CHANGE YOUR STORY
At the heart of our campaign are our learning ambassadors – take a look below at their inspirational stories.
They have all taken the first step to turn their lives around to build a better future for themselves, their family and their community. Adult learning has been key to each of their success stories and for many a lifeline. Become inspired by clicking on any of the images below to read or watch their story. This is what adult learning can do for you, you can change your story too.
Just two years ago, Chloe Young from Mold, was too afraid to leave her own home due to severe anxiety and depression and an eating…Read Chloe's Story
Just two years ago, Chloe Young from Mold, was too afraid to leave her own home due to severe anxiety and depression and an eating disorder she’d battled since she was 17. When she ended up in hospital after she attempted to take her own life, she thought there was no way out.
She said: “My life was a rollercoaster. At my lowest I would struggle to get out of bed to take my daughter to school. I had no confidence – there was nothing left of me to give. I didn’t see the use in talking about my mental health as I felt there was nothing that would take away my experiences.”
Chloe was referred to WeMindTheGap programme, a scheme which provides life coaching, work experience and access to employment, and it was life changing. She started the WeMindTheGap training programme, spending the next six weeks on work placements, and now she has plans to attend university to study to become a nurse. She said
When Chloe graduated, she was asked to share her experiences with other inspirational women on her course, charity sponsors, placement managers friends and family.
“I was shaking, stuttering as I read my speech to a room full of 200 people. I was so emotional I burst into tears – I couldn’t believe I had the confidence to do it. I knew I would show the people who doubted me, and I have.”
Her fourth placement was for the social services as a support worker for the elderly led to permanent work. “I absolutely love it and its been the making of me. My daughter has about 20 honorary grandmas and grandpas, they love hearing about her. It made me realise that I want to take care of people, my boss says I have potential to be a senior manager, but I want to go to university and study nursing. I went to see my nan last week and she said how healthy I’m looking. I’m eating better, I socialise, I have a job I love, a car and I’m waiting for a date to take my driving test.”
John began his learning journey with the Open University in 2010, graduating seven years later with a BSc (Hons) in Health Sciences, an achievement he…Read John's Story
John began his learning journey with the Open University in 2010, graduating seven years later with a BSc (Hons) in Health Sciences, an achievement he describes as “the most extraordinary of my life.”
John had struggled to learn at school, he had severe dyslexia and ADHD and had been told that “he would amount to nothing and did not deserve to be taught with others”. He says, “I was constantly made to feel and look stupid. Mocked by my teachers and belittled in front of other children. I was made to stand on a chair and asked to read in front of the class. They made an example of me, not realising I desperately needed help. My confidence was crushed, and I developed a stutter.”
Joining the army after leaving school, John saw active service as an Army Commando in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pushed to his physical limits he had a successful military life, but he continued to struggle with the personal demons seeded in his childhood.
He had never told anyone that he couldn’t read or write. It was only when he left the Army in 2000 and was working as an Ocean Paramedic, that his secret was discovered. “I used to memorise everything I learned by heart. The military is very physical, so it was easy to hide. But I always knew I’d be terrible in an exam.” His instructor noticed something was wrong and told him he was bright enough to progress in his dream career in medicine – and encouraged him, aged 34, to rejoin education.
John made nervous enquiries with the Open University. Assessments for dyslexia were made and with the support of tutors he progressed well. He was then diagnosed with a visual disorder associated with dyslexia. Despite needing to take longer to read through text books and complete assignments, John kept going, investing time and effort in mastering assistive technology. Working off shore brought additional challenges at exam time but these were overcome by recruiting the Ship’s Captain to act as an invigilator!
Graduating was a hugely emotional day. “There are no words to describe the dedication, patience and encouragement I received from my tutors. I started with them as a broken soldier, but now after a long journey I have progressed and I’m running my own teaching medical company.”
