My friend Sarah Gartland, who has died aged 55 of ovarian cancer, was a teacher of English as a foreign language, and a stoic feminist and political activist.
Born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, Sarah was the elder daughter of Christine (nee Wilde), a sales assistant, and Bill Gartland, a fireman. Her sister, Helen, was born three years later.
Sarah went to North Bromsgrove high school and studied Romance languages at Aberystwyth University, graduating in 1988. The same year, she gained her Celta (certificate in English language teaching), then began teaching at the British School in Bergamo, Italy. In 1993 she obtained an English language diploma from the British Council in Milan.
I met Sarah when she came to work at Southlands College, Roehampton University in 1998. Together, we developed numerous modules on English for business students, essentially for international students. Despite having a full teaching timetable, the following year Sarah gained a master’s in English language teaching from Thames Valley University.
Sarah was passionate about language, developing a style of teaching using idiosyncrasies and explanations of colloquialisms. These teaching sessions often included examples of badly written published pieces, which would create outbursts of laughter when various meanings were described. She was a much-loved and appreciated teacher who gave her students endless support and time; Sarah was only ever focused on what was best for them – it never occurred to her to seek the accolades that would no doubt have been her due. Fluent in Italian and comfortable in French, with some ability in German and Arabic, she simply loved language.
A keen cyclist and walker, Sarah greatly enjoyed London’s parks and places such as Kew Gardens, but equally loved the sea and open countryside. She was an indomitable feminist, a passionate vegetarian, a great cake maker and a committed union activist. An elected committee member of the University and College Union (UCU) for Roehampton, Sarah supported its work protecting jobs and contracts, and helping with equality, pay and pension issues. She also campaigned for NHS workers, environmental issues and the rights of the Palestinian people, attending many picket lines and demonstrations.
However, like many dedicated teachers and lecturers, Sarah grew disillusioned with what she considered the diminishment of standards within current British universities, and eventually the increased workloads and extended hours became overwhelming for her.
So, just after the first lockdown in 2020 she handed in her notice, packed her bags and left London for Lancaster. Quickly making new friends and establishing various work contracts, including teaching English to refugees at the Lancaster and Morecambe City of Sanctuary, she bought herself an electric bike and joined a local pottery class. Sadly, within a year she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Prior to her move to Lancaster, Sarah had been working on a PhD in applied linguistics under the tutorage of the Institute of Education. Southlands College has posthumously appointed Sarah a honorary fellow.
She is survived by Helen and her mother.
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