Love at Lancaster: Alumni couples

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Lancaster alumni, Edward and Lauren Reading, during their recent wedding.

In the whipped up frenzy that is the lead up to graduation, it is far too easy to forget about one of the most important things that our time at university gives us, and that is new and exciting relationships. We don’t just leave uni clutching tightly to that degree certificate, and deep in our overdraft; whether you’ve secured solid friendships, or met that special someone, you leave this place having made bonds for life. I took great pleasure in discovering people who did just that. What better way to celebrate the 50th year of Lancaster University than chatting to married alumni couples who fell in love here?

Firstly, I’d like to introduce you to Paul and Caroline Skinner.

Married in 1968 – just four years after the University opened – they are one of Lancaster University’s longest married alumni couples. With each of them occupying the two founding colleges, Paul in Lonsdale and Caroline in Bowland, the pair were brought together through their degrees in French, when they met on a trip to Dijon, France at the end of their second year at Lancaster. I’m sure we’re all in agreement with Paul, when he says that relationships at university escalate far more quickly than they would in the real world. He adds this after admitting to having a girlfriend when he fell for his dear Caroline.

Though the trip to Dijon was where the two really got to know each other, Paul fondly recalls their first official date at the Palace cinema in Morecambe, where they watched the big film at the time: Doctor Zhivago. It was on this date, that Paul became aware of Caroline’s eye sight problems – increasing blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa. According to Paul, such an illness has been known to drive couples apart, but that sad truth certainly can’t be said for these two. Paul is a volunteer driver and is often questioned how they manage with Caroline’s blindness. His answer? “Caroline manages because she’s Caroline”. Caroline’s remarkable resourcefulness is evident through her duty as Church warden, her job as a speaker for guide dogs and her love of gardening.

Upon graduating, Paul began his career in the leather trade. The two graduates started a family straight away, making them parents of three. Their marriage took place back in 1968, in Caroline’s hometown of Leamington Spa. Guests included other alumni, though they were unable to spend their special day with their closest flatmates as they happened to be getting married at the same time. It is on this subject that Paul stresses the importance of keeping in touch with people post- graduation.

Countless stories and shared treasured memories later, Paul and Caroline conclude with words their vicar told them to always bear in mind: “give and forgive”. They add a word of their own, too, and that is ‘determination’. The Skinners admit that they’ve been through some rough times, but soldiered on and have always come out of the other end smiling, resulting in a long and happy 46 – and counting – years of marriage.

Jumping forward, and across the globe to the USA, brings us to Edward and Lauren Reading – one of Lancaster University’s most recently married alumni couples.

History student, Edward, graduated from Lancaster University in 2009, but stayed on an additional year to complete his Masters. Meanwhile, in the United States, Lauren decided to pursue a year abroad in England, studying Human Rights and International Relations here at Lancaster from 2009 to 2010.

After meeting through a mutual friend, Pendle College’s Lauren and County College’s Ed were friends for a long time before they got together. In fact, they didn’t become a couple until the month before Lauren headed back to the USA, after her year abroad. Their first ‘real date’ was at the Water Witch, a pub located along Lancaster’s scenic canal; but the infamous Carleton nightclub in Morecambe is also a predominant memory of theirs. That “dirty but endearing” nightclub holds a special place in their heart, says Lauren, along with the field on summer days.

Their advice to current alumni couples? Communication – and lots of it – especially across further distances. They speak from experience here, as when Lauren left Lancaster, she still had one more year to complete at her home university in Iowa, whereas Ed moved back to his English hometown of Chester to finish his Masters and start working. The couple visited each other twice over their nine month long-distance relationship, before signing up to teach English together in China from 2010 to 2011. This was an enlightening experience, according to Lauren, and one where they certainly got to know each other very well.

Following this, in 2012 the pair decided to move back to Lauren’s hometown of Iowa, as Lauren bagged herself a job in the International Programmes office of her alma mater. Ed became a certified personal trainer and worked in a gym until he enrolled in an MBA programme at the University of Iowa.

Married in 2013, they feel they’ve come a long way since meeting in a Pendle kitchen, where Ed’s first thought was: “what are all these Americans doing in Jim’s flat?”. In addition to their October wedding in Iowa – which, may I add, looked pretty perfect – they also celebrated in Ed’s hometown of Chester earlier this year.