Professional rugby player and OU graduate, Ryan Grant won 25 caps for Scotland during his 12-year career and played for the British and Irish Lions. Since retiring from rugby he’s embarked on a new career as a gin distiller, supported by the knowledge he gained during his OU degree in Environmental Science.
“I wanted to do a degree course that interested me and something that I would hopefully enjoy. I took advice from my peers about the kind of qualifications I should be looking at post-rugby life, which led to my decision to study the BSc (Hons) Environmental Science degree.”
Flexibility was essential
“The flexibility at the OU was a big deciding factor for me. As a rugby player, games are often in the diary months in advance, but training sessions can vary. I often wouldn’t find out until Sunday what I was doing the following week. The Open University gave me the flexibility to study when I wanted, as opposed to being dictated by a strict timetable. I don’t think I would have ended up continuing with my course if I hadn’t been able to study in my own time.
“It helped that one of my team mates was doing a similar degree and that we were at parallel points of study. We could vent to each other about our frustrations and struggles combining studies with playing rugby. It was good to have a sounding board, so you knew that you weren’t going through it alone. My wife was also incredibly supportive and good at making sure that I knuckled down and studied when I needed to.
“I took assignments and books with me when travelling away for games, including trips to Fiji and Samoa. Every summer tour, every trip away, I would have at least one book with me. That was made a lot easier by the fact that there was a group of guys in the squad that were studying at the same time. We would all congregate in a hotel room and get our heads down together.
My tutors were really supportive
“My tutors were very understanding of my situation and would provide extensions for coursework that I couldn’t complete while away on tour. I remember speaking to one tutor when I’d just had an operation on my shoulder and was finding it hard to use my laptop. She said, ‘take all the time you need, just keep in touch with me’; she was a real help and the perfect example of how supportive OU tutors are. I never came up against a tutor that wasn’t on hand to offer guidance.
“The OU is a great option for people that have other commitments in their lives. You need a certain element of self-discipline, which is why it’s important to pick a subject that you enjoy. I was lucky that I’m passionate about environmental issues and science – it spurred me on when I was finding studying tough. It’s been a long road; it took me six years to finish my degree.”
Finding a new passion
“Two years ago, my wife, an old team mate and his partner started The Garden Shed; a small batch distillery, founded on the concept of creating gin in our shed, using botanicals found on our doorstep. My business has become my new passion and it’s been a great way for me to use the knowledge gained from my degree. We’ve succeeded in creating a clean, fresh and flavoursome gin, with a vision of giving back to nature by supporting Scottish charities, such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Trees4Scotland.
“I think the goal for The Garden Shed now is to try and expand the company so that we’re in a position to open up our own sustainable distillery, using solar or wind for example. We’d also like to grow our produce and invest in land, so that we can cater for weddings and events. I’m better equipped now I have my degree to make decisions that will help the company develop. There hasn’t been a great deal of environmentally-aware companies in the alcohol industry, so if we can lead the way, the possibilities will be endless.”