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Bridgend mum wins national award after starting a nursing degree in son’s memory

Elinor Ridout

A Bridgend mum has been described as “an inspirational person” after starting a nursing degree following the sudden death of her teenage son.

Elinor Ridout’s second child, Will, passed away suddenly when he was 13 years old, from a rare and acute illness. Following Will’s death, Elinor was keen to restart her life and wanted to make a positive impact as a legacy to her son.

Having previously worked as a nursery nurse, and parent carer support officer, looking after others was something Elinor was already passionate about. However, following her experience in and out of hospital with Will, she wanted to help more seriously ill children like him, so she started a nursing degree.

Now, two and a half years on, Elinor has completed the first year of her BSc Nursing (Child) degree at Cardiff University. Elinor has been described as an incredibly dedicated student, and her hard work has earned her the Life Change and Progression Inspire! Award.

Three months after Will passed, Elinor struggled with feelings of lack of purpose and was keen to pursue a role that made a real difference. She explained: “My son, William, was a beautiful, busy, little boy who also had learning difficulties and epilepsy.”

When Will was 13 he became suddenly unwell and after going into hospital, passed away within 48 hours from an acute and rare illness.

“I needed to be busy and do something different. I was so worried about my daughter and her grief, and I wanted to be a role model to her.

“I wanted to pursue something positive in Will’s name and applied for the Pathway to a degree in healthcare at Cardiff University. It allowed mature students like me to gain the qualifications and knowledge needed to start a nursing degree.”

Elinor’s nursing degree builds on her previous experience working in care but allows her to make a greater impact on the lives of children like Will, thanks to the qualifications she will gain.

She said: “I know Will would be so proud, and being able to help patients and striving to give the care that families should receive in hospital is such a focus for me.”

Elinor is one of 11 winners to be recognised at the 2023 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government, and the Inspire! Awards recognise those who have demonstrated a commitment to never stop learning. Each Inspire! winner demonstrates how learning can offer second chances, help create new career opportunities, build confidence, and help communities become vibrant and successful.

To support herself and her daughter while she studied, Elinor began working in a chocolate shop.

“Working in the shop was better for me while I was studying. As a nursery nurse, I wouldn’t finish until 6pm, but I could leave the shop at 5pm and get to uni for 6:30pm for my lectures.

“The Pathway gave me a really good background for my nursing degree, but I’ve also met so many people from all walks of life who are now good friends.”

Having completed placements at a children’s hospital and in health visiting and school nursing, Elinor has decided that she’d like to work on the general children’s wards for now, helping make a positive experience for sick children.

“I would love to be the nurse that makes a positive difference to children and their families, just as so many nurses have made a difference to us over the years,” she said.

Tutors at Cardiff University noticed Elinor’s work ethic and drive, and commented:

“After her beloved son Will passed away unexpectedly at just 13 years old, Elinor has dedicated her life to pursuing a career as a paediatric nurse. Elinor proved to be an excellent and dedicated student, and with what she has had to overcome, she is an inspirational person.”

By sharing her story, Elinor hopes to inspire others to have the confidence to rebuild their lives after loss.

“I love the idea that my story could provide someone with the confidence to pursue a change or to aim for something positive following their own difficult situation.”

“I definitely took inspiration from reading the stories of others who had endeavoured to find a positive after losing a child. Their aim was to help others, and so is mine.”

Elinor’s drive comes from wanting Will to be proud of her and wanting to bring a positive change to the lives of her and her daughter, following their devastating loss.

“I am really touched to have been nominated. It means a lot, and I love knowing that my son’s memory stays alive through me sharing our story, something that’s very important to me.”

The Inspire! Awards took place on September 14th and celebrated the achievements of exceptional individuals, community projects and organisations.

For adults in Wales keen to start their learning journey, in-person taster courses and online sessions will run throughout September and during Adult Learners’ Week (18th – 24thSeptember), with advice and information available locally to inspire people to take up learning as a way of increasing their employability.

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to this year’s Inspire! Award winners and nominees. It’s incredible to see so many individuals of different ages, from varied backgrounds, and with a range of abilities overcoming personal challenges and becoming role models for us all.

“The Inspire! Awards are a fantastic platform to showcase learners who have gone above and beyond to turn their lives around and succeed in their careers. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, this year’s winners have shown how learning can help pave the way to personal and professional success.

Joshua Miles, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said: “The Inspire! Awards serve as a reminder of how important it is to never stop learning. We live in a world that’s changing rapidly, between the impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and emergence of new technologies, nothing stays still for long. Learning helps us to adapt to this change and ultimately to benefit from it.

“If we keep learning and improving our skills throughout our lives, we can continue to increase our job prospects, and are more likely to secure a promotion or be able to change careers. We also know that learning is good for our self-esteem and mental health, making us feel more linked to our community.

“Our Inspire! Award winners are a testament to how learning throughout our lives can help us to deal with life’s challenges. As we celebrate our winners, we hope that their stories can inspire more people across Wales to take part in courses throughout Adult Learners’ Week.”