Access course turned life around for student

An Access to Higher Education student from South Essex College has credited the course with helping him turn his life around.

Jack Wakeling, 25, a former alcohol and drug addict who was even homeless for a while, studied the Access to HE (Psychology & Sociology) course at the college’s Southend Campus while receiving help from HARP, Southend’s Homeless Charity.

Jack said: “The Access course has helped me in so many ways. When I first got into recovery last year and moved into HARP’s support network, I quit my job and lost everything. It was at this point I realised I had the opportunity to finally chase my dream career.

“I had dropped out of college three times when I was a teenager but always found psychology so interesting. One day I decided to look up university courses and was pointed in the direction of Access which would allow me to study for a degree in the future.”

The college runs Access courses in a variety of subjects to help those who didn't pursue degree education the first time round still achieve their goals.

Access to Higher Education courses prepare adults for study at university level, once completed they'll allow individuals on a degree course regardless of their previous qualifications.

Jack added: “I fear without adult education I may have tippled and gone back to my old drinking and drug habits. The tutors were very welcoming and always had time for me to discuss any issues I had.

“I quickly made it clear that I was in the early stages of recovery and that sometimes I may struggle, they were amazing and helped me every step of the way.

“Without this Access course, it would be very difficult for adults who fall through the system in their teen years to re-invent their life for the better. This course helps so many adults like me who want a second chance.

“I would urge anyone considering going back to education to take the risk and do it because it has benefited me in so many ways. I was working five evenings a week as well as studying so to anyone worrying about fitting it in around their current life and commitments, it is possible!”

Jack has now accepted an offer to study clinical and community psychology at the University of East London.

For more information about the college’s Access to Higher Education courses, visit

The college is holding a virtual careers advice event for adults on Tuesday 7 July. The one hour webinar with award winning career coach, Jenny Garrett, starts at 10am. Attendees will learn how to make a change in their career and identify their skills and strengths. After the interactive session, listeners will be able to speak to college staff about course options and pathways. For more information, visit

Success stories

Success Stories -  Kerry Thomas

Success Stories - Kerry Thomas

Course studied

Graphic Design & Illustration BA (Hons)

My name is Kerry Thomas, I am 35 years old, I studied graphic design at University Centre South Essex from September 2013 until June 2016 and this is my story.

My name is Kerry Thomas, I am 35 years old, I studied graphic design at University Centre South Essex from September 2013 until June 2016 and this is my story.

I left school in 2002 just after my GCSEs and worked up from a receptionist role to accounts payables assistant roles in various jobs until 2007. I then had my son and stayed at home and started a little cupcake company which didn’t really take off. In 2010 I went back to work again in an accounts assistant role until I fell pregnant with my daughter in 2011. After she was born I realised I didn’t want to work in accounts and I wanted to do something creative. I wanted a career so that I could change my family’s future and I wanted my children to know it’s never too late to chase a dream. So I enrolled with the college and did the Access to Art and Design course in 2012. I actually wanted to do interior design however, as I learnt more about graphic design I began to fall in love.

After graduating in October 2016, I landed my first role in a publishing/events company called Media10 and worked across a variety of magazines designing layouts for different publications. After a year I moved on to a creative agency called Powwow Creative. Here I learnt so much, there was such a variety of work from creating social and advertising campaigns to brand development. I was involved in the projects from start to completion and really grew as a designer here. Unfortunately in January 2019 I was made redundant. 

In February 2019 I lined up several interviews including one at Formula One, which was an amazing experience however, I was offered an amazing position at out of home media agency JCDecaux. 

I have been there for the past two years and I absolutely love it. I work in the department called one world which means that I work with all the large and global brands. I help creative solutions come up with new out of home advertising ideas and I create realistic mock-ups so that they can pitch to clients the concepts. I also support the sales team with their PowerPoint decks and any sales and marketing material.

Because I had children and obviously my family life I couldn’t go to a university that was too far away and luckily for me University Centre South Essex was more or less on my doorstep as I lived in Shoeburyness at the time. However that being said, I probably would have still chosen to go there even if I did have the option of going to another university. 

I think because I’d already had experience in the workplace I don’t know if it really helped me prepare for the work blows, it definitely helped me prepare for the type of roles that I would be doing once I had my degree. I can see and I do know the university has helped younger people who may not have had that experience to experience what work the workplace might be like.
The best thing about higher education, from my point of view, is the friendships you make and the inspiration you get from your tutors. There is support and guidance from other people and the pride in receiving recognition for learning about your passion.
One of the biggest skills university gave me was confidence. Confidence in my ability and the confidence to trust myself. It also gave me a firm understanding about the subject in which I was about to embark on a career in.

The equipment is all up-to-date when I was doing my degree and I then went into my first job because I was so used to using the equipment at the university centre I found it really easy to just carry on.

At the end of my first year on the graphic design degree I was feeling a little bit like, is this for me? Am I too old to be learning this? Most of the people on my course were under the age of 22 and had done a Graphic Design BTEC so they were already aware of things that I wasn’t and I was feeling a little deflated. Then we did the final major project and I will never forget that I looked at my final major project and I looked at my tutor John and I just felt in that moment so proud of how far I had come because when I started I knew nothing and looking at that final major project I thought, that's progress, this is where I’m finally getting it and I think my course tutor agreed.

There are a ton of universities that all claim to have the best courses the best people and I’m sure that they do but I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the tutors, support and the guidance I received whilst at University Centre South Essex.
The best way I think to look at it is if a 27 year old mother of two children who has never had any experience in the career that she wants to do is able to go back to school and not only graduate but to also then embark on that career and be established as a designer then I think that shows exactly why you’d be mad not to consider University centre South Essex.
My greatest achievement apart from my beautiful children and getting a degree is working for one of the biggest media advertising agencies in the world (JCDecaux).

