Nicola Weston's story on studying as a mature student on the Costume Construction BA Hons degree

My name is Nikki Weston I am 49 years old and I am studying BA (Hons) Costume Construction at University Centre South Essex until Summer 2022 and this is my story.

Before coming to the University Centre South Essex I had many varied roles. Most recently I was the national training manager for the Independent Office for Police conduct (IOPC) which is an agency of the Home Office. Prior to that I worked in apprenticeships as a manager and an assessor and before that worked as a civilian for the Met Police in London for approximately 18 years. The longest role I had in that time was a control room supervisor for approximately 10 years managing a police control room where 999 calls were received and deployed.

I finished my last contract and realised that my mother was ill so suggested I moved in with her and leave my job and give up my house. I genuinely had no plan in May 2019 when this happened, but I had realised that my mother was declining with dementia and needed help. During this truly awful time I floundered mentally and emotionally and knew I had done the right thing about going to be with her but what about my needs and passions?

I had spent a lot of the previous three years returning to my first love of sewing and dressmaking. I knew I wanted to further my knowledge, but I knew I was fashion orientated (at 19 I started a BTEC fashion course and lasted six months it wasn’t my tribe!). A friend said what about a degree, maybe in costume? The first course that came up was Costume Construction and when I saw the Royal Opera House image and the blurb about the course it was like lightening bolt to my brain! This was it!
The best thing about higher education as an adult is the sheer joy of having the time to study something I am passionate about and making the most of every single second of it. The opportunities I have already had are thanks to my tutors and the work is absolutely amazing.

My main reason for doing this degree was to improve my sewing skills and learn pattern cutting, I have learnt so much more than that. I was a fairly advanced home sewer when I started the course; I now consider myself a novice professional, and the tutors have given me confidence to feel like this.

Doing a degree is difficult at any age at any time, but during a global pandemic I think has pushed us all to the very limits of stress and anxiety.
The HE support team have been wonderful in the first few weeks of my degree. I met Nikki Hill and she explained about DSA and I had no idea I would be eligible for as much help and assistance as I have had. I have also had financial assistance from the college and Black Bullion and this has made my life so much easier. 

Doing a practical arts degree on Teams is not ideal, but if I must do it, I have the best teachers in the world. I am fortunate (or unfortunate?) to know how difficult the world of FE & HE is to work in, the pressures required on those delivering HE courses are immense. Emma, Rachel and Lou have made it so achievable and I have still managed to do much better than I would have ever dreamed and that is largely to do with them.

I would recommend the University Centre South Essex as it has excellent support from staff and whilst this isn’t the biggest HE provider in the UK in my opinion it is one of the best. Being a small provider with excellent experienced staff in very specialised courses makes them unique!

My greatest achievement so far was last summer in the post I received an award from HE support team. I had won an award in ‘Overall performance’. I was speechless, I cannot believe that I was awarded this and had been nominated by staff. Also achieving A’s throughout the last two years is more than I believed possible.

I have caring commitments full time for the foreseeable future, however I believe I am going to be able to make working in costume happen for me. This ls largely due to the contacts I am already making thanks to this course. I have already had the opportunity to be a dresser at a theatre and also work on costumes for a National Trust property, which is about to be in an exhibition at Eastbury Manor.

At my interview, course leader Lou Cox asked me what my aspirations were post-course. At that point it was genuinely to do the course. I couldn’t believe a person of my age could have another career let along make a success of it. I now know, thanks to this course that I have so many opportunities afforded to me and I am making plans already for post-graduation.

For more information on the Costume Construction degree, visit: Costume Construction BA (Hons) | South Essex College