My friend Audrey Newsome, who has died aged 91, founded the UK’s first university student counselling service – in 1964 at Keele University in Staffordshire.
Audrey was working at Keele as head of its careers department (then known as the appointments office) in 1963 when she suggested to the vice chancellor that the university should add on a personal counselling service for students experiencing difficulties in various areas of their lives. The plan was approved, and Audrey set about establishing the first service of its kind at any UK university.
Audrey was born in Morley, West Yorkshire, to Fanny, a milliner, who died when Audrey was nine, and Clifford Newsome, a sales rep. Evacuation during the second world war severely disrupted Audrey’s education as she moved from family to family and attended nine different schools. At 16 she began a secretarial course and then secured an administrative post with the economics department at Leeds University, just after the end of the second world war.
At Leeds a professor recognised her academic potential and engineered her acceptance as an undergraduate to study economics, history and Latin. She graduated in 1949.
Afterwards she took up a job in Leeds as secretary to Robert Blackburn, chairman of the aircraft manufacturing company Blackburn Aircraft, before moving to be assistant youth employment officer at Skegness council. Following a year there, in 1954 she became youth employment officer for school leavers in Leicester, and in 1956 she went to Surrey as the countywide vocational guidance officer for older school leavers.
Audrey spent the academic year of 1959-60 at Columbia University in the US, gaining an MA in counselling psychology before returning to Surrey for another couple of years. She took up her first Keele post in late 1962 as assistant appointments officer.
At the time mental health provision for undergraduates was mainly directed towards those suffering the most severe psychiatric distress, which left large numbers of the student population with nowhere to turn for help when it came to the problems they encountered in day to day life.
When she was made head of the Keele service in 1964 Audrey wrote a paper for the vice-chancellor, Harold Taylor, proposing a unified appointments and counselling service which undergraduates could approach for help throughout their course years. Her suggestion was enthusiastically accepted, and over the next two decades until her retirement in 1983 she and her colleagues counselled tens of thousands of Keele students as well as a substantial number of university staff. I met her when I enrolled as a student at Keele in 1966 and benefited from both her careers and counselling skills.
Audrey’s work influenced the development of similar services in many universities, particularly through her book Student Counselling in Practice (1973), jointly written with Brian Thorne and Keith Wyld. In 2015 the Counselling Building at Keele University was renamed the Newsome Building in recognition of her work.
Audrey was an astute listener who spoke in a warm, secure voice. But she could be direct, even brisk, in confronting evasions or slippery half-truths. Nobody could doubt her integrity or the depth of her insight into the human soul.
She never married but was for many years the companion of one of Keele’s most brilliant eccentrics, the politics lecturer Martin Dent. He and her brother, Ronald, predeceased her.