I do a lot of freelance work as well and in the future I would like to own my own agency in five to ten years

University Centre South Essex gave me confidence and also never will I be afraid again to chase my dreams because now I know for sure that if you shoot for the moon and you miss, that's okay, you’re still among the stars.

Also can I add in a thank you to Cherry Sandover (Access Course Leader) for taking me under her wing and allowing me to express myself and to John for giving me the chance. He knew I had no prior knowledge of Graphic Design but I promised him I would work hard and he gave me a shot. I want all the tutors to know I kept my promise and I’m still working hard but I will forever appreciate you taking a chance on me and changing my life.

Success Stories -  Siobhan Best

Success Stories - Siobhan Best

Course studied

Graphic Design & Illustration BA (Hons)

I love the course so far. Everyone on the course is so friendly and supportive. The classes at University Centre South Essex are very small so there’s always support and equipment available.

My name is Siobhan Best, I am 34 years old, studying BA Graphic Design & Illustration at University Centre South Essex and this is my story.

I worked in mental health care for ten years before having my daughter, Effie and when my daughter started school, I thought it would be fun to do a course to keep me busy.

I chose Access to Art and Design as I loved crafts and drawing in my spare time.  The Access course was amazing and changed my life. It was hard work but I loved every minute, learning new skills and discovering artists. It sounds cheesy but it made me see the world through a new set of eyes! 

I had very few qualifications and had never done well in education until the access course, the tutors encouraged me to apply for a degree and I decided to go for BA Graphic Design and Illustration. 

A friend recommended the course so I looked at the website and met Cherry, one of the tutors, who discussed the course in more detail and inspired me to learn more.

I love the course so far. Everyone on the course is so friendly and supportive. The classes at University Centre South Essex are very small so there’s always support and equipment available. 

After university, I am really interested in printmaking and illustration - I would love to write and illustrate a children’s book. I am also interested in becoming an art teacher.

The difficulties during lockdown have been mainly trying to home-school my daughter whilst doing my coursework and it has certainly been a bit of a balancing act.

I would say to anybody who is looking to start their journey to higher education is to visit the open days and go for it. 

If you would like to learn more about the next virtual open day visit: 

Success Stories -  Emma White

Success Stories - Emma White

Course studied

Interior Design BA (Hons)

I would have never imagined in four years’ time that I would have met my business partner and be setting up our own company, both doing something we truly love.

My name is Emma White, I am 30 years of age, studying BA Hons Interior Design at University Centre South Essex and this is my story.

It was the start of 2017 and I wasn’t enjoying my current job working in HR and had just started writing a blog about home styling and design. Interior design has always been something I’ve enjoyed and found interesting so I finally took the plunge that year to quit my job and go back to studying full-time. 

I started looking online at interior design courses locally and found the degree through there. But as I hadn’t studied art in the past, I wanted to start by trying the Access to HE Art & Design course (which I found through the website) to see if I enjoyed it before committing to the degree. Turns out I did! 

I have really enjoyed the course so far and the briefs are flexible so they allow you to be as creative as you want. It also links well to the interior design industry so the work we do feels really relevant.

After I finish my degree, me and another student on the course are currently setting up our own interior design business so we will have our own company when we finish in May.

During lockdown I sometimes found it hard to feel inspired with an idea for a design, as the days have blurred into one. But I’ve found actually spending some time away from work really helps this rather than staring at a blank screen all day.  

The advice I would give to anyone looking to start their degree journey is to just go for it as you never know where it might lead you. I would have never imagined in four years’ time that I would have met my business partner and be setting up our own company, both doing something we truly love. 

To learn more about the University Centre and what we have to offer, visit:

Success Stories -  Louis Papagavriel

Success Stories - Louis Papagavriel

Course studied

Early Years Education BA (Hons)

You are never too old to achieve your dreams, it might just take some hard work, but anyone can make it.

My name is Louis Papagavriel I am 32, studying the BA Hons Early Years and this is my story.

I decided to return to education not long after my 30th birthday. This was after a spell of major mental health issues causing me to be unable to work.

I did a lot of extensive research and reflected on my strengths and weaknesses when looking for new careers to pursue and decided that I wanted to become a primary school teacher.  I attended the college when I was 17 so I decided to look up what adult courses they offered, discovered Access courses and was able to find out that they clearly fitted into my career goal as the college offered an Access to Teaching course. 

Whilst studying the Access course, we were visited by students on the Early Years Education degree at the college and from what they told us about the course I decided this was the course I wanted to progress on to after I finished my Access course. Since starting the course, I have also visited this year's Access course to inform them about my current course.

The course covers many interesting subjects and has developed my knowledge of Early Years education. The course tutor is also very passionate about the subject which makes some of the more, less exciting subjects more interesting. Also, being in a class of likeminded people and being able to share our experiences and passion for the subject is amazing.

Having a young child who is also having to be home-schooled and trying to complete assignments has been difficult during lockdown but luckily the university has been very accommodating and given me extra time to complete tasks and assignments. Also, an important part of the course is having a placement in local schools. However, due to the pandemic this has not been possible. We have however, been making videos from home for children to watch.

The advice I would give to anyone who is looking to go into higher education is that if you have the drive and determination to change your career or to advance in your current career, then go for it. You are never too old to achieve your dreams, it might just take some hard work, but anyone can make it. 

To learn more about the university centre, visit: