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.”
Joseff Oscar Gnagbo
Joseff Gnagbo was brought up on the Ivory Coast but due to unrest was forced to seek asylum in Wales. Then in just over a…Read Joseff's Story
Joseff Oscar Gnagbo
Joseff Gnagbo was brought up on the Ivory Coast but due to unrest was forced to seek asylum in Wales. Then in just over a year, dedicated to immersing himself in the culture he became fluent in the language and is now teaching other asylum seekers basic Welsh.
He said: “My homeland was under siege, it was scary. There was a lot of fighting, so I was forced to flee to safety. I didn’t know anything about Cardiff let alone Wales, all I had heard was that it’s very green, less crowded and the people are really nice.
“I’ve lived all over the world and promised myself I would always learn the native language of the country I was in.
Joseff, who worked as a linguist in his West African home also speaks French, Swahili, Italian, Russian, German and Arabic. Attending the Oasis Centre in Cardiff the day after he arrived in Wales helped, he said, along with the ‘Say Something in Welsh’ app suggested by his tutor. He also followed courses with Learn Welsh Cardiff, run by Cardiff University on behalf of the National Centre for Learning Welsh.
Joseff now works as a carer, a translator and a teacher, and volunteers for Cymdeithas yr Iaith, the Welsh Language Society. He also gives half-hour Welsh language taster sessions at the Welsh Refugee Council – after learners have had an hour of English tuition.
He continued: “Some of my tutors were sceptical about adding Welsh to the English courses, they thought it may confuse people. But as so many signs are in Welsh and people speak the language, I think it’s important to know the basics, especially if you’re looking for work or have children attending bilingual schools.
“I want to continue developing my skills but also learn more Celtic languages like Gaelic and Cornish. I love walking through the centres where I volunteer and hearing asylum seekers and refugees saying diolch!”
Retiree Ralph Handscomb, from Merthyr Tydfil has helped people search for jobs during lockdown, he’s a learner and a volunteer working with Merthyr Tydfil County…Read Ralph's Story
Retiree Ralph Handscomb, from Merthyr Tydfil has helped people search for jobs during lockdown, he’s a learner and a volunteer working with Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council Adult Community Learning at The College in Merthyr and the town’s JobCentre Plus.
Ralph said: “I have always been fascinated by computers. But with my seven O Level passes from the 70s, there were limited options in the industry, so my interest really began to grow when we got our first huge desktop PC at home in 1996. I took evening classes and was surprised how different it was to my school experience. People actually wanted to be there, and it just showed you can continue learning, in your own time and around your family commitments all while being treated as an adult.”
Ralph passed his first computer qualifications – CLAIT Level I and IBT Level II – in 1996 with and then went on to secure his European Computer Driving Licence in 2008.
He said: “I always brought my digital skills into every job I had, even as a bus driver I helped everyone in the office digitise and overhauled the route systems. Staying as up to date as possible with my training courses meant when I joined the Welsh Assembly Government in 2000 as the “new” Windows 95 system was introduced, I had already had five years’ worth of experience.
“My night classes and qualifications resulted in three promotions within the civil service but after 18 years I retired. I spent some time in the garden, but my wife wanted me to do something to fill my time – and to get me out from underneath her feet.”
Ralph returned to “school” completing the Award in Education and Training (Level III), which now enables him to share his skills and experience through his voluntary work. He said:
“I will never stop learning or teaching, it keeps my brain active and makes me feel good. I regularly practice my new methods on my family, I take pride in seeing my learners pass, gain confidence and the doors opening up for them personally and professionally. Once the learning flame ignites and burns the learners will achieve, and that pride is immeasurable.”
Wrexham-born, Emma Williams had left home by the age of 14. Experiencing problems with her mental health and addiction, she found herself homeless in her…Read Emma's Story
Wrexham-born, Emma Williams had left home by the age of 14. Experiencing problems with her mental health and addiction, she found herself homeless in her teens. Emma gave birth to a daughter at 21 and, suffering with post-natal depression, her addiction got worse and she began her downward spiral. “Day and night, I didn’t know the difference,” she said. “I felt like I was destined for a life of hardship. Drugs and alcohol were a safety blanket.”