John is now a senior medical officer, travelling the world, responsible for the health of a crew of 150 and running his own medical business, PATRONAS Rescue International. His business is based on the principle of supporting others, teaching pre-hospital emergency care to teams of medics and supporting medical evacuations abroad and in the UK. He says, “If only my teachers had believed in me and not dismissed me as a ‘naughty’ child. I never imagined life could be like this. I was failed by education the first time, but I’m so glad I was given a second chance.”
Following his graduation John has become an Open University Ambassador, raising over £40,000 which has been used to establish a Disabled Veterans Scholarship Fund.
Having the opportunity to learn Welsh again was a key factor in Rhiannon Norfolk’s decision to move back to Wales. She inherited her love of…Read Rhiannon's Story
Having the opportunity to learn Welsh again was a key factor in Rhiannon Norfolk’s decision to move back to Wales. She inherited her love of ‘Welshness’ from her mum and dad, who are originally from South Wales, and used to take her on holidays very summer to Gwynedd.
These family holidays inspired her to study at Bangor University where she planned to become proficient in the language, but her busy university schedule meant she had to drop her Welsh lessons. “I got on with life, as you do, but Wales has always felt like home and I had this yearning for the language.”
It wasn’t until she was living in Wiltshire years later that a chance encounter would see Rhiannon return to Welsh. “I saw a poster for a folk band called Calan, who were playing at the town hall in Chippenham,” she said. “I went along on my own and loved it. I felt a huge connection to the beautiful sounds of the Welsh language with the moving music, and it brought back some of what I had learned.”
When she saw a job advertised in her field of health service evaluation, she applied, got the job and moved to Wales. A year later, she has almost completed a fast-track foundation-level Welsh course at Penarth Learning Community.
“I felt really nervous going along but I was assured that I could build on the language skills I already had, despite them being rusty,” she said. “I worried I’d be so far behind everyone else with my very basic Welsh and that I hadn’t learned for 13 years, but it was brilliant. Everyone was so welcoming and it’s amazing how much you remember.”
Rhiannon attends the class for two hours every week alongside Saturday schools. She joins a reading group at Palmerston Adult Community Learning Centre in Barry and has attended a Welsh residential weekend with her mum, Gill, who is also learning at classes near her home in Monmouth. After receiving outstanding results for her entry exam, Rhiannon is now getting ready to sit her foundation assessment. “Learning Welsh has been a complete joy for me, I finally feel like I’m home.”
Rhiannon suffers with depression, anxiety and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which requires the use of walking sticks or a wheelchair and causes her constant pain and fatigue.
She said: “Coming to Welsh classes has made a great difference to my mental health and I take it at my own pace, taking a break in class if I need to. Learning gives me structure and a place to make friends. It’s helped me to keep my brain active and given me a sense of purpose and achievement. Giving up on Welsh was always a regret and I wanted to sort that out, and I feel so fulfilled now that I have.”
Suzanne Condon nominated Rhiannon, she says “It is clear that other learners in class love to practice with her, she’s brilliant at encouraging them to say as much as they can. She’s a learner on a mission and she inspires others.”
Catrin’s life changed forever in 2013 when she suffered third degree burns to 96% of her body in a coach crash in France, she was…Read Catrin's Story
Catrin’s life changed forever in 2013 when she suffered third degree burns to 96% of her body in a coach crash in France, she was 19.
There wasn’t much hope of her surviving and she went into a coma for three months. She says, “I battled on, but I doubted whether I had a future. When I woke up from the coma, I’d had numerous surgeries and couldn’t move”.
Catrin was left with physical and mental scars, her central vision has disappeared, her left fingertips were amputated, and she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and flashbacks of being alight. She says, “Everyone’s lives were continuing while mine was on pause. It makes you question your worth, my self-confidence was shattered”.
Having spent the next four years in physical therapy learning how to walk, speak and eat again, Catrin said “I began to see that my physical disabilities and mental health issues were less of a barrier and more of a driving force to prove that anything could be achieved if you set your mind to it.”
