Protest Outside the UGC Offices Against Grant Cuts, University of Keele, 6 January 1982

I was reminded of this protest when chatting with some interesting MCC members about Rhodes Boyson in the writing room at Lord’s in April 2016 – click here for a link to the posting about that conversation.

I resolved to dig out my diaries and see if I could find out some more about it. Soon enough, I found this page:

Diary 6 January 1982

Actually the diary entry is not too revealing about this protest. Nor are the pages around it, which refer a lot to “meeting up with the usual friends…various people…some people…the crowd…” as if I would naturally remember all the details when I want them, 34 years later.

Indeed, the entries around the time of the protest have triggered many other memories about how I felt at that time and why I started to plot my escape from halls of residence into an on-campus flat in the early months of that year. Another story for another posting or two.

So I must rely almost entirely on memory for this story.

“The Cuts” (to university grants) was the biggest political issue on the higher education agenda at that time. There were marches and things, which I attended occasionally, but I’ve never been a great one for marches.

A few of us decided that we needed to do something a bit more eye-catching, yet unquestionably in the non-violent protest arena. We hatched a plan for a media/profile grabbing event; a dramatic protest outside the University Grants Committee (UGC) offices on one of their big committee days, when Rhodes Boyson would be attending; 6 January 1982.

In simple terms, we would make a crude replica of our Keele Campus and destroy it in front of the UGC building while the committee met, announcing “this is what you are doing to our University”. Naturally we would alert the media in advance to the fact that there would be “a happening” outside the building during the UGC meeting.

In order to implement our plot, several of us returned to Keele immediately after Christmas. I’m trying to remember who was involved. I’m pretty sure Jon Gorvett and Truda Smith were involved and they do get a name drop in my diary 2 January. I’m also pretty sure that Simon Jacobs was heavily involved, although something tells me that he did not return to Keele early, but joined us in London on the day. For some reason my mind is linking Diana Ball with this event, but I might be mistaken. Similarly I think Toby Bourgein had a leading hand in plotting the protest and possibly even drove the minibus down from Keele, but again I might be mistaken. Surely Pete Roberts was involved?

I love the fact that my diary entry says that I signed on before we set off for London to protest. In those days, the ridiculous student grant system meant that the grant only applied to the term-time weeks and that you had to sign on to the dole to get some money for the non-term weeks. What a palaver for the Social Security people to have to administer.

Of course, the social security system for students has been vastly simplified now; the poor students simply get “the square root of nada”.

I recall that we gathered in a pub on the Hampstead Road, near to Laurence Corner.  I’m pretty sure it was the Sols Arms, now defunct. I suppose it was possible to park without restriction on that north side of the Euston Road in those days. We enjoyed a drink in that pub and then all went to the cloakrooms to don dark jumpers and balaclava helmets. We then rescued the crude facsimile of the campus (mostly papier mâché and balsa wood, I think) and our mallets from the union minibus, toddled across the Euston Road to the Bloomsbury offices of the UGC and conducted our protest.

I don’t recall how much media attention we got – press I’m sure but I don’t think the TV people bothered with us. I report being very tired on return, so I guess there was enough buzz to keep us talking for a while. Perhaps we retreated to the Sols Arms for a few more jars before returning to Keele a little tired and emotional. What do I mean, “perhaps”?

These days, of course, I don’t think we’d get very far in those dark tops, balaclava helmets and mallets before the armed fuzz would intervene. You’d be lucky to survive such a stunt. They were simpler times in many ways.

Apologies to anyone named (or not named) for the failings of my memory. If anyone else remembers more about this extraordinary day, I really would love to hear some more memories of it in the comments. I’m sure that, with some help, my own memory of the event could improve.

June 2017 Update

More than a year after posting this and getting the wonderful speedy response shown in the comment below, I received an e-mail from Jon Gorvett with newspaper clippings – so we did make the papers. I have written an aside, with images of those clippings, click here. 

3 thoughts on “Protest Outside the UGC Offices Against Grant Cuts, University of Keele, 6 January 1982”

  1. Amazing feedback in double-quick time over on Facebook, where Chris Parkins, bless him, has posted some photos of the event underneath my “call for memories”.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/3246775496/permalink/10157323718165497/

    My memory did pretty well on this one, but apologies to Mark Thomas, Jon Rees, Heather and one or two other people whose names escape me even when I look at the photos.

    No balaclavas if the photos are to be believed. Perhaps we had them with us but then thought better of it. Perhaps we just talked about possibly using balaclavas. Perhaps entirely a false memory of mine.

    That might be the only surviving photo of that ghastly donkey jacket of mine (fourth picture down). A bit of Photoshop and we could make it go away. Perhaps also improve the pained expression on my face – I don’t think I enjoyed holding that model at all.

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