The Ragged University web site imageAlex Dunedin

What is the Ragged project ?

The Ragged project delivers free, fun and informal talks in pubs, cafés and libraries around the country. The idea is simple – take the Ragged Schools and update them, using available infrastructure (such as pubs and cafes) and the available technology (the internet and screening facilities). Whatever your passion, if you love a subject, we want to help you to share it with other people. There is no registration and no accreditation and it does not cost anything.

How did it start?

It started in March 2010, around a table in Hackney. Since then people from all over the country have got in touch wondering if they can be involved. There has been support from businesses, entrepreneurs, academics and diverse communities.

Who wants to take part?

Teachers seldom have the time in the day to introduce their own enthusiasms if these are not part of the regular curriculum; many autodidacts (self-learners) have built up a considerable catalogue of intricate knowledge about particular subjects but do not have any opportunity engage conversation about them; often professionals have a burning passion for a some topic they have nurtured since their student days, but do not have the opportunity to meet like minds; there are literally millions of retired people who have a lifetime’s learning behind them who would love the chance to share their hard-won knowledge.

What do the Ragged do?

We help coordinate individuals with an interest in particular subjects meet each other in order to talk and potentially collaborate whilst connecting them with open access learning resources provided by universities and institutions around the world (e.g. lecturefox). The project combines face-to-face discussion with a virtual presence designed to facilitate self development.

The Ragged project is a not-for-profit organisation of socially-minded people. It seeks to expand cultural knowledge, not to provide an alternative to established education. We want to connect people to learning, to industry, to each other, through what we do naturally – talking! People who love their subjects make them enjoyable! The sharing and transfer of knowledge is a natural function of human society.

The great educator John Amos Comenius once said, “If, in each hour, a man could learn a single fragment of knowledge, a single rule of some mechanical art, a single pleasing story or proverb (the acquisition of which would require no effort), what a vast stock of learning he might lay by.” This thought, along with the Madras peer-led teaching method, serves as high inspiration. Just think what could be achieved if you communicated like this with your ten nearest neighbours.

Why ‘Ragged’?

Philanthropists and entrepreneurs like the Crippled Cobbler of Portsmouth and Andrew Bell of St Andrews in Scotland helped to bring about free education in Britain. The Ragged Schools movement brought together the likes of Dr Barnardo, Baroness Burdett-Coutts and the Earl of Shaftesbury to organise free schools through the Ragged Schools Union. This led to the passing of the 1870 Forster Education Act which made the Government responsible for providing free education for children aged 5 to12.

What have we achieved so far?

There are four teams to date – London, Glasgow, Manchester and Edinburgh. London developed the proto-events in the Palatine Bar (N16 8BX) to show how the idea works; the Manchester team has set up a printing press and had its first event on the 2nd of March in The Castle Hotel (M4 1LE); Glasgow launched a hugely successful programme of events on the 22nd November 2010 and Ragged Talks are now a regular feature of Glasgow life. Edinburgh has been working on the website and is now gathering speakers to launch events in May.

The Ragged is not limited to 'documentary-in-a-pub' type events but also helps to stimulate local economic regeneration by working with and linking small businesses. Because of this the RU has been made a member of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, so benefiting from their practical expertise in order to deliver the project in a level-headed fashion.

The website is up and running ( and we are soon launching our publishing imprint which is to realise people's work through a charitable business model. This will give people a platform for their passions, provide a mechanism of direct remuneration whilst the author holds onto the Intellectual Property rights and gets proffered to the existing publishing industry. This charitable business model has been well received as it takes the risk out of unknown authors for the industry at the same time as manifesting creative projects in tangible form.

Is now the best time to do this?

Any time is good for this kind of project because accessible education is always desirable in any society, but this may be one of the better times to start it. We are encouraged by the Creative Commons licensing as a legal device, the rapid development of computer technology and the networking capabilities available to the average person.

I believe that the Ragged University may find many answers to current problems. By building on evolving socio-political-economic research and by looking at successful economic regeneration projects, Ragged is aiming to create inclusive bonding, bridging and linking forms of social capital ( as an independent and autonomous organisation.

Is there more information ?

We have been developing academic supplements on Sociology, Educational Theory, Economics and Arts (amongst others) to inform the endeavour. These are available in pdf format and can be sent if requested for by email. Suggestions, questions and critique are invited so that the project can develop in a full and level-headed way.

Who am I?

I am a thirty-four-year-old library researcher and am the national director to the Ragged project. We are always looking for more coordinators and more speakers so we can put on more events enriching culture and people's lives. Please get in touch if you would be interested in joining forces or if you have any ideas which you would like to see manifested. Thank you for reading. 


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