Welcome to series 3 of ‘Passing the Baton’ where members of the Conservatoire community talk to each other about life in the time of Covid-19.
In Episode 6, BMus 2 clarinettist Maisy Neale talks to RBC International Relations Manager Ruth Wootton.
Maisy Neale (MN)
How was your experience of lockdown? Was there anything you took away as a positive?
Ruth Wootton (RW)
Ah, yes, lockdown. For me, lockdown was a big mix of challenging experiences on one hand and positive opportunities and experiences on the other hand.
As International Relations Manager, I found it quite a challenge responding to the constant changes and challenges that the pandemic brought us as an institution and as an international team. If I’m being entirely honest, there were a few moments where it was all quite overwhelming, but I’m so grateful for supportive colleagues at the Conservatoire, in the ADM (Arts, Design and Media) Faculty and in the International Office. Being part of a supportive team really made all the difference in the most challenging times.
Another thing that really helped was having the chance to spend so much time outdoors. We are fortunate to have a good-sized garden, and during lockdown I spent as much time as I could working outside or in my little greenhouse at the bottom of the garden. I love gardening and being outdoors. Being so connected to nature during lockdown really helped me to stay well from a mental health perspective. It was also nice to see my toddler playing in the garden while I worked. A real positive is that lockdown gave me a chance to treasure her littleness a little bit more.
How has the pandemic impacted your role as International Relations Manager?
Oh gosh, how hasn’t it impacted my role? It sometimes feels like the pandemic has impacted every aspect of RBC’s international relations work. As part of my role, I am responsible for developing and sustaining our international partnerships. The pandemic has meant that we have had to adapt the ways we collaborate with our overseas partners, taking collaborations online, for example. This has meant that I have had to think really creatively and work in new ways to ensure our partnerships are kept live. In the long run, online collaborations may end up being a more sustainable way to develop and maintain overseas partnerships, so that’s a positive.
Another aspect of my role is overseeing RBC’s overseas recruitment and admissions efforts. This area of work has particularly been impacted by the pandemic with many of our applicants finding it really hard to get access to English language testing, visa centres and international flights with lockdowns in place across the world. My colleagues and I have been working really hard over the summer to ensure that all our overseas applicants have been fully supported.
The pandemic has also meant that the 2,000 plus live auditions RBC has each year have had to go virtual. Managing RBC’s transition from live to virtual auditions is an area of work that has been added to my portfolio as an impact of the pandemic. Working closely with colleagues in Admissions, we have worked hard to ensure that all changes to our auditions processes are fair, accessible and inclusive. This is something I have been passionate about ensuring as part of my other role as RBC representative on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee.
What encouraged you to put yourself forward for that role?
My first job in the UK was working as Creative Coordinator for a small arts education charity in Bedworth, Nuneaton and parts of Coventry. It was during this time that I experienced first-hand what the impact of wealth inequality can do to children, families and communities. Through this experience, I became deeply interested in social transformation and decided to work in Higher Education after my BMus at Goldsmiths because of the role HE plays in social mobility and subsequently, social transformation. I have long been looking for ways to incorporate this interest into my role at RBC. In April 2020, RBC was looking for a representative on the newly-formed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and I jumped at the chance to put myself forward for this role. Having worked at RBC for nearly seven years, I feel I have my finger on RBC’s pulse and understand our DNA enough to make a real difference from within.
I feel we can all do our bit to make RBC more inclusive and diverse, do you have any encouragement for anyone reading this of how we can personally make a difference?
A huge start is being aware that the brokenness of society means that we do not all have the same opportunities and are not all treated the same way. We can all make a difference by trying to be self-aware, choosing to be mindful of how our words and actions impact others and calling out discrimination and inequality when we see it.
An inclusive and diverse Conservatoire is a creative, innovative and inspiring Conservatoire. We all benefit when the most disadvantaged among us are considered, valued and supported.
I convinced myself that I would find a new passion for exercise over lockdown, which very much has not happened. Did you pick up any new interests or skills over lockdown and have you continued with any of them since?
I’m a creature prone to having hobbies, so lockdown was a great chance for me to pick up a few more. We are fortunate to live in the countryside near some lovely woodland, so during lockdown, I started learning how to forage and make herbal remedies. Because my partner and I were spending so much time outdoors this year, hay fever season really kicked us about. After a little searching online, I found a tried and tested herbal remedy using elderflower, nettles and ribwort which sparked my interest in this area. I have since continued on with this interest incorporating herbal remedies into my holistic wellness journey.
Another interest I explored during lockdown was DIY. I have always been interested in DIY, but my DIY skills really took a leap forward in lockdown. Almost as soon as the Government announced the UK was going into lockdown, I bought myself a decent combi drill – something I have always wanted since watching ‘Changing Rooms’ as a kid. I have since used old decking boards to build a wooden Teepee for our daughter and raised beds for our vegetable garden. I also attempted plastering, basic electrics and wood panelling and recently I have completely re-grouted the bathroom. DIY is definitely an interest I’ll take forward post-pandemic.
What have you been listening to recently?
My sister has recently introduced me to Soulful House and I’ve been listening to the music of South African Producer Sun-El Musician. I’m half Zambian so his music speaks to this side of me and reminds me of my childhood. It’s the soundtrack to my kitchen while I am cooking dinner.
I’m also loving Novo Amor’s sound right now and always have time for Fleet Foxes, The Barr Brothers, Joy Williams and the different projects of Justin Vernon.
Aside from music, I’ve been listening to a few podcasts: Freakonomics Radio, Ways to Change the World and Cleaning Up the Mental Mess with Dr Caroline Leaf.
The rest of the time I’m listening to the sweet sound of silence or whatever my daughter is watching on telly: Little Baby Bum, Fireman Sam, JoJo and Gran Gran or Peppa Pig.
What are you most looking forward to being able to do again that you haven’t been able to during the pandemic?
Having dinner parties with friends and family. I’m a real foodie, so not being able to relax around the table with the people I love has been difficult. Most of my closest friends are scattered across the country so I haven’t been able to spend much time with them this year. I’m definitely looking forward to spending some quality time with my favourite people once this is all over.
Next episode: Ruth talks to MMus pianist and RBC Events Assistant Ella Lee.