My parents moved to Wales when I was about 2, to live with my grandparents in Pontypridd. (Pronounced Pont-uh-Preeth). They’d met in London where my father was studying medicine and my mum, who was from Accrington, had qualified as a nurse at Guy’s.
They met at Moorfields hospital so my identity is very much London – Welsh and London is where I’ve chosen to live for almost all my adult life, starting off as that great Welsh export – a teacher.
When I was about 4(‘ish), my parents moved to Cardiff where my father got a job as a G.P in the NHS in Rhiwbina in the north suburbs of Cardiff. By any comparison / standard I had a really good childhood – parents reasonably well off, living on the edge of a city – fields, woods and stream about 200 yards up the road, loads of friends my own age – I was part of the post war “bulge”, but this had a minor downside in that there was not enough junior/secondary school places – Rhydypenau (Reed-uh-pen-ay) Junior School, was the only Junior school in the area. It had an intake of well over 200 in my year (40 to a class, 2 up 2 down individual promotion, relegation). We were all packed into prefabricated wooden boxes with a coal burning stove in the corner, 40 desks and a teacher with a cane. They needed them, given the sort of discipline they were expected to impose in the classroom. Hitting children with weapons was considered to be a legitimate educational technique back then. This sort of worked for me, in that I managed to scrape through the 11+ and get a place at Cathays (Kat-haze) High School, which despite my reservations at the time was the best grammar school in Cardiff, only 33 to a class and talented teachers. There was a great variety of after school activities – choir, orchestra, drama society, film club, really good sports teams and a big sixth form. We were a privileged group of young people, probably the luckiest of our generation – we had opportunities not given to the 80% of kids who went to secondary moderns, not just in education but as a start in life. With all the great advantages of grammar school education, I chose to take part in the non-academic ones and played hockey for the Welsh Schools, violin in the Cardiff Schools Orchestra etc and really enjoyed my time when I was doing ‘A’ Levels, but didn’t get very good results. So…..
I first came to South East London in 1966/67 to “study” at Thames Polytechnic. Didn’t do much studying and I’m afraid the swinging ‘60s swung past me. As far as I was concerned it didn’t really happen in South East London. I played a lot of sport as a student, hockey and cricket mostly. I was in the Wales under 22 Hockey Squad – The selectors didn’t think I was good enough for the team. I disagreed, we would have been a much more social side with me in it – beer is an essential part of any athlete’s carbohydrate intake and essential for team bonding. Selectors didn’t see it that way.
With the work I did, I managed to scramble a 3rd Class Hons. BSC. (ECON) in Economic and Social History, which was a surprise to myself and my lecturers. So I was stuck with the problem of what to do with my degree – just like students today, only I had more choice than them. The graduate market wasn’t flooded like it is now. My answer to this problem was to do almost nothing in a career sense – Labourer in the steel works, in Cardiff which was an education in itself – how to survive for 9 months in a work environment which actively discouraged work. Other jobs included delivery driver, sale’s rep, labourer on building sites.
After 2 years of this, I got a phone call from my good friend. Rod Waters, asking me if I wanted a job teaching History at Strand School, Brixton. Strand was an odd place – one of the last surviving all boys grammar Schools in 1973 – a complete anachronism within ILEA politically dominated by Labour. The staff structure was odd too, with half under 35yrs and half over 55yrs – with one teacher in the middle – a really interesting bunch of characters. The school closed in 1976.
Having taught at Strand for 2½ years, I thought I’d learn how to do it properly and got a place at London University Institute of Education when Strand closed. I didn’t really learn too much but had a great year off with an adult students grant and all the fees paid – not like today when a Postgraduate Certificate in Education will cost a small fortune.
I didn’t entirely waste my times at LUIE because another friend from the pub asked me if I wanted a job in Further Education – in Woolwich College. So I took it. All my most successful job interviews took place with a pint of beer in my hand.
At the end of the PGCE year, I was offered a summer job at Deptford Adventure Playground (DAP) – again friend in the pub. Quite a long summer job – 1977–2012 (35 years). The whole process of providing activities for young people – giving them new experiences, skills, games, advice. Information etc was exciting, fun and changed with the different people – staff and young people – so it kept me interested for so long.
I still kept teaching in Further Education part-time until 1996, at Woolwich College, Bexley College and Lewisham College, which supplemented the lousy money paid in Youth Work.
1999 – Vietnamese Youth Project
A community worker in the Vietnamese Community asked me if I could run a Deptford Vietnamese Youth Project at DAP. This time not a job offer in a pub, but I really enjoyed it and made some very good friends.
Voluntary Sector – I always believed in the voluntary sector, the fact small voluntary sector organizations can respond quickly to many of the problems of society and are not encumbered to needless bureaucrats I found this attractive. Noah’s Ark is a good example – started in the early ‘70s by a predecessor of mine at DAP, who realized that the local young people needed somewhere to take a break from urban London throughout the year. Richard and Liz Wilkinson (Also people I met in the pub) developed it into a 1st class residential centre with the help of trustees like myself, who believed they can make beneficial differences to young people’s lives. I joined the board of directors in 1980 and thoroughly enjoyed my association with the project.
Deptford Vietnamese Project – is another example of a Voluntary Sector Project set up quickly to respond to local need. The Vietnamese community in Deptford expanded in the 1980’s and by the late ‘90s there were no projects, which specifically targeted them, so some Vietnamese community leaders asked me to coordinate a scheme for Vietnamese young people at DAP on the days we would normally be closed. I raised some funding from Deptford Youth Forum in 1999 and other sources and off we went. The idea was to give the Vietnamese young people a space and activities of their own and to help them integrate with the wider community. It was successful, until 2005 when Lewisham pulled the plug on the funding. An example of doing business with people you don’t drink with.
Deptford Youth Forum – Had a bright beginning, but a less then fortunate end. Took over Windsor Castle on Deptford High Street and developed it as a recognised youth centre. Again – meetings in pubs.
Twinkle Park Trust – I was a committee member
Fireworks – Shows at Blackheath, DAP and Honor Oak Adventure Playgound. Always did fireworks at DAP for local area. Honor Oak’s show caused train cancellation in 1998. I was lucky enough to work with some of the UK’s top companies, Millennium Pyrotechnics, Le Maitte, Kimbolton, Emergency Exit Arts and London Pyrotechnics and to use my experience to organise community events. It’s a pity that the Health and Safety discovered us after 10 years, so we had to stop. All good things come to an end.
Mac wrote the above a few weeks ago for Billy Jenkins (who conducted Mac's funeral on 6 March 2014)
Richard MacVicar 5 August 1947 - 12 February 2104. R.I.P.
Moorfields Eye Hospital
Rhydypenau Junior School
Cathays High School
Thames Polytechnic was formed in 1969 by the merger of three departments of Hammersmith College of Art and Building, Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Surveying with Woolwich Polytechnic. It became the University of Greenwich in 1992.
ILEA (Inner London Education Authority)
LUIE (Institute of Education, University of London)
Woolwich College (amalgamated in 1998 with Greenwich Community College)
Noah's Ark Children's Venture (Macaroni Wood)
Twinkle Park Trust