Angela and Trudie clean up

15th August 2008 at 01:00
Armed with rubber gloves and mops, Angela Reid and Trudie Armstrong qualified from university. Raymond Ross tells the tale

It sounds like a pitch for a film, working title "Educating Angela": Angela and her pal Trudie, both working mothers, are determined to get into university, but they fail their entrance exams. Doom and gloom? No, a minor hitch. "If we can't get in the front door, we'll get in the back," says Angela Reid.

So, they get out their mops and Marigold rubber gloves and turn up at the university every day as cleaners. Only, they sit in on all the lectures and seminars for their chosen courses until eventually, after a few months, either out of admiration or sheer exasperation, the authorities decide to matriculate them as full-time, bona fide students.

Well, it's a film that won't have to be scripted in the case of real-life mature student Ms Reid, who concocted this scenario with her fellow Newbattle Abbey student, Trudie Armstrong, in case they didn't pass their arts and social science award course at the college.

But they passed and will enrol at Edinburgh University this October. And what the comic scenario does communicate is Ms Reid's absolute determination to overcome any obstacles in order to pursue her education, one recognised by the Helena Kennedy Foundation which has awarded her a bursary of Pounds 1,000.

The HKF bursaries are awarded annually to students who have faced significant barriers to continuing with or returning to education. In Ms Reid's case the significant barrier was overcoming a 20-year abusive relationship with her former partner.

"It definitely held me back and it was only when I split with my former partner three years ago that I could begin to look to the future with confidence and was able to decide I wanted an education for myself," she says.

At school, Ms Reid was a refusenik. "I hated it. I just didn't like being told what to do. The school (Earlston High in the Borders) was a good school. It still is. My 14-year-old son goes there and is very happy.

"It was all down to my attitude. I just wanted out and to be earning some money as soon as I was 16."

From school, she went through a series of low-paid, unfulfilling jobs in various shops and factories, a pattern she was to maintain during her relationship until she became an after-school club co-ordinator, which re- introduced her to the world of education. "There was on-going training in the job and I began to think then about my own education. After the split, I began to think `this is my time now'.

"My son and I have been through a lot and he is very supportive, as are my parents.

"Spending a year at Newbattle was a revelation. I loved the whole thing. The tutors were fantastic and I met some amazing people and made some friends for life.

"Even though I was non-residential and also had to hold down a part-time job, working nights at a garage, I really felt part of the college. It taught me that I could live my dream. I entered Newbattle with a definite plan and failing was not an option," she says.

That plan was to gain a place at Edinburgh University and to take a degree in social policy and politics.

"I've always been interested in politics and I really took to political theory at Newbattle, where I was particularly struck by the philosophy of John Locke, partly because he's optimistic in politics and that strikes a chord with my `Old Labour' roots.

"I also love Machiavelli because he's about taking charge and retaining power and that's what I feel I'm doing with my life now.

"He gets a bad press, though, which I think is unfair. Machiavelli can always justify his actions."

After university, Ms Reid would like to become a political researcher with the Labour Party. Her ultimate political hero is Martin Luther King, but nearer home it's the memory of the late John Smith which inspires her.

"I think he would have made an excellent prime minister or, equally, an excellent first minister for Scotland," she says. "I do like Alex Salmond though - I think he is the most powerful figure in UK politics at the moment."

Her political bete noire, unsurprisingly, is Margaret Thatcher, although she admits to a sneaking admiration "because Thatcher was so formidable, so Machiavellian".

Her friend and fellow student, Trudie Armstrong (the other half of the university cleaning duo), describes Ms Reid as "bloody hard-working" and the most determined woman she's ever met.

"Angela has a fantastic spirit, and at Newbattle the younger students all looked up to her. She inspired them and, when she felt they needed it, she wasn't slow to give them a metaphorical kick up the backside," she says. "She often used the phrase which became our mantra - `failure is not an option'."

Ms Reid is one of four Scottish recipients of an HKF bursary. In total the foundation, whose mission is to tackle injustice and social exclusion by supporting disad- vantaged students, made more than 130 awards this year, its 10th anniversary.

Next January, the award winners will attend receptions at the House of Lords, hosted by Baroness Kennedy; later in 2009, all 450 students who have received awards over the past 10 years will be invited to a gala celebration at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

"I am proud of what the foun- dation has achieved in its first 10 years and look forward to what it will achieve in the future," says Baroness Kennedy.

"Our students succeed against the odds - living proof that education defeats poverty, that learning is a route to active citizenship and inspires us to give something back."

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