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Book 3

Former York College student June has book published at age of 85

A former York College student has insisted you’re never too old to start one of our courses having had a book published at the age of 85.

June Emerson, from Kirkbymoorside, enrolled with us in her 60s to study a BTEC course and then Fine Art as an adult learner at the turn of the Millennium.

She had previously failed O Level Art at school but, after admitting that York College “opened up her brain”, June has sold some pieces of her work for as much as £400.

As a passionate environmentalist, all profits from June’s new book Following The Line will be donated to The Woodland Trust.

It is described as a painting journey through Britain, with June chronicling in images and words her travels north along the line of Longitude 2º West, which arrives in this country on the Dorset coast after travelling through Africa, Spain and France and continues up to Berwick-upon-Tweed before dropping into the North Sea, covering “a bit of Scotland” and heading for the North Pole.

The concept for the book started when June was a York College student in 2000.

She then briefly revisited the project five years later before eventually seeing it through to completion after the Covid pandemic restrictions were lifted and people were permitted to travel for work reasons in April 2021.

It is an achievement that she is reticent about making a fuss over and she also still recommends York College for anybody, like herself, born in the 1930s, who wants to broaden their educational horizons.

“I went to College in my 60s, but I’ve never taken much notice of age,” June declared. “If you don’t worry about it yourself, then other people don’t tend to notice either but, if you describe yourself as an old lady, then that’s what people will think you are.

“I’d advise anybody my age to go to College if it’s something you want to do. Forget about numbers – they are irrelevant!

“I know people in their 30s who are older than me. It’s all about your outlook.

“You’re never too old to do anything unless it’s physically or mentally impossible.”

Despite leaving school without her qualification in art, June continued to show an interest in and passion for the subject.

Living close to an art teacher, she “did a bit with her” in young adulthood and, when she started her music publishing and distribution mail order company from home in 1971, began designing printed music covers.

In the 1990s, she then attended a course in France, run by The Painting School of Montmiral in a hilltop town.

That “quite intensive” experience subsequently gave June the encouragement to enrol at York College – a place she quickly grew to love.

“I was working very hard with my music business, so I found going to College on a Wednesday a terrific release,” June pointed out. “It felt amazing to do something completely different from my office work and I really loved it.

“It was an opening up of my brain and we experienced and tried a bit of everything on the course. For example, we did print making and, while we didn’t do too much, it added another dimension to our work. We were given a free hand, but with a guiding hand always behind you.”

That guiding hand belonged to then College tutor Val Bestwick, who June remembers with great fondness.

“Val Bestwick was inspirational and immensely encouraging,” she explains. “She made you feel good about the work you had done and, then, led you in different directions.”

June has retained that willingness to explore alternative artistic avenues and, with the climate crisis in mind, all of her recent art work is being created on a laptop.

Modestly adding that some of her paintings have sold and others “accumulated”, June reasons: “Being an environmentalist, I did not want to go on filling the world’s landfill sites with canvasses, sheets of paper, glass and all the other sort of things that my children will have to get rid of when I die. I came across an article about David Hockney starting to do things on his iPad, so decided to switch to that myself and, if somebody likes a piece, you can still get them printed and framed.”

June has previously written books on her experiences travelling in Egypt and Albania and also published a series of letters from an Argentinian journalist and broadcaster while he was reporting on the Falklands War.

Other projects include a three-ingredient cookery book and a fictional novel set on Ripon Canal.

Her latest tome sees June stumble across poignant locations from her past, while following the line also takes her to Alderton Village Store, where a Collection Box that customers must contribute to if they complain about the weather had raised £800.

It goes on to dissect a Tesco superstore and the second-highest pub in the UK and, towards the end of her pilgrimage, June even finds herself sharing the dining room of another hostelry with “a cheerful gathering of men with shaven heads, tight black T-shirts, black trackie-bottoms and tough-looking necks".

She concludes her journey shortly afterwards, talking to a bunch of dandelions that mark the end of the line at Kinnaird Head in Aberdeenshire before it heads for the Arctic Ocean.

Throughout her travels, meanwhile, June agonises over the environment pollution caused by following the line on four wheels and offsets that with regular donations to The Woodland Trust, who raise funds to protect existing trees and plant new ones.

“The book is a record of life in the countryside and how the environment is changing because I want to encourage people to appreciate what we have got and to celebrate it,” June says. “I also wanted to give something to The Woodland Trust, because the more trees that can be planted the better.”

Buying June’s book certainly represents a wonderful way to support The Woodland Trust.

It costs £20 and can be ordered here

The June Emerson Wind Music company, meanwhile, provides a specialist sheet music service for woodwind and brass players.

June remains a partner of the business that her daughter now runs, having set it up after leaving her job as a music teacher to work from home and raise a family.

She invited renowned composers to write pieces for young students and many of the 65,000 different titles the company now sells have been introduced onto exam board syllabuses and are sent out all over the world, while inroads are being made into the download market too.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development

Opportunities such as these, allow us to work towards a better future in line with The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

The Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a "shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”.

Which of the goals did this project benefit?