Eight years later, aged 29, she walked into a recovery centre in Colwyn Bay, called Touchstones 12. “There was a college next door to the facility. I started off small with a few employability courses to keep my mind busy. It was life-changing.”
While gaining help with her addiction, Emma applied for a job as a recovery support worker and spent the next two years as a case worker, helping others deal with their own problems with drugs. Being made redundant from the job she loved was a blow, but she used the opportunity to fuel her determination for learning and applied to university.
Returning to qualifications she had gained in her 20s and with the new courses she had completed, Emma was able to apply to start studying for an undergraduate degree in Forensic Science. The 39-year-old said: “Ten days later, I was sat in my first Quantum Chemistry lecture. I’ve suffered majorly with imposter syndrome, not many of the students look like me or have had similar backgrounds – but I am so determined.”
Over the next five years she completed her undergraduate degree in Forensic science, a PGCE, and is in the process of completing an MRes in Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology with a focus on biological anthropology at Wrexham Glyndwr University. After qualifying as a teacher, she taught on the undergraduate Forensic Science degree and is now a science communicator for Techniquest in North Wales, working as a role model for females in STEM subjects. “Now I encourage girls to study science like me,” she said.
She said: “I was told I wouldn’t live past 30 if I continued to live my life like I did. Yet I know so many people who have been through worse. If I can inspire at least one person or show someone who is struggling, that you can change your life through education, then it’s all worth it.”
Admitting it hasn’t been easy, Emma, who discovered she had additional needs, encouraged other people to ask for help: “When you struggle to believe in yourself, the people around you make all the difference. The support I had not only from my loved ones but my tutors too, helped me find my passion and my voice. I want to prove to my daughter that she can do anything she puts her mind to – just like me.”
Thomas Ferriday has achieved a Level 3 Brickwork Diploma and now works with Cardiff and Vale College as a technician in the Construction Department where…Read Thomas's Story
Thomas Ferriday has achieved a Level 3 Brickwork Diploma and now works with Cardiff and Vale College as a technician in the Construction Department where he mentors new learners at the start of their journey.
Tom has come a long way, having spent years living with different family members due to problems at home, before moving into a bedsit on his own when he was 17. With little family support, he visited homelessness charity Llamau, who provided him with a support worker to help with sorting out his finances and day-to-day living skills. “I worked out that I needed £5 a day to buy food, pay bills and get myself to college,” he said. “I didn’t have much money, and there were days I barely had enough for lunch, but I kept going to college because I knew it would help me to get a job and have a brighter future.”
He’d left school with no GCSE’s, he was bullied and homelife was difficult. “I told myself from a young age that I was going to work hard and take every opportunity to get away from troubles and find something I loved. I tell the students the same thing.”
After school Tom tried a Painting and Decorating course, he said, “I didn’t do well on the course, but I knew I had lots to offer so I kept trying.” Watching motivational clips on YouTube gave him even more drive to do his best. He said, “There was a guy with severe disabilities who had done amazing things, he hadn’t let anything hold him back, and he was studying at university. I thought, there are so many people going through hardships. Many people have difficult stories, but they’ve changed their lives by learning.”
Thomas applied for 40 jobs and didn’t receive one interview, but he was determined to get into work, so he enrolled at Cardiff and Vale College on a Level 2 Brickwork Diploma.
Taking extra classes in Maths and English he progressed onto the Level 3 course. Now Thomas is hoping his skills will help him to achieve his ambition of travelling the world.
“I’d love to work on building projects in Africa,” he said. “I’ve saved some money and hope to plan something for later this year.”
Brickwork lecturer, Paul Sebburn who nominated Thomas said, “His work ethic was fantastic. From day one he wanted more work, he was never late, had 100% attendance, and always turned up to his lessons with a smile on his face. He’s worked so hard to get where he is and will be the first person to say he hasn’t found the academic study easy, but he’s persevered.”
Thomas added: “I’ve always struggled, but I’ve always been determined to do my best and do extra to achieve my goals. Working hard has given me so much.”
