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Power of education unleashed through UCU's first Life Changer grants

17 May 2007

UCU has awarded its first two 'Life Changers' grants of £3,000 to a reformed criminal and an eminent criminologist. Joe Baden and Professor Dick Hobbs were voted to receive the awards by fellow 'Life Changers' who had been recognised by the union for their work in changing people's lives through education.

UCU-Endsleigh-Thompsons Life Changer award winners 2007 Nominations for the awards have been coming in since the launch in October and those recognised for their outstanding work were celebrated at an awards evening last night. All 27 winners received a £300 prize towards a project in keeping with the spirit of Life Changers.

The winners voted for two of their fellow Life Changers to each receive the £3,000 Life Changer grant to again spend in support of the principles behind Life Changers.

Joe Baden, a reformed south London criminal, was told he would amount to nothing when he was at school and left at 13 to follow his dad into the print trade. Although the money was reasonable, the work was dull and repetitive and Baden drifted into crime. After surviving an armed robbery charge he was arrested for affray and that was when he decided to change things.

Joe now runs the Open Book programme at Goldsmiths College, University of London. The project opens up higher and further education to addicts, offenders and people with mental-health problems. The scheme has been running since 2002 and already has more than 100 students on its books, many of whom are now taking access or undergraduate courses at south London universities. A few have even moved on to postgraduate studies.

The other grant winner was Professor Dick Hobbs, an eminent criminologist and Head of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Professor Hobbs was rewarded for the work he has done in helping working class students at Durham University overcome the many barriers they encounter at university.

Professor Hobbs came from a very working class background in East London and failed his 11-plus. After several years of working in low level jobs he went to night school. Despite his initial problems in writing essays, Dick was fortunate enough to encounter a teacher who showed some interest in him.

Following night school Professor Hobbs arrived at the LSE via teacher training college, a PhD at Surrey, a first job at Oxford and then Durham University.

UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The stories and nominations that we have received have been quite outstanding and incredibly inspirational. There are so many people out there in our universities and colleges literally transforming people's lives on a daily basis and we felt we needed to do something to celebrate their work and achievements.'

Joe Baden said: 'When I first started at Goldsmiths I walked around with my eyes lowered because I didn't feel that people like me had a right to higher education. I often felt less comfortable at university than I had done on the wing in prison. It is not easy for people coming through our Open Book project; one guy we had on the course had to ask for an extension because his house had been shot to bits. He may have left a life of crime behind, but it didn't mean that it left him.'

Professor Dick Hobbs said: 'Working class students who had maybe been knocked back by education previously seemed to come to me. People would spot me and feel comfortable in coming to me with problems or talking about their work. They largely came from similar backgrounds to my own and they felt comfortable with me and I felt comfortable with them.'

Both Joe and Dick are currently considering how best to spend their grants.

Last updated: 8 February 2022