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Suzanne St Clare, from Bebington, Wirral, first started studying Photography and Fine Art at the University in 2011, finally completing her third year and gaining a Single Honours Photography degree seven years later, in 2018.

Mother to children and caring for an elderly parent while also working as a photographer and freelance gallery educator at the Tate Liverpool meant studying was a challenge. She said: “The locality of the University and the flexible studying meant I was able to juggle family and work commitments – and studying at Chester and getting my degree has been a truly life-changing experience.”

Suzanne had been working in the art and photography industry for a long time and noticed that among her colleagues she was the only one without a qualification.  She explained: “I thought about going to university to study, but at first the idea was too daunting.

“When I eventually made the decision to go, I was able to increase my practical knowledge of my subject and also shape my professional platform. My dissertation explored the therapeutic benefits of the visual arts on the mental health of young people in Britain today. It looked at the importance, relevance and impact of effective evaluation, and the opportunity to study in such detail has had many benefits in my career since leaving university.”

While studying, Suzanne was also developing a community interest company (CIC), VidA Creative Learning. As hands-on director of the CIC, Suzanne provides visual arts and photography workshops for all age groups and abilities – with the aim of empowering lives, building resilience and increasing self-esteem through the creative arts.

She said: “I specialise in projects for young women, referred by social services or schools, who are identified as being at risk, vulnerable, hard-to-reach and with multiple complex needs. I continue to do this work today and my motivation is breaking down perceived barriers in learning and seeing, and to make the enjoyment of art accessible to all.”

Suzanne has also exhibited her work at galleries across Merseyside. She said: “Last year was particularly eventful.

“I have run social engagement projects with the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool and Tate Liverpool. I’ve had exhibitions at Open Eye, the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, and the Sailing School Gallery at New Brighton.”

Suzanne’s exhibitions include Tabula Rasa, a collaborative portrait project and celebration of strength, resilience and beauty that aimed to reach vulnerable young women with complex needs. Tabula rasa is a Latin phrase that is often translated as ‘clean slate’ – and the theory is that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that all knowledge comes from experience or perception.

Working in partnership with Wirral’s Creative Youth Development (CYD) service, Suzanne and six young women photographers documented the new female workforce at Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead. The photograph collection, entitled Women of Iron, was exhibited at the Williamson Art Gallery throughout October and November alongside an additional exhibition, Cammell Laird 2019, at the Sailing School Gallery, New Brighton, which showed a contemporary take on this iconic shipyard.

Suzanne explained: “This project was commissioned for the Made of Iron project during Wirral Borough of Culture 2019.

“CYD provides creative opportunities for young people to learn new skills in a range of art forms to help build their confidence and resilience.

“We gained unprecedented access to the shipyard and working closely with Cammell Laird and the British Antarctic Survey, the young women involved have learned the techniques of using film cameras, gaining the trust of their subjects to produce portraits that portray women at work.”

Suzanne plans to continue her studies with an MA – and she has some advice for current and future students. She said: “Students – mature or not – should make the most of their time at university in every possible way. Go to lectures and if you’re studying the arts, go to as many exhibitions as you can. 

“But most of all, live, breathe and love the subject you are studying and be the best you can be. 

“Whilst ‘living your best life’ is a bit of a current cliché, at university you have the opportunity to study and create a foundation for your future self. There’s no better time to live your best life – and your best university life.”

Associate Professor Bernadine Murray, Head of Department Art and Design at the University of Chester School of Arts and Media, commented: “Suzanne has had some great achievements as a student and since graduating. Her success is evidence of her hard work and dedication to her practice and to the support offered by the committed Photography programme team at the University of Chester. Socially engaged practice is an area of particular interest across the Department of Art and Design and the type of work Suzanne does within communities is vital and testament to the value and impact of the visual arts for all members of society.”

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