A tutor at Liverpool Hope University has told how she wants to use her love of arts and crafts to spread positive messages of equality and diversity.
Leah Burch is a Professional Tutor in Health and Social Care at Hope, having completed her PhD research on disability hate crime at the University of Leeds.
Away from peer-reviewed journals and textbooks, Leah also creates unique earrings, necklaces, prints, cards and stationery.
And Leah, originally from Birmingham but now living in Manchester, hopes her designs are able to convey some of the ideas she’s most passionate about - reaching people that might not necessarily see them in normal circumstances.
Leah, whose previous research includes an analysis of online disability hate speech, explains: “My partner and I are part of the Manchester makers community.
“It’s hard work but good fun and it’s nice to switch focus from academic studies to working with polymer clay to create these collections.
“We’re really keen on being eco-friendly, so a lot of our stationary is made from recycled materials.
“And we’re also trying to promote positive messages by bringing some of my political and academic interests into the creative arts.
“For me, it’s a good opportunity to reach people that maybe might not see those messages.
“And it’s not just about raising awareness of disability hate speech, it’s about promoting body positivity, thinking about inclusive feminism, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Most of all, it’s about equality and celebrating diversity.”
While Leah is new to Hope as a tutor, she’s more than familiar with the Hope Park campus, having studied Education Studies with Special Educational Needs as an undergraduate before going to study for a Masters in Disability Studies at the University.
And Leah wants her work at Hope to highlight many of the issues faced by disabed people in the UK - because much of the hardships they endure fly under the radar.
She adds: “I began my research looking at online hate speech targeted at those with disabilities following the welfare changes that arose during the onset of austerity measures in the early 2010s.
“Disabled people, amongst other groups, were made scapegoats. And hate towards those with disabilities was quite pronounced at that time.
“Yet the problems persist.
“Hate crime is obviously a criminal offence and recorded as such.
“But there are so many instances of everyday hate which disabled people encounter on a regular basis - and we need more scope and powers to be able to challenge it.
“These are things such as name calling, supposedly ‘mundane’ verbal abuse, which is not recorded statistically.
“And so the everyday reality of disability hate is actually much more complicated than we really understand.”
And what’s it like for Leah being on the opposite side of the desk, having previously studied at Hope?
She smiles: “It’s actually really lovely. One of the things I loved about Hope was how close you are to tutors as a student. There’s a real sense of community here, and students are always encouraged to be part of this community.
“And it’s also funny how things work out.
“I was always going to study at Hope - it was always my first choice - but I was supposed to complete teacher training, with modern foreign languages, and go on to become a teacher.
“I didn’t quite get my predicted grades at A Levels and Hope instead offered me a place on the Education Studies with SEN course.
“And having embarked down that patch I soon realised that a PGCE wasn’t for me, and how I really wanted to be involved in the research and lecturing side of things.
“I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without that opportunity. It’s a great place to study.”
** To find out more about Leah’s crafting enterprise, Brazen Prints, head here.
If you’re lucky, dog-owner Leah might even name one of her collections after your pet - something she does regularly and posts updates on her website.