Single mum at University: My Story (PART ONE)

In short, yes it can. But I will elaborate.

Here’s my story.

(This is a three-part series)

I’m currently in the last few weeks of studying for a Creative and Professional Writing degree at the University of Wolverhampton, and I can’t quite believe that I’m at this point. Though it’s been three long years, it’s almost come to an end too fast and I’m afraid I’ll be left with a big gap in my life.

I wanted to go to university from a young age. I was the smart kid in the class and in my family, and this earned no end of compliments and encouragement to go and thrive in education. I was even on the Gifted and Talented Register in my teens, although now I’m not entirely sure how that benefited me back then.

The plan was to go to university at 18, but at 17 I had joined a sixth form in a new school and was forced to abandon my A-Levels after being physically attacked by a “friend.” I threw myself into my job at New Look in Birmingham Bullring, taking on full-time hours and additional responsibilities. My mum was then diagnosed with cancer and with the stress of being verbally bullied by a new manager, it all became too much. One day I decided I wasn’t going back to New Look and I didn’t, I stayed in my bed and sent my set of shop keys in with a friend. I spent Christmas with my terminally ill mum and I am so grateful for that time because she died a few months later. 

On reflection, if I had been studying a degree at that time, it would have suffered. I would not have been able to focus and finish it, simply because the impact of that loss was so great. The aftermath of family fall-outs was an additional trauma, I felt isolated and alone, and unsure of what to do with my life. University wasn’t even on the agenda.

When I became a mum few years later, I began to consider something new: leaving a legacy. It was important to me to build something I could leave my children, so they would never be left with nothing. Over the years, I’d studied a NVQ Level 3 Children’s Care, Learning and Development, a course I enrolled on to help me attain a Family Support Worker job. It worked and while I loved being back in the classroom, albeit one evening a week for a year while working full-time, I didn’t have an interest in being a nursery worker. All I wanted to do was write.

After a few years in a relationship which became unhealthy and detrimental to my emotional and mental well-being, I became a single mum. This was the best thing that could ever have happened to me and I don’t mind telling you why. Though it was scary and overwhelming, my depression was at its peak (I now suspect it was Postnatal Depression) and I was dealing with the trauma of being harassed, I knew I could depend on myself to deliver the ‘more’ I knew was out there. I’d spent years being spoken to like I was an idiot and made to feel like I was stupid, so the possibility that I wasn’t was intriguing. Single motherhood arrived with an air of freedom and I wanted to inhale it all.

I was in my dream job, a Children and Family Support Worker at Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid, a role I had applied for after having my second daughter. In speaking to my colleagues, who were social work graduates, I discovered that the route to university wasn’t as unreachable as I believed. They assured me that I was smart enough to go to university, that I would make a good social worker. I began to dream again, bigger than what I had for years, the possibilities of educational growth and having access to that was too wonderful to resist. In a time where I was a mess (anyone who leaves a narcissist will tell you the same), it gave me hope and something exciting to focus on. 

I found Social Work degrees at the universities in Birmingham, I looked at the entry requirements and searched for a way in. It seemed my Level 3 NVQ wouldn’t count, not without a portfolio, I didn’t have my A-Levels and the only other option was to enroll on an Access Course. So I did exactly that.

Celebrating the end of my Access course with my peers and our tutor.

The Access to Higher Education course required me to attend three days a week. I reduced my hours at work and enrolled onto the course, committed to the education journey. Eventually, the intensity of the course took over and I left my job to focus on my studies. I wanted this. I studied Psychology, Sociology, English and Study Skills. I stayed up all night to complete essays, I passed by the skin of my teeth and received the qualification that would be my ticket to university. Then something unexpected happened.

In the last few months of my course, while applying for Social Work degrees at local universities and attending interviews, I began to feel as though Social Work wasn’t the option for me. It didn’t sit right, didn’t feel right, didn’t seem to make sense any more. I knew that I’d be tied up in paperwork, legislation and huge caseloads, and not able to help people in the way I wanted to. I knew I’d be good at it, but it wouldn’t fulfill me. Plus, I was able to do my dream job without the social work degree, so it was no longer essential.

I took a year off to decide what to do. Having two under 5’s gave me access to benefits and I accepted them gratefully. I’d been in work since I was 15 and I felt it was time to have some of my contribution back. I embraced opportunities, had published a book, began voluntarily writing for an online magazine (who later deleted my work when I left due to my depression, but that is another story) did public speaking and had radio interviews, and began to immerse myself in the emerging (at that time) creative industry in Birmingham. 

My turning point arrived in the form of humiliation and shame. I’d written up an interview with a photographer and sent it to her in draft form to check the accuracy of the content, and she replied with red capital letters and claims that it was all wrong. My confidence took a beating and with every email I felt myself getting smaller and smaller. When the interview went out, I removed my name from it. I wondered if I was really cut out for writing. I wanted to be better and to do better.

The word University popped into my head. I headed to my laptop, pulled up Google and did a quick search on Creative Writing courses. Within minutes, I found the perfect one; Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton.  I didn’t want to do a degree with English or Philosophy, I wanted to focus purely on creative writing and this specialist degree promised to do just that. I checked the date and saw I had three days to apply. I filled out my application form and contacted my Access course tutor for a reference. She replied immediately and with 24 hours to spare, I submitted my application to UCAS and left the rest to fate.

I felt like I was on the right path and now I had found the perfect course for me, my university dream was about to come true.

Read Part Two here!



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Cherryl says:

    You are a true inspiration and example of resilience – I am sorry to hear what you have been through and I’m sure many would have crumbled under just one of those experiences but you have managed to persevere and raise children alone at the same time throughout it all – and succeed. Hats off to you, a wonderful role model and well done for not letting the bullies win – no decent human being takes any joy in hurting another person – bullies are damaged people, I pity them.


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