand-me-down grass stained, beige kappa tracksuit bottoms on as long as we were happy. I didn’t want to wear dresses, or make up, or play with dolls, or do any of those girl things because my life was so much fun, but here was Cat; a wonderful, beautiful, popular young woman who I would have done anything to look like, or be like.

And that’s where the transformational journey began!

  • Cat was there when I bought my first pair of silver, glittery heels from Tammy Girl, and introduced me to GHDs. (THANK.THE.LORD!)
  • Cat shared my bunk bed every friday night and listened to my ramblings and confessions about wanting to be a pop star (sorry about that!)
  • Cat taught me how to cry when we dropped Matt of at Leeds University when I was 9. I wasn’t really upset (sorry Matt) but made myself cry to be like Cat. It was rather liberating.
  • Cat got me my first job washing up in Cookies Cafe at 13. I earned £12 a week and thought I was the bees-neez.
  • We share an obsessional love for Girls Aloud and Cheryl Cole. (Don’t even talk to us about the split, it’s still raw).
  • I was there when Cat chose her wedding dress, it was probably the proudest day of my life. (I cried for real this time).

It’s not just the experiences we have shared that makes Cat an inspiring, strong woman.

She is:

  • Level headed: No matter the situation, Cat is always great to have around. She will not get angry or upset, but will do her best to make everything better for you, even if it’s just a hug. Always there like a big sister.
  • Empowering: Cat never once forced me to change what I looked like or who I was, but I wanted to, because I admired her so much.
  • Supportive: Come rain or shine, Cat will always be there at the end of the phone, in person or over a glass of wine in the local. She even makes me cups of tea when she doesn’t even drink it.

I feel so privileged to call Cat my sister-in-law and it is an absolute honour to have you as part of our family for the past 17 years, what a journey we have been on! (And how lovely it is now to have Jess as the final piece of the sister squad). I can see why Matt may call you his better half, because when you are around the world is a brighter place. Thank you for loving my big brother, and little Erin the way you do and for being the big sister I will never have, but will always look up to.

3. Linda McKeogh

Linda McKeogh is my football manager at Airbus Ladies Football Club, my mentor and the ultimate hero for so many people. She is one of those women who will always stand up for her own even if that means putting her head above the parapet and taking one for the team. Her kindness is unquestionable – she will always be there for anybody who needs it, ready to offer advice and support and will turn to you for the same, because for some reason she needs validation from her fellow women to know she is on the right track. In the community, Linda has changed so many lives and done so much for women’s football in England and Wales that she will never truly appreciate her contribution to the world within and outside of sport. While she is a truly fabulous friend to so many, she is a phenomenal wife and mother to her three boys. She will be reading this thinking ‘Fekin hell Burnley, what de bloody hell argh hu talking about’ (That’s my best Irish accent!) because she is so unassuming and unaware of how bloody amazing she is.

Linda Mckeogh: a heart of gold and a tongue of steel.  

4. Katherine Jenkins

This may come as a surprise to some of you, (particularly those of you who have seen me grinding and slut dropping to R ‘n’ B most Wednesday nights in Rosies) but I am a huge fan of Katherine Jenkins. Yes, the popular classical singer.

I admire her as a person because she is a mirage of perfection to look at, but broken in so many ways. She openly talks about negative experiences that have had a profound impact on her from; taking class A drugs as a student, to being violently assaulted, to having an eating disorder and most heartbreakingly when she talks about losing her dad at the age of 15. I cried at every step of her Waltz on Dancing with the Stars which she dedicated to her father; it is only now I can truly appreciate how excruciating that experience must have been, yet heartening and wonderful at the same time.

Musically, I turn to Katherine a lot. Whether I need inspiration, a pick me up, or a bellowing crescendo to spur me on during a long run, she is there and you can feel every last emotion in every word she sings. Katherine has this unbelievable strength of character which shines through her music as well as her presence at any public event, most probably a testament to her late father. She has touched so many people with her music and made the genre accessible and popular to people like me.

Despite the adversities she has faced, she has succeeded in the most spectacular fashion without giving up, giving in or moving too far from her roots.

She is a woman of pure strength, courage and determination. 

5. J.K Rowling

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I can’t even …. nope, there are no words …. over to you J.k Rowling you beautiful, magical woman …..

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

“If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

“I definitely know that—that love is the most powerful thing of all and I remember thinking that—God, I’m about to make myself cry but, I remember thinking that when 9/11 happened because those last phone calls were about—the last thing knowingly, that I’m going to say on this earth is ‘I love you.’ What’s more powerful than that? What’s more proof than that? Beyond fear, beyond death.”

