CHANGE YOUR STORY
Take a look at the inspirational stories of people who have 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 life-line. 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.
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.
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.”
Bernard has immersed himself into all things digital – signing up to computer sessions two years ago has opened up a new world of learning,…Read Bernard's Story
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!”.
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. “If I can be the type of teacher that I was fortunate enough to have met on my journey then I really believe that my own years of addiction and
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.”
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.”
Laura Harris has transformed into a confident and successful student progressing to university, having worked to overcome a troubled childhood where she experienced homelessness, substance…Read Laura's Story
Laura Harris has transformed into a confident and successful student progressing to university, having worked to overcome a troubled childhood where she experienced homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health issues.
Fleeing a violent relationship, the 33-year-old mother-of-three moved to Aberdare, she knew no-one in the area so decided to enrol in college and it this was when Laura’s learning journey began in 2015. Laura started with an Access to Humanities course and progressed onto Level 3 Business & Administration. She says, “I wanted to get an education to help my children with their school work. I relish learning and nothing feels more rewarding than getting distinctions in my work.”
Determined, Laura excelled at her studies, achieving distinctions in her coursework. She has also used her challenging background to help others. As part of a theatre workshop Laura devised a DVD which features her experiences on relationships and domestic violence. The DVD was rolled out across schools and colleges in the county and won a National Union of Students Enterprise award in 2016.
As a result of the trauma of her past life, Laura suffers panic attacks, however her nominator, Laura Wilson of Coleg y Cymoedd comments; “Laura’s story could have ended so differently but she continues to inspire and amaze those around her. Education has proved a turning point for her health and wellbeing and I am so very proud of her.”
Laura is now moving on to Higher Education, having secured a place to study Events Management at the University of South Wales in September.
Laura says: “I wanted to better myself and the best way I thought I could do that was by going to college. I had so little confidence, I feel much better about myself and stronger too. My message to anyone who suffers from mental health, alcohol and drug problems like I did – the answer is education! It transformed my life. Education has empowered me, it has been my life saver. I’ve proved to myself and others that I can do it.”
“I wanted to better myself and the best way I thought I could do that was by going to college, I had so little confidence, I feel much better about myself and stronger too. My message to anyone who suffers from mental health, alcohol and drug problems like I did – the answer is education! It transformed my life. Education has empowered me, it has been my life saver. I’ve proved to myself and others that I can do it.”
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.”
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.”
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.’
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.
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