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Never too old to learn: what will you do at 91?

An inspirational 91-year-old woman from Bromley, London has been named as a finalist in the Festival of Learning Awards 2019.

Sylvia Rowbottom was forced to leave school during the Second World War, aged 16, but made a pledge to herself to return to education when we got the chance, no matter how long it took. When she retired at 65 she started studying with The Open University.

Sylvia pictured with the Festival of Learning finalists
Sylvia pictured with the Festival of Learning finalists

Sylvia graduated from the OU with a first-class degree in humanities when she was 70. Her passion for learning had been fully reignited. She went on to study ‘poetry in the making’ at City Lit, having several pieces of work published in poetry journals. In 2015 she won a £500 prize for one of her poems in a competition judged by award-winning British poet Ruth Padel.

Sylvia said:

“By the time you get to the age of 90, it is good to have something to occupy your mind. If your mind is focused on something you care about, you are, I think, less likely to become ill. It gives my family peace of mind to know that ‘mum’s got something to occupy her mind’ and it has also given us opportunities to connect.”

Liz Marr, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Students) at The Open University said:

“Sylvia’s story is an inspiration to all of us, and shows how far reaching the benefits of lifelong learning are; for health and wellbeing, as well as economic and societal.

For the last 50 years, The Open University has held the belief that education should be open to all, regardless of their age or educational backgrounds. We firmly believe that where you start in life should not dictate your journey.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive, Learning and Work Institute said:

“Festival of Learning is all about the inspirational stories of people like Sylvia, which show that everyone can benefit from learning.

Lifelong learning is vital for all of us as jobs and society change around us. We encourage everyone to give learning a try so if you’ve been inspired by Sylvia’s story, and if you want to find out how learning could benefit you, get in touch with the National Careers Service or your local college or community learning provider.”

Sylvia and her award, pictured with Stephen Evans, Festival of Learning Director
Sylvia, with Stephen Evans, Festival of Learning Director

The Festival of Learning is an annual campaign organised by Learning and Work Institute, and supported by the Department for Education. It aims to celebrate the power of learning to transform lives, and to encourage more adults to take part.


Find out more about studying with The Open University.

About Author

Liz works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She has over 15 years' marketing experience working across a range of sectors, from diamonds to shampoo. She has a BSc (Hons) in Management from UMIST. In her spare time, Liz is usually found on roller skates or off travelling, having adventures.

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