James’ teenage years were marred by drugs and crime, which resulted in time at a rehabilitation centre in Plymouth. On leaving rehab, James learned that his former partner had given birth to his son, and it was then James vowed never to return to his former ways. He applied for custody of his son and began parenting courses, followed by levels 1 and 2 in Numeracy and Literacy, through the Probation Service.
James was granted custody and began volunteering, helping people at an aftercare drug centre and work at Plymouth’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB). This progressed to paid work at CAB where he’s learned office skills, is completing a CAB adviser course and regularly makes public presentations and trains colleagues.
In his two years at CAB, James has grabbed every training opportunity and now sees a future for himself and his young family: “Having the opportunity to train and learn at this stage in my life has been instrumental in helping me turn my life around... I’d love to learn further to better help people and give back where I once just took away.”
Lorraine had dedicated her life to caring for her five children, so when her youngest started nursery in 2004, Lorraine started studying at City and Islington College to prove to herself that she wasn’t stupid. She began her studies by completing an IT Flexit course and then continued onto an Access course in Psychology and Anthropology. Whilst studying on the Access course, Lorraine enrolled on a Ceramics course and completed levels 1 and 2 NOCN and BTEC Ceramics courses and is soon to complete an Advanced Level Ceramics course. Lorraine voluntarily assists in Ceramics classes and runs pottery workshops at her local primary school. She hopes to progress to a teacher training course so that she can get the formal qualifications that will enable her to teach.
With the recent purchase of a kiln, Lorraine also plans to start a business to provide pottery workshops. “I cannot emphasise enough how my life has changed due to my studies,” said Lorraine, who has also recently lost twelve stones in weight. “Now my confidence has improved even more, and it’s all due to my first day at college,” she ended.
As a mother of a young baby in 1999, Sue welcomed the offer of a free Introduction to IT course by Kettering Centre for Unemployed (KCU), as she could learn new skills and make friends. Sue completed further CLAIT, Sage, IBT and ECDL computer courses, as well as British Sign Language, Business Administration and Manual Book Keeping. She was then encouraged to complete the 7307 City & Guilds Teacher Training, as well as volunteer at KCU as a teaching assistant, and later she gained work encouraging Kettering’s Grange Estate residents to learn new skills. At the same time she completed a part-time Foundation Degree in Managing Community and Voluntary Organisations at Leicester University, graduating in 2009.
Sue added further skills to support her job role at Neighbourhood Learning Northants by completing an NVQ4 in Advice and Guidance in 2010 and plans to begin a PGCE in 2011. “I took the brave steps to go to enrolment and I have never looked back,” said Sue. “I am now helping others to make small steps towards employment and changing their lives through learning.”
When Nasim left work 18 years ago, due to losing her sight, she enrolled at City College, Coventry. She completed IT courses including IBT2, an NVQ2 in Business and also studied a Braille course. As a regular user of Social Services, Nasim was keen to become a Social Worker, so in 2009 she completed an NOCN level 2 Ladders to Learning Programme, which led to an Access to Higher Education diploma. She is due to complete the Access course in 2011 and has applied to study Social Work at Coventry University. As well as studying, Nasim cofounded the Asian Blind Association in Coventry, supporting other visually impaired members, often helping them back into education.
Nasim has successfully raised her three sons and is proud to have applied to join the two eldest children at university. “I was determined to show by example – for my children and also for other visually impaired people in my community – what can be done,” said Nasim. “I have shown that I can still achieve success and a high standard of work.”
This project is creating an innovative online learning community, based on the notion that people often learn best from those they know and trust. It supports volunteer mentors called Digital Outreach Trainers (DOTs) based in local communities – people who are committed to passing on their IT skills.
Anyone with competence in digital technology can become a DOT. Participants get coaching in mentoring, and can access learning resources and courses, including OCN level 2 or 3 accreditation as a Digital Mentor. The scheme offers wider learning opportunities, including literacy, numeracy and employability skills, with DOTs as mentors. Since its launch last year, over 300 mentors have been recruited and over 2,600 learners have participated.
Managed by Barnsley Council and funded by the Innovation and Transnational Strand of the ESF it involves a partnership including local authorities, colleges, the voluntary sector, Sero Consulting, NIACE, UK Online, Job Centre Plus and the Skills Funding Agency.
