How The Ragged Uni Idea Came About by Grant Crozier

Sometime in 2010 Alex Dunedin, Jessica Haley, Will Bentinck and I met up for a pint, because Al had had an Idea.

The idea was simple: we had spent so many great evenings together talking to each other (and also to complete strangers) about subjects we were passionate about, and had learnt so much from each other (and from the strangers), that Al figured surely there could be a way of creating an environment in which anyone, no matter who they were or their background, could get together in an informal setting and share their passion and knowledge.

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So was born the ragged university. All we had to do now was get rid of the hangover and make it happen. Some ideas have a life of their own, and this was one. Al ran off back to Scotland for a bit, while the rest of us pitched the idea to anyone who didn’t run away fast enough. Al was in Edinburgh, doing the same. People liked this idea.


Everyone has a passion. Everyone is an expert on something. We wanted to give everyone not just the confident drunks, the academics, people with a natural platform to stand on the chance to share their knowledge, enthusiasm and love of their subject with a room full of friendly, interested locals.


At this point Will, Jess and I met up regularly to talk about talking. We needed to find people willing to stand up in front of a roomful of strangers and speak and we needed to find a friendly venue willing to let us do hold such an event. Fortunately Al was back in London doing lots of leg work, literally. Inspired by the Ragged Schools, which some say began in Hackney, Al walked the length of the Hackney mile, finding and exploring venues that would be fit for purpose. He came back with a long list of great venues, with friendly and enthusiastic staff.


Now we had a venue, a lovely pub in Stoke Newington called the Palantine, and we had two brave, bold and loquacious people . Myself and Will. We didn’t do a great job of advertising the event, mostly relying on friends to bring friends but it was a start. With an audience of just under 20, we began.


We had a great time trying out this idea of Al’s and learnt some lessons about speaking in public (like slow down, and slow down some more) and about marketing events (don’t rely on Facebook to keep track of who’s attending). We held one other talk since that first event and due to obligations such as work and university we all had to take a step back and let the ragged unfold without us in Edinburgh, and then Manchester and Glasgow.


But we always kept an eye on it and have been giving advice when asked and throwing it when not.  The Ragged University excited me when I first listened to Al talk about it, and it still excites me now. To me there are two ways to think about it, there is the prima facie (went to University don’t you know), where the idea is compelling if only because you’ve always wanted to convince an audience to your theory on comic book heroes being linked to economic climate, or because you love the idea of sharing your passion and skills in leather work. The second more subtle, is the connection and consequence, where you realise that from attending an informal talk given by you, someone could be convinced, persuaded, or infuriated enough to go and look it up for themselves.


To begin to explore an old or new idea, or skill. And that person may become the confident one in the pub, sitting round a table, holding court and bringing people together in debate, or may go on to study a subject solely with the intention of proving you wrong.  There are people that don’t trust formal forms of education, or that formal education doesn’t suit. I am one for example, I don’t seem to understand the term ‘deadline’ or have the ability to put a sentence together under exam conditions.  This is one of the reasons the Ragged is such a good idea, free education for anyone, in informal surroundings. It is for everyone, absolutely.


I have now finished University which means I can dedicate time, effort and passion into the ragged in London, (probably more than I did with my degree) I have many plans, in mind for this wee idea. The most important of which is simply to hold events. It is by getting together and spreading knowledge and the ideas of people like Al that the ragged will achieve it’s goals of inclusive and free education for all.