Keelite of the Month October 2017: Ant Sutcliffe

2008 Media, Communications and Culture & Politics

What am I doing now?
I am Head of the £11.8 million HEFCE funded Higher Horizons+ NCOP scheme, based at Keele. The project aims to raise the aspirations of economically disadvantaged young people from across the three counties of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. We launched in January and we have engaged with nearly 10,000 young people so far. I have an incredible, passionate team of 28 people who wake up every day ready to change the lives of young people. We believe in education and we believe in the talent of our young people in the area. Whether we are delivering talks in schools, on campus events, community outreach or even organising residential stays at one of our partner universities, we aim to have direct and positive impacts on our young people.
How did you get to where you are now?  
I had an interview for Widening Participation Events Assistant two hours after my last exam at Keele in 2008. I flunked the exam but nailed the interview! I loved the job, out in the community where I grew up, telling people that University was for them despite what they might hear from others. I then became a project manager for different projects, like Unifest Summer Schools, Young People Conferences and e-Mentoring. The part of the job I really enjoyed was the collaboration with other Universities. I helped to write a bid to bring £500k to the University in 2014, with the aim of bringing 11 Universities and HE Colleges together to promote Higher Education. We won that bid and we led a really successful scheme over two years. At the time we didn’t know that the project would go on to win £11.8 million to accelerate our work, but that is where we are today, and I love coming into work every day.

Wiining the "Oscar" with Stardome What has been your biggest achievement so far?
In 2015 I managed a project called Stardome. The Stardome itself was actually funded by Keele alumni via the Keele Key Fund. It is a big inflatable dome that projects the story of the Universe inside it. During that year 4,800 young people and 1,000 community members experienced the Stardome, and we won The Times Higher Widening Participation Initiative of the Year – The Oscars of Outreach work!

Photo left: Looking pleased with myself with the Times Higher Award for Stardome

But I wouldn’t say that that was my biggest achievement. That would be the many, many young people who have engaged with our programmes; many of them not given a fair chance at progressing through education. I’ve been lucky enough to be at the graduations of some of these young people; as well as making me feel rather old, I burst with pride that we have had an impact on their lives. I’ve been known to get a bit teary too!

And your biggest mistake?
I would say not living on campus in my first year. I felt a bit out of it. In fact, I nearly dropped out after the first semester. I was a student ambassador (or Widening Participation Event Mentor in those days) and the friends I made through that – many of whom were at my wedding years later – kept me going and gave me that sense of Keele community that has grown in each of my 12 years at Keele.

Our son Riley at Keele Hall What are your ambitions now?
I want to ensure that this programme has the greatest possible impact on the young people of our area. There is so much work to do in Stoke on Trent and beyond. I believe we are making, and will continue to make, a real  impact. Personally, I believe in ripping the rule book up a bit. Work hard, be reliable and determined, and who knows where you might get?

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?  
Make things happen. Volunteer at the youth club, the local Church or Mosque. Become a school governor. Get a way-in to community outreach. It’s not a massive sector. Make positive impressions. But also, be angry. Be angry that the postcode that a child is born in usually determines their life opportunities – wake up every morning believing you can change that, by either hard work, bloody mindedness, or both.

Photo Right: With our son Riley, enjoying Keele lawns this Summer.

What made you choose Keele University?   
Quite an easy choice, and not that exciting! My girlfriend (now wife), Hayley Summerscales (Sutcliffe) (2008) told me that she was going to Keele and I should come with her! So I did. I applied to Keele and only Keele, and it was by far the best thing she’s ever made me do!

Ant in Moscow What kind of a student were you?  
I did enough to get by, but worked really hard in third year to get a II:1. I guess I was quite feisty and would get into heated debates, particularly in Politics seminars! I loved my course, and the Complementary Studies Programme was great. We went to Tver' University in Russia for five weeks to study Russian Language, and what a great experience that was. I enjoyed the Union Square Bar (demolished in 2008) as we all did in those days and in the mid 2000s alcopops were all the rage. I drank too many Tropical VKs during my three years as an undergrad!

How has Keele influenced your life?  
Beyond measure. Before I applied, I was going to work for a landscape gardener. And I would still be doing that now if it wasn’t for Keele. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t right for me. I have thought about moving on from Keele a few times, but the pull of the Keele community will not allow me to leave.

Photo left: In Moscow whilst studying abroad in 2006.

Hayley and I had a really tough year last year. Our little girl was stillborn. As well as family and friends, the Keele Community dragged me through 2016. That’s what Keele does best, doesn’t it? We rally around. Keele is a family, and I love being a part of that family.

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
So many as staff and as a student. I was granted the honour of being Mace Bearer at graduation ceremonies last year. The work we do with our young people has delivered incredible memories, late night ghost tours in the woods, firing potatoes out of tubes in the name of science and many more. As a student, one memory really sticks out for no reason. My good friend Mike Wheeler (2008) and I were in a deserted Student Union when The Clash came on. I remember just going mad for it on the dance floor with a VK in each hand. I was a bit of a rebellious angry young man then. Maybe I am a rebellious angry old(er) man nowadays!

Mentors' bash in Barista 2007 What is your impression of Keele now?
It’s strange that buildings go and new ones pop up. Colleagues leave and new people arrive. We lose students every year and gain new ones shortly afterwards (all still greeted by Neil Baldwin, of course). But the community never changes. I feel that Keele is going places, whilst adhering to Lord Lindsay’s dream of a multi disciplinary curriculum for the many.

Anything else you would like to add?
I would just like to encourage any and all alumni to come back and see us. Everyone has got busy lives, but book a weekend away and come back to us. Newcastle and Hanley have seen a real revival recently, and I am sure you will always be welcome in the KPA!

Photo right: Mentors' Christmas bash in Barista, 2007. Anyone else remember Barista?