Obituary: Penny Standen, Professor of Health Psychology and Learning Disabilities: 1949-2022

Penny Standen

It is with great sadness that I have to share the news that Professor Penny Standen, Trustee of Ann Craft Trust, died on 8th July after a brave battle with cancer.

Penny was a supporter of the Ann Craft Trust since its inception in 1992 and she worked with Ann Craft on several research projects.  She became a Trustee after her retirement in 2017 and despite her illness she continued in this role contributing and advising on the future direction of the charity until the very last.

Penny was Professor of Health Psychology and Learning Disabilities in the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham. However, her academic career was nearly over before it began when her car was stolen with the only copy of her thesis on the back seat – in the days before computers. The car and its contents were never found, and Penny had to re-write her entire thesis.

After this unusual start, Penny forged a distinguished academic career, including serving as Head of School of Health Sciences. Throughout her career her main responsibilities were teaching medical students and trainee psychiatrists, supervising PhD students, and carrying out research to improve the quality of life of people with learning disabilities and those who care for them.

A key focus of her research was designing and evaluating information technology for people with learning disabilities and using approaches that involve them in the design process. In this she was helped by the Nottingham International Consortium on Educational Research, a group of people with learning disabilities who provide research consultancy and for whom Professor Standen acted as co-facilitator.

Penny was deeply committed to the lives of people who have a learning disability. She always sought to work with – rather than just for – people with learning disabilities. In addition to her academic work was an active supporter of the leaver’s group at Shepherd School, now Oakfield, sharing many memorable trips together at international conferences.

Beyond her work, Penny lived a full and varied live. For someone whose PhD was about the behaviour of ducks, she imprinted herself on people far and wide. Before becoming an academic she held many different jobs: as a croupier, as a hand model – her hands featured in catalogues holding electrical components-  and as a barmaid, where she once served the Kray twins! Penny also loved animals, competing in dressage competitions on her horse ‘Mrs O’ and sharing her home with greyhounds rescued from a life of racing.

Since the sad news of her death, many colleagues within the university and beyond have shared memories of how Penny helped and supported them. Her years of work in medical education meant that during her cancer treatment she would often meet ex-students, many of whom have written on staff noticeboards about how influential she was in enabling them to successfully complete their qualifications.

Many academics across the University and beyond owe their career to Penny’s supervision and early career support. The ACT team are grateful for her commitment and contribution to their work.  Penny was a great and loyal friend and colleague to so many and will be sadly missed by all.