This week, the International Convention Centre Wales in Newport will once again see thousands of our graduates cross the stage in their cap and gown. To celebrate, we are sharing the stories of some of our inspirational students.
Having been homeless on a couple of occasions in her teens and early 20s, Leanne Fox was determined that the challenges she had already faced would not define her future.
And her determination has really paid off. Now the proud holder of a first-class honours degree in Childhood Development from the University of South Wales (USW), the 28-year-old. originally from Bridgend, will be continuing her studies at USW by undertaking a Masters by Research (MRes).
Leanne’s route to her degree was as challenging as can be imagined.
“I had gone to Porthcawl Comprehensive from Year 8 and then started a course at Bridgend College, but then there were problems at home which led to the breakdown of my relationship with my mum, so had to drop out of my course at college when I was 17,” Leanne said.
“At first I was sofa surfing for a couple of months, but then got some help – emergency accommodation from Bridgend Council, and then was supported by charity Llamau.”
After things settled down for a while, Leanne reconnected with her family, but within a few years things again took a turn for the worse.
“When I was about 23 there were problems at home, so the mental health team in Lincoln removed me for my own good and found me accommodation so I was able to get back on my own two feet,” Leanne said.
Despite being out of the challenging atmosphere, Leanne found she was stuck – being unable to afford to return to education, and finding it difficult to secure a well-paid role.
“Unfortunately, the system made it difficult to move forward. If I had gone back to education I would have had to forgo the benefits, but I needed those to live and pay rent because I was on my own,” Leanne said.
“But, I was very lucky to have met my now wife Scarlet, who had already completed her Masters. We moved in together, which meant I was able to look at education options.”
Thanks to changes in students finance meaning Leanne could apply for financial support, she completed an Open University module, and then saw the USW course she wanted to study.
“Even though I didn’t have lots of qualifications, USW looked at my application and could see that I was really keen to do the course, and had a lot of life experience which related to the study, and so I started the degree course in 2019,” Leanne said.
Three years on, Leanne has shown the decision to accept her on to the course was the right one for both her and the University.
Having received support from USW following a diagnosis of dyslexia – which Leanne says ‘ wasn’t a surprise as it had affected my learning when I was younger’ – she became a course representative for the first two years of her degree, and for the final two years a study support mentor, helping the newer students with their learning. There was also a stint as a Student Voice representative for USW’s School of Psychology and Therapeutic Studies, and as a Student Ambassador in her final year.
Leanne was also commissioned by USW’s Students’ Union to carry out a mental health audit and advise on wellbeing policies for staff and students.
Having proven that formal qualifications weren’t vital to getting a place at USW, and having used the opportunity to give something back to her peers and the University, Leanne’s course helped her further understand how her upbringing had moulded her.
“It was interesting to look at how a person’s childhood impacts their adult life – how biology, psychology, and their society, can affect them,” she said. “It really was the ideal course for me, because of the real-life experience I had and how I could relate directly to the subjects.”
As for her unusual route to higher education, does Leanne think it made a difference?
“I don’t think it does,” Leanne said. “There’s so many different routes to get into university now. For a long time I had no idea I could do what I have done, I just thought it was school, A-levels, and then to university.
“But it’s not like that. A few years ago I was homeless and stuck on benefits, but I knew that once I got going I didn’t want to be that stagnant again. The University looks at everyone as an individual, so, like me, it’s worth applying if that’s something you really want to try.”