Then and Now


Doreen Norman

I arrived for an interview in the Sociology Department in 1987 having suffered the extreme sadness and loss of my darling mother just a year before. I was with the Geology/Earth Sciences Department for eight years and needed to find pastures new to ease the pain of my loss. I had two successful interviews, one with Dulwich College and the other with South Bank University but declined both as my heart was in Goldsmiths, and the opening of the post of the Sociology Department Secretary was there waiting for me. Dave Walsh, the then Head of Department, and Paul Filmer interviewed me along with one other candidate from the Biology/Life Sciences Department, but I was the successful one.

Twenty one years passed and I retired from the department in 2008 with a sense of fulfilment, joy and so many treasured memories of my life working within Sociology. Prior to Goldsmiths I had worked in three companies in the role of PA or Secretary but the goal to achieve was as would be expected always monetary, whereas Goldsmiths offered a totally different criteria, the rewards of labour being seen in the successes of students graduating.This was far more appealing to me to be able to help students through the hard times, watch them progress through their studies, and see them graduate with honours at the end of their three years. The hundreds of students I watched go through this process over the years was so rewarding and was always at the heart of my work and what I most enjoyed within the department.

During my twenty one years I had the honour of working with seven Heads of Department, each one so different, and each one with a strength of character and power to carry the department forward within those three years enhancing and adapting always to the constant changes within college administration.

I enjoyed immensely working with each of the Heads of Department and was always sorry when that term of headship came to an end. I felt I had a good working relationship with each and every one, and with all of the academic staff who offered me great encouragement and professional friendship every day I was there. Most of my peers within the support staff were also a joy to work with and I have many fond memories to look back on. I meet still with Violet and Bridget who remain my very close friends to this day.

I am enjoying retirement to the full and look forward to every day and new adventures. A huge thank you to everyone in the department who I worked with over the years,It was such a pleasure for me, and I really did enjoy working with you all.

Bridget Ward

I saw an advert in the local paper in June 2000 for a ‘front of house’ job at CUCR (Centre for Urban and Community Research), so I applied and got it. I had previously always worked in the City and West End so it was quite strange at first to work locally at Goldsmiths, to commute to work on a bike after doing the school run and to have to adapt to the ‘academic way’ of working. I was based in the lovely old Laurie Grove Baths building with the wonderful Michael (Keith) who was the Head of the Centre, then Les (Back) who was Acting Head until Michael returned. It was a thriving, exciting research centre with a healthy number of Masters and PhD students, Post Docs, our Administrator Carole (Keegan), academic staff and our Porters, Mickie and Billy. We ran the Masters in Culture, Globalisation and the City and a bit later the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures so there was always an interesting mix of sociologists, urbanists, visual practitioners and events happening. We used to hold our Away Days at venues like The Whitechapel Art Gallery and Trinity Buoy Wharf – life was good at CUCR.

Then came an ‘administrative review’ and things changed radically for many of us. For me, it meant being moved in 2007 to ‘The Tower’ as it was euphemistically called and into the Department of Sociology where I took responsibility for administrating the MPhil/PhD Sociology and Visual Sociology programmes. I had the great pleasure of working with Bev (Skeggs) who later became Head of Department, with David (Oswell), now HoD, and with Dory (Doreen Norman) to name but a few.

Throughout the years at Goldsmiths, I feel privileged to have met and formed friendships with a great number of exceptional people from all over the world, but it was and remains the students who touch my heart the most. I have shared with them births, marriages, deaths, secrets, laughter, celebrated many successful Vivas with much champagne, met their families and loved ones at Graduation Ceremonies and, best of all, enjoyed seeing many transformations from caterpillars to very beautiful butterflies. Life’s good in Sociology.

Monica Greco

I gave my very first conference paper at Goldsmiths. It was 1992, the conference was on Foucault and Politics,and I was in the second year of my PhD at the European University Institute in Florence. I remember getting lost in the Richard Hoggart Building, in seemingly infinite versions of the same corridor paved in checkerboard lino tiles. My very first publication came out of that conference; I had no idea then that Goldsmiths would also give me my first academic job. This picture was taken in Florence in January 1996, days after my viva, at a party celebrating the occasion. A couple of weeks later I would be in London for my interview.

Eighteen years on, I still get lost in the Richard Hoggart Building. It truly is an amazing building in that sense! The department has been my academic home all this time. It is a unique environment, full of daring and trust and imagination. Never quite comfortable or complacent. Over the years people have come and gone, and we are now bigger and more diverse than ever before. But in other ways the department feels just the same as when I first encountered it, in 1992: a place where the possibility of wonder is never far away.

