Simon Midgley reports on a new project to attract homeless people into education. Graduates of the scheme tell their stories
STEVE Robinson, aged 35, is a former heroin addict. For two years he lived on the streets or in hostels in Birmingham while he sold the Big Issue to survive.
Born and brought up in Glasgow, he left school with five O-levels. He first worked as an apprentice painter and decorator, followed by several spells of working in factories and the pub and catering trade.
After working in the Lake District near Ullswater he was head-hunted by Whitbread to manage several of their pubs in south London.
About four years ago he moved across to the Weatherspoons chain where he was moved around from pub to pub and hated it.
In 1996 he returned to Birmingham and started taking heroin - he had dabbled in drugs once before in Glasgow. Steve's relationship with his girlfriend then broke up and h lost his flat.
He started sleeping rough and moving from hostel to hostel.
Steve joined the IT course at the drop-in centre because he wanted to learn more about computers and did not wish to return to working in the hotel and catering trade.
"My knowledge of computers was very basic," he said. "I knew how to turn them on and off," he says.
"The first tutor we had was fantastic. She had the patience of a saint. In the two-hour sessions she would spend 20 minutes with everybody.
"She made it so easy for you to learn that it made us want to learn even more.
"None of us ever thought we could get to the standard we got to. When we got a new tutor he gasped at what we knew - that gave us a lot more confidence."
He received an Open College Network certificate in IT at level 3 - the equivalent of an A-level. Steve has now won a place to study web design at City College, Birmingham.