Jimama (JJ) was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1995. She lost her entire family during the civil war and was saved by family…Read Jimama's Story
Jimama (JJ) was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1995. She lost her entire family during the civil war and was saved by family friends who managed to bring her to the UK, aged seven, when they fled. Unable to speak English and with no formal education or family in the UK, Jimama was moved between several foster homes. This unsettled and chaotic childhood caused disruption to JJ’s education and heightened her anxieties, resulting in extreme shyness.
Aged 10, Jimama was diagnosed with dyslexia. Learning support was provided which helped but she still found school challenging and achieved G grade GCSEs.
However, her educational journey after leaving school set Jimama on the path to success. She enrolled in a level 1 Hairdressing course at Gower College in Swansea where her learning needs were recognised and supported from the outset, she began to flourish and her true sunny personality shone through. She went on to study level 2 and 3 qualifications in Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy, alongside this she continued to improve her essential skills. Now 21, JJ will qualify and finish college this June and will set sail for adventures – literally – having landed a job as a cruise-ship spa worker.
Jimama says, “All the challenges have made me even more determined to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given. I would say if you’ve got a dream and you want it badly enough then work hard and don’t let anything get in your way. Stability isn’t something that I’ve had much of in my life, I lost both my parents at a young age, but I’m sure they’d be proud of me right now. Coming to college and getting my qualifications has brought me structure, friendships and a future.”
Tarek Zou Alghena
Tarek Zou Alghena fled Syria when civil war broke out in 2011 and came to the UK, less than four years ago to build a…Read Tarek's Story
Tarek Zou Alghena
Tarek Zou Alghena fled Syria when civil war broke out in 2011 and came to the UK, less than four years ago to build a new life. He was just 23 when he was forced to leave – his hometown had become a battleground in the civil war. “I was scared for my life,” said Tarek, “I have four younger sisters, three brothers and my parents. We all left together, they now live in Sweden.”
Tarek was a businessman, meeting friends at cafés and restaurants, before everyday life became a danger. During his family’s escape they became separated – with Tarek arriving alone in the UK in 2015 after spending years in exile in Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. “I left with nothing” said Tarek. He spent a month at the refugee camp in Calais before making his way to the UK. “It was bad at the camp. Life was difficult, we lived in tents most of the time. Agencies gave us food, but it was a scary place to be.”
In the UK, Tarek was provided with refugee status and settled in Cardiff after he obtained asylum. He spoke no English, and there was a six-month waiting list for entry onto the nearest formal ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) course, so he set about attending every voluntary English class he could find.
“When I arrived, it was sad being on my own. All I could say in English was ‘Hi, (I want to go) London, Cardiff, Manchester whatever the name of the cities, and some very few words.”
For the first few months, he attended survival English classes, delivered by volunteer teachers and university students at the Welsh Refugee Council and the Oasis Centre. As soon as a place became available, Tarek started studying formal ESOL classes at Cardiff and Vale College. Two years later, he applied for a foundation degree and, due to his refugee status, was able to take part in the University of South Wales’ Refugee Sanctuary Scheme. The scheme provides free intensive English preparation for refugees who want to study at university but don’t speak English as a first language.
Tarek was taught on a three month-intensive English course, which he passed last year, allowing him to successfully complete the first year of his university course. He said, “I’d be studying for about twelve hours a day. Sometimes I didn’t sleep, I’m always learning. I work at it every day.” He has finished the foundation year and in September starts the first year of a three-year degree in Quantity Surveying, and Commercial Management.
“I loved my old life,” he said. “It’s hard to explain how hard that is, having to leave and start somewhere new when you don’t want to. In your home, you have rights. When your country is broken down and becomes weak, you have no rights, you have no voice. Learning English has changed my life, I can have a voice. Maybe I’ll stay in Wales, maybe travel the world or maybe one day it will be safe for me to return to Syria.”
Mike Chick of the University of South Wales, nominated Tarek, he said: “Tarek’s experience shows how important ESOL is to the lives of refugees who seek sanctuary in Wales and the crucial role that voluntary organisations, further and higher education working together can play in integration and community cohesion. A route for migrants to survive and thrive!”
