“Ol’ man river, dat ol’ man river,
He must know sumpin’, but don’t say nothin’
He just keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin’ along.”
“Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.”
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.”
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“It always seems impossible until it's done.”
“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Terry struggled with an addiction to alcohol and homelessness before starting to participate in adult learning and volunteering, and rebuild his relationships with family and friends. He appreciated the routine, structure and purpose the activity gave his life. Terry credits English, maths and ICT work he did as part of an apprenticeship programme with building the confidence and skills he needed to succeed. He has shared an audio interview with us of his experience of participating in adult education. The transcript is also here.
Terry has now worked in several positions over the last few years supporting others in difficulty to move on in their lives.
My Name is Terry Easter. I am 53 years of age and I work for Thames Reach as a support worker. Thames Reach is a homeless charity which has projects over the south of England including hostels, supported housing and an employment academy. It also offers a floating support service to continue to support service users when they have moved into independent accommodation.
Four years ago I was living in supported housing which was run by Southwark council after years of living rough on the streets of London and in various short stay hostels. I found myself in this position after a long period of alcohol abuse. I left school at the age of 15 without any qualifications. Finding work was a lot easier when I left school than it is today. When I was in supported housing I was introduced to Maggie Sandy who is a resettlement officer at Southwark council and I began working with alcohol misuse workers and went into residential detox. When I returned from detox I needed to do something meaningful to help me stay sober and try to move on with my life. I applied to take a peer mentor course with New Direction which is an alcohol and substance misuse service.
After being clean for six months I was accepted to take the course which ran for three months and I attended four days a week. Not only did this keep me occupied, it gave me the confidence to engage more and helped with my future learning as there was a lot of written work to be completed. If I am honest, I was surprised to pass the course and I was allocated a voluntary placement with New Direction which I enjoyed. Looking back it provided me with the confidence and experience to move forward with my continued learning. Maggie Sandy told me about Thames reach as she was previously employed by them and gave me the details of the apprenticeship scheme they run. She encouraged me to apply and helped me with the application and provided me with a reference. I had my doubts about applying especially when I learnt I would have to attend college once a week for a year and gain a qualification as I had not been in a classroom since I was fourteen, other than the peer mentor course, which was pretty laid back and did not involve using a computer, which I was very apprehensive about as I had never been near a computer in my life.
Again I was surprised when I was interviewed for the apprenticeship scheme and was successful but I still had apprehensions about attending college as I thought at my age it was much too late. But with much encouragement from Maggie Sandy and the tutor at City Lit College, Lucy Robson, I decided to give it my best and see what happened. I have to admit I was not very hopeful of being successful in gaining the qualification needed to obtain employment. I had plenty of life experience but the thought of being in a classroom and using a computer was daunting. I can not praise Lucy Robson enough. She showed great patience with me and when I became frustrated as I thought I was not coping, she assured me I was doing ok and took time to discuss any problems I was having.
I started to meet with some of the other students of a weekend and we went over the assignments we were set. They also helped me with learning around the computer. I found I was really enjoying learning and using a computer which was something I honestly thought I would never say. I managed to pass the apprenticeship and gain additional qualifications in Health and Social Care, as well as English and maths, which I would never have thought possible. Going to college and learning was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was enjoyable and has given me the confidence and attitude to try anything. I now know that age is no barrier to learning. I also feel my voluntary work with New Direction was a great starting point and would recommend voluntary work for anyone thinking of a change as it is a great way of gaining experience.
This is the the transcript of Terry’s audio interview:
“Tara: Hi there, Terry.
Terry: Hello, alright?
Tara: Hiya, can you hear me okay?
Terry: Yeah, yeah.
Tara: Brilliant! So, erm, as you know we’re trying to collect learners’ stories to contribute to a publication erm to try and encourage more people in to further education to taking erm those steps
Tara: and the different paths that everybody might might take erm and you won an Adult Learners Award because of erm how well you did on your particular journey
Tara: Erm and we were interested in just hearing you talk a little bit about, for example, erm what your background is, how you ended up er getting in to doing your course
Tara: Erm how you found it. Do you want to… do you want to go through some of that?
Terry: Yeah, no problem, yeah. Erm, so, I’ll just start where I was then at the time?
