Hellesdon woman who battled to save her lecturer’s life wins education award named in his memory

Almost a decade after leaving her studies behind aged 15, Kayleigh Watson took a daunting decision to drop her developing career and work toward her dream.

Miss Watson, of Hellesdon, left the East of England Ambulance Service after five years to study at City College Norwich, with the initial aim to see how things went.

But she also had a further desire to study forensic anthropology - in short, the study of dead people - at university.

And as Miss Watson, 25, spoke on the telephone yesterday from the University of Dundee on day three of a four-year course on the subject, it appeared everything she did while working towards her dream worked like a dream.

On Wednesday night, her outstanding achievement of scoring top marks in her natural science diploma helped secure her the James Barr Memorial for Access to Higher Education Student of the Year award.

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But this was only part of her story from the last 12 months.

Miss Watson's award is named after science lecturer James Barr, who taught at the college for seven years and was one of those helping her back into education.

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He died on September 28 last year - three weeks into Miss Watson's course.

The mature student was among those who tried to save his life, with her skills from working for the ambulance service urgently needed before paramedics arrived.

Miss Watson said: 'I had to carry out CPR on him - in the situation we were in at the time, there was not a lot of medical staff around.

'A lot of people there were more mature students going back into education and we looked at our lecturers to be there and to help us through a difficult time.

'It was a real big shock to the system, not only to the tutors but the class as well. It took the college a bit of time to get back on its feet.

'Apart from the emotional aspect of losing a tutor, we missed a few weeks of education.'

But Miss Watson said the experience of Mr Barr's death pulled the group together as they sought to cope without their 'dynamic' teacher.

She said: 'We had already been treated to his way of teaching. Within his first class he was demonstrating the movement of molecules by throwing balls around the classroom.

'He really got people excited about chemistry. I'm not a huge fan [of chemistry] but there was a real excitement over the whole day. He had a laugh and he explained things in such a way that you didn't feel you were being force-fed information. It was fun.'

Out of class and Miss Watson was also dealing with the breakdown of a long-term relationship.

But despite the emotional challenges presented to her within a short space of time, she was not deterred.

The college's eighth further education awards ceremony in Norwich celebrated outstanding progress of students.

Furthermore, the winners were also viewed to have gone far above and beyond the requirements of their course while overcoming barriers to learning and for outstanding community spirit.

Miss Watson said: 'I was over the moon to win. I can't say how pleased I was. I don't often win much but the year I had while doing the access course was probably one of the most difficult of my life.'

Miss Watson said securing top marks in her exams was enough recognition.

But she added: 'For someone else to step in and recognise the challenges I've faced, it's overwhelming. It gives me extra confidence going into the next step.'

That next step is already under way, with Miss Watson admitting she was 'fearful' of the jump from college to university. However, she says the award has strengthened her belief - along with her experience of the course following a traumatic start.

Miss Watson said: 'The absolute support we got from our remaining tutors was vital and the support from the rest of the group.

'Without that support, not just myself but the whole group, we would not have done what we did.'

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