Alan and I both grew as researchers in our various encounters. I got to know Alan through Anne Collis after supporting and attending the Barod launch. We spent time together at various inclusive research events where I tried to give him a platform to develop his own ideas and to stimulate fresh thinking in his audience.
He was part of our ESRC seminar series on Pushing the Boundaries of Inclusive Research, and the first speaker with learning disabilities at the ESRC Research Methods Festival and at a National Centre for Research Methods summer school for doctoral researchers. He was a key part of our study exploring TimeBanking for inclusive research and unusually made it into many mainstream research arenas.
In addition to his challenges to what I know about research, I will always remember Alan taking his place among a load of academics watching the football in the bar at the University of Oxford at the end of a day in the Research Methods Festival. He was great company. Supported by terrific colleagues in Barod and Carmarthenshire People First, Alan found his feet and made a difference.
He had so much potential to do more with his life. Instead we must make the most of his legacy.
Alan's input as a supervisor for Anne Collis' research project was invaluable. His unique approach and passion for co-operative business introduced many to a new way of thinking and working, including us at KESS 2.
We are very sorry to hear of his passing.
Alan taught me how to co-produce research. I had years of experience doing academic or not-so-academic research and evaluation as a sort of 'one-man-band'. When I started working with Barod I had to learn that my skills were needed, but that my way of looking at the world was not the only one.
Doing an interview with Alan was always fun. We would talk about it beforehand and decide who would ask which questions. I would have them written down, but Alan would have a picture prompt. He rarely needed it! He would draw on his experience to empathise with those we were talking to and ask the question in a way that always got a fuller response than my attempts.
Alan loved cars, as do I. We did a couple of field trips in hire cars. I will never forget his glee when the company had to give us a 2.5 litre Mercedes because they had double booked the Fiesta I had ordered! We had a good couple of days in Devon together!
My favourite event was a joint presentation with Lucy Hinksman and Alan at the Social History of Learning Disability Conference in 2019. We were talking about how people with learning disabilities could belong in the business world. Alan showed off by introducing me to all the professors he knew. It was obvious that he belonged!
I have increasingly come to see people like Alan, who walk into the academic world, scratch their heads, think, and then speak their truth, as not subversive but essential. Left to themselves, academics in the social sciences soon lose the foundation of their inquiry - the world …’ Thing is, Alan was possessed of a fierce and keen intelligence born of experience at the sharp end of things. He was literally at that point /pace/ Goffman ‘where the action is’ and told about it - speaking lived truth to social science power.
We can fill rooms with scholars who are prepared to expound upon topics to which they have applied the unction of ‘bookish theoric’. This enterprise, academe, needs more than a corrective or spokesperson from ‘the world’. It needs people like Alan who bring back lived experience (upon which studies are so often parasitic) to the table.
It might be a trite way to formulate this but quite simply every project needs its Alan - not an optional extra but right at the core of things. It is only then that we see the world clearly and not through the dark glass of theory.
Alan Armstrong was not what you might call a conventional choice as a PhD supervisor, but then again, Anne’s was not a conventional PhD - which was good because the fields being woven together for study here, were diverse and complex. For my part, I had great fun teasing out the minutiae of whether this was a social policy thesis, or else a sociological thesis about social policy as it exists in its own natural habitat; this is the sort of thing which interests academics, it’s what we’re trained to do. Luckily, Alan was on hand to bring things back to the real-world issues, and people, with which the study was concerned.
Alan’s expertise lay in understanding the kinds of relationships and communication systems which needed to be accessed and utilised in order for ‘Coffee shop conversations’ to be a success. He understood the mechanics involved in getting participants from a diverse range of backgrounds involved in an empowered manner. He was passionate about ensuring equality and access for all stakeholders. On more than one occasion he brought a fresh angle or perspective which had not occurred to me, and I was often impressed by the clarity of thought which underpinned his explanations and ability to express complex arguments which were otherwise too tangled for me to unravel.
On a personal level, Alan was kind, considerate, warm, and friendly. He was thoughtful and listened respectfully, with the air of someone who genuinely cared about the person and issues he was listening to. He was also lots of fun and had a truly joyful personality. I very much enjoyed working with him and it was with great sadness that I heard that he had left us, far too early. It is important that we should note the fantastic work and strides ahead Alan made whilst he was with us. Appointing Alan as a supervisor was an important step, but Alan was the one who took the steps forward from then on. He met each new challenge with enthusiasm and energy and was never afraid to speak his mind. He truly was an innovative thinker who made a difference. He will be sorely missed. Heddwch ei lwch.
Pioneer. Working class man who made good. Risk taker. Actor. Game to try anything. The resilience. The quiet strength. The solid, thoughtful man. The steadying, grounding quiet support and encouragement.
The sideways look he would give me which I knew meant he had seen something I hadn’t. The silence unless he knew I’d listen, and then the wisdom when he did speak.
The mad-cap workshop ideas. Alan and the party blowers, charades and jargon busters. The willingness to put parts of his life in the public domain while keeping a private self. His patience when I talked over him.
My respect for his intellectual ability only grew over time. He became one of my PhD supervisors. It was Alan who suggested I should ask how people feel when consulted. In the university, we hadn’t thought of that.
Alan was an accomplished co-author, co-presenter and co-creator of ideas. He trained doctoral students and early career researchers. He went from academic outsider to rubbing shoulders comfortably with professors and students alike.
I think co-presenting at the National Research Methods Festival at University of Oxford in 2015 was the turning point. He saw himself through other eyes, and saw what others had. And he wanted it. He quietly and doggedly worked for it. His next career move was to be blazing a trail into academia. That was not to be.
This website is part of my commitment to making sure that Alan’s academic contributions are not be forgotten.