Tara: Sure, yeah
Terry: Yeah, um
Tara: Where ever you’re comfortable
Terry: Yeah okay I’ll start there um, what is it? About three years ago I was er homeless. I was living rough on the streets
Terry: In London. I was er um had er alcohol issues. I was um so, sorry, I had alcohol issues I was living rough on the streets
Terry: and then um I ended up going from hostel to hostel err and wound up in supported housing and then um when I was in supported housing I got erm some key workers, got er started linking in with some alcohol services and erm I went in to a detox, got detoxed, carried on with that, was working towards um you know my alcohol issues and then um a key worker of mine worked for Thames Reach, used to work for Thames Reach, and told me about the apprenticeship scheme there and going to erm, maybe I could go for that, through tho’ experience, being homeless and erm go for an apprenticeship but it was, she was talking about, you need to go to college. I left school at fourteen erm
Terry: without any without any qualifications. I went straight into work. But then, you know, I could you could go straight into work in them days. It aint where you are today, and I had no qualifications so I felt a bit, I’d never even turned a computer on, so I know you need a computer. I never knew a computer and erm, so I wasn’t really up for, well I was, I wasn’t really confident I’d be able to do this but she kept on to me. I done a bit of volunteering. I done a peer mentor course, volunteering, all this, did… I done quite a lot of volunteering all around the place just to keep myself busy while working on alcohol, you know, keeping trying to keep sober.
Tara: Yeah, how did you find the volunteering helped?
The volunteering was good because when I went to erm the peer mentor course, although it was, it was not relevant to computers, it was just erm a lot of good stuff, but we had access to computers so erm there was a few other students there who did a course with me who was a bit familiar with computers so they erm, you know, I was watching them. They gave me a few quick starter lessons, explained er the mouse to me, stuff like that, basic stuff and then I done some volunteering with St Mungos and had a computer erm class I went to once a week and erm also I learned I learned maths I did I did did some maths tests on the computer, stuff like that, basic tests. I was erm just getting back in. I wasn’t wasn’t too bad at maths and erm I could read well. I’ve always read well but ur my spelling weren’t up to much but I’ve just erm you know, I was taking basic tests on the computers and speaking to the other students and the volunteering was good because I was learning quite a bit at volunteering and erm it gave me a lot of confidence and all because I pass the,
Terry: I got through the test at the peer mentor course. I achieved that and erm it gave me a lot of confidence so I went for the erm apprenticeship and I was surprised I got er shortlisted and then I got for an interview and then I got the interview and then I got the apprenticeship and I still wasn’t really confident though I done two six months placements and then I went to college once a week. I went to CityLit college and, which was brilliant, really enjoyed, I was really erm well er I don’t know what the word is. When I went there, I would’ve thought I was gonna be be really out of my depth. I hadn’t been in the classroom as I said since fourteen. It was going back in the classroom. I was probably the oldest one there and I thought, I’m not going to be able to keep up here and I struggled at first. I thought I struggled but the tutor there Lucy Robson, really patient with me. They give me some extra maths. I went in extra studying there behind. Every weekend did some extra maths, caught up with that and erm I speak to the tutor there Lucy Robson cos I was, you know, I was thinking, you know, I was struggling a bit. There was a lot of written work there, and keeping up, and I was doing a placement as well with Thames Reach at the time, two placements towards my apprenticeship
Terry: cos I was working in a hostel and doing this but erm Lucy was encouraging me. She had ever such a lot of patience I stayed behind a few times. I just erm really got into it. I met with a few of the other students who were apprentices at Thames Reach, obviously, as well. We was all Thames Reach apprentices and erm we met up, who live locally. We met up on a weekend and went to the library somewhere else and started doing the work together. So, we was putting our heads together and it was good and erm. I mean, I just grew in a bit of confidence I think and I was I was getting interested as well. Getting interested with it cos it was a good pace and erm Lucy was was just showing me and I wasn’t falling that much behind. I wasn’t as behind as I thought I was
Terry: so when I just erm, I dunno, I er I er, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t just that. It wasn’t easy. It was erm, but I got confident, more confidence, I grew, but erm er
Tara: What were the biggest challenges that you that you found when you were doing it? How did you...?
Terry: Well, erm, I dunno, erm, getting in the classroom setting, I think, keeping up the classroom setting, the computers, you know. Er I was still not great on computers and erm we needed it to work the placement so that was the biggest challenge, getting computers, and completing. The thing is, like I say, I’d never been near a computer in my life. I’ve heard about emails. I’ve heard about this, but that’s all. I had heard. I didn’t even know exactly what an email was. I had an idea. I’d never had an email address,
Terry: er, anything like that. Erm, and the maths, the maths had changed since I was at erm school, what I remember of maths, ‘mean numbers’ and stuff like that. I hadn’t heard anything like that before, but when I got some extra maths in and another tutor again was really good and he explained it and I found the maths quite quite easy. I surprised myself. I did find it quite easy but it’s just er just er averages and percentages and stuff like that, but they’re just named differently.
