New exhibition reveals how Nottingham introduced adult education to Britain

Wednesday, 02 November 2022

A new exhibition at Lakeside Arts will show how adult education in Britain started right here in Nottingham in the early 1900s.

At the start of the twentieth century, most adults had left education at the age of twelve or even younger. However, that changed in 1920, when the first department of adult education was established at the University of Nottingham. Over the next seventy years, the Adult Education Department worked with unions, employers, local councils and voluntary organisations, offering courses in workplaces and communities across the East Midlands. For the first time, adults had the opportunity to revisit their education, learn new topics and improve their personal development. Many of the department’s students and staff went on to become leading political figures, both locally and nationally.

The story of how adult education came to Britain is told in ‘Knowledge is Power: Class, Community and Adult Education’, which opens tomorrow (27 October) at Lakeside’s Weston Gallery and will run until 12 March next year. Admission is free to all.

Visitors will see how the Adult Education department developed from the 1920s onward, and how it worked with trade unions, the Workers’ Educational Association and voluntary organisations to provide education for working adults. They’ll see a wide range of original documents from the university archives, including rare photographs, pioneering studies and news clippings from some of the most impactful and - at times - controversial research.

Two paintings by the late Marjorie Arnfield, artist and art tutor in the Adult Education Department, will also be on display from her Nottinghamshire colliery series – providing a link to the many miner-students who gained scholarships to study at the university.

Knowledge is Power has been curated by experts at the University of Nottingham, including its Manuscripts and Special Collections team and Professor John Holford, Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education.

This exhibition showcases how adult education enriches the lives and culture of ordinary – and extraordinary – people. It also demonstrates how education helps to build a fairer and more democratic society.
Professor John Holford, Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education

The exhibition will run from 27 October 2022 to 12 March 2023 at the Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre. More information is available at

Hannah Severyn - Media Relations Manager
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