Our first Learning Together alumni event took place in Cambridge on 10 September 2018. It has been a long time in the making. My name is Jack and I am the Learning Together Cambridge course coordinator. My colleague, Gareth Evans, Learning Together alumni and mentoring coordinator, and I had the pleasure of organising the event. In this blog post, I wanted to share some of my reflections of the day, as well as explaining how we got to this point, what we are working on together, and where we are going next.
Both Gareth and I are proud Learning Together alumni from early Learning Together courses in HMP Grendon. From the first course in HMP Grendon, Learning Together Cambridge has now grown to 9 courses, delivered across our three partner sites – HMPs Grendon, Warren Hill and Whitemoor – as well as a larger national and increasingly international network. We are privileged to be able to continue our passion for the initiative into our working lives in our roles as part of the Learning Together team. With these experiences in mind, we aimed to make the day as inclusive as possible, ensuring that the programme reflected the interests and contributions of as many members of our community as possible. The day was designed to celebrate the many talents and achievements within our community, as well as the process of Learning Together that built those connections between us.
Most important in our considerations of how to plan the day, was ensuring that all of the voices of our community could be heard and celebrated, beyond the limits of who could be present at the event in Cambridge in person. We received contributions and warm wishes from across our community, as well as a fantastic attendance of around 30 alumni on the day.
Our day together focused on the potential and challenges of technology in an ever changing world. We began with warm wishes from Gareth, Ruth, Amy, and I, followed by our first session – the ‘Big Debate’. We were fortunate to have technology expert and journalist Maria Farrell to talk to us about her perspective on technology in 2018, and where the revolution may head next. A panel of alumni provided responses to Maria’s presentation bringing their own concerns and excitement about the development of technology into the conversation, after which it was time for the break out sessions.
We held three break out sessions, each focused around responses to the topic of technology through a different medium. We were fortunate to be joined by our excellent colleague Rebecca Green, who leads the Drawing Connections project, who led us in an artistic exploration of technology. She inspired us to create collages and mixed media representations of man’s connection to technology through the ages, as well as considering the parallels and juxtapositions between technology, nature, maths, beauty, art and life.
Our second parallel breakout session, led by our researcher colleague Victoria Pereyra Iraola, focused on policy questions associated with technology, particularly the question of how technology might contribute to desistance. Through this session, and much debate, the group came to the conclusion that our question ought to be reassessed and replaced by a focus on considering the consequences of not giving people in prison access to technology, rather than the risks of providing it.
Our final breakout sessions was inspired by our many fantastic playwrights in the Learning Together community. Lewey and Moses, who are Grendon alumni, wrote a short play, ‘WWW not’, about a therapy session taking place in an apocalyptic world where there is ‘no more data’.
Over lunch, the group reflected on the morning’s work at Nanna Mexico, a restaurant in Cambridge and long-time supporter of Learning Together, often providing catering for our end of course conferences. Our lunch was accompanied by Jez and his guitar with a mixture of classic covers and his own work. Happily fed, we returned to St John’s to feed back from the morning breakouts, presenting our artwork, policy discussions and dramatic interpretations. Afterwards, we spent some time reaching back out to the Learning Together community, including a video booth so that guests could record messages to the rest of the community who could not be with us in person, and poems and a tape recorder so that students could collaborate using each others prose. There were also displays featuring art work from across the community and an opportunity to make banners to support the Learning Together team running the Great South Run.
Finally, Rebecca led the group in Shibashi, a series of postures inspired by Tai Chi. Ruth and Amy were almost impervious to Gareth and my attempts to take the session less seriously than we ought to have done. A few interesting, perhaps flamboyant, shapes thrown by everyone meant the day ended with a collective sense of both effort and relaxation.
A short account of a special day. Beyond and between walls, barriers, continents and communities, our first alumni event gave space for a wide range of voices, talents and experiences. It was a pleasure to share it with you all. This is only the beginning…
Jack Merritt – Course Coordinator