Tom McCulloch

Graduated in 2011 in Managing Sustainable Rural Development (distance learning) with Lews Castle College UHI

My past and my present

Tom McCullochSince graduating I have continued in the same job I was in while I was studying - working as a community worker for Oxfordshire Rural Community Council, a rural development charity. I’ve got two roles, working with communities to identify opportunities for affordable housing development and helping new community groups get low carbon activities off the ground.

A few years ago I made the decision to move away from my heritage and history background (I used to work in archives and museums) and re-train in sustainable development. For me there’s a real need (ever-pressing as a result of climate change) to roll back the marginalisation of rural communities to create socially and economically diverse, climate-resilient communities that are outward looking but rooted in place and space. This decision led me to apply for and luckily get my current role in a rural development charity.

My course was really useful in me getting the job at ORCC. I was asked about the course at the interview and discussed its different elements and how they were well-attuned with the aspirations of the charity, be it affordable rural housing, community transport or community-led planning.

Since coming into post I’ve been able practically to apply some of the theory I learned on the course. This has included leading training for colleagues about sustainability and instigating an internal dialogue about what particular applications and principles of sustainable development should underpin our work. In addition, the Local Authority context I mainly work in can be bureaucratic and reactive, driven by budgetary considerations and political whim. However, studying on the course and, in particular, following up some of the excellent suggested reading has given me a solid understanding of the key underlying principles of sustainability and the need to seek practical applications of them. Take discussing methods of how best to consult with a community from the bottom-up, I can draw on up-to-date examples taken from course discussions and reading. The course really has provided a solid ground in the multi-dimensions of sustainability that have helped and guided me in the workplace.

My future

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in the long term, even thinking about ten years from now is too far ahead for me! I’ll be happy if I can continue to do my bit to help improve the lives of folk in rural communities. The most satisfying aspect of what I do is watching people move into a new affordable housing development in their home village, something that would probably not have happened without the organisation I work for (and others) and the local community coming together.

My advice

To keep up the habit of learning. And although there’s a lot you can take from your course, there’s even more that can be learned from people you come across in your day to day. Theory AND practice is what we need!    I think an ever-questioning attitude can lead to surprising, sometimes inspiring, end points.