“I love helping people – putting a smile on their face is a great feeling” Aspiring social worker who left school at 14 wins Inspire! Award for commitment to adult learning

A 44-year-old from Barry has won a major award for her dedication to studying to become a social worker while balancing her role as a key worker during the pandemic.

Clare Palmer left school at 14 with no qualifications. Clare was passionate about helping others and dreamed of a career where she could give something back. But, by the age of 18, she was a mum with a baby son to care for

Clare moved to County Durham where she worked as a hairdresser for the next 14 years to support her young family. When she moved back to Wales with her son in 2013, she decided to use her passion for helping others to become a care assistant.

After six years working in the care sector, Clare dreamed of becoming a social worker. Knowing she would need maths and English qualifications to get accepted onto a social work university course, she joined the Vale Learning Centre and went on to complete her Level 1 Application of Number and Level 2 in Communication.

Unfortunately, Clare discovered she would still need to gain an additional maths qualification to get into her first-choice university. So, a year after securing her first qualifications, she returned to the Vale Learning Centre to begin studying her Level 2 Application of Number. This came as she was working in the hard-hit care sector during the pandemic.

Clare was awarded the ‘Essential Skills for Life’ Inspire! Award in recognition of her commitment to gaining her maths and English qualifications while also juggling her role as a key worker during the pandemic.

Clare was one of 12 winners to be recognised at the 2021 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards recognised those who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

The Inspire! Awards are were part of Adult Learners’ Week, which took place this year from 20-26 September offering taster sessions and live online sessions to inspire people to keep learning throughout their lives.

For Clare, her journey to university has been far from straightforward.

Clare said, “Never in a million years did I think I’d be a winner of something like this. I’m flattered to get the chance to inspire other people.

“I left school with no qualifications at the age of 14 and took my own path. I had my son, Taylor, at 18 and adulthood smacked me in the face.

“I love helping people. Putting a smile on someone else’s face and making a difference in their life is a great feeling. So, when I came back to Wales, I really wanted to join the care sector.

“I mostly care for the elderly in assisted living, where we help to promote their independence as much as possible. We empower them to still do the little things like make a sandwich or cup of tea.

“It can be hard work and long days, but I love it. You really get to know the people you care for and they come to rely on you. To go in and make people feel valued is really special. I enjoy going through old photographs with them and hearing their stories.”

In 2019, after completing a Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care, Clare gained more self-belief about how far she could take her career. She decided she wanted to take her passion for care a step further and apply to university to become a social worker.

She said: “Social work feels like a logical next step for me. I want to take my ability to help people to the next level. I’m driven by the chance to go above and beyond with everyone I care for.

“As a social worker you get the chance to work with people in their homes and make even bigger decisions about how to care for them and make their lives better, which is something that really appeals to me.”

Clare took the plunge and joined the Vale Learning Centre. By the time the pandemic hit in March 2020, she had achieved Level 2 in Communication and Level 1 Application of Number.

“From the age of 14 to 41 I’d done no maths or English. I was apprehensive at first and, honestly, I was terrible at it. But I threw myself into it and I know after just a few weeks that I’d had made the right decision

“My tutors Jane and Sharon were amazing and re-ignited my love for learning. They have a real passion for their job, seeing them in their element gave me the push I needed to work hard to achieve my own goals.

“I did so well in the first couple of months that I went on to do the Level 2 in Communication. The course was only two days a week, which meant I could continue to work as a care assistant while I was learning.”

As a key worker in a hard-hit sector, the COVID-19 pandemic put Clare under increased pressure at work. But, determined to achieve her goal despite the extra hours, Clare applied to do her Level 2 Application of Number.

She said: “It was really hard and really scary. I was doing grocery shopping for vulnerable people and going into their homes, so I was constantly worried about giving them the virus. My boss has been fantastic at regular testing, and this really helped.

“At one point I was working up to 60 hours a week, sometimes working seven days in a row. We were exhausted. On top of that, I was trying to balance my own learning with looking after my son and keeping our house in order. I’m still not sure how, but we got through it.

“The classes were strange at first. We were limited to four people at a time and had to work two metres apart. It was a huge contrast to the courses I’d done a year earlier.

“I must say though, it didn’t affect the way Jane, our tutor, taught us. She was amazing – always keeping in touch and sending lots of homework. Any problems I had with the work, I got a response almost immediately.”

Clare has now completed her Level 2 Application of Number at the Vale Learning Centre and is applying to start university in September.

Reflecting on her experience of adult learning, Clare said: “It’s been tough at times but I’m incredibly glad that I did it. My experience has been fantastic, I’d really recommend it. I’m closer now than ever before to achieving my dream of becoming a social worker.

“The Vale Learning Centre has given me not just my qualifications, but my confidence. I know I’ll succeed in my chosen career. I can’t thank the tutors and staff enough; they should get their own award for their dedication and commitment to their students.”

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in this year’s Inspire! Awards. There’s some really powerful stories behind this year’s participants, with some great examples of people overcoming personal challenges in their commitment to learning, and it’s important to celebrate the achievements of everyone who took part. Well done everyone!”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “What better way to realise the value of adult learning than to hear the uplifting stories of our Inspire! Award winners. Each and every one of our winners demonstrates the benefits lifelong learning can bring – from improving mental wellbeing, to gaining the skills to land a new job.”

“We hope their incredible stories will inspire people across Wales to take that first step back into education. Whatever your motivation for gaining new skills, there’s never been a better time to change your story.”

For personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or search www.workingwales.gov.wales.


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