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Jeanette Longfield: Keelite of the Month June 2014
1980 International Relations
What am I doing now?
Taking early retirement in Thuir in the South of France!
How did you get to where you are now?
I enjoyed myself so much at Keele that I thought I would spend some more time in a university, so I did a Masters at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University. While this was an excellent course in a top institute, it convinced me that academia was not for me. The question remained, what was for me? Both Keele and Sussex had confirmed my view that the world was in need of changing so, equipped with the Guardian jobs page on a Wednesday (which was how we did it in the old days) I started looking for an organisation that would let me do that.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations took me on and gave me the space to establish a new network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) called the National Food Alliance. The aim was, and is, to encourage a wide range of NGOs – promoting health, the environment, animal welfare, social justice – to join forces to make our food and farming system not only good for us but also for the natural and social systems that we need to survive and thrive. Eventually, NCVO encouraged the National Food Alliance cuckoo to leave the nest and I followed, joining up later with a sister alliance (if I can mix my metaphors), the Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment Alliance. We got on so well that the two alliances merged to form what is now Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming.
All in all, I’ve spent almost 30 years working with some fantastic people trying to change the food and farming world for the better. But it’s tiring work so, before I got completely burnt out, it seemed like a good idea to make room for younger, more energetic campaigners, and start a new phase of my life in the South of France with my partner Phil.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We (that is Sustain, not me alone) have had some great campaigning successes over the years but I still think getting junk food advertisements off children’s TV was not only a great achievement but also a pivotal moment. It set the terms for the debate not only in the UK but also inspired similar campaigns all over the world.
On a personal level, seeing my mum and dad and my partner all beaming with pride when I got my MBE is a feeling that just can’t be beaten.
Photo right: receiving the MBE by permission of Charles Green Photography
And your biggest mistake?
It feels sacrilegious to say this is to my old university, but I deeply regret paying any attention to people who told me that more facts and research would win campaigns! Research is vitally important, but far from sufficient. I became a more successful campaigner eventually, but not before wasting a lot of time wondering why policy makers weren’t changing their policies based on evidence.
What are your ambitions now?
Improving my very rusty school French and becoming fluent. Turning our beautiful, old but hopelessly energy inefficient new home into a beautiful showpiece for what an eco-home and garden can be. And me and Phil being able to move up into the advanced level of our local ballroom class – you should see our cha cha!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Volunteer. It’s far from ideal having work for nothing for a while, but it not only gives you something to put on your CV, it also gives you a chance to find out if being a campaigner is what you really want to do. And you really have to want to do it with a passion – it’s not just a job. Even giving your skills for free isn’t easy, but don’t take no for an answer – it’s good training for being a campaigner!
What made you choose Keele University?
After school I didn’t know what degree subject I wanted to take so Keele gave me a unique and invaluable opportunity to try lots of different areas before finding International Relations, which I loved doing. It’s also a beautiful campus in a great part of the country.
Photo left: With the IR Class of 1980 - names below
What kind of a student were you?
I don’t think I ever missed a lecture! But I rarely missed live bands and discos either – does the chip van still come to the campus? Chips and gravy on the walk back to the Hawthorns... mmm....
How has Keele influenced your life?
It broadened the horizons of a girl from a small seaside town, set me off on the road to a long, enjoyable and (partly!) successful campaigning life and provided me with some lifelong friends.
What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Wonderfully inspiring academic staff (it broke my heart when John Vincent died young of a heart attack), impassioned debates late into the night about life, the universe and everything, and learning how to make a million(ish) meals with mince!
What is your impression of Keele now?
Vibrant, progressive and exciting – I’m jealous in some ways of students there now, or planning to go in September.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think I might have wittered on quite long enough....