A Celebration of John Glynn 1st August 1957-1st January 2008

John Glynn, who died in January this year was a pioneering figure in adult literacy who worked with a number of key organizations to develop student participation and voices though writing and publishing. John lived through three decades of innovation and struggle in adult literacy. He touched a side of that work that, in my view, was amongst the most challenging and innovative. This work dissolved boundaries between tutors and students, explored democratic learning structures and developed a body of expertise in collaborating with new writers to inform teachers and the whole education system about the experience of learning to read and write as an adult. These aspects of adult literacy work are now firmly sidelined by the policy priorities of a different age and are, in my view, one of the great unrealized potentials of the field.

It was a privilege to be at John’s funeral and to hear the personal tributes, the warmth of his family, the friends he supported and inspired, his many roles as a volunteer. I was struck, though, by how his “official cv” did not represent much of what I knew of him as a professional colleague within RaPAL, Gatehouse books and Pecket Well college. The tributes recorded below redress this to some degree, putting on record the breadth and importance of his interventions to a generation of us who have learned, taught and researched in adult literacy.

The tributes printed here are from Gillian Frost and Peter Goode, both founder members of Pecket Well College where John worked for many years.

John, Gillian and Peter were all interviewed for the Changing Faces Project and these interviews are part of the archive evidence logged in the national social science archive. For those who are interested in finding out more, there is an account of the history of the student writing and publishing movement including John’s role in it, please click here.

John, the opener of doors,
the breaker of barriers,
the fun and laughter bringer,
the pint drinker,
the innovator,
the enabler,
the thinker,
the artist, the poet, the publisher,
the tutor, the computer expert, the administrator,
the business man,
the family man,
the very proud father,
at the forefront of life,
propelling his own dreams
and the dreams of others
forward into reality,
with his renowned, dogged determination and obstinacy

remembered now
as the quiet and humorous warrior,
others now will continue his battles.

With love from Josie, friend of many years and colleague, it has been my joy and privilege to work side by side with John on many different projects. John lives on not only in the hearts of all those who knew him, those who loved him and those who valued and respected him, but also in the words and images of countless people in the many publications he helped to bring to life with dedication, skill and flair, at the Abraham Moss Centre, at the Gatehouse Project and in Pecket Well College for which he has been a loyal and dedicated stalwart, making his unique contribution from its roots to its conception, through many stages of its development and throughout all its crises.
Even in his much shortened life, his impact on the lives of many has been profound and for the good. He will be sorely missed. [highlighted bits have been used at end of the longer tribute]

Gillian Frost (now Josie Pollentine)

Tribute to John Glynn
Gillian Frost

I had the privilege and pleasure to know John Glynn all his adult life, up to a year or two before his untimely death in January at the age of 51. He had needed all his courage to present himself to the Adult Basic Skills section of the Abraham Moss Centre, Manchester in 1974, where I worked as an Adult Literacy Organiser. He had waited patiently to be able to reveal for the first time the secret he had cleverly kept throughout his schooldays. He needed the safer environment of adult education in order to do something about his difficulties with writing. He was an apprentice painter and decorator, excelling in everything except the written requirements of the day release college component. He was always someone who reflected on his experience and on society in general, as well as being fun loving, beer drinking and a passionate supporter of Manchester City.

John's growth accompanied, was nourished by and nourished the decades of the student writing movement from its early days in the mid 70's to its maturity in the 80's and its spawning of new developments in adult basic education from the early 80's onwards. He played a critical role in this process, as a seeder of ideas, as a reassuring enabler, as a breaker of barriers, as someone who could interpret the experience of people with difficulties with the written word to any audience, including the academic.

John took a leading role in the production of Second Chance, the student's magazine of the adult basic education section at the Abraham Moss Centre. He illustrated and laid out the magazine himself as well as contributing to the writing and editing. He was involved in the campaigns fought at the centre to protect the standards of provision. From there he abandoned his ambition to set up his own painting and decorating business in order to become one of the founder workers of the Gatehouse Project in 1977. This project was, to my knowledge, the first to employ students from adult basic education. In this work, he enabled many people to produce their writing in the most accessible and attractive form possible. He shared his skills with colleagues and others in adult basic education in a way which encouraged people to have a go. He made new things non-threatening and fun. The co-operative model underlying the practices at the Gatehouse project gave John experience in all aspects of the work of the project, from lay-out to encouraging writing, to book-keeping and sales.

John's development and confidence grew apace. The student writing movement gave him an arena in which to contribute his strengths and ideas. He worked with many to enable them to publish their own work. He was involved in the formation of the National Students Association in 1982 the only time there has been a formal adult basic education student movement. He was also a leading contributor to the ideas, process and production of the Gatehouse writing development pack, Opening Time. John was a thinker, he loved ideas and analysis. He stimulated and challenged others to debate. John's own section of entitled ‘School a Wasted Childhood', must be one of the most powerful indictments of the education system and the experience of someone with unrecognised dyslexia within it, a telling analysis of the process of creating a sense of failure. John does not solely recount his school experience, he analyses it. It is personal experience transformed into sociology. All trainee teachers, educational policy makers and theorists should read it. [Gillian do think we could reproduce this – what is the copyright position?]

