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On the blog this week, we welcome our very own Head of the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), Helena Astbury. Helena is the ‘go-to person’ for alumni to contact about fundraising, organising reunions and to discuss supporting the University with your time or talent.

With Father’s Day approaching this weekend, Helena tells us more about her family connection to the University of Chester…

“In 1992, three things happened: I started secondary school; my sister was born, and my dad became a teacher.

“That year is predominantly a haze of top knots, shellsuits and being nervous and excited in equal measure about going to high school; but I’ll never forget the morning that my dad and I left, both going to brand new schools – well, college in his case. He had got his first proper teaching job in Further Education, Engineering and Science. My mum, with my two brothers, and two month-old sister Sarah in arms, waved us both off on our new learning adventures.


“I say it was dad’s first proper teaching job, as he had been working as a trainer and educator for a while, as an engineer in industry, and later picking up some classes in colleges. He just loved teaching, in whatever form it took (and still does). He originally trained as an apprentice in Courtauld’s, Flint, before moving to Kimberly Clark. But something was missing… Having already entered the world of work, and with a family to support, he had wondered whether he would be able to retrain and be a full-time teacher.

“Then, he found a way… I remember hearing my dad tell my mum about a place he called ‘Padgate’. As it happens, it was called Warrington Collegiate Institute by that point, but my dad knew it by its original name, because that was how teachers who had trained referred to it too. He could train for his teaching certificate part-time, whilst still working and providing for what was eventually a family of six – and he could do that in Warrington.

“Dad continued to teach for nearly ten years, then making the tough decision to go back to industry for the time being, as the climate was tough at that time and of course, he had a family to support. By this time I was studying for A-Levels; I was resolute that nothing but a Drama School in London would do, but my dad insisted that I look at as many options as possible, taking me to an Open Day at University College Chester.

“Whilst I did ultimately take up a place at Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in London, my dad had actually found a course he wanted to study himself at Chester. By now he had returned to industry, but his love of teaching meant he couldn’t stay away, teaching two evening classes a week. These teaching hours meant he was able to study for a MA in Education Management at Chester, and he jumped at the chance to do so.

“And so he studied, alongside a full-time job and part-time teaching, with me starting University, my brother Stephen just finishing A-Levels, David still in secondary and Sarah being around nine-years-old. I would proofread his essays considering ‘Plate-Glass’ versus ‘Red-Brick’ Universities, whilst practising vocal exercises for my theatre training. Once again, we had started new learning adventures, together…

“Fast forward into the 2010’s, and my dad was again at a crossroads in his career. He had carved a niche for himself being the go-to person for all things learning in his area, being an industrial mentor, as well as managing apprenticeship schemes. Industry was going through rapid change too, which was bringing uncertainty to many. My dad had no question over what he would head for if he was to leave industry again – teaching. His qualifications that he studied for (alongside work and family life) at Warrington and Chester were to serve him well, and he made the move to being a both a lecturer and industrial mentor at degree level, which he continues to do today.

Dadin1992 withStephen

“Watching my dad traverse between careers, adapting when needed, and never missing the opportunity to study and improve himself impressed me greatly at the time, and still does today. When I was considering taking another direction to acting, my dad reminded me that the skills I had developed undertaking study would always serve me well, and reminded me about how much I had loved fundraising for good causes as part of the Carnival Guild of Wales as a teenager. When I became a parent, I thought: “If dad could juggle all of those things, why couldn’t I?” I embarked upon a Master’s Degree myself when my son was five-months-old. When my husband’s opportunity came to change career from industry (film, in his case) to teaching, my dad supported us, and when we needed to relocate to complete our career changes, he and my mum welcomed us with open arms back to North Wales.

“When the opportunity came for me to join the Development and Alumni Relations Office here at the University, I immediately knew that having the opportunity to work with alumni of Chester, Warrington and beyond, was one I wanted to take up wholeheartedly. I can think of nothing better than working with the alumni community and other supporters to engage with, and give opportunities to, the next generation of students, who might be embarking on a their first career steps or, like my dad, changing course to achieve their dreams.

“Happy Father’s Day, dad – you inspire me every day, and here’s to many more learning adventures together (PhD perhaps? OK, possibly minus the shellsuits!)”

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