A tribute to Dr Beverley Crooks, Widening Participation Officer

By Lesley Mortimer, Widening Participation Officer, Brunel University

We are extremely sad to share the news of the death of our much loved and respected colleague Dr Beverley Crooks, who passed away after suddenly becoming ill at work on Tuesday.

Before joining Brunel in 2002, Beverley worked as a teacher of English, local authority advisor, Ofsted inspector and then as Mentoring Co-ordinator at the University of Greenwich. She joined Brunel, with a doctorate from the University of Reading under her belt, on the same day as her colleague Lesley Mortimer, with whom she has worked with determinedly every day since to brighten the future of many hundreds – if not thousands – of people.

With the concept of Widening Participation in its infancy when she joined Brunel, Beverley had carte blanche to think – and continue to think – of new ways to make it possible for people to not just get into university, but to get on once here, and when they leave.

So of course, she worked with local schools and colleges to inspire young people about their futures, but she didn’t stop there. Realising that the transition to university could be tough for those from families without a tradition of higher education, she devised the HeadStart programme, bringing WP students to campus early, giving them a chance to settle in and sharpen their skills in readiness for their studies. She then continued that specific study support through the expansion of the Brunel Academic Skills service. But still she didn’t stop.

Observing that WP students find it more difficult to access work opportunities, she introduced the Brunel Professional Mentoring programme, giving WP students access to professional networks that they had no access to otherwise, and an internship bursary scheme so that WP students could afford to take up unpaid (when that was still a thing!) internships.

For Beverley, there wasn’t a barrier too great to overcome in order to open the doors of higher education to as many people as possible. She was a great champion of the disabled, and worked closely with Brunel DDS. She supported young parents, and established an annual summer school for teenage parents and their babies. Most recently, she helped to set up the Santander Postgraduate Care Leaver bursary. She was an active member of the Brunel BME network, and supported BME academics and students alike.

In 2016, she was appointed Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, an honour usually reserved for practising educators, and so a real recognition of the impact Beverley had on students’ success at university and beyond. She was a valued member of the Forum for Access and Continuing Education, for which she wrote several conference papers, and latterly of the AccessHE Disability Forum, and too many other external groups and panels to mention here.

On campus, Beverley ran a ‘peace of mind’ meditation class each week, based on the Eastern philosophy and teachings of the Brahmakumaris. She was a vegetarian and very much centred in her belief, which she kept private but practised daily. In the office, she was a treasured, inspirational and generous colleague with time for everyone, relentlessly positive, a great listener, as well as being plain good fun. At home, she was a devoted partner and aunt, and very proud of her large extended family. 

It isn’t part of the WP agenda to encourage people to come to Brunel, we simply aim to encourage them to attend university, but it’s no surprise that, on meeting Beverley in their schools, so many young people have followed her here. It has been so moving to hear this week from our students who remember the day they first met her and are able to say exactly how Beverley made a difference to their lives. We know she would be terribly proud, not just of their achievements, but also of their ability to speak up about the difference she’s made to them, even in the saddest of times.

We would very much like her family to know how valued she was by Brunel and what a difference she has made. If you have a thought to share with them or can say how she’s made a difference to you, please share your memories in our Book of Condolence, which will be available in the EGW atrium from Monday 23 October. Alternatively, you can email your memories for inclusion to paul.bridge@brunel.ac.uk.

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