Although the world felt like a scary place, Catrin pushed through these challenges and took her first step when she started working as a peer supporter with charities such as The Katie Piper Foundation and Changing Faces, giving motivational talks about surviving life-changing experiences. She says, “What I really wanted was to study again and work my way towards a meaningful career where I could make a difference.”
Catrin was inspired by the role of the Physiotherapist in her own recovery, and in 2017 she embarked on a journey to becoming a physio. She says, “Going back to education was terrifying. I had completed 15 years of education in the fortunate position of having no additional needs, now I had multiple.”
To pursue a degree in Physiotherapy, Catrin needed to gain a Level 3 science-based qualification. She enrolled on Agored Cymru’s Access to Higher Education course to study Biosciences at Coleg Cambria. She says, “After building the courage to show up, every day got easier. I was still intelligent, capable and adjustments made everything achievable.”
Excelling in her course, Catrin has received offers from University and will take up a place in September 2018. Jackie Grieves of Coleg Cambria says, “Everyone here has been dazzled and inspired by Catrin’s positive attitude and determination to achieve her goals.
Ten years ago, Scott Jenkinson was struggling with substance misuse and was homeless. But thanks to adult learning, he has turned his life around. He…Read Scott's Story
Ten years ago, Scott Jenkinson was struggling with substance misuse and was homeless. But thanks to adult learning, he has turned his life around. He is now a teacher and is happily married with a baby girl.
Back in 2005, adult education was the last thing on Scott’s mind but when staff at a hostel where he was staying encouraged him to apply for a course, he agreed to go as he needed somewhere to live. What he didn’t realise at the time was that this course would be the turning point he needed thanks to the guidance, motivation, and support he received there, he began to form a foundation for a new life and passed with a qualification.
In 2008, Scott went on to apply for a Learning Support and Social Care course and was inspired by his tutor to pursue the path that would lead him to becoming a teacher. He is now a part time trainer for Nacro working with young adults on the traineeship programme and is the founder of ‘4:28 training’ that provides training for adults who are walking a similar path that he once did.
Scott said, “My personal journey as an addict and an ex-offender has given me an insight into the path that led me to becoming a teacher and who I am today. I firmly believe that education changes lives and education can form the foundation for a new life, getting people out of the cycle of offending through opportunity, encouragement, and guidance.”
Seven years later, after mental health issues and family health scares, he’s just achieved a first-class Honours degree in BSc Aircraft Maintenance with a promising…Read Kierran's Story
Seven years later, after mental health issues and family health scares, he’s just achieved a first-class Honours degree in BSc Aircraft Maintenance with a promising future in aeronautical engineering.
Without the support and purpose Kierran received while serving in the Army, his mental health suffered, and he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. After years jumping from job to job, he had no direction. The 28-year-old said: “The Army was all I’d ever known. A lot of my family members were in the Army and I’d always pictured myself working my way up. It’s a way of life and like a family so to have that suddenly taken away from you really messes with your head. Life afterwards was bleak, I had lots of jobs in pubs which I couldn’t hold down which led me to drinking too much and I just spiralled.”
Kierran found hope when he met his partner, Samantha, she provided the support he needed, “I had always associated learning with the tough time I had in school after my father died,” said Kierran, who was just 12 at the time.
Kierran jumpstarted his learning journey and after completing his Level 3 in A Licence modules he went on to study a degree in aircraft maintenance.
Whilst on the course, he was diagnosed with dyslexia which hadn’t been picked up at school.
“I had always felt like it was an upward struggle at school but after understanding why I struggled and making small changes like printing work out on yellow paper allowed me to keep up with the class.”
Kierran has since spoken at careers fairs, taken on the role as team leader on group projects and secured the first ever internship at aircraft maintenance and training company, Caerdav – famously run by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.
“Bruce was talking at a conference and I just asked him outright for some work experience – if you had told me that five years ago, I would have laughed!
He said: “There is support out there and I would encourage people to share their problems and also their goals as people will help you find a way through.”
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