Heidi Mirza

In this photo I have just walked out of my PhD exam into the bright summer sun on Lewisham Way. I was fearless and flying! It is 1988 and the sociology department is in the background. You can just see the cold dark basement behind me where I wrote the book ‘Young, Female and Black’. In front of me is Goldsmiths’ iconic red colonial building, to the left of which is the little ramshackled nursery where I could leave my baby daughter every day so I could study. There were so few opportunities for young single mums in those days and yet Goldsmiths took a chance on me with a PhD scholarship in 1982. My black feminist politics was shaped by the racial uprisings all around us at the time, like the New Cross Massacre which happened just down the road, if you turned right in the picture.

I returned to Goldsmiths in 1990 as a researcher on a pioneering study looking at crack cocaine use in Lewisham and met the lovely Stew, now my husband, who by chance was also a sociology graduate!! And if that wasn’t enough I am back again in the sociology department 30 years on as a professor!! It is such a different place now – so diverse, vibrant, with a confident sense of its place in the world. I enjoy walking past the new library on my way in to the office and seeing the students milling around talking on their mobile phones and intently discussing big social subjects of the day - always with a coffee and computer close at hand. I love knowing one day they will make a difference and that in some small way I am still part of this bigger picture.

Vikki Bell

The first photograph was taken at Point Lobos, California in summer of 1993, the summer following my appointment at Goldsmiths in January 1993. I have since returned several times to this special point on the coastline as I have developed a connection with University of California at Berkeley.

Over my 21 years at Goldsmiths, I’ve certainly seen many changes! I remember Don Slater introducing the idea of email to a sceptical departmental meeting heralding as he put it the ‘paperless office’ of the future, and watching my first ever film-clip on the internet on Les Back’s computer. During my first years we were housed in 41-3 Lewisham Way, and had finalists’ parties in the garden.

Now based in the tower I’m surrounded by a completely different set of colleagues pursuing our multi-faceted sense of what Sociology might promise.

Although I’m less likely to be mistaken for a student these days, this is a place where a shared commitment to what a university should be keeps you, well, if not exactly young, then, stimulated, active and engaged!

David Oswell

Then: I moved to the department in February 2001, from Brunel University. I was so excited. It was the department that I’d always dreamed about. And I was now there, here. From my window - the view to Greenwich Park, the sound of the sirens; teaching in rooms like bedsits on Lewisham Way, the smell of damp soaked the seminars; being in a staff meeting with people I’d read and written about.

Now: Still in the department, looking so much older and fatter and greyer. I’m still so excited. I still ‘live the dream’ (as Casey and Jody scream in Tamara Drewe). There are still sirens; still having meetings with amazing people. But no teaching in bedsits, only water pouring down the walls in Warmington Tower. Some things need to change!

Kate Nash

It was so long ago when I came to the Department that many of us still smoked cigarettes – in the stairwell of Warmington Tower, which at that time was open to the wind and rain. Many of the people who were here then have moved on – but strangely, the ethos of the Department has stayed much the same.

It’s a very friendly, co-operative place, but also very demanding. There’s a lot of freedom, but whatever you do you have to do it as well as you possibly can: there’s a drive to be the very best that is somehow built-in to the place. That makes it very stimulating, and also at times a stressful place to work. Perhaps you can’t really have one without the other…

Les Back

The first of these two photographs was taken in Rachel Macmillan Hall on Creek Road, Deptford. It was 1982 and I was in the second year of my degree in Social Anthropology and Geography at Goldsmiths. How different was it then? Well, the college seemed smaller – there were just eight people on my course. Seminars were intense and amazing. Few students seem to have chosen to come to Goldsmiths, everyone I knew seemed to have come via Clearing mostly from outside of London and from provincial white Middle-class homes. Pictured here with Linda from Canning Town, she was an exception and part of a group of students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds who gravitated to each other. Post-industrial and postcolonial Deptford was a bit of shock for many but even then the student body was populated with interesting Mavericks, albeit ones with poor A Level grades. I remember Gil Scott Heron played in the Student Union that year – The Revolution Would Not Be Televised!

Fast forward thirty years and this portrait was taken by my daughter - Stevie - in Cafe Crème on the New Cross Road. Like most people I really don’t like to look at my portrait. It makes a difference knowing that I am looking back at Stevie, who was three months old when I returned to Goldsmiths in 1994. How different is Goldsmiths now? It is profoundly different - more cosmopolitan and international, much greater class diversity amongst students and faculty and there has been a drift in the direction of a multicultural university. I feel very proud to have been part of that transformation. When Stevie came to take these pictures she was amazed by the new signage up around campus. The map showing the New Academic Building, really caught her imagination: “Wow, maps that’s different! When I used to come to work with you as a little girl I thought Goldsmiths was a university in a disused building!” Perhaps, the premises have improved a little too.