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Making it on the come back trail

Simon Midgley reports on a new project to attract homeless people into education. Graduates of the scheme tell their stories

ONCE upon a time Ian Pardoe had a wife, two young sons, a home and a job. Three-and-a-half years later he was a lonely, unemployed alcoholic sleeping in hostels or on the street.

Born and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, Ian, now 35, left school at the age of 16 with a clutch of CSEs. After working as an upholsterer for four or five years he switched to bar work before managing a Ladbroke's betting shop.

Marriage, two children and a rented house ensued but then he and his wife fell out and divorced. Ian then descended into alcoholism. After being homeless for several years, living in Shropshire, Scotland, Brighton and Birmingham, Ian spent a year in detox.

Last August he joined an IT course being held at the Big Issue drop-in centre in central Birmingham.

He was one of 17 homeless people presented with Open College Network and City and Guilds awardsfor successfully completing courses in IT, health and safety and food and hygiene.

The Rt Rev John Austin, the bishop of Aston, gave Ian his level 2 award in word-processing, spreadsheets and databases. He also received a pound;10 book token.

"It can happen to anybody," says Ian. "I was married and I had a home and two sons. Then I moved to the opposite end of the spectrum. I had a lot of time to think about what I was going to do with my life when I was in detox. I decided to get some proper qualifications, go to university and go back into employment.

"I had spent two to three years doing nothing and not getting anywhere. I saw this course as a stepping stone.

"It was some way of getting on a ladder to doing something with my life."

This autumn, Ian, who used to sell the Big Issue but now lives in a housing association flat, starts his university access course at Fircroft College in Birmingham. He eventually hopes to do a degree in computer-programming or engineering.

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