Peter Sawkins on Calton Hill

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On the rise

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Whether he’s baking in the final of The Great British Bake Off, playing in a badminton competition or adapting to digital learning, student Peter Sawkins rises to the challenge. He shares his inspirations and aspirations.

One of the feel-good moments of 2020 was third-year accounting and finance student Peter Sawkins being crowned winner of The Great British Bake Off. For many, tuning into the popular weekly TV baking competition provided a welcome distraction from Covid-19 during the show’s 10-week run on Channel 4.

Having filmed the series during the summer in Hertfordshire, Peter managed to keep his victory a secret until he watched the final on television in November in his student flat back in Edinburgh. Here, he shares his love of baking and badminton, his experiences of being a student in the pandemic and his future goals.

Congratulations on winning The Great British Bake Off. How did it feel to win the competition and how did you and your fellow student flatmates celebrate?

It was amazing to win the Bake Off. I was over the moon to just be on the show, to go all the way and win it was crazy! I had made a chocolate cake to have with the final, we ate that along with a few drinks to celebrate. The flat below us popped through a congratulations note so we passed down some of the cake to say thanks.

How old were you when you got into baking and what inspired you?

I’ve always baked with my mum from a very young age. We would bake simple things like flapjack, shortbread and cupcakes. From about 12 I got stuck into baking more, I started trying more complicated recipes by myself and designing my own recipes and bakes (with mixed success). My fascination in the process of baking was largely inspired by Bake Off and other TV cooking shows.

Peter Sawkins and his brother aged five and seven baking
Peter and his brother aged five and seven baking

As well as honing your baking skills throughout the competition, what life skills did you learn from the experience?

I think I’ve learned how to better deal with uncertainty. It’s something we’ve all had to deal with this past year due to the pandemic. I normally like to have set plans and a clear timeline to work towards. However, due to changing restrictions the timeline and location for filming was very uncertain until the last minute. This was a challenge for me, but I think it was a valuable learning experience.

How did it feel to return to your studies after winning the competition?

Engaging with my studies while the show was airing was useful. There was a lot of excitement around the show so making audit and finance notes provided a good ballast.

How did you adapt to bubble life with your fellow student flatmates in semester 1?

I have great flatmates, so it was easy to have a great first semester.

Peter Sawkins enjoying his Christmas flat meal 2020 with fellow students flatmates
Enjoying a Christmas 2020 meal with fellow flatmates, who study medicine at the University. Left to right: Peter, Jamie Donachie, Abhishek Nambiar and Fraser Guthrie

Tell us about your degree and what you enjoy about it.

I like accounting because it provides quantitative data and information that you can combine with qualitative information to make decisions and reach conclusions for the benefit of organisations. Accounting covers every industry so you can apply your skills and knowledge in many different fascinating sectors.

To keep everyone safe throughout the latest lockdown, undergraduate studies went online for semester 2. How are you finding digital learning at home?

I’m getting quite tired of digital learning and I think the learning experience is compromised. I’m missing the informal opportunities to ask questions and have discussion in class with lecturers and course mates. I’m also missing the social side of attending class and studying, in person, with friends. However, we just have to keep pushing through. I know how much effort is going in to making the experience as good as possible and I am appreciative of that.

How are you staying connected digitally with fellow students and academics who you’re unable to see in person at the moment?

Mainly over text with friends. I am also attending my two to three hours of online live sessions each week.

Have there been any teaching and learning techniques that you have found particularly engaging or supportive in your digital studies?

Clearly structured pre-recorded lectures are very useful. When lectures put boundaries on individual recordings with lecture aims, end summaries of the content covered and what we will be focusing on in the next video it really helps me to understand the content I need to look into and the pathway we are on in the course.

Peter with his dad, John, and brother, Andrew, who also studied at the University, pictured in Bristo Square, 2019

What are the challenges and benefits of digital learning so far?

I’m finding it more difficult to navigate my way through the course and not miss content without the central hub of in-person lectures which tend to sign post you clearly towards the necessary content and deadlines. The benefit is in my ability to engage in classes at any time. I am a morning worker so it’s nice to be able to sit down to lectures first thing.

People having been finding coping strategies to help look after their wellbeing throughout the pandemic. Has baking been one of your coping strategies and do you have any others?

I do always enjoy baking. When I take the time out of my day to focus on a bake I do feel better and it reduces stress. The main thing I am struggling with is the closure of gyms and lack of sport (badminton). I need to make sure that I work out often to keep my head clear. I’ve been doing circuits in our garage and going out for runs.

On Bake Off you listened to your cakes to tell if they were baked properly and found it useful to use your senses. What skills do you use to help with your studies and/or daily life?

I don’t necessarily think I am a very skilled studier, but I am typically quite motivated which helps me to stay focused when studying.

Peter Sawkins playing at the British Universities and Colleges Sport Nationals Individual Championships 2019
Peter playing at the British Universities and Colleges Sport Nationals Individual Championships 2019

You’ve been a keen sports player at school and at the University. Tells us more about your involvement in sport and the benefits.

I have played for the Uni Badminton club (EUBC) since my first year. I was treasurer of the club in my second year and am currently the club president. I instantly connected with the people in the club and in the University sports community, many of my great friends have come from engagement with uni sports (my friends in second and third year have come from badminton). I’m very grateful to have all these amazing people in my life!

As a winner in baking and sport, what is it you like about and gain from being involved in a competitive event? What is your next goal?

I need competition in my life. I love the honesty of competition where everyone involved tries their best and the winner is the one who was best prepared or performed to the highest level. A big goal of mine for competition is to make it through to the main draw stage of the BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) Nationals individual badminton championships. I’ve never made it past the third round of qualification, I want to change that when we can next compete at that amazing event.

What do you enjoy about being part of the University community?

I like that the University is full of interested people that are excited to learn, discuss and develop. I think it creates an environment with great energy.

What do you miss the most about campus life?

I miss the buzz of campus when it’s full of fellow students and I miss bumping into friends and stopping for a couple minutes of energising chat.

What are you looking forward to doing as soon as the pandemic restrictions are lifted?

I’m very excited to get back to playing badminton matches with my EUBC team.

What are your plans for after you graduate and how do you see your experiences at the University and on Bake Off helping you in the future?

Before Bake Off, I was quite set on training to become a chartered accountant. Now, I’m less certain on what I will do after university. I’m going to try my best in both my studies and in the media opportunities that are available and see where I am best suited for a career. I think one of the great parts of university is that it’s a safe place to fail so it encourages us to take big leaps and try new things, that’s what I am going to try to do in my last years at uni.

Do you have a mantra for life and wellbeing?

I believe how we frame events in our life can have a huge impact on how we think and feel, therefore I put a lot of focus on ‘framing’. My mantra might be “frame events in your life so they motivate and inspire you”.

Photography: Image of Peter on Calton Hill by Sasha Cara Photography. All other images courtesy of Peter Sawkins.