“Tarek is an example of the resourcefulness and stamina of the human spirit. His journey illuminates the tremendously important role that adult education can play in shaping lives.”
Single mum Rose from Pembrokeshire left school without any grade C or above GCSEs but had always dreamt of becoming a Special Needs teacher. She…Read Rose's Story
Single mum Rose from Pembrokeshire left school without any grade C or above GCSEs but had always dreamt of becoming a Special Needs teacher. She grew up with her traveller family, helping to care for her severely disabled brother; and from the age of three she knew how to react to his frequent seizures.
Rose still cares for her brother and has brought up her 10-year-old daughter Olivia, without any outside help or support. Despite this, she jumped at the chance to restart her education after having numerous jobs as a cleaner.
In order to achieve her dream, Rose wanted to get her GCSE’s and successfully gained English and Maths while studying through Launch Learning at Monkton Priory Community Primary School.
Rose then went on to complete a Foundation Degree in Education and Social Inclusion, provided by University of Wales Trinity St David. Despite being 40 miles away, it didn’t stop Rose achieving her goals. The programme also allows students to complete a further year in order to gain a BA (hons) degree. In 2015, Rose qualified with a BA First Class honours; the highest achievable grade. She starts her post-graduate studies in Special Needs in September.
Rose is not only a role model for her daughter, but the traveller community. According to the UK 2011 Census, 60% of the 58,000 people who identified themselves as being Gypsy or Irish Travellers had no qualifications.
Rose said: “I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be where I am today; I’m still in shock I’ve achieved so much. Being a part of the Gyspy/Traveller community, there is no pressure to do well at school. I hope I show that with hard work and determination, no matter what your background, you can follow your dreams.”
At the age of 10 Owen and his two brothers and two sisters were taken into the care system and found a foster family, with…Read Owen's Story
At the age of 10 Owen and his two brothers and two sisters were taken into the care system and found a foster family, with whom he still lives, alongside two of his brothers. He has been in the same foster placement ever since.
He says, “When I went into care, I remember being shocked at how calm it was. My foster parents were caring and not too strict. Most of all I was amazed that some people really cared about me. This made me feel quite down in a strange way, but I refused to see counsellors, I was going to solve all my problems myself.”
Owen’s secondary school time passed without much excitement, but school didn’t hold anything for him, and he was very disillusioned. He refused to engage with counselling to help with the trauma of his earlier neglect and abuse and decided to deal with things himself – not always successfully.
He says, “I didn’t do well at school as I didn’t want anyone to think I was nerdy, but it turns out I was quite good at PE and Catering. I got a Saturday job in a pub kitchen and realised I was actually good at working”.
Proving to himself that he could do a good job, Owen then thought about pursuing a career as a chef. When he left school with one GCSE in PE he applied to the army. He was advised to go on a pre-military course which led him to signing up for a Traineeship programme with North Wales Training. The Military Awareness Course is designed to give learners an insight to military life and prepares and supports their application to the Armed Forces.
Each morning he got up at 6:15 and travelled to Kinmel Camp on his own, on the train for over an hour, not returning home until after 6pm every day. His nominator, Martin Craven says, “At first, Owen was very shy and lacked confidence. He found the early days hard but was developing resilience and determination. He made friends with others on the course and after talking with some Welsh Guards who assisted on the programme, he decided he wanted to be in the infantry and once he had that focus there was no turning back.”
When Owen arrived on the course, it was obvious that fitness training was an area he really enjoyed and put everything he had into it, coming in the top 4 learners on the course. He didn’t miss a single day in nine months and the staff could see his self-confidence and self-discipline grow. He completed the Level 1 BTEC Award in Workskills and passed selection to go to the Army Foundation College at Harrogate on the first attempt.
Martin Craven continues, “His personal identity matured and his self-esteem rose. He completely turned his life around and found a purpose and aim. Owen is looking forward to the next exciting chapter in his life and will be joining the Welsh Guards, which is known for its family ethos, where we are sure he will fit in and flourish.”
