My journey onto the Social Policy course was not a journey I had ever imagined taking. When I left school in 1992, college and university were most definitely not on my radar.
University was still considered to be out of reach for a working-class teenager and for the next 24 years I had a number of careers (including being a mum), ranging from working in the shipping industry, coach driving, care of the elderly and housekeeping.
Fast forward to 2016 and my husband was diagnosed with a bone disease for which there is no cure; in the worst-case scenario he could become paralysed at any time. This created quite a dilemma for us as my husband had always been the main wage earner, and I realised that I needed to be in a situation where, if needed, I would be able to support the four of us.
In September 2016 I enrolled on an Access course studying English, history and psychology. This was a year-long course taking place in the evening and at this stage, I still had no idea where I wanted it to lead to. However, if I passed it would give me a place at the University of Suffolk.
In January 2017 I was made redundant and although I was offered a job as a housekeeper in a nursing home, I had to wait approximately six weeks for my DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] check to come back. With both children in full-time school and having always worked, I was bored and climbing the walls within two weeks. I wasn’t earning so had no spare money and let’s be honest, if you’ve got no money then being off work is no fun at all.
I then saw that a local charity was asking for volunteer advisors. I had no idea what was involved but gave them a call and they asked me to pop to the local community resource centre for a chat. It was only then that I discovered in the small town where I lived there was an advice centre, REACH. It ran five afternoons a week, operated a foodbank but also gave free advice, use of computers and telephones for benefits and housing issues as well as a debt advice service. It came as quite a shock that this service was needed; I was aware that the town had a Jobcentre Plus (with work coaches and benefits help) and also a fully functioning Citizens Advice Bureau, but no more than that. What came as even more of a shock was just how many people were in need of this drop-in centre. After shadowing a few shifts I started working as a volunteer advisor one afternoon a week.
Working at REACH Community Projects truly opened my eyes to the reality of society today. It was shocking to see the amount of people living in poverty, relying on foodbanks to feed not only themselves but whole families. The amount of unsanitary and not-fit-for-purpose private rentals in the area was appalling and so was the huge amounts of debt that people were struggling to pay off on a very limited income.
In May 2017, the manager of REACH requested three months off work and I was asked to take over the management of the drop-in centre as a salaried position, which was an exciting challenge to take on. Those three months were a time of turmoil for me. Five days a week I was seeing people who were desperate for help. This help could be financial, nutritional and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on, but for every person you could see that their first step through the door was their biggest battle. To sit with a mother crying because she had no food to feed her children, no nappies or washing powder and no funds to pay for gas and electricity was a humbling experience and made me realise that something was failing these people.
When I passed my Access course with a distinction I realised that more doors were now open to me and, late one evening after a stressful afternoon at work, I saw that Anglia Ruskin University offered the Social Policy course. I knew immediately that this was my vocation. In order to help those in need, I had to be able to understand the processes that take place when governments make their policies – which affect each and every one of us.
I am now nearing the end of my first year. The University is welcoming and has everything you need; the lecturers are friendly and clearly very knowledgeable. The modules cover a huge range of subjects, including past and present issues that continue to be a problem in society together with how decisions are made on the policies that govern our lives.
What can I say? It's been a ride!