From A Levels to award-winning social justice campaigner
Pride of Manchester Award winner Maggie Oliver has become one of the UK’s leading voices on social justice for sexual abuse survivors after starting her journey studying A Levels at Trafford College as a mature student.
The mother-of-four went on to gain a humanities degree from Manchester Metropolitan University and a career with Greater Manchester Police, resigning from the force in 2012 to expose failings she saw in the authorities handling of what is now known as the Rochdale Grooming Scandal, in which nine men were convicted of targeting and sexually abusing vulnerable girls in Rochdale and Heywood.
Maggie was programme consultant for the BBC One dramatization of this case ‘Three Girls’, which is outlined in more detail in her 2019 book entitled ‘Survivors: One Brave Detective’s Battle to Expose the Rochdale Child Abuse Scandal’.
Maggie was also a key contributor on BBC One’s The Betrayed Girls, and has spoken on Sky TV, among many TV and radio stations as well as in the press about the treatment of sexual abuse cases by the authorities, using her position to cast the rights of survivors into the spotlight on Celebrity Big Brother in 2018.
Trafford College caught up with the community champion following the launch of The Maggie Oliver Foundation, a charity supporting the survivors of sexual abuse, and its phone line for adults which went live in January 2021, to ask her about her studies at College.
What are your memories of Trafford College?
I remember walking into the classroom as a mature student to study A Level English at night school, after having my four children, and meeting a great range of people; within weeks I was enjoying my new lease of life! My son was also taking A Level English at a different school, but the books I was studying seemed far more interesting: Dracula, Susan Hill and other gothic literature.
My teacher was great as were the debates about social issues, particularly in A Level Sociology that I also studied at Trafford College the following year. These courses opened my eyes in a way school really hadn’t. There was a mixture of different ages and backgrounds, and every person brought their own experiences to the discussion. It really encouraged me to go on to university at the age of 39 and was an important stepping-stone from being a full-time mum to believing I could make a difference in the world.
What were your ambitions at the time?
When I left school I worked as a bilingual secretary and PA, then 19 years later I decided to realise my ambition and study for a humanities degree at Manchester Metropolitan University and apply for teacher training as well as a job in the police. I was accepted into the police and deferred my place for a PGCE. I went on to do a job I loved, and I was posted to Moss Side.
I’ve got really good memories of Trafford College. I was so grateful for the chance to return to education and I worked really hard. I struggled with sociology and remember having mind maps spread out on the living room floor that I shortened into revision cards in order to pass my exams. I realised learning is a lifetime journey and Trafford College really helped me with that.
What lessons were you able to take with you from College?
I had always cared about social justice, but it was studying sociology and hearing all these different perspectives that I realised I had been living in a little bubble in West Timperley. My education at the College has driven me to be who I am today. With increased knowledge comes increased confidence to stand up for what you believe in, whether I’m speaking to the Home Secretary or to someone who has been the subject of child abuse in my role as founder and chair of The Maggie Oliver Foundation.
We’re proud to have excellent pastoral support for students at Trafford College. How important do you think this is for students?
If you feel at risk, I’d recommend approaching a person in a position you trust in College or a friend, parent or relation. Don’t suffer in silence. Colleges seem to have the freedom to really support people pastorally, in a way other places do not. It’s a more mature environment, and with that comes the maturity to seek support when you need it, as well as the individual responsibility to do well.
What I campaign about is a difficult subject, but I’d encourage everyone to watch ‘Three Girls’ and read my book to become better educated about society. It could prove to be the crucial knowledge that really makes a difference to what knowledge you take with through life.
Trafford College has strong values: be bold, ambitious, respectful, to collaborate and demonstrate teamwork, and to be professional. How important do you think it is to have values?
Truth, justice, kindness, empathy, honesty, integrity and being non-judgemental, these principles have driven my life. If young people live by a set of values, they won’t go far wrong. To learn to hold values is of more importance than studying subjects in my opinion. It stands you in good stead for the rest of your lives, no matter how you perform in your exams. It’s about preparing someone for life and for being part of the community, and teaching those values is as important as studying.
What are your hopes for young people for the future?
I hope that young people have the opportunities post-Covid that will allow them to create a world that is better, to get an education that prepares them for life, to be adaptable, and to create a world that is kinder and looks after those that are less fortunate, and to fight for what you believe in. Don’t be frightened to stand out from the crowd if it’s the right thing to do. That can be a scary place, and I’ve been there, but you have to look in the mirror, be true to yourself, and do what you believe to be right. The truth and our conscience are ultimately all we have.
Visit The Maggie Oliver Foundation for more about how you can help, or follow @MaggieOliverUK on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.