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

6. Women in education

I have been in education for 21 years now and I have met some remarkable women on the way. You know the ones I am talking about; the teachers you look forward to seeing, the one’s you want to be proud of your work and the one’s who instil the fire in your belly about something you never knew you cared about before. They are the teachers who you will probably never remember what they taught you, but you will never forget how they made you feel. The lollipop moments are the one’s that count: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE

I had strong women at school (including Donise, hurray again!), at college and more recently at University.

At University, the women lecturers on my course were the ones who had an outstanding talent of being able to make the content come alive through the stories they told from their practice as outstanding lawyers and champions for human rights, I always wondered why Caroline Chappell and Chantal Davies were marking my tea stained scraps of paper when they should be running the country. Impeccable, inspiring, dedicated women. 

Other academics I have seen from afar and admire are Dr Dawn Llewelyn and Professor Emma Rees. With Dawn, she could teach me how to watch paint dry and I would still be buzzing to learn more about how the paint dries, because when she unleashes her passionate sting it infects you with the will to follow her, and join in. She is fearless in addressing topics which have never been explored before, she tells the world ‘this is something I care about and you should too. Not because I am right, but because we should have a conversation about these things’. Thank you for always treating students as equals, as participants in our collective learning journey.

Similarly to Dawn, Emma has an exceptional way of talking about the ‘untalkable’, take vaginas for example. Her research with this subject is nothing more than magnificent and I do not have the words or vocabulary to describe the way in which she has empowered men and women with her work, so I am not even going to try! But as a person, she has this authoritative aura about her yet speaks so softly, so invitingly. She knows her shit, but she will never rub her shit in your face! She’s cool like that. (and will be totally blushing to the high heavens when she reads this because she doesn’t realise/appreciate how bloody remarkable she is!)

The main women in my HE journey are those from the SU, you know who you are and I’ve written about you before, but by God you have been my strength and my soul at my most weak, I can never thank you enough. This also stretches to my boss, my mentor who I can only aspire to be like one day; Dr Karen Willis.

And finally, the students and my friends who motivate me and excite me every single day. A shout out to you: Katie Badman, Savannah Miles, Laura Stott, Kerrie Sprigings, Jessica Grocutt (darling wife), Julie Sheen, Jonno, Jamie and Callum (you may be male by definition but you will always be more woman than me).

Hurray for women …

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So that’s a run down of some of the women who have changed my world and I hope what this shows you is that International Women’s Day is about recognising the wealth of inspiring, strong women on our doorstep, right under our noses right now. When you are with your strong women take time to squeeze every last drop of inspo out of them, and tell them how bloody brilliant they are, but never underestimate the power and influence you have on other people too; men, women and others alike. 

What have I learnt from IWD2016?

  • My ‘strong women’ encourage me to be a better person professionally and personally not by telling me how to do it but support me in making the right choices and finding the right paths suited to me;
  • My ‘strong women’ all have unique characteristics which makes them stand out for who they are; their laugh, their vision, their tenacity, their kindness, their words, their imagination;
  • I am at the stage where I am merely trying to fit my feet child-like feet into the shoes of these admirable women, there’s plenty of room for growth but one day I will get there with people like this around me. The best advice? be yourself, nobody else in the whole wide world is you or can be you, nor can you be someone else. Just enjoy the ride!

To all of the strong women out there who may sometimes feel like a speck of dust in the galaxy, you are changing our lives and our worlds for the better and we cannot thank you enough. Here’s to another year of strong sisters smashing the glass ceilings together. #SquadGoals

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Posted in Family

Not all heroes wear capes. Ours wore a bakers hat and football boots. A tribute remembering the life of Duncan Lees.

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This eulogy was read at my fathers funeral on 4 January 2016.

All donations to Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital via this link: JustGiving Page

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We come here today to remember a very special person, Duncan Lees; A person who devoted his life to giving to others without asking for anything back, a person who was dedicated to his family and friends and a person who will always be an inspiration to us all.

Writing this eulogy has been quite a challenge for the family as Duncan was an unassuming man; humble about his achievements and quiet about his successes, particularly in his career. Thankfully, Duncan had a strong presence within the local press for three decades whilst at Warburtons, which, coupled with memories from family and friends has presented us with a second challenge; how can we compress the life of a 66 year old man who did everything, into a short tribute? Short enough so we keep to time, and short enough to ensure we do not have to fund your tea as well as your lunch at the kettledrum afterwards. Duncan liked to keep costs to a minimum, and today is no exception!

