Cat Smith (Gender and Sociology, 2006, Cartmel) has just completed her first year as a Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood. Here she and her father, Alan talk about their memories of studying at Lancaster.
1. What made you choose Lancaster University for your degree?
Alan – I made my first connection with Lancaster 45 years ago when I came to see a Pink Floyd concert in the Great Hall in 1971. I then came to study social work from 1988-90 before returning to do an MA in History between 2008 -2011 after retirement from my career with the Youth Offending Team in Cumbria.
Cat- I recall my Dad bringing home a prospectus for me to look at when I was 15 and reading it from cover to cover. Originally I was looking at sciences, but was intrigued by the whole range of options available. I first came onto campus at the age of 2 or 3 to visit Dad (and recall wrestling with her sister on Waterstones floor - though I am much better behaved now!) I wasn’t really aware there were any other universities; my Dad had planted the seed and loved his experience so much that I had to come with my Mum to the Open Day to avoid his bias!
2. What is your fondest memory of your time here?
Alan – I was so amazed that I got a place as I had failed my 11 plus years ago at school that I enjoyed every single minute of it. I remember being overwhelmed at having a former Oxford student sitting next to me in a tutorial, I loved the general camaraderie, evenings at the Waterwitch etc.
Cat – I particularly enjoyed the first year, the feeling of independence, limited pressure regarding exams and the chance to figure out who you were and no curfews. I was the first one in the family to have the full university experience living away from home.
3. Do you keep in touch with other alumni since you graduated?
Alan- I lost touch a bit during the 90s after my first stint at Lancaster, when career and family took over, but the advent of the internet has enabled me to reconnect and a number of my peers from both the Social Work and the MA History groups regularly keep in touch.
Cat – I met my husband -to- be at Lancaster University (Ben) and through my constituency work I am frequently between Lancaster and London, so have visited the university several times since graduating (latterly for talks about my work!) I also keep in touch with alumni through the annual Labour Club reunion dinner.
4. Is there anything you particularly miss about student life?
Alan – I feel I could have been an eternal student as I miss all of it, but I am pleased that I have retained links.
Cat– I miss having the free time. I took it for granted when I was here so didn’t fully appreciate it and I actually felt busy at the time. I would like to have time now to enjoy reading for reading’s sake and not just to a deadline.
5. What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Alan – I’m now retired, but in my career I felt I thought I knew life, until I did social work. You’re then amazed when you can make some difference to someone’s life – to help them fix themselves, even if it’s just a little bit.
Cat – In my role as an MP everything’s different and you see the best and worst in people. If you can’t actually help them yourself you can hopefully point them in the right direction through your networks. Entering Parliament was strange and I felt like a ‘fish out of water’. It’s taken me a little while to realise that I deserve to be there!
6. What has been your greatest achievement so far (in any aspect of your life?)
Alan – In my case, my greatest achievement has been to survive in a house with four women! I am also proud of the fact that I obtained an MA in History after failing my eleven plus in 1958.
Cat – That a 29 year old working class girl from Barrow could be elected as a Labour MP in a marginal constituency
7. What advice would you give to today’s students?
Alan – Enjoy every minute, it will go faster than you think. And remember, whatever happens next, you are always a Lancaster graduate.
Cat – Don’t waste time worrying about revision and exams. I remember some students tried to work themselves into the ground.