Posted on behalf of Mandy Turner, member of OU Students Association staff.
It was February 1986, I had only turned 16 the month before and I was getting really nervous about an interview at the Open University in the Audio-Visual Department. I was due to be leaving school in the summer and just starting to look for jobs.
It was my very first interview and when I walked into the waiting room I had four interviewees looking back at me… I was scared stiff! I finally managed to get through the interview and headed to my mum’s office (she also worked at the OU) and burst into tears.
A few days later I got the job offer and what’s more, they agreed to hold the position for me until I finished school in June! How lucky was I my very first interview and I got the job?! So 2nd June 1986 I started the job and even had to come to work on a few occasions in my school uniform so I could go back to school and do my final exams.
I had three happy years in Audio Visual and grew up a lot. I worked with such a friendly and happy team. The job I had was very basic stuff and after a while, I decided that I needed to move on and get some more skills under my belt, so I decided to apply for another role in the OU. At this time there was a team of staff who would work in different departments and cover jobs for staff who were on maternity leave or on sick leave and we would be there for as long as they needed us. Back then it was called Central Secretarial Services. I ended up working in a lot of faculties and so many different departments. One of the jobs I had was working in Council for about 6 months so worked in the big house at the end of the main drive on the Milton Keynes Campus. I was there the day Margaret Thatcher resigned and didn’t really take in why everyone was celebrating as I was too young to really understand.
After Christmas 1990, I was booked to go to the OU Students Association to cover a job there. On the 2nd January 1991, I started in the Association, this was a department I never even knew existed! Back then there was a staff of about 15 and we worked in a terrapin building that had fleas from the cats living under the building. When it rained the water would run down our office walls and when the river overflowed the water came right up to the door of the building but I still loved working for the Association.
Our Permanent Secretary at that time was John Needham and he was a fantastic boss. By the April of 1991, John asked me if I would stay, I then became a permanent member of the Association.
I was absolutely in awe at my very first Conference. For months we had been doing all this work and I had no idea what Conference was actually going to be like. We used to have Conference every year and travel around the UK. My first one was at Durham and there were about 500-600 students attending and I couldn’t believe that we had put this all together all the stands. We had the BBC there and when I walked into the Conference hall all I could see were flowers and Association banners - it was unbelievable and I couldn't believe I was a part of this. Since then I have been to Conferences in Loughborough, Manchester, Bournemouth, Milton Keynes and a few other places I can’t even remember where. Conference was a time when as a staff team we got to work in different teams and really bonded with each other.
Conference has changed so much over the years - the whole weekend used to consist of Hustings on a Friday evening and then Business the whole of Saturday and Sunday morning and then a few workshops Saturday lunchtime. Now Conference is a little bit of business and more of a celebration, really different from 15 years ago. Last year we hosted our very first fully online Conference (because of the pandemic)and it went really well. We would never have been able to do anything like that years ago - the Association has grown so much and we have come so far.
I can remember the day John managed to arrange for us to all have up to date computers... We came in every day, turned on the computers and then had to insert three floppy discs before we could do anything and although we thought our computers were brilliant they didn’t really do anything compared to now.
In the meantime my personal life was going well, I brought a house with my boyfriend, we got engaged then a year after got married and soon fell pregnant. I was in my element - I had a job I loved and about to have a baby.
Then everything came toppling down. The day my daughter Bronte was born, my husband decided to tell me he didn’t love me anymore and I was left to bring this tiny baby up on my own. I was absolutely distraught and had no idea what I was going to do. My family were very supportive but said I should give up my job and claim benefits which would be easier to bring the baby up but the only constant I had in my life was my job and there was no way I was going to give it up. A year later my house was repossessed, but my boss wrote to a member of MK Council who had a place on our staffing committee and told him what had happened and that I didn’t make myself homeless on purpose and he was able to get me rehomed.
Over the years I have held many positions in the Association my favourite being the full-time 'OUSA Controller' for about 12 years or more. The very first role I had was working in the areas of Campaigns and Student Support and used to love going to the Central Executive Committee meetings to sit in and take notes. During my time in the Association, I have worked with lots of students and staff and made so many friends along the way. I am still in contact with some of them. We have lost a few people along the way and those times were really tough but life carries on and we just have to get on with it and keep going.
In 2005, while working in the staff Conference teams, I ended up working more and more with a colleague called Mark. 6 months later we started dating and then in 2009 we had our son Dylan and 2012 we had Jake. We got married three weeks ago and we always say that the Association and Conference brought us together.
So now the Association have a staff of about 40. As for me, I have now been working in the Operations team since 2012 which consists of the webstore, OUSET, forums, phones, mailboxes, graduation ceremonies and lots more. In that time we have had a good turn round of staff in my team. My manager, Magda, is great and really knows her stuff and my colleagues Adam and Keith are really great to work with. Although we have been working at home since March 2020, we still get to see each other a lot online.
Working for the Students Association over the years has been a massive experience I have learned so much and have also managed to teach new staff things that I know and can pass on. I have met so many students over the years and had so many new experiences from Conference to Graduation Ceremonies looking after forums, going to meetings, dinners and so many things I can not remember.
At the moment I am working with a really great bunch of staff and through the years I have found that the staff have always been a really great team. If I was to say there had been no differences of opinion in 30-odd years you know I would be lying but everything always gets resolved in the end.
So many fantastic students have come and gone and I feel privileged to have worked with them all over the years.
Thank you for sharing your story with us and congratulations on getting married! You deserve so much happiness and joy <3