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Peter Duncan Lees was born in 1949 to Marjorie and Roy in Oldham, the middle child between the eldest Anthony and youngest Maureen. As a child, Duncan was described in his school reports as a polite, determined boy who exceled in sport and practical subjects but was a distraction to others in the subjects he found dull. Duncan continued to pursue the things he loved throughout his life, and he would be the first to admit that because of this, he never felt that he worked a single day.

Growing up, trouble would often find Duncan (of course, it was never the other way round!), from smashing windows with cricket balls to breaking both of his wrists while climbing trees, Duncan became great friends with Percy. A name he gave to the strap used by his parents to keep him in line.

To keep himself out of mischief, Duncan developed a number of interests including train spotting with brother Anthony and learning to play the piano, which he hated but persevered with to make his parents proud.

Without a doubt, Duncan’s strongest passion growing up was football. Every weekend, his neighbor, Ian Greaves would take Duncan along to his football games, not in the local park as you may expect but to Old Trafford. Duncan spent many weekends in the changing rooms before a match with the likes of Bobby Charlton and the rest of the Busby Babes before watching his heroes from the terraces. For Duncan, it ignited his fire and kept him away from Percy and for Greaves, if Duncan was at Old Trafford, his windows and fences would remain intact from the bashing they often got from the little boy and his football.

After an admittedly hopeless time at school at Royton and Compton, Duncan left without a single qualification to his name, he still managed however, to make a lasting mark on the school. Duncan was only one of two boys to take domestic science, we still aren’t sure whether this was to pursue his passion for baking or to be in a class full of girls! Whatever his motive, due to Duncan’s success, the school allowed a greater number of boys into the class. Because of him, baking was no longer just for girls.

Duncan pursued his interest for baking at college in Salford. It is here he said that ‘everything just clicked’ and before long he left with the qualifications he dreamed of and secured a job in a small bakery in Oldham. At the age of 19, he joined the Sunblest Group where he was groomed for promotion. After moving round the country, working at bakeries in Bradford and Newcastle, Duncan decided to move on. In 1974, he joined Warburtons at its main bakery in Bolton and through what he described as ‘hard work and a hell of commitment’ he rose to the position of despatch manager.

In the winter of 1975, Duncan met his life long partner and best friend, Donise Horner, a teacher from Bradford. The pair met at the Exit 22 pub sandwiched between their respective counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Within 8 months, the pair had married and celebrated in style with a 3 day honeymoon in Bowness. Early into their marriage, Donise made a deal with Duncan that for every red card fine he received at football, she would spend the equivalent on new clothes. Duncan always wondered why his wife’s wardrobe was double the size of his.

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In 1981, Warburtons opened what was then the most advanced bakery in Europe, the site in Burnley where Duncan was appointed Factory Manager. Within the same month, Duncan and Donise moved from Rochdale to Burnley and had their first baby, Matthew. A baby who eventually followed his fathers footsteps, not just by losing his hair but by joining the team at Burnley under Duncans leadership. A poignant way to end a career set within a family business.

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In 1985, Donise and Duncan welcomed their second son David, arriving bottom first on halloween. From his entrance into the world, David undoubtedly inherited the mischievous streak of his father, and in school reports to follow the comments mirrored those from Duncan’s early days. David, like his dad found his calling in a vocation; in the public services as a Police Constable.

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In 1991, Duncan was promoted to General Manager and welcomed their third child into the family, Rebecca, born 25 years ago to the day. Although she was his princess and the apple of his eye, even she did not escape working at the crack of dawn on the Saturday hygiene team as a teenager. A clever ploy to keep her out of Burnley Town Centre on a Friday night!

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By the end of his prestigious career in 2011, Duncan was managing two bakeries, a depot and spent a short time at the bakery in Enfield, London.

It is a tribute to Duncan’s ambition and drive that despite leaving school with no qualifications, he succeeded in the most spectacular way. He was granted on numerous occasions the privilege of meeting members of the Royal Family, which pleased him greatly, but he much preferred to share the success with the people who made it happen, his team, many of whom he remained friends with after he retired, a testament to a strong, meticulous leader who always remained one of the team as opposed to the boss.dunc

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 Although Duncan held a senior position within the company, he never liked to bother the Warburton family unless it was urgent. There were however a few occasions when the Lees family would be gathered around the landline listening and waiting ….. waiting to hear whether Brett Warburton could get us tickets to see Manchester United in the next round of the Champions League!

