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The Kerslake Collection | Introduction


Lady Anne Kerslake
Estimated Read time: 5 Mins

I must admit to feeling rather daunted when Richard and Chris first asked me to write this foreword. 

Bob’s illness and rapid passing a year ago is obviously something that I, our children Eleanor and Michael, and his sisters and brother have found challenging and profoundly sad. However, the more I think about this collection of essays, the more it seems the perfect tribute to a man for whom the development of places and people was so important. There could not be a more fitting remembrance.

Education, education, education – and it always starts with the parents. Bob’s mother was the cleverest girl in the village school of Bodyke, County Clare, but that did not mean there would be any education after 14 for Maura Maloney. Neither was further education was on the cards for his father, Robert Kerslake, the son of a Somerset farmer, in early 1940s England. However, World War Two presented new opportunities – albeit in challenging circumstances. Maura moved to Bath to work as a nurse, and met an injured Robert. He had sustained a hip fracture when his parachute had not opened as planned – exacerbated by several years as a prisoner of war. The couple married and started a long life together. Bob’s father answered the call of the Fleming Committee, and was rapidly trained as a primary-school teacher.

When I first met Bob’s family in 1980, I was impressed by his father, a headteacher and chairman of Shepton Mallet town council. His mother was the matron of the local hospital and a Red Cross leader. But what I found most imposing about their home were the books everywhere, covering every topic. Bob’s parents were dedicated to public service, but even more committed to the education and advancement of their four children. 

Bob was a successful student and achieved excellent A levels. He turned down a place at Oxford, choosing instead to study Pure Mathematics at the new University of Warwick. His first-class degree was never in doubt, and he went on to postgraduate studies. But Bob had also discovered student politics. Sit-ins followed, and he was elected to the organisational role of secretary to the student union. His stint in student politics also led to the beginning of his long relationship with academic hierarchy. 

He returned home without a plan. He listened to jazz and read a lot of political and economic theory. His parents were rather concerned; his sister gave him an application form for a post as a trainee accountant for the Greater London Council. He was accepted, and his insight and hard work made an early impact. After the GLC was abolished in 1986, Bob moved to the Inner London Education Authority. When that in turn was scrapped, he became chief finance officer for the London Borough of Hounslow. At just 35, he became the borough’s chief executive. At Hounslow, Bob developed his leadership skills and his experience of regeneration. We lived in the borough and so were also service users, which he believed was important. 

We would discuss the future. He told me that the only job he really wanted was in Sheffield. I told him if I could have a dog, he was on. So, when the vacancy appeared, we knew it was time to move North. Bob was the right man for the right job at the right time. He loved Sheffield from the start, and was determined that it should make the progress it badly needed. He knew, intuitively, that this would only come about if the council worked positively with major stakeholders – and that had to include the two universities. 

Bob understood how important universities were to the development and advancement of individuals, but now he also recognised their impact on places. We lived near the university buildings; our friends and neighbours worked there in many different capacities. Our teenage children experienced the undergraduate lifestyle several years early. The city certainly experienced economic, cultural and social benefits. In conversation, however, Bob questioned how evenly spread across the city these benefits were. 

Like Bob’s father, I was a teacher. After moving to Sheffield, I had continued teaching, working in some of the most challenging areas of the city. Many of my pupils never went into the city centre, and certainly had no idea where the universities were. But things did change. The universities started to invite Year 6 pupils to visit, and then began inviting their parents as well. I described the power of this to Bob. The children themselves were often most impressed by sporting facilities and laboratory equipment, but their parents were excited to discover that these places really were for the likes of their children. When Bob died, I was sent a message by a former pupil. He’d visited the University of Sheffield with his mum and later studied at Cambridge, becoming a researcher there. He thanked me for my teaching, but also acknowledged Bob for ‘always being there for us’. 

So Bob made an impact on the city and its citizens, but the city and its people also gave back to him. When he was asked to become chair of the UPP Foundation’s Civic University Commission in 2019, he was honoured. He knew exactly what was needed. As chair of the board of governors of Sheffield Hallam University, he continued to be directly and passionately involved in the work of the Commission. Looking through his phone, I’ve found many articles on the Civic University Network, which he read while he was in hospital. Also, there were emails from different regions and university groups, discussing progress made or meetings held to outline projects linked to the role of their institutions in their communities. Bob would have been overwhelmed by the honour of having this book published in his name. He would have been touched by the hard work and kindness shown by Chris Husbands and Richard Brabner in planning the book. And he would have been proud to be named alongside so many illustrious contributors. On his behalf: thank you.

Anne Kerslake

Lady Anne Kerslake

Lady Anne Kerslake

Estimated Read time: 5 Mins

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