I began to realise I was good at work things and could do a decent job. I became so much more confident so applied to the Army properly and was asked to go to selection – I passed first time! I think I am going to do really well.”
Sadly Bernard passed away in January 2020 but he kept learning right until the end. His positive attitude to learning and enthusiasm was infectious, particularly…Read Bernard's Story
Sadly Bernard passed away in January 2020 but he kept learning right until the end. His positive attitude to learning and enthusiasm was infectious, particularly to his fellow learners that were learning later in their life.
Bernard has immersed himself into all things digital – signing up to computer sessions two years ago has opened up a new world of learning, friends and social engagement. He says, “I had never used a laptop computer before, but I had read about them and wanted to learn.” Soon after attending the classes, he bought himself a laptop and has never looked back.
Bernard, who is in his eighties, suffered a stroke a few years ago. Although he’d been told he might not survive, he was determined to make a good recovery. The stroke left him with impaired vision and difficulties with memory. He says, “In the hospital, I was told the best thing to do after a stroke is to look for something new to do. They suggested crosswords but I’m useless at them, so I thought I’d give computers a go.”
Using his laptop has helped to focus Bernard’s memory, improved his communication skills and had a huge impact on his life. He says, “I’m connected! I know how to email people, rather than write lengthy letters. I can do some shopping on-line which helps if the weather is bad.”
Bernard helps care for his sister Irene and the classes at the Mustard Seed Café in Lampeter give him some time to himself. He says, “It’s an opportunity to socialise, meet my classmates who are my friends now. We share stories and experiences – happy and sad and support each other. We have such a fun time, every week I go home feeling I cannot wait for the next time – it’s the highlight of my week.”
His tutor Helen Thomas said, “His humour and charm is captivating. I am always in admiration of his life achievements, he’s had a career in the army in National Service, been a Director in a paper packaging and print business and now shares the care of his sister. I have learnt a lot from his past experiences, and he’s grown from being a complete beginner to a proficient user of the Internet, Email, Skype, Facebook, Microsoft Word and Publisher.”
Developing his photography skills is next on the list of things to do for Bernard, “My message for anyone who thinks they are too old or haven’t got a clue where to start is – go for it!”.
Family learning has had a transformational impact on Natalie Lintern and her family. After several abusive relationships and battling drug addiction, she was bringing up…Read Natalie's Story
Family learning has had a transformational impact on Natalie Lintern and her family. After several abusive relationships and battling drug addiction, she was bringing up three young children on her own. She says, “life was miserable”. She became isolated, a lack of confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety made her feel unable to leave the house.
For six months, Natalie didn’t open the curtains and saw nobody outside of the home, she had started taking drugs at the age of 16 and later began taking heroin. “That six months of my life was when I was at my lowest. Two of the children were at school and nursery so it was just me and my baby at home. I always looked after my kids, they were always fed and bathed but it was an existence, not a life. There was no routine, day was night and night was day.”
Now, Natalie is moving forward and is on her way to becoming a drugs support worker after signing up to a family learning programme. “My eldest had anger issues and would come home from school and stay up all night on the computer,” she said. “My toddler couldn’t speak or make a sound. We didn’t read, there were no books, I had no quality time with my children. Life was chaos, it was no way to be living. I was terrified that the kids would be taken off me but I never let anyone into the house, so nobody knew how bad it was.”
It was at this point that she decided to get help. Her mum moved in and she connected with a Flying Start support worker, she began counselling and contacted her children’s school for the first time in months.
Teachers told Natalie about Springboard family learning and suggested she join in one of its regular sessions running through the school. Springboard is delivered across nine schools by Learning Pembrokeshire. Natalie signed up to weekly sessions, she said, “I was terrified, I’d never engaged with other parents or staff, but every time I went, I felt better. I remember the very first school trip, on a freezing beach, it was minus 4 degrees and I was in total panic. But there was something about the way the kids responded to it that made me keep going back.”