Terry: They seem to be named differently to what I was, what I remember at school
Tara: It must have been a big confidence boost to find you were doing quite well at it?
Terry: Yeah, it was it was, a big confidence boost and erm I thought, you know, what, half way through, I did feel like a couple of times, I’ll be honest, I just thought, I’m not er, I’m wasting my time, wasting everyone’s time. I’m not going to pass this. It, er, was a confidence thing with me, I think. I thought I weren’t going to pass. The others seemed to be like, cracking on, although it’s it’s hard to tell, concentrate on yourself and not look at other people, but you know, you waltz into the classroom, you look around and people seem to be finishing and, you know, moving on to the next thing and it’s em, I was going to, I did a few times, feel, er, I was getting a bit frustrated. I thought I, you know, I’m wasting time here for everyone and myself and I’m not up for this and I’m not going to be able to do it and I was going to er just leave, to tell the truth, like give up, sort of thing but I didn’t I know, I think I was speaking with Lucy and was telling her and she says no keep going and I did, To be a detail you’ve got to have really certification I thought. I just kept going and then I thought it would be silly to give up, you know, it’d be really silly to give up was worse, whether, if, I finish the course, if I don’t pass I don’t pass, what I’ve gone through it, but if I don’t do it, I’ll never know,
Terry: so I just kept going at it going at it and I was back in and I got help with the other students. We help each other so we’ve got on with the one hour I think when I got nearer the end I was confident I could do it I really I thought I could get in there it’s just uh it’s just em sitting back and forgetting about the age and em and what’s gone on before cos it, nothing was harder for me than stopping drinking and getting off the street so I thought, this can’t, I’ve done that so I can do this,
Terry: and erm I did it
Tara: But now you’ve erm you you’ve finished your you’ve completed your apprenticeship and you erm moved into work with Thames Reach
Terry: Yeah, I finished my two placements and erm then I had a six month placement in a hostel and a six month placement in floating support which was good I really enjoyed it I felt I done well at it I got
Tara: And that was that was with Thames Reach was it?
Terry: yeah with Thames Reach and then after when we came to the middle of the placement I went for a job with Thames Reach and I got erm a three month contract at Hackney floating support which was extended to to ten months and then they erm lost that contract well, they didn’t go in for the tender so but after just before that ended I went for another job what came up a vacancy with Thames Reach at erm Lewisham Thames Reach Lewisham supported housing and erm I went for the interview and I got that job I was surprised
Tara: oh, well done,
Terry: I got that job cos I’ve never been to to interviews before and apparently I’ve got a strong interview and I’ve got that interview and I’ve been here now for erm nearly two years.
Tara: Oh wow that’s that’s that’s quite a long time. It it seems like it seems like there’s a lot of change and instability but you’ve you’ve really been with Thames Reach for quite a long time now.
Terry: Yeah, since yeah, since the er erm apprenticeship erm I’ve been working I’ve done a year for the apprenticeship and then I did ten months uh at Hackney as I say and two years nearly a year so three coming up to even the fourth year
Tara: And you find that the erm the apprenticeship you did and your background helped you quite a bit in your current role?
Terry: Yeah yeah, I couldn’t have done it without the apprenticeship with the learning the amount of college I got I wouldn’t have been able to do this job without it I learned erm er er I like I really I don’t I can’t quite tell you so I’ve missed the college and I I was dreading going to the college to tell the truth I’d really miss it I really do miss it erm I was dreading it if I had time I would to another erm I’d do another course if I could find the time now but I wouldn’t do another course in the future I don’t know what course I would do. Sorry?
Tara: What would
Tara: What would you say to people
Tara: I was going to say what would you say if people were thinking about erm taking a course or starting off on a similar path what what what what would the main things you’d want to say to them be?
Terry: Well erm I’d say go for it you know don’t don’t well whatever barriers I think go for it cos whatever barriers age whatever it is em whatever concern it is go for it err because you can surprise yourself you know erm I never thought I’d say it my family for inst-
Tara: Okay and what future course would you be interested in doing?
