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An unexpected journey
A Staffordshire University flyer through the door of Ray Thorley’s Cheshire home changed his life forever when he decided to take a degree course in photography.
Ray had been working in the nuclear industry for 27 years, heading up a procurement team in a company which designed and built nuclear power stations.
He’d had a lifelong interest in photography and had taken evening courses at Macclesfield College, but having left school with no qualifications he had never dreamed that he would one day become a university student.
“When that flyer came through the door, my wife suggested I should pack in work and do a degree course,” says the 68-year-old, who lives in a small village between Sandbach and Crewe. “I had never done anything really academic when I was thrust into this world. I finished work on the Friday and started university the following Monday. It was a huge gamble, really.”
The gamble paid off, and following his graduation in 2010 from a full-time undergraduate degree in photography Ray went on to complete a part-time Masters in Community and Participatory Arts, graduating in 2015.
He thoroughly immersed himself in university life and became a stalwart of the student ambassador scheme, working on higher education fairs, open days, roadshows and graduation week for six years – and was even presented with a long-service award for his dedication.
“I loved all the jobs I did,” says the father-of-two. “The young ones accepted me as one of their buddies and I learned so much from them. I don’t expect it but, they still keep in touch via Facebook and that thrills me. I really feel part of the Staffordshire University family.”
While studying for his Masters he took part in the SPEEEDPlus programme run by universities in the West Midlands, which helps give people the knowledge and skills to launch their own business.
He now has a varied freelance career in three areas: landscape and portraiture photography, “with a little bit of social documentary”; giving talks to groups on photography and becoming a mature university student; and running photography groups for all ages and backgrounds.
“I’m quite picky about what I do and I love the variety,” he says. “My ambition is to pass on knowledge to others. In particular I like working with young people who have an uphill climb and often lack self-belief, and helping to build confidence and wellbeing in others, especially those who suffer from disadvantages.
“Staffordshire taught me how to research and be observant in my work. Moreover, business seems to find me and all the skills I have learnt come into play. I am so excited about what I do.”
Ray is now involved with a number of community arts projects in Staffordshire, including Appetite and B-Arts, and was also selected to be part of an English delegation on an EU-funded regeneration programme looking at community arts projects in Spain, Lithuania and Poland.
And he still maintains his interest in uncovering great stories from interesting people which began with his photography degree show on body art.
“I was blessed and privileged to experience such dedicated and enthusiastic lecturing staff in Photography and Community Arts,” he says.
“I have had so many opportunities and it’s been an interesting journey. I never would have believed that my life would turn out like this.”