Duncan’s proudest achievements came from the work he dedicated to, what he called his ‘adopted home’; the community of Burnley. Over the years, he sponsored sports clubs including; Burnley Rugby Club, Burnley Cricket Club, Burnley Girls and Ladies Football Club, Burnley Grammar School Old Boys, boxing clubs and sponsored the Football Youth Leagues for 10 years. In addition, he also sponsored breakfast clubs at schools, community events and was even known to give away his lorries to help with international aid campaigns!

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Duncan’s charity work did not stop there, in his ‘spare’ time he played a huge part in the Cliviger Sports Association, as a school governor at Cliviger Primary School, Chairman of Burnley Grammar School Old Boys and Burnley Ladies Football Club, not to mention the hours he dedicated to watching and coaching all three children in the sport he loved. Duncan’s dedication to the community is just another example of his selfless determination to make the world a better place for everyone else.

Duncan, was, as we have heard a baker born and bred, but he was also a dedicated and devoted family man.

As a big brother, he took care of Maureen, allowing her to move in with him at the age of 17, under the condition he knew; where she was, who she was with and most importantly what time will she be home. A ritual continued when Becky came along, but for Matt and David the rule was that boys will be boys! Duncan was also a tower of strength for the other ladies in his life, for his mother when his father passed away in 1976 and for Jean when Reg passed away in 1985, in both instances, Duncan was there to help rebuild lives torn apart by tragic circumstances.

As a father, Duncan was a dedicated supporter of all three of his children and will always be a beaming example for us to follow.

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As a granddad, Duncan adored spending time with Erin Mae, going on many adventures, the favourites being Hebden Bridge to silly billies toy shop and kiddy chaos. Granddad Dunc even made a song up just for Erin, which so happened to be the only one to keep her quiet as a baby!

As a husband, Duncan was devoted to Donise for 39 years. The past 5 years since retirement have been a tremendous journey for the pair. Travelling through France and especially finding their perfect haven in Burgau, Portugal. They felt so privileged to have made so many wonderful friends and seen so many new places. One of Duncans favourite pastimes was to sit in the Verandas bar with his coffee, looking out to sea and saying ‘how lucky are we?’ Even when Duncan became poorly, he organized for Donise to receive an eternity ring on Christmas day, to serve as a constant reminder to her, that he is with her forever and always.

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As a friend, Duncan will be most fondly remembered as the life and soul of any holiday, from caravanning in Clitheroe to Cruising around the Mediterranean, Duncan remained at all times, the same witty, generous friend who was great fun to be with.

As a person, Duncan was a shining example of how life should be lived – by embracing the things that come for free. Such as spending time with family and friends, making a difference to the world around you and using your OAP bus pass instead of paying for petrol. However, it must be noted that before his retirement, Duncan admittedly had a short fuse, particularly on the touchlines of football pitches, but deep down we all knew that he was as soft as a Warburtns toastie loaf.

We will always feel deprived of a future that could have been and cheated of the memories we still had to make. Yet we must be grateful that Duncan played such a huge role in all of our lives, bringing us up with Donise and setting an example to us all, that we can only aspire to follow.

What we have learned from Duncans passing is how much is still left after so much has been taken away, this is a testament to the legacy you have left Dad; a timeless footprint on the pavements of our futures which we will continue to walk, applying the values you have taught us and remaining strong for each other as you wanted us to be.

We will continue to make you proud in everything we do.

We love you today, tomorrow, always Dad.

Goodnight, Godbless your forever devoted family.

 

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Posted in Uncategorized

A bucket list for students: Things to do before you graduate from the University of Chester

The city of Chester has been awarded an accolade of awards for its outstanding beauty and culture on offer for local residents and tourists from across the globe. For students, you are not quite a resident but you are certainly not a tourist. While you are studying here, this city is yours to explore and fall in love with. You never know, this may be the place you will one day call ‘home’.

Here is a bucket list of things to do before you graduate from the University of Chester. Many of which require nothing more  than time, friends and the occasional splurge of your student loan. If you can think of activities that are not included, feel free to leave a suggestion in the comment box at the end of the post.  

Food and Drink

1. Chester isn’t just famous for Romans and racing. We also sell excellent cheese. The Cheese Shop on Northgate St is the perfect stop for collecting goods for a wine and cheese night. Give it a try! 