Over the next few weeks, Natalie and her family made kites on the beach, went rock pooling, and cooked on an open fire. “We did things we’d never done as a family before. We learnt to do orienteering, pond dipping and wildlife art, walk barefoot on the muddy paths and make bread. It wasn’t always easy, but it became a reason for me to leave the house. I made friends, my confidence grew, the kids loved every second, by summer, we were eating cake on the beach for my little girl’s birthday.”
Family learning gave Natalie the confidence to complete a 12-week Recovery Toolkit for survivors of domestic violence delivered by Team Around the Family. Since then, she’s attended other Springboard family courses and two additional courses – a MPower programme for women with low self-esteem and a Primary Years Parenting programme.
She gets her children to school each day – both eldest children’s attendance has reached 100%. “My son’s doing well, he comes home happy and can’t wait to do his homework. My daughter’s speech is brilliant – in fact, she doesn’t stop talking. My youngest loves reading, I’m reading now, too, I can’t give up. My children shouldn’t have been through what they have, but it’s up to me to keep us on this path.”
With the help of Communities for Work, Natalie, who is now 18 months drugs-free, is about to start training to become a qualified drug support worker. She said: “I want to help other people who may see themselves in my story. I want people going through problems to see how I turned things around. The support network I’ve had has been amazing and I’d urge people to ask for help. I’m excited about the future.”
“We get up, we go to school, I pick them up and we’re a happy, united family. We go to the park and feed the ducks. We do homework around the table. We read bedtime stories every night. Learning has changed my family’s life entirely. It has brought us back together and learning will keep us together.”
Andrea Garvey has always had an ambition to study law – however she became a mum at the age of 16 and by the age…Read Andrea's Story
Andrea Garvey has always had an ambition to study law – however she became a mum at the age of 16 and by the age of 21 she was bringing up two children on her own. She had dismissed her ambitions as a “pipe dream”.
Severe anxiety attacks and depression restricted opportunities for work, but rather than accepting this she pushed herself to move forward. She completed an Open University one-year course, gaining a certificate in Health and Social Care. She said, “Having two children to look after I knew I had to keep fighting the urge to hide myself away. I began distance learning which helped me channel my nervous energy, I was determined to work and be a good role model.”
Andrea’s next step was to volunteer for two years in a residential home, gaining NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in Health and Social Care and then she began working with the Shaw Trust, supporting people with disabilities.
Still battling mental health issues, she says, “Bizarrely, the one thing that helped me was studying. It enabled me to focus on something else instead of my problems and became a blessing in disguise.”
Completing a Level 5 Management award proved to Andrea that she could achieve at higher levels of learning and when faced with redundancy, she began thinking again of her ambitions in law. “I had convinced myself that my legal ambitions were over, and I had missed my chance – but I didn’t believe it. Regardless of my age, this was my life and for once I was going to please myself – I was going to complete a law degree.”
At the age of 48, she enrolled at Swansea University for a full-time law degree. She says, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had no savings and I’d not been in a classroom for more than 30 years.”
Daughter Lucie nominated Andrea, she said “Mum’s life has been hard, her strength of character is inspirational – despite having set-backs she is taking control of her life and following her dreams. She had mountains of work to complete at home, whilst trying to manage on student loans as a single parent. Nobody believed she would last long … they obviously did not know my mother well enough. She would be working late into the night. Her determination to fulfil a lifelong ambition drove her on.”
When Andrea’s sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she started caring for her as well as continuing to study, refusing to defer her studies. Her sister’s death left her devastated but more determined to finish and complete her exams.
Last summer, Andrea graduated, 35 years after leaving school with no qualifications. “I was so excited, I took the gown home and wore it around the house before returning it the next day.” She’s now halfway through a Master’s in advanced law and criminology and is working towards qualifying as a solicitor. “There are so many people facing the same problems as me. It is important for them to know – we may be down but we are not out! I want young mums, anyone who has lost their confidence and belief to know – don’t give up – it is not forever – not if you don’t want it to be.”
“I chose to rise one step at a time and accepting the good with the bad. Don’t think too much about hurdles and don’t look too far ahead. You will be surprised at how much you can achieve – I know because I achieved my dream.”
