Peter Smith obituary

Other lives: Extramural Studies lecturer at Sheffield University

My friend and former colleague Peter Smith, who has died aged 77, taught day-release classes to Yorkshire and Derbyshire coal miners, steelworkers, railway workers, engineers and local authority manual workers. The courses had been arranged by their respective trade unions in agreement with their employers.

The syllabuses were partly drawn up by the students themselves and the subject areas included economic and social history. Class members presented papers to each other and the topics ranged from collective bargaining to global politics.

I first met Peter in 1966 at Sheffield University’s Department of Extramural Studies, which he had joined six months earlier.

He was always concerned to ensure that students were given the fullest opportunity to express and develop their own ideas. He understood clearly that serious adult education in the social sciences was a process of assisting the individual’s understanding and not just a matter of instruction. He touched and enriched many people’s lives, but perhaps his greatest legacy derives from his activities in the union-backed Society of Industrial Tutors.

Peter was the son of Austen Smith and his wife, Isabel (nee Reed). On leaving school in Sunderland, where his father was a junior school headteacher, Peter studied economics at Manchester University and took his first job, teaching liberal studies at Stockport College of Technology, in 1962. In the same year he met Helen Naughton, when they were both doing holiday jobs for the Labour party in a north Manchester constituency.

In 1965 Peter took up his extramural post at Sheffield University and he and Helen married the following year. He helped form the Sheffield Vietnam campaign and in 1968 led a large contingent to the famous demonstration outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London.

At Teesside Polytechnic, where he was appointed principal lecturer and head of liberal studies in 1969, he served on the governing body and helped the institution gain university status in 1992. He and Helen lived in Stockton-on-Tees from 1970. In that year he joined the Open University, teaching social sciences and politics part-time for 45 years.

On retirement in 2015, he remained a committed campaigner for justice and peace. A talented sportsman, he played squash well into his 70s.

He is survived by Helen, his children Kate, Tessa and Adam, and his granddaughter Anna.

Bob Heath

The GuardianTramp

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