Keele academic receives MBE for services to ageing research and to older people
A Keele University professor has been awarded an MBE for her contribution to society’s understanding of ageing – after an advert in a Job Centre window led to her becoming one of the country’s leading experts in the field.
Professor Emerita Miriam Bernard was awarded the accolade in the New Year Honours list for services to ageing research and to older people, following a distinguished career as a socially inclusive researcher and practitioner in Social Gerontology.
Professor Bernard, who received the prestigious British Society of Gerontology's Outstanding Achievement Award in 2022, admits she ended up working in ageing ‘completely by accident’, but has now been awarded one of the nation’s top-ranking honours after devoting over 40 years of her life to improving the lives of older people through research, education and policy.
She said: "I am amazed and delighted to be awarded an MBE. Ever since I began my career in the voluntary sector, I have always believed that the true value of research on ageing lies in the positive impact it can have on older people, on practitioners, and on our students."
Originally from London, Professor Bernard came to Keele as an undergraduate student, graduating with a Combined Honours degree in English Literature and Geography in 1976. After a year working at pottery firm Wedgwood and then travelling, she returned to Keele to study for her PhD in Social/Human Geography, and has lived and worked in North Staffordshire ever since.
She said: "People often ask how I ended up in ageing and the answer is, by accident. I was nearing the end of my PhD and, because the funding had run out, I was unemployed. Early in 1982, I went to the Job Centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where I saw a postcard-sized advert in the window for a person to lead a small research team for a local charity. Going inside to find out more, all they could tell me was that it was for the Beth Johnson Foundation. I rang up, attended an interview a couple of days later, and they asked me to start the following Monday!
"I'd grown up in a multi-generational household, but I didn’t really know much about ageing, so it was a complete baptism of fire. The post was only meant to be for nine months, but I stayed for six years as the Foundation's Research Officer, during which time we did many innovative projects on support for older people living with dementia, leisure in later life, and self-health care in old age."
Professor Bernard left the Foundation and returned to Keele's recently established Centre for Social Gerontology in 1988 to help set up – and teach on - the first postgraduate programmes in Gerontology outside of London. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in October 1995, Reader in September 1997 and, in May 1999, was awarded a personal Chair.
At Keele, she undertook research on women’s lives as they age, on intergenerational relations and family life, on working carers, and on retirement community living. Then, from 2009, she led a series of highly successful Ages and Stages projects, a collaboration between Keele and the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The initial project explored the theatre’s pioneering social documentaries – produced from 1964 to 1995 – and interviewed over 100 older people about the part the theatre had played in their lives. These projects led to the creation of the Ages and Stages Theatre Company, which is still running now, and the Live Age Festival.
Professor Bernard, who retired from Keele at the end of 2018 and is now a volunteer audio describer at the New Vic Theatre, said: "This award is a tribute to the critical gerontological research I and colleagues undertook during my decades at Keele, and especially to organisations like the New Vic Theatre and the Beth Johnson Foundation, which have supported and enriched my work, and my life, since I first came to the Potteries more than 50 years ago. It is also testimony to all those older people who have generously shared – and continue to share – their experiences, reflections, and above all, their creativity."
An author and editor of 10 books in her field, Professor Bernard has also published 12 monographs, many research reports and more than 100 book chapters and journal articles. Findings from her research have become plays, exhibitions and short films.
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