INTERVIEW: Our First Undergraduate Scholar and the Mining Canary

Kirstie is the first-ever undergraduate recipient of the Malcolm Bradbury Trust Scholarship at University Centre Peterborough (UCP). Growing up in Sheffield, she comes from a working-class family of miners. She is proud to say she is the first in her family on her father’s side to go to university. Inspired by Kirstie’s return to education, her mother is now also at university. It has been a wonderful experience for Kirstie to go through this journey at the same time, often calling her mother to chat about university life.

The road to higher education was a challenging one for Kirstie. Primary school was a difficult space to navigate. Kirstie fell behind in literacy and it was a struggle through secondary school to catch up. A few dedicated teachers and the influence of visiting speakers ignited a spark and helped Kirstie turn things around. Her primary school teachers were surprised to hear where she had ended up which is a testament to how far she has come.

Having achieved so much, the natural progression seemed to be applying to university. It was something you do if you are doing well at school and everyone else was doing it. Feeling the pressure, she did what was expected of her. Taking English Literature and Linguistics, she found herself struggling again. Steered away from the literature she loved and pushed into linguistics as a more viable career path, the options she took pulled her further away from her interests. Eventually, she realised that she was just going through the motions. There she was stuck doing a degree that she had no real interest in making a career out of, despite everyone else’s recommendations.

“You either do well or you crash and burn but I wasn’t ready, so I crashed.”

This time taught Kirstie a lot about herself and what she did not want. She had gone to university because it was the next step she was expected to take and made the choices that people told her would be better for her.

Looking back on that time, she realised she was not ready to go to university then, but more than that, she was not ready to stand up for herself and what she really wanted to do. Going to university after the struggle she had to get there, coming from the background she had, already felt to Kirstie like a privilege and an achievement. And while it was both of those things, it was for Kirstie to decide what the future looked like with the freedom to pursue the path she wanted.

“I realised I wanted to do it for me instead of it being the next logical life step.”

A break from study and a pandemic put things into perspective. Kirstie was ready to return to study with a greater understanding and appreciation for what she wanted and where she was going in life. As a mature student, Kirstie felt that she was ready to live up to that status, a little wiser and ready to dive in.

Time and distance had opened up a world of possibilities. Kirstie realised there were different types and sizes of university, and the experience could be what you make of it. Wanting to make the most of what she describes as her final chance, Kirstie was daunted by the idea of going back to a bigger university.

She had to fight to secure funding and to afford to go back into education so she needed to find the right fit. Being able to work part-time alongside her degree was vital. She searched for somewhere local to where she was now living. UCP was near the centre of town and offered smaller class sizes with significant one-to-one time – this felt like she had found what she was looking for.

At the end of her first year of study for a BA (Hons) English Literature with Creative Writing, Kirstie finally feels she is in the right place. Thriving in the environment she chose for herself, she has proved that she can do this and the decision to come back was the right one for her. She may not have been ready the first time, but she is more than ready now.

Having the scholarship means that Kirstie has room to breathe financially. She needs to work part-time to pay her bills alongside her study. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, it is harder than ever to make ends meet, especially while studying full-time. With the scholarship, she can work fewer hours and concentrate on what she loves while giving back to the community.

“A lot of children slip through the cracks in the education system, and I want to help children that grew up like me and didn’t have a great relationship with literature.”

As part of her scholarship, Kirstie works to promote literacy in local schools and represents UCP in the community. Peterborough has one of the lowest rates of literacy in the country and her goal is to make a difference to children from a similar background that might be struggling or who might feel the way she did growing up. Her passion is infectious, and she is keen to show that one bad experience does not have to define you or what you can do in the future.

“I have a lot of ideas. I have started to get the journalism bug, but I am really interested in prose and scriptwriting for theatre.”

Although not yet sure what she would like to specialise in, Kirstie knows that she wants to be a writer. As a child, reading was a form of escapism and a way to find joy in tough times. Now the bridge between reading and writing has merged for Kirstie. The pleasure of writing and seeing every step and change along the way is exhilarating. Experiencing good feedback from peers and lecturers is especially satisfying.

Kirstie has recently written a piece about a mining canary, inspired by her family background. The metaphor of something beautiful with such a harsh, industrious history mirrors her own journey from struggling with literacy to thriving at university.

Making the most of this second chance, Kirstie has learned to take every opportunity and embrace all the experiences she can along the way. Now presenting a regular podcast for the university and planning her workshops in schools, Kirstie is going from strength to strength. She is grateful for the support she has received from UCP and the Trust and cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Name: Kirstie Marfleet
University Centre Peterborough, BA (Hons) English Literature with Creative Writing

Words by: Kat Beeton