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National accolade for “inspirational” Lisa

Posted: 07 December 2017

A “truly inspirational” adult learner, who overcame incredible adversity and battled mental illness, has scooped a national accolade for her academic success.

West Nottinghamshire College student Lisa Woodward received the runner-up prize in the Keith Fletcher Award for ‘outstanding academic achievement’, awarded by CAVA (Cambridge Access Validating Agency) – a body which designs and validates Access to Higher Education (HE) Diplomas.

Mother-of-three Lisa, from Mansfield Woodhouse, was nominated by learner development coach and tutor Jason Hanson for excelling on the Access to HE Combined Humanities and Social Sciences course, which she passed with 10 distinctions and two merits, at the college.

The 36-year-old had not stepped foot inside a classroom for a decade, after reluctantly having to quit a nursing degree and healthcare career in 2007 due to family commitments and the need to support her husband, who suffers from physical and mental health problems. This led to Lisa experiencing intense feelings of isolation and her own long-running battle with anxiety, depression and self-harming.

Sadly, this resulted in Lisa experiencing a breakdown in 2015 and being detained in Millbrook Mental Health Unit, Sutton-in-Ashfield, where she remained as an outpatient for 18 months.

In another devastating blow, Lisa and her children – Oliver, 8, Alice, 10, and LucyAnn, 15 – lost their family home due to financial difficulties.

After hitting “rock bottom”, Lisa resolved to get her life back on track and made the brave decision to enrol onto one of the college’s Access to HE courses – designed specifically for adults returning to education. Feeling nervous and anxious, she attended the initial interview with a support worker.

Determined to make the most of her “second chance”, Lisa threw herself into her studies and proved to be an outstanding student – achieving a 99.4% attendance rate and passing the course with almost-perfect marks, which saw her top the class.

She also attended a host of extra-curricular activities – highlighting her dedication to her learning and development – and volunteered as the student representative for her course.

With help from housing charity Framework, Lisa and her children have since been re-homed and she is now studying the Foundation Degree in Criminal Justice (Human Rights) at the college's £6.5 million university centre, with ambitions of forging a career as a probation officer, working with individuals and families affected by crime.

She also volunteers for 16 hours each week with Nottingham-based organisation Adkam Homes, which provides supported accommodation for homeless and ex-offenders who are facing social exclusion.

Furthermore, she is working with the college to introduce a peer-mentoring service, after coming up with the idea to provide extra support to students that may be struggling for various reasons.

Lisa said: “Two years ago I had no home, a husband repeatedly in and out of hospital, and I was an outpatient on an almost daily basis due to my self-harming. It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel and I had no idea how things would ever get better.

“I’m so pleased I decided to apply to college. It was difficult settling in at first but things became easier once I accessed the support of tutors and slowly gained in confidence.

“Managing my home life with full-time study has been a challenge but the new and exciting opportunities that have come my way have once again given my life purpose.

“I’m so proud of my exam results. I’ve had to put everything into them and the hard work and commitment has paid off.

“College hasn’t just been about academic achievement – it’s changed me as a person and made me want to achieve even more. Jason was a fantastic tutor and extremely supportive whenever I had a panic attack in class, which happened a lot last year and made it difficult for me to physically speak. But the compassionate way he managed those situations made me want to come to college the next day, and the day after that.

“Knowing how it feels to hit rock bottom, it’s great to know I’ve got an exciting future ahead of me. College has given me a new lease of life.”

The award was presented to Lisa by CAVA’s acting chair Tom Levinson at its annual conference, held at Churchill College, Cambridge, on Tuesday 4 December, accompanied by proud Jason. The 11 Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) across England and Wales joined together to sponsor and support the award for the seventh consecutive year, in memory of Mr Fletcher, who worked tirelessly promoting Access to HE throughout his career.

Speaking of her award, Lisa said: “It was a wonderful day and an unforgettable experience. I hope future Access to HE applicants and potential students will be inspired by my story and empowered to achieve all that they set out to do – just as I am doing.”

Access to HE sociology and social policy tutor Jason said: “Lisa’s journey has been one of incredible determination and resilience. The tenacity she has shown has been nothing short of remarkable and truly inspirational.

“Watching Lisa collect her award was an immensely proud moment for me, because I remember the self-conscious individual I first met, who doubted her own ability to successfully complete the course. When you consider the obstacles that Lisa has overcome, her achievement is nothing short of outstanding and she is fully-deserving of her award.”

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