More than 20 years after leaving school in Ayr, Catriona Hawthorn and Shaun Dowse have both ended up studying at Scotland’s Rural College – but 80 miles apart.
Mum-of-three Catriona is studying Countryside Management at SRUC’s campus in Ayr, while Shaun – who has twins – is studying Garden Design in Edinburgh.
Both attended Ayr Grammar Primary and Kyle Academy – Catriona one year ahead of Shaun. They played in the school orchestra together and their younger brothers were good friends.
Catriona said: “We have been Facebook friends for years and we had both posted about being students again. We did find it funny that we were both studying at SRUC as mature students, though Shaun commented that he unfortunately had to travel further for his studies than I do.”
After having three children, Catriona started to look at returning to study and just days after her 40th birthday, she joined SRUC part-time, taking two years to do an HNC before switching to full-time study to do an HND this year.
“I have always loved being outdoors and had been part of the Young Naturalists Club at Culzean Castle and Country Park in my childhood and early teens,” said Catriona.
“I had thought of becoming a park ranger even back then. I couldn’t imagine anything better than working at Culzean or somewhere like that every day.”
She has managed to juggle her studies with family life and part-time work as a school assistant and violin teacher.
“The college staff have been friendly and helpful from the start,” she said. “I have also found my classmates to be a really nice group.
“The students on my course tend to be of mixed ages, with quite a number of mature students mixed in with some students who are fresh out of school. The age difference has not been an issue and our groups have functioned well.”
Shaun had been working in garden maintenance since the age of 14, becoming a landscape gardener and eventually setting up his own design and construction business. After decades spent outdoors constructing gardens, he decided to apply himself to more challenging design work instead.
“Choosing to return to education was an easy decision for me,” he said. “I became a father to twins, and was starting to feel the aches and pains brought on by years of heavy lifting. I didn’t wish to risk my physical health any longer.
“I hope to work as a landscape architect after graduating, working as part of a team to create dynamic spaces for the wider community. And I look forward to not complaining about the weather and the ‘sair back’.”
Shaun, who is in his third year of study after completing an HND, travels up to five hours every day to get to college.
“It’s extremely difficult to find the time to study,” he said. “Thankfully, the course material is so challenging that I thrive on the academic stress. It has also validated my current professional knowledge, and built up my confidence in critical thinking. It’s easy to become complacent when you’re self-employed, so the course has really opened my eyes.”
There is a possibility the two could reunited in the future. Like Catriona, Shaun is still involved in music, producing his own blend of industrial dub techno under the name Voltergeist.
“There are a few tracks with some sneaky violin on there,” said Shaun. “It’d be great to have Catriona play on my next recordings.”