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Equestrian centre pioneer, and Britain’s first female firefighter, honoured by OU

Sister Mary-Joy Langdon, who has transformed the lives of vulnerable children through her riding therapy centre, has been recognised for her services to the educationally underprivileged by being made a Master of the University at the recent Ely degree ceremony.

Speaking at the ceremony Sister Mary-Joy said: “I feel very humbled to be standing here in front of so many OU high achievers. Life indeed is an exciting journey of learning, and the routes we take for learning can be as varied as the people gathered here in Ely cathedral. To say I feel honoured to receive such an award today is an understatement.”

Fire service pioneer to Catholic Nun

Sister Mary Joy firefighter

Sister Mary-Joy was a trailblazer

A pioneer in many ways, Sister Mary-Joy signed up with the East Sussex Fire Service during the drought of 1976 when the fire service was under immense strain, and became the first woman in modern times to serve.  As a retained firefighter, she paved the way for women to enter the fire service as full and equal members.

During the 1980s her path changed when she entered the order of the Infant Jesus Sisters, an international Catholic community centred around education.

Using horses as a catalyst for learning

Growing up with a deep love of horses, in 1989 she founded the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre.  At the centre of its local community, the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre specialises in riding therapy lessons for children with disabilities, as well as offering opportunities to disadvantaged inner-city children. Thousands of children have had the opportunity to use the ponies as a catalyst for learning, developing confidence and a sense of liberation.

Dr Joan Simons spoke at the ceremony, saying:  “Sister Mary-Joy herself is affected by dyslexia, so she well understands the frustrations experienced by children for whom conventional classroom learning may not always be appropriate. ‘Mounted maths’ and ‘mounted speaking’ are just two of the innovative lessons, developed at the centre, which help children progress through the traditional curriculum.”

Supporting disabled children and students

Sister Mary Joy with horsesSister Mary-Joy said: “Many of the children come to ride as part of their physical therapy. For a small child who spends most of the time in the wheelchair to ride is not only exhilarating, it gives them the experience of being higher with others looking up at them.

“Over the past 29 years there have been several disabled children who have taken their first steps following their riding session. I have seen many miracles, and now those children are able to walk and even run.”

Dr Simons says: “The Open University is tremendously proud of our work to support students with disabilities and our track record at reaching people for whom traditional learning is not always effective. We are delighted to honour Sister Mary-Joy’s lifetime of service and dedication, and her commitment to innovative and life-changing education for those who most need it.”

Watch Sister Mary-Joy’s speech in full, in our degree ceremony video.

About Author

Kath works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is a skilled communicator with more than 15 years’ experience working in both the public and private sectors. She has a BA (Hons) English and American Literature from University of Warwick and specialises in stories from the Faculty of Social Science, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, BBC programmes, and student stories. In her spare time Kath enjoys touring the country in her hand-painted camper van, Trevor.

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