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2. Somebody’s birthday coming up? Grab a group of friends and embark on the Deva Mile. An old student tradition of drinking half a pint of local ale, in every pub around the city walls. 

3. Buy a drink from a different coffee shop, every day for a whole month.P8-1000x600

4. Use your NUS card to secure a bargain on food and drink, from places such as Pizza Express, Cafe Rouge and Frankie and Bennies.

5. Order fruit and vegetables through the Chester Food Assembly scheme.

6. Try a gas chamber in Rosie’s.

Education and democracy 

7. Find out about the research your lecturers are involved with by attending the open events at the University.

8. Vote in the Students’ Union and local elections. 

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9. Keep up to date with local news through the Chester Chronicle.

Arts and Culture

10. Follow @ShitChester love @ShitChester    

11. Stand outside the Town Hall at 12pm (Thursday- Saturday, May – August, 10.30 on race days) to hear the town crier address the people of Chester. Did you know that Chester is the only city in Britain to retain this tradition?

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12. Attend one of the magnificent open air theatre plays hosted in Grosvenor Park (July – August)

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13. Get yourself tangled in a web of words and performances at the Chester Literature Festival which takes place in October.

14. Wrap up warm and throw yourself into the festive joy, whether it be at the Christmas Markets tasting mulled wine, singing  Carols at the annual University Carol Service at Chester Cathedral or watching the lights switch on in the Garden Quarter. Where ever you decide to explore the festive period, be sure to wear safe shoes – the Chester cobbles are already a danger without mulled wine and the icy scattering of frost and snow. (November – end of December).

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15. Go back in time to the Roman roots of Chester at the Grosvenor museum.

16. Take a selfie with the second most photographed clock in Europe.

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17. Take a trip to Gladstone Library, you will not regret it.

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18. Book on to a Hollyoaks tour (which is actually filmed in Liverpool). 

19. Go to a Tip Top Theatre Production at the Forum Production Theatre. Yes, there is a  theatre hidden beneath the Forum shopping centre. 

20. Scare yourself silly with a Chester Ghost Tour.

21. Grab a bargain at Cheshire Oaks.

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22. Wave a rainbow coloured flag at the annual Chester Pride.

23. See how royalty live by attending one of the open events at Eaton Hall Gardens, the home of the Duke of Westminster and the Chancellor of the University.

24. Take the spectacular Cathedral at height tour.

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Music and Film

25. Enjoy an eclectic pallet of music on offer, from Jazz nights at Alexanders to acoustic student nights at CH1 to live bands at the Botanist, Commercial, the Cellar, the Marlborough and Cruise.

26. Mingle with the local community at The Screen On The Lane hosted by the Garden Quarter residents association.

27. Watch classic films at the moonlight flicks such as ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Some Like It Hot’ in the open air cinema (July- August)

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Adventure

28. Take your mind off exam pressure by visiting Chester zoo. (Don’t forget to get your student discount!)

29. Release your inner child at the Chester Ice Cream Farm. 

30. Walk in the footsteps of the highest judges and the lowest of criminals at Chester Crown Court.

31. Dive into the depths of nature at the Blue Planet Aquarium.

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32. Push yourself to the limit at Go Ape!

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33. Give something back to the community: Volunteer at the local hospices, schools, local sports teams, community groups, health groups, caring homes or at the university.

34. Fall in love and leave a love lock on the Queens Park suspension bridge.

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35. Get a picture riding Janya. 

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36. Go on the hunt for all of the rhino statues scattered across the city. (Clue: There is one on a UoC Campus) 

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37. Explore the city on an open top bus tour.

Sports and Recreation

38. Walk the City walls.

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39. Make friends with local people by joining sports teams or groups such as Good For Nothing.

40. Take a cruise down the River Dee on one of many impressive vessels. Depending on your budget, you could opt for a pedalo or splash out on a Boat party. 

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41. Book a ride on the miniature train in Grosvenor Park. It may not be the Polar express, but it is certainly an adventure. It is also a great place to take your friends or family with young children.

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42. Cheer on your new local football team at the Deva Stadium. Who know’s, Chester FC may secure another league promotion while you are studying here!

43. Football not your thing? Then the Polo might be! Hosted every summer at Chester Racecourse

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44. Talking about Chester Racecourse, the races are a must! If you don’t want to spend in excess of £30 to be in the stands then you can horse-around on the course for a third of the price.

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45. Compete in one of the big races hosted in Chester: The Chester Marathon (October), the Chester Metric Marathon (October) and Chester Half Marathon (June). 

