Studying as a mature student on the Costume Construction degree with Beverley Hulme

My name is Bev Hulme, I am 60 years old and I am studying BA Hons Costume Construction at University Centre South Essex from 2018 until 2021 and this is my story.

As a mature student I have worked in a bank for 24 years before leaving the UK 15 years ago to support my partner who was transferred to Singapore for two years with our young son. After two and a half years in Singapore we moved to Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo to set up our own tourism/diving business. After another two and a half years there we moved to Prague where my partner worked in another bank and I supported our son through his final years at school. I used to run the school parents association and we put on lots of events and also supported the drama department when they were putting on productions and helped with costume making, dressing and backstage support.

After my son finished school we planned to move back to the UK and live in London for a few years. As I was googling how to make one of the costumes for the production of ‘Alice’ in 2018 I came across an advert for the Costume Construction course. I didn’t really know anyone in London and I was trying to think of something which I could be involved with as I was losing that school connection after all those years and it all started to fall into place – why not go and study something I loved doing for fun and see where that takes me. It was also a chance to meet new people who also had similar interests to me and meeting people in London isn’t the easiest thing to do.

The big selling point to me was the connection with the Royal Opera House. I was lucky enough to do two weeks work experience in Covent Garden and the costumes to look at in detail and the items stored in the collections at the Purfleet campus are amazing resources to enhance the course. We were also taught how to make a tutu by Amanda Hall the expert who makes the tutus for the Royal Ballet. That’s an amazing opportunity.

As a mature student I think you are really ready to focus all your energy on your studies. It’s something you really want to do your best at and it keeps your mind healthy and active whilst creating new opportunities and meeting  new people. 

I didn’t believe I could manage the writing element of the course but I have totally proved myself wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed all the research and it has opened new doors for me for the future. Although I’m reasonably confident with my sewing abilities we got to try out lots of different techniques you wouldn’t normally attempt at home with the lovely google so that was a real bonus. Some of the printing and foiling techniques we learnt are really interesting and I have used those on my projects.

The tutors have been really dedicated, especially during Covid lockdown as we were all working from home. I can tell you my son is doing a degree elsewhere and he has not had anything like the support we have had. Weekly one-to-one meetings and questions answered really quickly – even sometimes at the weekend (but shhh I won’t tell). Sometimes I think they’re more excited to see how our work turns out than we are.

The student support teams have provided a lot of online help this year with the careers weeks and other talks and information. It’s provided a lot of help for those of us nearing our graduation to consider freelancing or a Master’s degree.

I think the support from the tutors has made all the difference. The course is very varied with a lot of information we can then take and research further. The centre is convenient to get to by road and rail and the facilities are good, even though we’ve missed out a bit on that this year.

The development plans for the Backstage Centre sound really exciting and getting access to all those resources is undoubtedly a real bonus.

My greatest achievement? Goodness, I guess proving I could write a dissertation after years of thinking it was beyond me, but also making some really lovely costumes and pushing myself really hard to get the most out of all the techniques and skills we have learnt along the way. Oh and seeing a little bit of my work actually on stage at the Royal Opera House.

I really enjoyed the conservation element and I am thinking about trying to find a position in a museum locally to me, now in North Cambridgeshire, to gain some experience in the field of textile curation and conservation. I might possibly look to do a Master’s in the future but taking a bit of time before I dive into studying again. In the meantime I have a sewing machine and I’m sure I can find some costumes to make in my spare time.

To learn more about the fantastic Costume Construction course visit: Costume Construction BA (Hons) | South Essex College