Lynnie Llewellyn attends two weekly classes to learn Welsh at Foundation Level 1 & 2 and regularly attends extra day schools and weekend courses to…Read Marilyn's Story
Lynnie Llewellyn attends two weekly classes to learn Welsh at Foundation Level 1 & 2 and regularly attends extra day schools and weekend courses to develop her skills. She says, “Before I started learning Welsh I was Lynnie, now I’m Lynnie Welshwoman! Now I can speak, read and write in Welsh. Since learning, my world has been turned upside down.” She’s already succeeded in WJEC Access Exams, registering for the next, but her tutor says, “To be honest her progress is not the most important thing about Lynnie, it’s her enthusiasm towards the language and her willingness to use the language outside the classroom, with
her family, in the community and in the workplace”. Lynnie has attended residential courses, encouraging friends to come along with her to practice Welsh and she regularly attends social nights – but she shines in doing the small things, such as saying “Shwmae” and “Diolch” to shoppers in Caerphilly or taking shy learners from her class to the local coffee morning. Learning Welsh has given Lynnie new opportunities and she has taken advantage of them all. She has travelled throughout Wales, volunteered at the National Eisteddfod and she’s taken her grandchildren to a Welsh for the Family course at the Urdd residential centre in
Llangrannog – wanting them to share in the language and to have the opportunity to hear and start learning also. She says, “I started learning Welsh for my grandchildren and what a massive bonus to take them to Llangrannog, it’s their Christmas present, memories not toys!” Her enthusiasm for learning is infectious and Lynnie has taken an active role in supporting fellow learners by coordinating their engagement outside of classes through social media and volunteering. Her tutor says, “Lynnie is an excellent advocate for the Welsh language and shows how life-changing re-starting learning fairly late in life can be.”
Emily was driven to return to learning so that she could have the skills to support her little boy, who has additional learning needs. Emily…Read Emily's Story
Emily was driven to return to learning so that she could have the skills to support her little boy, who has additional learning needs. Emily is a single mum and has emerged from a turbulent childhood which left her withdrawn, battling with mental health issues and low self-esteem. At 15 she was diagnosed with anorexia and depression and she had been self-harming since the age of eleven.
She says, “I locked myself away for four years with awful anxiety and depression, leaving home would leave me with sweats and the shakes, then I realised the effect on my son, that’s when I knew I had to change.”
Emily went through a period of extreme weight gain and during this time she spent a long time locked in her home too scared to answer the door.
Seeing a teaching assistant work with her son inspired Emily to control her anxiety and lack of confidence and enrol on an Adult Community Learning Introduction to Childcare course. She has thrived in this learning environment and has progressed onto a level 2 programme as well as taking on other courses.
“My life changed for the better right from the start. For once I was looking forward to something that was for myself. Fridays were my day. After the course I would go running, not only did I gain confidence, education and freedom from my head – I finally started to lose weight.” Emily’s physical and mental health has improved, and she’s lost 5 stone since starting with Adult Community Learning and has recently started part-time work in a care home.
She’s used her learning from the childcare programme to develop her parenting skills and support her son’s development, as well as being better able to pursue professionals to secure the assessments he needs and to cope with the paperwork required to navigate the system.
“I’m now education hungry. I’ve completed three courses, currently enrolled on two and I’ve booked onto two more. I can finally see a future of worth. A future my son can be proud of.”
Sam always dreamed of becoming a primary school teacher so at the age of 18 he embarked on a BA Honours degree in Education Studies…Read Sam's Story
Sam always dreamed of becoming a primary school teacher so at the age of 18 he embarked on a BA Honours degree in Education Studies at University Wales Trinity St David.
Coming from a care background with limited contact with his family, the isolation Sam felt during his studies soon became problematic. He spent his first Christmas alone in his student accommodation while others returned home to parents and loved ones. Over the next year or so that loneliness became a prominent feature of his life and although he did then manage to spend key holiday periods with previous foster parents and sometimes friends, it was a struggle for him. Sam’s grades were not the highest within his cohort but his ambition to succeed certainly was and he continued to make progress. As time went on it was clear that Sam was struggling with anxiety and depression and by the middle of what should have been his final year of studies he was no longer coping, the lack of a support structure outside university meant that he felt he was unable to continue.