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Posted in Uncategorized

20 things people need to stop posting on social media.

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Social media is a wonderful thing and I would be the first to admit that I am an addict. I am addicted to sharing news, debating hot topics, keeping connected with friends from across the globe and spending Sunday afternoons trawling through profiles, day dreaming about my wedding to the worldie I have just seen three profiles ago.

But how many times do you scroll through the newsfeed and sigh/eye roll at the boring, unnecessary posts by people who let’s face it, are craving attention or have nothing better to  do with their lives.

This list reflects the things that really bug me on social media, please feel free to add your own in the comments box below.

(This is not to say that my online presence is perfect. Far from it. Yes, I have probably done some of these too, but I have learnt from my mistakes and moved on!)

  1. People who celebrate the purchase of a new kitchen appliance. Ain’t got time for that.

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2. Pictures of shaving injuries. Really?

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3. Every. last. detail. of. their. whole. entire. lives.

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4. Every last detail of their child. I’m really happy that your offspring can use the potty, but it’s evolution, not a bloody miracle.

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5. 2 words = scan pics.

6. Narcissist, racist, homophobic or sexist slurs they wouldn’t say in public, if you wouldn’t say it to a room of 400 people why post it to Facebook then?

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7. A picture of every single meal they have consumed.

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8. Attention seeking statuses like ‘I can’t believe this happens to me, how stupid could I be?’. You ask them: ‘Whats up?’. They say: ‘Oh nothing, i’ll inbox you hun’. WHAT.

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9. People who check into A&E. If it’s a blue-light emergency, the last thing you would be thinking of is checking-in.

10. Song lyrics. That was so MSN 2005.

11. Jargon filled gym posts. If you are going to talk about gains, shreds and kgs at least tell us what it means so I can work out how much shredding is in this cheeseburger.

12. Changing names on Facebook to: ‘Mumsy’, ‘Kalebs Mums’, ‘Barbie’. Just stop it.

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13. Any post with a link to The Sun or The Daily Mail with the caption ‘I can’t believe this.’ Don’t believe it. It’s not going to be true.

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14. Those people who decide they are super athletes and post every meal, every last squat then go quiet after a week because they can’t be arsed anymore.

15. OTT PDA. I’m trying to eat my tea, put it away.

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16. When people write a status directed at a place, event, the weather or to somebody who isn’t even on Facebook. Don’t get it.

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17. Those parents who make up a profile for their baby. Just why? I know we had one for our team mascot (a butternut squash) but that’s different.

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18. People who list every last detail of their holiday itinery, you may aswell tell us that the front door key is under the doormat whilst your at it.

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19. Those people who enjoy a deep quote or 25,000. Keep it to Pinterest please.

20. The complainers and the moaners. They complain and moan about EVERYTHING; the weather, their job, the kids, the football, the lottery, the other half, the pets, the TV. Literally nothing in the whole world is ever going well for these sour sallys.

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Social media is a great tool to keep in touch with friends and family and to secretely stalk people to see what they are doing with their lives but there is no need for this nonsense. Just stop it. If you haven’t got anything funny or meaningful to say, don’t bother. Or if you persist on telling me how amazing your boyfriend is or how well your baby slept last night (yes, it was cute at first but I have heard it for the 83rd time now) then I will be deleting you.
What a shame that would be, for you, more than me. Because let’s be honest, my posts make you feel good about your life don’t they? I am constantly hungover, I make you laugh with the stupid situations I find myself in and sometimes, just sometimes I will teach you a few things in life; like how not to cook, why politics are important or how fortunate you are so have such a witty, sexy, charming lady in your life; on a regular basis you think to yourself ‘I am so glad Becky Lees is my friend’, sometimes you may share this information with friends and family who will agree as you stare into your smartphone fixated on my radiant online presence.
In all seriousness, let’s make a pact from now. If you haven’t got anything to say that will contribute positively to the world then don’t say it. Instead, go out, talk to people face-to-face (strange concept, I know) and only return when you have something good to say. Something that we can celebrate, or ‘like’ or congratulate you on or support you with.
Or alternatively, if you are really my ‘friend’ pick up the phone or buy me a coffee and I will happily look at your scan pictures, feel your guns, make ‘ohhhs’ and ‘ahhhs’ when you talk about your bambino or educate you on current affairs that are actually happening in the real world.
Finding out your friend is getting married, in hospital, having a baby or  in a relationship through a Facebook status kind of sucks, what happened to that real friends thing?
Status update: Over and out.