Case Study – Leigh Somerville

Leigh and Lucy

As a student myself, I can barely manage to get through my mile-high pile of assignments; meet my deadlines and make it to lectures just about on time. For Leigh Somerville, that would be a piece of cake. Not only does she study at college; she has a part-time job and a 5 year old daughter, Lucy. Perhaps the word ‘multi-tasking’ was designed for lifestyles like Leigh’s.

Leigh, from Bolton, left school in 1997 at the age of 16 and went straight into the workplace. Now 31, she has recently decided to hit  the textbooks once more.

She is currently studying for Level 3 Access to Higher Education qualification at Bolton College; a nine month course that includes modules in Social Policy; Sociology, Criminology and Maths. After offers from both Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University; she is now enrolled to start at Salford University in September to study for a degree in Social Work, with an aspiration to work with children.

 “The move into study was spurred by changes I saw in the workplace and the thought of being stuck in the job for another 10 to 20 years. I just couldn’t do it; I’d rather try and be a professional at something. I’ve always worked at the Court or in a similar field of administration; but I decided I wanted a change in direction and always wanted to be a social worker. I thought I’d give it a go, so I sat the interviews and passed the test to get on the course. It’s all happened so quickly, it’s come as quite a surprise.”

Leigh works two days a week as an administrator in the Family Department at Bolton Combined Court. During the rest of the week she attends college, including an evening course on Tuesday nights.

 “It’s a struggle, sometimes I don’t whether I’m going to college or going to work. Loads of times I’ve thought of finishing with it [college] and not bothering anymore but I tell myself; I can’t. Now I’m enrolled at University and the  finance has been finalised, it makes it all the more real and makes me want to stick with it.”

Finding a work-life balance can be hard for any parent, but cramming into an already packed schedule the time for essay writing,  is no doubt an uphill battle. Though the key, says Leigh, is coming up with a plan that suits you.

“Finding time to study can be hard so we have to plan ahead.  Lucy goes swimming with her Dad on Sundays; that’s my study time. It’s the best way that works for us. I find it harder than when I just worked. Juggling so many things really makes sure you prioritise things so you strike the right balance.  I’m lucky that I’m married to someone very supportive.”

She did consider going back to college when she was younger, but never found the right opportunity . With Lucy now 5 and at primary school, Leigh found that there’s no time like the present.

“I thought about going to University when I was younger, but leaving home at a young age, I just went and got a job instead. I tried to get back into education about six years ago but gave it up because I couldn’t be bothered with the night classes. Then I just wasn’t really that interested in the academic lifestyle, but I’m different now. At college, young people are tending to drop out or not bother turning up or not handing in work which is a bit annoying; but when you’re a bit older you see things differently”

With plenty of life and work experience under her belt, Leigh says she is ready to take on the new challenges a degree will bring. Though technically a mature student, Leigh will only be 34 when she graduates from University, ready to start her dream job.

 “After I’ve completed the course at Salford I want to work as a social worker with children. Having a child of my own is a benefit as it does give you an insight into how to be with children as does working on the family department at work. The benefits of having a child is that it teaches you the art of balancing and it spurs you on; to do it for you and your child.”

 With a complete change of direction, embarking on a new life chapter; it‘s unsurprising that the move has sparked mixed emotions.

 “I’m really quite excited about going to University, but knowing I’m going to have to leave work is quite daunting. The thought of handing my notice in worries me as I’m used to a monthly salary; but it’s the decision I’ve made. I’ve got a student maintenance grant as well so I’m sure I’ll manage.”

Luckily for Leigh, unlike many new students, the tuition fees for her course haven’t reached the dizzying heights of £9,000 a year. Though asked as to whether she would have gone ahead with her studies, regardless of the soaring costs; the simple response was “it’s either that or stay here [at work], which I don’t want to do.”

 “Studying has changed my views on everything. It makes me believe that things can be achieved.  Everytime I get a grade back from an essay and see how well I’ve done it keeps spurring me on; it shows that I can do it. I never expected to get this far. I didn’t realise I was academic until I started at college, but I guess I am!  

Good luck in September, Leigh!


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