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Student finally cuts her cloth to suit and goes back to learning at the age of 77


University of Wolverhampton Textiles and Surface Pattern degree student, Janet MacDougall (nee Potts and formerly Whittall) from Tettenhall, has finally cut her cloth to suit by going back to learning at the age of 77.  

Jan is in her third year of study in the University’s School of Art and it’s taken her 60 years to get to where she always wanted to be – an incredible achievement for someone who was told that going to University wasn’t for girls and that marriage should be her ambition. 

Jan had always wanted to join the student community at the School of Art and, although she left school with qualifications, including O Levels in Art and Printing, she was not encouraged to pursue her dream. 

She said: “I really wanted to be part of the student art community.  I was a creative girl but going to university wasn’t an option back then – my parents told me that girls only get married and that studying for a creative degree wouldn’t get me a job.” 

Jan went to work at Boots Chemist on the counter at first and then became a window dresser before getting married and having a family. 

She said: “I lived my life, had children, got married, struggled with some of my relationships, bought and renovated a house at a time when it was unheard of for women to own a property, but it wasn’t until my youngest daughter died of throat cancer at the age of 45, that I started to think about doing something creative - she was such a creative girl, very arty and musical.  And that inspired me to pick up with my learning again.  Yes, it was something to take my mind off the grief, but also, there was something in me that had always wanted to be creative.” 

Jan had attended life drawing classes, was interested in making crafts and sewing and went to art class for four years, painting with watercolours.  “It was a life-saver for me,” she said.  “And then a friend of mine dragged me along to one of the University’s Open Days and before I knew it, I was enrolled on a course studying Textiles and Surface Pattern because one of the academics I met thought that would be a perfect outlet for my talent.” 

Jan, who once ran a vintage and antique stall on Wolverhampton Market, has focused on the Art Deco period in her work, looking at the aftermath of the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic and how people, mainly women, responded. Also making a comparison with the Covid situation a hundred years later. Her work is based on the theme of Music, Song and Dance and she creates wall hangings, scarves and kimonos, using Art Deco patterns to reflect an era of enjoyment and hedonism. 

She said: “I love the tutors at the University and creating the work, drawing, screen printing. Although I’m not great with computers, I really love the creative side.  I secured a student loan to pay for the course and have been supported with the digital side.  

“I like learning, it gives you something to think about. I really have realised a childhood dream. I didn’t want a degree particularly but I wanted the experience. I’ll be nearly 80 when I finish the course and I’m hoping that I will be able to sell pieces and designs - even if it’s just one, I will have achieved something. 

“Working with other students has been interesting, especially younger students and it’s a nice group to work with.  It’s great for people who might be lonely or who are looking to do something for themselves after years of looking after other people.” 

Sharon Watts, Course Leader Textiles and Surface Pattern at the University, said: “The University is a very strong ambassador for lifelong learning and I think that Jan’s story epitomises this in every way.

“As the University of Opportunity, our students come to us at all ages, from all walks of life and it’s our aim to ensure that they all get individual learning plans and the support that they need in order to succeed.

“Jan’s story is exceptional because her journey hasn’t been an easy one, but I think she’s really demonstrated that it’s never too late to realise your dreams and it’s never too late to learn.”

Anyone looking to study at the University of Wolverhampton should register for one of our forthcoming Open Days. 


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