“You can work at your own pace so it fits into your lifestyle,” says one mentor. “As a single parent this is ideal for me. Through the scheme, I’ve realised how many skills I have to offer, which I took for granted before”, added one learner.
After working for eight years as a bar stewardess, Tracey’s life went downhill after she became ill and had to have an emergency operation. She found herself jobless and homeless while caring for her young son, and had to move in with her parents.
Determined to pick herself up again and start a new career, Tracey enrolled on a contact centre training course with CCP Ltd, part-funded by the European Social Fund. She used to be afraid of computers but as she learned, her confidence grew. As well as learning about IT, she gained communication and listening skills, managing dialogue, and sales techniques. She also gained a City & Guilds Customer Service qualification. By the end of the course, she started to regain her motivation and sense of self-worth. Her new-found confidence and skills landed her a part-time contact centre job with good prospects.
“I’m finally me once more, thanks to my new skills,” she says. “I’m also the best mum I can be for my son – that’s the biggest transformation.”
Anna left school with no qualifications and, despite returning to college to gain GCSEs, completing an Access course and starting a degree, her hopes of becoming a nurse were dashed when a Criminal Records Bureau check highlighted a conviction from her teens.
Despite working hard to turn her life around, the mother-of-two still had no employment history, little experience and a criminal record. She lost all motivation and confidence. Then, she was introduced to Working Links, where she completed a skills check and gained CV and interview skills.
Part-funded by the European Social Fund, she went on to gain a range of qualifications in Care including First Aid, Manual Handling, Health and Safety and Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults. She has now turned a corner, gaining a job as a care support worker. Recently she won ‘the employee of the month’ award. “I’m in a job I love and I’m learning new skills,” she says. “But most of all, my children and family are proud as I have been able to turn my life around.”
Andy overcame the trauma of total blindness at 70 through adult learning. Now he uses all his talents to help other people in need.
Condemned to sudden loss of sight through a previously undiagnosed genetic disorder – having just recovered from life-threatening cancer – the retired but still active social worker and trade union negotiator was plunged into semi-isolation, dependency and low self-confidence.
With the support of his partner and Dudley Vision Services, he regained his confidence and powers of communication through new computer and Internet skills acquired in college and at home, working deep into the night. With a new found sense of freedom he has resumed high-level trade union activity and is looking to upgrade his skills as a chef.
His tutor at Dudley College, Joanna Griffin, says he is “a tremendous ambassador for the course”, helping and encouraging other visually impaired learners. For Andy, learning is now a lifelong activity.
“I feel that I am no longer isolated and continue to explore other options beyond the scope of this course.”
Paywand arrived in the UK in 1999 as a political refugee from his native Kurdistan, Iraq. As a child he lost his father and witnessed many other relatives being killed. He was injured in a chemical weapon attack and in his teens he endured imprisonment and torture.
On arriving in Britain, his English was extremely limited, but he was determined to improve it. He studied English for Speakers of Other Languages and gained NVQ level 2 and 3 in Business Administration.
He went on to take a Foundation Degree in Management and Leadership, while also working with refugees and asylum seekers as a volunteer with Birmingham City Council. He is now a senior officer with the charity Trident Reach, and is a board member of the Birmingham Kurdish Association and a trustee of the Red Sun Organisation.
“Since being given political refugee status within the UK, I have started to realise my dream of helping others and furthering my knowledge and skills,” he says. “This has been a challenge, but one I have thoroughly enjoyed.”
Elle was just 32 when she was forced to retire on medical grounds after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Despite having left school at 15 without qualifications and being in foster care, she went on to gain O-levels, an HND in Fashion and a Diploma in Interior Design. She built a career in interior design while bringing up three children.
After adjusting to life with MS, Elle enrolled at Totton College to take A-levels and then did a degree in Psychology at the University of Southampton. After winning a prize for her undergraduate dissertation, she won a scholarship to complete an MSc and PhD.
Today she teaches adult learners and A-level students at Totton College, and lectures at the University of Southampton and Solent University. She has also influenced her husband and daughter, both of whom have completed Access to HE courses.
“Enrolling to undertake my A-levels was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Not only has the experience been thrilling and rewarding, I also learned that age is not a barrier to achieving academically,” she says.