Aonghus Gordon OBE, Hon DUniv, MEd

Founder and Executive Chair of Ruskin Mill Trust

Aonghus has a distinguished track record of development and leadership of several charities that provide high quality environments and opportunities for people with disabilities. He is passionate about the need for people, in particular children and young adults, to break out of dependency and marginalisation, believing that everyone has the potential to shape their own future.

After training as a potter, Aonghus started Ruskin Mill Trust in 1981 as a centre for cultural development. At the time, this was a small project linked to a nearby specialist school in Gloucestershire. This small project grew into Ruskin Mill Trust, which is now one of the UK’s leading educational charities working with learning differences, with twelve centres across England, Wales and Scotland. Aonghus has pioneered its unique method of Practical Skills Therapeutic Education (PSTE), inspired by Rudolf Steiner, John Ruskin and William Morris’s ideas about social renewal, healthy human development, education and the importance of art, crafts and land work, all undertaken through a therapeutic lens. Thousands of young people have benefited from this integrative education method.

Aonghus is the founding Trustee of both Ruskin Mill Trust and Ruskin Mill Land Trust, which has a recognised reputation for restoring redundant iconic industrial buildings and transforming them into educational and cultural centres, winning many awards and commendations. The Trust has been gifted and purchased over 600 acres of farmland, woods and gardens, which are now all maintained using biodynamic principles, a strong area of interest for Aonghus who has championed biodynamic ecology and food for children and students.

In 2013 the Trust’s research centre was launched in the dedicated Field Centre building, whose design was informed by the Trust’s Practical Skills Therapeutic Education (PSTE) method, and drawn from the foundation stone mosaic in the Ruskin Mill Gallery, a project that was put together with out-of-work youth and students with learning differences in 1982. The Trust sponsors extensive research into the benefits of craft, biodynamic agriculture, holistic care and support, Goethean Science methods, leadership and management and the outdoor curriculum in education through action research, and the therapeutic approach to specialist education.

In March 2023, Aonghus, with colleagues founded the Ruskin Mill Centre for Research (RMCR) in order to ensure that contemporary research into the method of the Trust is undertaken, providing constant scrutiny, which in turn results in the renewing of policies and strategy and vision.

Aonghus has forged many international partnerships, including the development of a Master’s degree in collaboration with Lillehammer Inland University, Norway and, with American colleagues, advised and led on the establishment of a college for young people on the autistic spectrum near Sacramento, California, at the Meristem Centre.

Aonghus is a Trustee and Board Member of numerous charities and was awarded Social Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young in 2005. He is a charismatic motivational speaker and is not afraid to challenge his audience, which has led to frequent requests to lecture and run workshops in various countries including USA, Europe and the Far East. He is a Companion of Ruskin’s Guild of St George, works with an aesthetic drawn from Ruskin’s concept of Vital Beauty and, like Ruskin, has a fascination for meteorology and geology.

In 2022 Aonghus was awarded an OBE for services to cultural heritage and education.

In 2023, the University of Huddersfield presented Aonghus with an honorary doctorate for his work within special needs education.

Following a request from the Ruskin Mill Trustees, Aonghus has written a book presenting the method of the Trust to a wider audience, in collaboration with Laurence Cox. The result is Place, Craft and Neurodiversity: Re-imagining Potential through Education at Ruskin Mill, published by Routledge in December 2023, the world’s largest academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences. The book gives readers a short genius loci visit to some of our provisions, explains each of the Seven Fields of Practice in everyday language and includes conversations with Aonghus exploring the history and underlying ideas of the method.

Place, Craft and Neurodiversity is intended to raise awareness and interest in the wider world about the work of the Trust as well as to inspire others working in special education, craft, farming and social care, and of course to offer hope to parents and guardians of young people who may need to come to Ruskin Mill Trust’s provisions.

In keeping with the Trust’s charitable objectives, the book can be downloaded free from Taylor & Francis and from ebook providers.

Aonghus Gordon
Aonghus Gordon OBE, Hon DUniv, MEd, Founder and Executive Chair of Ruskin Mill Trust