@BishopCollege Access course turned my life around - #FEsavedMe 

Aged just 19 Nicole Brown found herself living on the streets, broke, homeless and without hope and support.

Fleeing domestic violence, she ended up sharing emergency local authority accommodation with other vulnerable adults bearing nothing but a food voucher from the council.

Ten years on Nicole’s life couldn’t be more different. She has a little girl Bella, seven, and is a manager with Home Group running four properties for homeless people in County Durham.

Nicole secured part time employment with the integrated housing provider in 2017, offering support to young vulnerable people who had also found themselves homeless at Teesdale House, Bishop Auckland.

Clients aged 16 to 35 are given help with independent living skills such as maintaining accommodation, cooking, budgeting, education, and health and wellbeing, as well as issues like drug substance misuse and domestic violence.

Last year Nicole was promoted to Client Service Manager, responsible for four properties providing accommodation for 14 clients in Bishop Auckland. She manages a team of nine staff, supported by an on-site occupational therapist and mental health nurse.

Looking back at the time she found herself homeless, Nicole said: “As a vulnerable young adult with no income and little belongings I was able to access emergency accommodation through the council after four nights living on the streets.

“At this point I couldn’t work out which was worse - the fact that I was broke, homeless and without hope and support, or the reality of living in emergency shared accommodation with a food voucher from the council and no knife and fork to eat with, surrounded by other vulnerable adults with different support needs.” 

The catalyst for turning her life round was a year at Bishop Auckland College, where she completed an Access to Higher Education course in 2015.

Nicole said:

“The Access course at Bishop Auckland College became a crucial step in both my academic and personal journey and development to achieve what I have. 

“My personal development through the Access year was truly incredible and aside from the achievements it was one of the hardest but most memorable academic years of my life.”

Nicole’s personal experience has equipped her well for her new role, as she explained: “Having been homeless and vulnerable I related well with the issues my customers were facing, which enabled me to work with them effectively.

“Empowering young people by giving them opportunity and the foundations for a good start is ultimately what I wanted to be part of, having been homeless and not had that opportunity myself.

“The support offered helps young people obtain independent accommodation and the skills to live independently whilst achieving their goals and ambitions. It is always rewarding when they return to share their success stories.”

Nicole, of Bishop Auckland, is one of a number of former Access students at the college who have been doing the same, telling Programme Leader of Access to HE Dennese Bloomer how they are getting on.

Tina Robson, 34, was a stay at home mum before enrolling on the Access course. She has since graduated with a first class honours degree and masters in psychology, and is now doing her doctorate. She also works full time as a health co-ordinator for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, supporting patients with Type 2 diabetes.

Tina, of Barnard Castle, said:

“The Access to HE course really did change my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do so took a leap of faith. It really was the best decision I could have made.”

Lisa Earle was a part time cleaner in a care home when she enrolled on the Access to HE course in 2012. Passing her degree in social work with first class honours four years later, she is now a senior social worker on the looked after children team at Durham County Council.

The 37-year-old, of Chilton, said: “Completing the Access course has changed my life. I had no idea I could achieve what I have. I now own my own house, have a new car and can afford a holiday every year. I’m happy and in such a rewarding job.”

And there has been more good news for the class of 2020. Twelve of the 38 Access students have passed all five units with distinctions, with all but two receiving university offers.

They will be studying a range of subjects ranging from midwifery, physiotherapy and speech therapy,  with the three heading to Durham University reading law, archaeology and sociology.

Natalie Davison-Terranova, Principal and Chief Executive of Bishop Auckland College, said:

“These are extraordinary testimonies, amongst the most powerful case studies I’ve ever read. 

“What our teaching staff do is truly transformational; not only have the Access students gone on to achieve amazing things but it’s also clear they have such a high regard for their former tutors and speak so warmly about the college. 

“The latest grades just published suggest yet more personal success ahead for our latest Access graduates, and I congratulate them all on their achievements.”

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