By this time, John no longer defined himself as a student. He was part of a group of people with experience of tackling difficulties with the written word who led the process of creating Opening Time. This shared endeavor was a departure from the accepted model of tutors developing the ideas, the pedagogy, the practice and the learning materials for the students.

From there, the next step was training, running workshops also as a joint endeavor. John, in his role at Gatehouse, organised and secured funding for what may have been the first workshops run jointly by tutors and writers from adult basic education. He persuaded funders to accept the revolutionary idea of paying the 'learners' as tutors. The writers of different sections of Opening Time ran workshops alongside tutors in which they shared their experience of writing and learning with mixed groups of students and tutors.

John was also part of the movement for residential education in adult basic education which grew out of the student collective Write First Time and started with the first course at Losehill Hall, Derbyshire,in 1975. Writing weekends began to take place all over the country, encouraged by the ALBSU funded Writing Development Project (Sue Gardener), the Gatehouse project and the Special Events project (Robert Merry).

This movement culminated in a Write First Time writing week at Nottingham University in 1985 which in its turn sparked off another process. New writers from all over the country came together at the residential week, including a group from Halifax near the village of Pecket Well. At the event, the idea took root that residential education should be available to all in ABE and a group was formed to open the first residential centre for adult basic education in the country - Pecket Well College. As one of the founder members, I was encouraged by John in tackling this enterprise. John was a supportive figure in the background, a role he often preferred, as in the development of the NSA. He never pushed himself into a leading role but quietly and profoundly influenced and encouraged developments in movements and individuals alike. A participant in one of Pecket Well College's residential courses, Jan Halliday, someone who had been more or less housebound for a while, had lost confidence and become depressed, described how John, a workshop leader on the course, gently nudged her into taking the lead in directing a play being improvised by fellow participants.

The model that had flowered at Gatehouse grew at Pecket Well College, where the founding idea was a partnership between practitioners and participants in adult basic education. John played an important part in developing the concept and practice of the new college from the funding, the planning of the physical environment, the provision, the publicity, the management, the running and the evaluation of the provision. He participated with Gatehouse in helping to run workshops on the residential courses. He joined us again as a workshop leader in running Pecket Publishing Project (alongside Hilary Dyter), one of our most popular and successful courses. After this John took on the thankless task of the finances of the college, at a time when we were receiving major funding. Later, John became a workshop leader on his own. He enlivened the events which played a big part in bonding people at Pecket with his imagination and playfulness.

He had been developing his own ambitions and career at the same time. He had trained in IT and computer programming, he had left Gatehouse to set up his own painting and decorating and later bathroom renovation business. He always shared his skills with us at Pecket, and helped run our door sign workshops, where able-bodied and disabled members alike, designed tactile door signs for our newly opened college, so that people could easily identify different rooms and the rooms would also be accessible to partially sighted and blind people. He headed the team of volunteers, again able-bodied and disabled people, to paint the college. He gave a disabled member a memorable experience, getting him on the floor to paint the skirting boards. Much of the work John did for the college over the years was on a voluntary basis, but he also worked regularly as a workshop leader for many years, always an enabler.

John would not have been able to play his role in this way at Pecket Well College, if the current trend to professionalism in adult education teaching had taken place at that time. How many people will be precluded in the future from moving flexibly across roles in the way that John did?

During this time, John developed Multiple Sclerosis and had to give up his own business, but he continued working for Pecket until the last year of his life, when our financial difficulties meant we could no longer employ him. John lives on not only in the hearts of all those who knew him, those who loved him and those who valued and respected him, but also in the words and images of countless people in the many publications he helped to bring to life with dedication, skill and flair.
Even in his much shortened life, his impact on the lives of many has been profound and for the good. He will be sorely missed.

From Peter Goode

This poem of mine expresses best everything John meant to me.

You reached out and touched

You reached out and touched

I reached out and touched
and inspiration became AND……
now loneliness of guilt

You reached out and touched
I reached out and touched
and inspiration

inaudible and indivisible


John homed in on the image of the stone
of Pecket Well College,
picking up pebbles
to throw at the window of education
that still rattle the windows today.

The first thing I remember John saying to me at Gatehouse, we were having a debate,
“Well, I’m going to play devil’s advocate”. As soon as I heard that, I listened and I thought ,”Well I’ll be the devil”
He learnt me so much, in joy, not in anger.

He took the image from “Opening Time” and made it into his own by celebrating it as workshops. He could see a drop of an idea growing, like ink in water.

John was relaxed in his own skin. What you saw was what you got. In spite of my difficulties with reading, he never treat me as a put down. Some people, he rubbed their noses, but because of that, it fetched a different view. It was about individuality. He treat me as an equal, someone he could play mental tennis with, word games, batting ideas back and forth. I was very, very lucky to know him. He was a very special creator. I want to say cheers to John one last time.


Link to City University Link to the Institute of Education Link to the ESRC