Terry: I don’t know erm I’d like to try lots of things l don’t know I don’t know but I would look look at counselling a counselling course maybe erm any but there even just hobbies I’d like to do er go through I’d quite like to do sign language I’d like to learn sign language and I know there are loads of courses there I wouldn’t mind doing that photography there’s lots there’s loads I’ve got the erm I keep looking for the erm I’ve got a few you know our service users a few sort of have wanted to learn this and a few have gone to CityLit and are doing courses and other courses a few and it’s and they’re in good stead and help them move on help keep them in work so erm my experience and my experience of college I’ve passed on to the service users but to friends you know I’ve told friends about this using the same decisions as I was and there’s a few of them have gone through it erm I’ve got a friend of mine at CityLit now doing erm he’s doing health and social care but you know er
Tara: Perfect it’s not just been a positive experience for you it’s kind of erm its its helped and supported people you know to to take that step and move into learning as well
Terry: Yeah definitely well other than I’m pass trying to pass on now because haven’t you know I really if I could do it I don’t think anyone can do it you know erm that’s why I thought if you know if I er er you know I had no erm experience as I say I left school at fourteen it was fourteen and it’s and it a bit of erm once you you know once you get and do it you can you can do it and I really believe that now you can do anything you set your mind to it I’ve uh if someone had said to me three years ago that I’d even have gone through that college course I weren’t you know it it would’ve been it’s like winning the lottery I would have thought I mean I mean going to college
Tara: You wouldn’t have believed it?
Terry: No, no way not in a million years I wouldn’t have believe it no and especially when I was living in supported housing you know I it would’ve been a thing of me just getting back a job going back on a building site being a bit of labour cash in hand which I used to do just to get money for drink basically erm that that was erm I couldn’t even really have achieved that I don’t think but it’s just I had to sort my own issues out first but that learning yeah it helped me not just getting in to work and learning what what I needed to learn and getting the qualifications I need it it also erm gave me a bit of purpose in life getting up in the morning and going out and doing something you know whereas I suppose I was just you know it’s quite easy for me to turn around and say, which I did do, a lot to tell the truth, I’d say oh yeah this is just pointless I’ll say in bed or I’ll stay here you know knowing full well what I was going to do later in the day with me drink it gave me a purpose to get up and go out in the morning and go and it was erm so it it’s er changed everything for me it changed a lot of stuff but I would say to anyone
Tara: It gave you daily routines and..?
Terry: Yeah, exactly and something not just a daily routine, a bit of structure and you’re doing something you know it’s not just getting up and just killing hours
Tara: You find it rewarding you enjoy the work that you’re doing?
Terry: Yeah, and I do these things yeah and I’d never change I wouldn’t change this life now you know I wouldn’t change and I couldn’t have done it without the learning without going to college and I can’t erm Lucy Robson was my tutor and I wouldn’t be able to speak highly enough of her she was she was patient with me you know at first you know when you I first went there the first day when we had an assessment at college and I said I don’t really know if this is for me I mean I was putting barriers up I think but she er wouldn’t let me she kept kept finding answers why I should do it so erm
Tara: Well, that’s fantastic
Terry: It was good. So it was you know hard putting barriers up probably in the unconsciously thinking oh maybe not come back next year or something it was a bit of a crutch for me but erm they didn’t so I’m glad they didn’t and erm
Tara: They kept at you and they supported you to get through
Terry: Yeah yeah well oh yeah 100% they supported me you know when I was struggling a bit half way through I thought I was struggling yeah they supported me they took time and erm give me a lot of confidence they give me a lot of confidence went through stuff
Tara: Oh well, that’s brilliant Thank you Thank you very much for sharing that with us Terry because
Terry: That’s it that’s good that’s fine and I’m glad to put something back I as well because I appreciated what everyone done for me I had a lot of help
Tara: Sure and it’s great it’s great to have the different learner journeys to share with other people and hope that it can inspire them to to and get through the blocks and barriers
Terry: Yeah, if I could get through to one person it would be great
Tara: Yeah, well that’s fantastic
Tara: What I’m going to do over the next few days is I’ll turn it into em an audio recording and I’ll send it past you so you have a listen to it and you’re happy with it as well before I put it up on the website. How does that sound?
Terry: That’s great. Yeah, no problems.
Tara: Okay, well, brilliant thank you very very much for your em for your help over
Terry: Okay I hope it was helpful I hope I didn’t go on I hope I didn’t go on too much that it was helpful
Tara: No no no it was brilliant it was really really good It was a very very detailed erm interview thank you very much for your help and I’ll be in touch in a few days
Terry: Alright cheers thank you
Tara: Okay, thank you. Bye, Terry, bye.
Terry: Seeya. Bye.”