About Ragged…

no man is an island

‘No man is an island entire of itself – every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’

John Donne


Ragged University is a project where the community creates events in social spaces and we get to learn from each other in relaxed ways.  Ragged University is a practical philosophy more than a centralised organisation; it draws on a social tradition which is about motivated individuals – not about motivating individuals.


The whole idea started when four friends learned about the Ragged Schools and thought that peer led education could work again to build more learning communities but at a higher education level.


Sitting around a table in a pub in Hackney – the concept of the Ragged University was born… it was obvious to us that everyone enjoyed letting their hair down and sharing what sparked their interests; the particular focus was when work is play which meant that we were interested in people who loved what they did – people who had an intrinsic appreciation of their subject.


We believe that free and universal education is a right of everyone and that this idea should be at the centre of this project to update the philanthropic history of the Ragged Schools which brought about positive pragmatic changes in the United Kingdom.


Not only this, but it is about respecting and recognizing that every culture, and every age has it’s own tradition of free education at the core of the community.  The Ragged University project is about learning from all the traditions of free education and making them live through practice.


Exploring the academic language, it became clear that part of what we were setting out to do was to create and reveal inclusive forms of Social Capital using free knowledge exchange and building as a lens to focus community.  This is not about obscuring meaning through using technical language, but more taking the rightful ownership of the shared traditions of learning which are often perceived to belong strictly within the walls of formal institutions.


Engaging in the academic subjects is a part of everyone’s right to knowledge, knowing and taking part in a community of peers; it is just that we choose to do this under more personalised circumstances, on our own terms as well as acknowledging the non-academic, non-professional part of life as being of equal value – even if it is not as measured (or measureable).


The Ragged project operates in informal spaces. The spaces we are interested in are known as ‘third places’ which belong to everyone and are those which foster relaxed atmospheres.


These non-institutional spaces are needed to generate certain types of dynamic between people which allow us to comfortably share what we know on our own terms. The phrase ‘third place’ comes from the work of Ray Oldenburg.


His work illustrates how certain places are anchors of community life and enable dynamic atmospheres in which social interaction can occur without barriers. Societies are built, in part, by informal meeting places that foster the rich connections necessary for the cultural life of a healthy community. Oldenburg suggests the following as markers of “third places”:


Free or inexpensive

Food and drink

Highly accessible

Involve regulars

Welcoming and comfortable

A junction for new and old friends


So we meet in places like pubs, cafes, and libraries – put our feet up, have a bite to eat and a drink, and also either get the chance to present what we know to a room, or listen to someone sharing what they have invested their time in learning.


It is a dialogical space, where everyone is involved in a social learning process, be it gaining the skills to speak in front of a room of people, or become an active listener, or finding constructive voices to feedback on what thoughts you have….and of course, it should be fun.



Great things happen when people work together towards a common goal; this is the basis of community.  The Ragged University fosters self defining connections amongst people. The learning which the project is interested in is all around and through each one of our lives.  It is also about putting into the public sphere and adding value to everyone’s lives without discrimination.


Over time, as more and more people contribute, and as more and more ideas are tested, the website is being used as a place to put our emerging understandings and provide insights which can help develop a model of autonomous community learning which can satellite out to any place.  Building from the ground up with what is available in the landscape is a critical component of the spirit at work. As well as this, it is about avoiding the need for money and monetising something which is priceless so that everyone can take part.


There are presentations and supplements which have been developed; they are insufficient in themselves, but aim to be sparks that help evolve a broader, more sustainable, perspective on open knowledge building communities over time. The website is a collection of contributions from various people to flesh out and paint a picture of these big ideas.  This all comes via learning through doing; it is by practice that we come to understand things, and by doing that we discover what works.


If in doubt, check out what Ernesto Sirolli has to say.  He is communicating simple messages which seem like some of the hardest ones for large organisations, institutions and people to understand:



Basically, all around us are people who know a lot of stuff. Discover it. If you want to find lots of articles written on the thinking behind Ragged University click HERE

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