'Forget the furniture, I'll do the re-wiring'

4th May 2001 at 01:00
ALISON Thompson, a 39-year-old housewife from Jesmond in Newcastle upon Tyne, says her schooldays in a girls' grammar were horrible.

She passed three A-levels but was so disenchanted that she almost didn't bother to go back to school to collect her results.

After an on-and-off spell as an actress, Ms Thompson worked as an assistant manager in The Body Shop and then in a large boutique. She then settled down with her husband, Peter, a dentist. They had two children - Jack,12, and Ruby, nine - and she has been at home ever since looking after them.

Over the past two years, however, she has been thinking about training in an FE college with a view to getting a job.

"I had been leaning towards a career in the construction industry," she said. "Not as a manual worker, because that did not particularly appeal to me.

"Six years ago, my husband and I bought the house that we now live in and it was completely wrecked. It was just a shell. When we started to do things to the house, I became really interested in the whole process of building and changing things. But not from the prettifying point of view, although I quite enjoy that fabrics and curtains stuff as well.

"I actually became more and more interested in re-wiring, plumbing and putting in a new bathroom - all the practical side of things."

Ms Thompson had got as far as picking up a brochure about courses in the University of Northumbia's school of the built environment but she had been unable to choose which one to follow.

"Because I have been out of full-time education for so long, I was actually quite scared by the idea, although it was something that I really wanted to do," she said. "I was all at sea really. I thought, 'Now what do I do? How am I going to find out which course is going to be the one for me?'" It was then that she spotted an article in the local paper about the new Stepping Stones course. She enrolled and is now enjoying it immensely.

"All the people I have dealt with on the course have been so encouraging, really friendly and very upbeat. The whole process has been a very enjoyable one. And the thing with this course as well is that it is women only. It's not an intimidating atmosphere.

"The first day that I went into the university it was about 12 o'clock and classes had finished for the morning. I just walked into this sea of teenagers and I thought 'Oh God'. I felt like I had a beacon on my head saying 'I am 39'. I really felt conspicuous.

"I would have found it very difficult going straight into a class like that. This has been a really great way of getting a foot in the door and building my confidence about going back into education."

"They are bending over backwards to make it as accessible as possible for people who really want to give education a go. It's been a great experience."

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