Leeds mature students win regional adult learners’ awards

Two adult learners studying for degrees at the University of Leeds have won regional awards in recognition of their outstanding achievements.

Emma_McNamara (l)

The students, Emma McNamara and Ray Whitaker, were nominated by the University and received their awards at the Yorkshire and Humber Adult Learners’ Awards 2014 ceremony, organised by Involve Yorkshire & Humber at The Tetley, Leeds.

Both Emma and Ray grew up in Leeds in areas of low participation in higher education and left school aged 16 with few qualifications.  

The mature students both took part in ‘Realise’, the aspiration raising programme run by the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University, whilst studying at Deacon House, a community base of Leeds City College.

Emma received the NIACE Learning in Families and Communities Individual Award.  Despite great personal setbacks including the death of her father and partner, Emma returned to education aged 32 to re-sit her Maths GCSE.  Just three years on, Emma has turned her life around through learning and is now working towards gaining a degree.  After an appointment with the Lifelong Learning Centre’s pre-entry Information Advice and Guidance service, Emma applied for the University’s interdisciplinary foundation programme, Preparation for Higher Education (PHE).  She completed this with excellent marks and is currently studying for a degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology in the School of Law.

Emma’s nominator Fiona Chapel, a Development Officer at the Lifelong Learning Centre (LLC) said: “Emma’s determination and passion for education have helped her to transform her life and she is now supporting others to change theirs too.  Her learning achievements are outstanding and she is an inspirational role model for other adult learners.”

Ray will receive the HEART-sponsored Raising Aspirations Award.  Ray was medically discharged from the Navy at 22, losing his career, confidence and direction.  At the age of 40 following a series of low-paid jobs and being diagnosed with ME, Ray was determined to regain his sense of purpose and enrolled at College to do a Maths GCSE.  Motivated by his success in Maths and the support of his tutor, Ray also sought advice from the Lifelong Learning Centre’s guidance service.  He had always been interested in Science, earth and nature and applied for the LLC’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Foundation Year.  Battling through his own health issues and caring responsibilities, Ray successfully passed the course and is now achieving excellent results in his first year of a degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management.


Ray was nominated by Olivia Garvey, Development Officer in the Lifelong Learning Centre.  Olivia said: “The issues which Ray faces have not affected his determination to succeed in his studies or his enthusiasm for motivating other adults to aim for higher education.  He is a great ambassador for lifelong learning and a positive role model for anyone considering a return to education.”

Ray and Emma have both become volunteer learning champions for the Lifelong Learning Centre.  Despite the demands of their studies and substantial other commitments, they generously give their time to take part in aspiration raising activities on campus and across the city. 

Ray says: “I am very proud to be at university and I regularly talk to people I meet in my area about why they should think about going to university.  If I can influence just one person to make a positive change in their life, I will have achieved something.  I feel like I am living a lifelong dream.  I am trying to educate myself out of poverty to benefit me and my family.  Returning to education has been truly life changing for me and I am passionate to impart my knowledge to others and help in breaking down the barriers of low self-esteem that I suffer with."

Emma said: “I am passionate about helping other adult learners achieve what I have through telling my story, hoping to give them encouragement to take that step into higher education.  I believe in letting other people know that with hard work and dedication you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or what barriers may stand in your way, a better education can be achieved.  Taking the step into higher education has totally transformed mine and my daughter’s life and has had a positive effect on many of my family and friends.”

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