Sam made the decision that he would take a break from his studies and return in the following academic year for a fresh start, to give him the best chance to improve his grades and attain his degree. He returned to his studies for his final year stronger, more confident and determined to succeed. He successfully completed his degree and graduated in the summer of 2015. He went on to secure a job as a teaching assistant and then applied to complete his PGCE qualification. Sam has showed determination and resilience despite his adverse life experiences and is now about to achieve his dream of becoming a fully qualified teacher.
“I believe that education is a tool that empowers, opens our minds and enables us to become socially mobile. I have never let me past define me but believe that they have only made me stronger and more determined to succeed.
Shafiq started studying with the Open University in 2010 and is due to complete his BA (Hons) Humanities in the summer of 2017. His goal…Read Shafiq's Story
Shafiq started studying with the Open University in 2010 and is due to complete his BA (Hons) Humanities in the summer of 2017. His goal has always been to improve his job prospects, specifically by moving from his original call centre job to a position within the education sector.
Growing up, home life was difficult, and this impacted on his schooling and academic achievements. As an adult, Shafiq was keen to return to learning and improve his skills and employability. However, the road has not been an easy one and when Shafiq’s wife was 8 months pregnant they were made homeless.
He says; “This was the most difficult moment of my life. I borrowed money from a friend to move into a flat which was in poor condition. There was no furniture, no fridge. It was summer time, and I can still remember that I would get milk and place it in the bucket and I would fill it with cold water to last throughout the night. I was in total financial crisis; my wage would come in and everything would go straight out to pay bills. I would cycle to the hospital and my wife being heavily pregnant would catch the bus. I couldn’t travel with her as I had no bus fare.”
He spent time studying at the library or reading by a mobile phone light during the nights to save on electricity. Despite these dark times, Shafiq has continued to meet deadlines for his assignments, he said “I have been on an extremely long and difficult journey, but it has all been 100% worthwhile. I have secured a job as an assistant teacher at a local high school and feel like I am finally reaching my dream goal. I feel like everything is finally coming together and I can build a future for both me and my family.”
To save on electricity I would not put the lights on in the nights whilst studying, so I would use my mobile phone light to read the chapters, I would use the local library to surf the internet, to browse the OU site and to submit essays. I continued to study hard, my dreams and goals were still alive and served as a lantern that I kept throughout my studies.
Lynda Sullivan was suffering from agoraphobia and depression in 2001 when a leaflet for adult learning came through her door. ‘For 3 years I barely…Read Lynda's Story
Lynda Sullivan was suffering from agoraphobia and depression in 2001 when a leaflet for adult learning came through her door. ‘For 3 years I barely left the house,’ says Lynda, ‘I found it hard to be around people and crowded places caused me to have panic attacks. When I walked to Michaelston Adult Learning Centre. I was shaking so much I could barely talk, however the staff were very understanding about my illness. I then signed up for Computers for Beginners.’
It was at this time that Cardiff Council were going to build houses on the area known as the Rec. ‘I emailed people, got a petition going, wrote many letters using my computer to check for spelling mistakes,’ says Lynda. ‘This meant getting out of the house more, which wasn’t always easy. I held meetings, protested outside City Hall and after 2 long years we won our fight’. ‘We formed a group called Ely Garden Villagers and became active within the community. I now run 9 football teams starting from 8 -18 year olds’.
In 2010 Richard North was looking for a project as a secret millionaire in areas of poverty. He went undercover and was overwhelmed by the amount of work Lynda and her husband Peter were doing and provided the finance for football facilities at the Rec. He visited five months later and was delighted to see the improvement in the area and the greater number of young people taking part in sport. ‘Going to adult learning changed my life,’ says Lynda. ‘Everything I have achieved since then is down to doing all the courses. The day the booklet came through my door from the Adult Learning Centre my life changed.’
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