DMU's oldest known alumna takes a trip down memory lane


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It’s been 72 years since she graduated from the Leicester College of Art and Leicester College of Technology but Yvonne Vardy says she can “still remember it like it was yesterday”.

At 88 years-old, Yvonne might just be the oldest graduate from what is now known as De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), having completed her studies in 1947.

 Yvonne Vardy (7) resized
Yvonne has visited the DMU campus several times over the years

“Coming here was the biggest break of my life,” she said. “It was the best education I could have ever wished for – I brag about being a DMU graduate to everyone!”

The university, which today welcomes 26,000 students from more than 160 countries each year, is preparing to mark its 150th anniversary in 2020 – a celebration Yvonne feels very proud to be a part of.

“When I walk around the campus today I think to myself, ‘my goodness – I can’t believe all of this grew out of my old college’,” she said. “I feel very honoured to have been educated here, knowing that DMU has gone global and that the university is now world famous.”

Originally founded as the Leicester School of Art in 1870 with an aim “to afford authoritative instruction in art to the people of Leicester”, the university has evolved through many incarnations. In 1929 it became the aforementioned Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology and then in 1969 it re-emerged as Leicester Polytechnic.

The institution became renowned for producing creative talent, training apprentices for local industries, including boot and shoe manufacture, furniture making and design, hosiery and textiles manufacture, engineering, printing and book binding.

Finally, on 26 June 1992 it officially became De Montfort University.

“Things have certainly changed a lot since my college days but there are still some buildings that look just like they used to – I love the wonderful architecture here,” said Yvonne.

“I remember we used to play on the roof of what is now the Hawthorn Building, looking out across the city and watching the world go by.”

Hawthorn 1906 003
The former Leicester Colleges of Art & Tech; now the Hawthorn Building

Born and bred in Leicester, Yvonne was awarded a scholarship to attend the Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology, after teachers in mainstream school spotted her artistic flair.

“I was always singing, dancing, drawing, painting – my teachers must have recognised I had that creative passion in me,” she said. “I was 12 when I moved to the college and it really suited me because it meant I could let that passion out and explore different forms of art.

“We learnt so much more than just arithmetic and reading and writing – we were taught how to make pottery, how to read music, how to knit and weave. The sheer scope of what we learnt was amazing.”

Yvonne Vardy
During her school days at Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology

Four years later, after finishing her studies, a then 16-year-old Yvonne got her first job in the city.

“I worked at a shop on Church Gate making jewellery,” she said. “Leicester was famous for its manufacturing industry. We made everything here, so there were a lot of opportunities for creative people like me.

“I then went on to work as a window dresser at the most beautiful clothes shop on Market Street – it was very posh. I loved that job.”

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Over the years, in between two marriages and two children, Yvonne tried her hand at a number of jobs – even working for her second husband Tim in his garage, spraying cars, changing tyres and building engines.

“My time at college taught me so many new things and set me up for life really, because it gave me confidence,” she said. “It showed me that you should always give new things a try.

“People often ask me why I’m able to try my hand at anything and I tell them, ‘it’s called life experience darling’.”

Yvonne Vardy (2) resized
Yvonne outside what is now known as the Hawthorn Building 

These days, when she’s not at the theatre or touring the country in her Volkswagen Camper, Yvonne volunteers at Bradgate Park – something she credits for keeping her mind active.

“I get asked when I’m going to stop working but I don’t think I ever will,” she said. “I don’t like to sit still for long. You have to keep your brain active as well as your body.

“We quite often get groups of international students from DMU visiting Bradgate Park and I always tell them I studied there many years ago. It’s amazing to see so many people from all over the world coming here. It’s wonderful.”

DMU is planning a series of events to celebrate its 150th anniversary year in 2020. For more information visit: www.dmu.ac.uk/150 
Posted on Monday 14th October 2019

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