Meet Norfolk’s proud Open University graduates
08:00 04 June 2014
Some did it for their careers, some did it for their self-esteem, and some did it for their personal satisfaction, but for all it took many years of discipline, determination and tenacity.
And for hundreds of Open University students, those long years of self-motivated study received the recognition they deserved on Saturday when they received their degrees in the magnificent setting of Ely Cathedral.
Of the 600 graduands, there were 65 from Norfolk, 105 from Cambridgeshire, 59 from Suffolk.
Roger Fisher, a hospital site practitioner from King’s Lynn, said that working full time as a nurse with shift patterns made it hard to get time off for evening classes, and he never regretted joining the Open University.
He said: “It allowed me to have holidays and to enjoy special occasions without feeling guilty for not studying. It has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling achievements in my life.”
Meet some of Norfolk’s new Open University graduates:
For many, the attraction of an Open University degree is the flexibility to combine study with work, but few can have taken this as far as Louise Martin.
The 26-year-old, from Hainford, worked on her Psychology degree while holding down jobs as a teaching assistant and at a supermarket, as well as volunteering at a playgroup.
However, she had some unexpected support when she found out that the mother of her partner, who she met after starting the course, was also at the same stage of her own Open University degree. They graduated together on Saturday.
Miss Martin said the degree was a “massive challenge” for her, as she was uncertain about her academic abilities before starting the course.
She said: “The tutors are incredible. They really gave me lots of confidence in my work. If someone would have said to me you are going to get a first class honours, I would have said ‘no way’.”
As well as boosting her confidence, the degree enabled to her to get a job with the mental health charity Together for Mental Wellbeing, and she now helps people with housing, benefits and other issues.
A series of health problems left Patricia Farnham unable to continue her work in nursing for the elderly, and as she became disabled she suffered depression.
A disability worker persuaded her to join some group activities, but, although she made friends, they did not quite “float the boat”. She found a passion for learning when she started computing courses at the College of West Anglia.
After finishing those, she contacted the Open University. Someone came out to assess her, and within a week she was given the equipment she needed to start courses.
The 57-year-old, from West Dereham, said: “When you are not able bodied, whether it’s a mental illness or whatever, you lose the focus because it’s always ‘if I do that, I will not be able to do that’.
“But at the Open University there’s nothing like that. You are all equal, but they support you in the way you need for your specific needs.”
She received a Bachelor of Science degree, and urged anyone interested in the university to give it a go.
She said: “It does not matter what your health situation is. If you can read a book and make a few notes you can do it.
“Just go for it.”
For a lawyer turned flying instructor, an Open University degree in physical science opened up the language of mathematics.
Linda Smith, 56, from Thorpe St Andrew, said taking up flying was the trigger for taking the course.
Her exams for her private pilot’s licence included a lot of physics-based material, such as weather, which piqued her interest, and she started with a mini course in maths at the Open University in 2004, before starting the full degree course in 2008.
After her legal career, which included spells working in London and Jersey, she was a commercial pilot at Skydrift in Norwich for a year, and is now a part-time flying instructor and examiner.
Speaking about her Open University degree course, she said: “It was primarily for personal satisfaction. Although I was working part time as a lawyer, it got to the point where it did not really feel very challenging any more, so the physics was a new challenge.
“It was really making my brain work hard, which seemed like a good idea at the time.”
She said that for a while she thought she had bitten off more than she could chew, but she came through successfully, and is now considering another career change.
When Sarah Nortcliff suffered mental health problems, the Open University supported her and she was able to continue her studies.
She said: “When I was in care I said I really wanted to do this. This is something that I wanted to hold on to and people with mental illness can achieve the same things.” The 28-year-old, who lived in Tacolneston until she moved to Suffolk last month, had previously started degrees at Bath and Exeter universities, but dropped out because she felt they were not suitable for her because she had BTecs rather than A-level qualifications.
She started an open degree, which allows students to study a variety of subjects as long as they have a similar thread, in 2008, and chose sports, psychology and biology.
She said: “It is difficult, I won’t lie. It depends on the type of person you are. If you are really motivated to want to learn and you are quite a disciplined person I think it works well.
“I started it when I was a teaching assistant so I did it in lunchtimes and when I went home.”
She started the degree to help her launch a career in the sports industry, and she is now applying for jobs as a lab technician.
For Judy Ellson, who suffered post-natal depression after the birth of her first daughter, the Open University helped her rebuild her confidence and expand her career options.
The 51 year old, from Gillingham, trained as a occupational therapist in the 1980s before it was necessary to obtain a degree.
She said: “While a full-time mother I wanted to pursue a degree in child and youth studies to expand future career options and build confidence. I was also interested in learning about making a difference through research, with a view to conducting further research at a later date in the area of child and youth studies.”
She said she started her studies with the Open University tentatively, doing a mini course at first, and waited two years before undertaking the full degree in Childhood and Youth Studies.
Asked what advice she had for other people curious about studying, she said “give it a go”.
She added: “For me it was about achieving a dream that I wanted to achieve but had not achieved as a young person. It was about building my self esteem after a difficult time in my life, and I felt it really supplemented the role I’m currently doing.”
For Jo Aston, the Open University opened the door to a career supporting troubled Norfolk families before they reach the stage where social services need to intervene.
The 43 year old, from New Buckenham, choose the Open University because she is a working mum with two boys, and needed to set her own times for study.
The starting point came when her son needed therapy after a swimming accident when he was about four, and she decided she wanted to do something to help children who had had an unfortunate experience.
She started a psychology degree, but became more interested in the welfare and child development side of things, and changed to social sciences with social policy, which included psychology as one module.
She is now a family support worker for Norfolk County Council, helping parents so that their families can stay together.
She said: “[The Open University] does enable you to do it at your own speed and fit it around your life. It’s a bit of a commitment because you have to be regimented with yourself, but it does allow you to have normality as well. You can fit it in. And if I can do it, anyone can.”
And she is still studying, this time cognitive behaviour therapy.