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Education College alumni reunite for final time

Grammie's final reunion

After nearly half a century of reunions, Sunderland College of Education alumni from across the world returned to the North East for a final farewell event earlier this month.   

More than 100 attendees descended on the Marriott Hotel on October 1st for an evening of food and speakers. It followed a coach trip around Sunderland the previous day, which gave former students the chance to visit old College buildings, take in the city’s sights and think back to their time spent in Sunderland.   

It is the final reunion to be organised by Graham Fraser, known as Grammie, who completed his Certificate in Education from the College in 1969. Grammie was remembered during his time at Langham Tower as the founder of the Entertainment Committee, bringing an array of talented bands to the town. After completing his Certificate, he put his skills to good use, becoming the organiser of College reunions, a role he has filled ever since.   

At the dinner, Grammie’s outstanding contributions were recognised by his peers. The Alumni Association’s Sarah Hunt later paid tribute to him. She said: “I have been working with Grammie and the committee for the past ten years and am always happy to be part of their reunion meetings.   

“It’s a joy to see how close such a large group can be after all this time. We want to keep in touch with all members and hear all of their memories of their time at Langham Tower.”   

After the dinner, some attendees spoke to the room about their memories of the college. Amongst those reminiscing was Tony Everett, a representative of the College. Tony was well known to many in the room thanks to the tireless work he had put in to help students with their dissertations.  

For Tony, his most vivid memory was how different Sunderland was to his preconceptions upon arriving here.   

Speaking at the dinner, he said: “I came up from Worcestershire in the 60s. What is interesting is that some of you came from different parts of the country to Sunderland. It was considered a ship building place. It was very easy to talk to people and have fun in the pub.”   

“In the 60s they were many social changes at the time, for example women lecturers who used to wear tweed skirt suits started to wear trousers.”   

However, for many their time in the town meant so much more. Not only did studying at the College lead to Christine Lockerbie finding her future husband, it also lead to a near quarter of a decade teaching career in Sunderland.   

Christine, who completed her Certificate in 1968, said: “I’m from Cheshire originally. In the second week I was here I met my future husband. We found jobs in the area and stayed here teaching. My full time career went on for 24 years.”   

“I was at the Westfield Hall hostel when I studied at Langham Tower. I started off in a basement room. I was put in with a girl from Doncaster who I never knew before. We went on to live together for the next three years and I still keep in touch with her now.”  

But it was not only Christine who met her husband at the College, on the night there were 23 couples who met at Langham and got married. 

As the night went on, a popular topic of discussion was the rivalry between Sunderland College of Education and the Polytechnic. Speaker Colin Bentley was all too aware of the competitive edge between the two colleges. As a member of the Rugby team, he would face off regularly against Langham’s rivals and used to relish the intense rivalry.   

When Colin studied at Langham, it was going through huge social change. Along with Peter Gray, he was the first student to sit on the Board of Governors, and also helped to oversee the opening of the first College bar with Ian Kershaw and Brendan Thornton.  

Colin went into business following his graduation, working in Sports Promotion for 34 years. Only after retiring from business ten years ago did he go into teaching. His memories of Sunderland remain as vivid as they were nearly 50 years and ago, and he recalls a “firm, solid town” filled with hard workers and innovators.   

As a truly memorable night drew to a close, there was a reflection of happiness that this group of students had been able to meet up again for one final reunion. The room was packed full of people who had inspirational, funny and unique stories to tell about their careers and their lives. For so many of them, the College of Education was the springboard that set them up for fulfilled and successful careers.

You can see the photos of the reunion on our Flickr account

Article written by Matthew Shevlin, University of Sunderland Journalism graduate.

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