English Literature and Community Engagement

Making a difference in people's lives

Bristol’s unique ELCE course provides irrefutable evidence of the benefits of an English degree at an individual and societal level. Designed to complement the needs of students of all ages, enabling them to share their experiences with the wider community, the course has attracted widespread acclaim as a novel, participatory approach to higher education.

Every graduate since the course began in 2008 has a different story to tell, exemplifying the diversity of backgrounds and skills that each of them has brought to university life and taken away from the experience.

Judith's experience

Prior to enrolling on the BA, Judith Davis had left her secondary education with no further interest in academia. She had always enjoyed reading but due to her dyslexia, she never truly embraced it until later in life.

"English was a huge mountain that I had to climb," says Judith, who is currently in her fourth year of the course. "I just found it hard to put words on a page."

It was when Judith enrolled in a part-time course jointly run by Bristol University and the Black Development Agency, 'Second Skins: Reading Black Life in Writing', that her enthusiasm for English was rekindled. After successfully completing that, she enrolled on Bristol University's six-month ' Reading English Literature' part-time course, and from there, with encouragement from her family and tutors, she decided to "take the brave step and jump back into education with both feet."

"Bristol University became my second home," says Judith. "It took me a while to get settled; at first it was scary and even though everyone spoke English it was different, systems are different, people are different but they were welcoming and all I had to do was ask if there was anything that I did not understand."

The course is open to students from a wide range of social, educational and ethnic backgrounds. Most students work full or part-time, some are retired; many have family or other commitments. While some have had previous educational experience, completing A levels or Access courses, others have been out of education for up to 40 years. A key component of the course is the public engagement aspect, which focuses on the uses of reading in a variety of places. Students have the chance to start work with other groups in the community, sharing their enthusiasm for the written word.

In 2013, the course was a runner-up for the prestigious Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) annual awards scheme, which celebrates projects that promote lifelong learning in the university sector.

It’s a vision that Judith has personally embraced and she now hopes to work with young people in a community setting so that she can inspire others in the way her tutors and fellow ELCE students inspired her: “My university life has been a rollercoaster ride. My eyes have been opened to things I thought were not for someone like me.”

Looking to get back into education?

Judith enthusiastically recommends the ELCE course to others. As for advice for fellow students, her tips are as follows:

  • Plan your study time; have a draft of essay two three weeks before deadline if possible
  • Re-read it aloud don’t be embarrassed to ask for help to proof read
  • Read the books or extracts before a lecture
  • Look up words you don’t understand, it is true that knowledge is power
  • Whether you have dyslexia or some other thing, just say yes to whatever help is offered to you

Interested in applying?

Find out more about the ELCE course, including full course details and how to apply

English was a huge mountain that I had to climb," says Judith, who is currently in her fourth year of the course. "I just found it hard to put words on a page.

Judith Davis

Related stories

Current ELCE student, Lesley Lees, writes about her experiences of starting a reading group with adults on the autistic spectrum, in the University public-engagement story, 'Words and what they mean'.

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