We work closely with a network of agencies to support people from a wide range of backgrounds. This includes people who have had mental health issues or addiction problems, people leaving prison, and anyone who has thought that Further or Higher Education is closed or irrelevant to them.
Open Book has helped hundreds of people to find places at university, studying a range of subjects from foundation to postgraduate level. As well as drop-in and study sessions, we run an outreach programme that includes visits to prisons, hospitals and residential units.
Open Book’s impact has been nationally recognised: we received the Guardian University Award for student diversity in 2016.
Open Book was officially founded in 2004 by its current director, Joe Baden, at Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to that it had been an action research project focusing on those from an offending background, and looking at the barriers they faced in education. The main principle of Open Book is to break down those same barriers, in particular the ones that discourage people from entering Higher Education. Open Book works closely with a network of agencies to support people from a wide-range of ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds (not their description) including, people with addiction and/or mental health issues, carers and those brought up in care, people with criminal records and/or at risk of offending, as well as those who have truly never considered Further and Higher Education as any kind of route to enhancing their future career choices and personal development.
Where Open Book differs from many similar projects is in its delivery and methodology. Open Book has rarely advertised for students in any capacity, relying heavily on a word of mouth approach, which sees new students arriving on campus every week of the year. Most of the staff team have been Open Book students themselves, which means that they have a real understanding and genuine empathy: although Open Book recruits students from a wide range of backgrounds (from ages 18 upwards), it is unashamedly embedded in working class culture and tradition. Indeed one of the driving principles of Open Book is that students, those who engage with Higher Education, should not change in terms of accent, dress and behaviour.
Open Book values the importance of learning from experience. The project encourages students to value and reflect on their own life experiences to offer new dimensions to the academic and policy perspectives offered by their courses. Open Book staff work with students to find the right and appropriate solutions for them.
In recent years Open Book has expanded its staff team and works across London and Medway and offering a wide range of drop-in classes, dyslexia and literacy support as a result of funding from the Lankelly Chase Foundation and an anonymous donor.
Philosophy and Mission
Open Book aims to break down the barriers that discourage people from entering higher education. Open Book works with people from a wide range of backgrounds who may never have considered higher or further education as a viable option including recovering addicts, reformed offenders, carers, people brought up in care, adult survivors of child abuse and people with mental health issues. The staff and volunteers are also from the backgrounds detailed above and use their experiences to inform the methodology of the project. One of the clearest examples of this is that Open Book runs classes on a drop-in basis, with students taking responsibility for their own attendance and their own recovery.
Open Book offers a broad range of academic and creative subjects including English literature, anthropology, art history, creative writing, drama, music, mindfulness and yoga. When students are ready, they join the extended projects class where they learn to study at degree level. This class acts as a bridging class to studying at university. Students who successfully complete their extended project can then make an application to university; they are supported throughout this process and their entire academic journey. Open Book offers dyslexia, literacy, basic skills and study skills support. All of the classes are free.