WHILE the media spotlight fell on satirist Rory Bremner and the cameras of proud parents flashed at the bright young students of Heriot-Watt University, nothing could detract from the satisfaction of two self-confessed “mature mums” from the Borders after Friday’s graduation ceremony in Galashiels.
As revealed last week, Roderick Keith Ogilvy Bremner became an honorary Doctor of Letters, acknowledging the 50-year-old adopted Borderer’s “distinguished contribution to broadcasting and entertainment”, receiving his laureation from Professor Gavin Gibson of Heriot-Watt’s School of Mathematics and Computer Science in Old Parish and St Paul’s Church.
If it was a special day for Dr Bremner, it was just as significant for Pauline MacGillivray and Angela Cullum.
Lone parent of three, Pauline, 44, from Cessford near Morebattle, had outshone many students half her age by achieving a first-class honours degree in textile design (BA).
And Angela, 38, from Galashiels, lifted the annual Watt Club Prize which recognises “initiative and enterprise as well as academic achievement”.
Seven years ago, Angela suffered severe back injuries in a road accident, severing her sciatic nerve. She has been registered disabled and endured constant pain ever since.
But three years later, a chance internet encounter with Pauline spawned a lasting friendship.
“Pauline was looking for a sofa and went on the Freecycle website and I was able to come up trumps,” recalled Angela, who is married to book distributor Simon and, like Pauline, has three children.
“When we actually spoke to each other we discovered to our mutual amazement we had both enrolled at Heriot-Watt’s School of Textiles in Galashiels.
“Given our ages and circumstances and the fact most students come from outwith the region, it was an incredible coincidence, but we have encouraged each other ever since.”
Angela must wait until November to receive her BSC in clothing design and manufacture, having been given dispensation by her university to delay her final dissertation because of her illness-induced absences.
“I left school with just two O-Grades, but had loved sewing from an early age, making bits and bobs for friends and family and producing beanbags and throws for a local shop,” she recalled.
“After my accident, it was a way of dealing with the boredom and it was actually Simon who encouraged me to apply for a place at the Borders campus as a mature student.
“I thought I had no chance, but some of the voluntary work I had done, including teaching handicrafts to children at Balmoral Primary in Galashiels, swung it for me and I got in. To be on the verge of graduation with the Watt Club Prize is beyond my wildest dreams.”
Angela’s dissertation will feature a special vest, incorporating a discrete and harmless wire mesh, designed to prevent cot death in premature babies by recording temperature, heart rate and other key indicators. Bringing the product, which is entirely her own concept, to marketable fruition will be her aim next year when she studies for a PhD.
Her speciality up to now has been the design and manufacture of clutch bags in a range of materials from hand-painted Chinese silk to locally produced cashmere and, this summer, she plans to sell them online via her own brand Unique Designs by Spike.
Pauline was working part-time in a craft workshop at Harestanes before being accepted, along with Angela, at Heriot-Watt.
“I’d briefly studied clothing manufacturing technology at college and had always been an avid knitter. My awareness of sustainable, ethical production methods sat very well with the financial necessity of clothing three growing children. I really wanted to push the boundaries of my talent mainly for myself, but also for my kids and that is why, against the odds, I tried to enroll at Heriot-Watt.”
Now Pauline is planning to unveil her range of home knitted garments, using recycled and end-of-line yarns, through her own company Pauzitive Knitwear, while also looking to set up creative textile workshops near her home.
“Angela and I are two very different women, but we are both strong and enthusiastic,” said Pauline. “We have gone through hardships to better ourselves while supporting our families at a time of recession.
“Hopefully, what we have achieved will send a message to others that it is never too late to retrain and learn new things.”
Angela agreed. “The learning process and, of course, our success, has given us both tremendous confidence. We are different people than we were four years ago. Life is about looking forward, not back.”