It’s like the award winning film, Educating Rita – but this is for real.
A second chance at education has been a fundamentally life-changing experience for six young women from the Caia Park housing estate, in Wrexham.
For mum of three Emma Lewis, 27, and her five friends, the Pathway to Progression course organised by Coleg Harlech WEA has given them a new future, a future they never imagined would be possible.
The other successful students are Rhian Doran, Catherine Hughes, Micheala Adamson, Amy Edwards and Stacey Boyle.
They are now all heading to Glyndwr University to continue their studies this Autumn after passing the course with flying colours.
Bursting with pride, they were presented with their end of course certificates by Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, Coleg Harlech Principal Trefor Fȏn Owen and Curriculum Manager Nick Taylor.
Just like the Julie Walters character in the Oscar nominated film co-starring Michael Caine, each of the students is walking tall after tasting academic success for the first time.
Caia Park, the largest housing estate in Wales with a population of 12,000, has endured many unkind and unfair labels over the years.
But amid the deprivation there is tangible pride and a growing sense of community – not least because of the classes held at the Caia Partnership.
Like most of the others on the course, Emma had a rocky start to adulthood – and left school without any qualifications to speak of.
Her life is now totally transformed and she paid tribute to Coleg Harlech for giving her a new start.
Emma recalled: “At school I really wasn’t interested to be honest. I had a few difficulties and struggled academically and was in special needs in a few classes. I preferred going out and having fun.
“I went to college and did a year and a half hairdressing - and then I fell pregnant at 17, so my life got waylaid. As you can imagine kids come first.
“I’m ready for education now, I’m older and wiser, my children are at school.
“I was very nervous when I started the course but it was the best thing I ever did and I never looked back.
“The support you get from Coleg Harlech is just unbelievable and the Caia Park Partnership is just brilliant.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. My confidence now is just outstanding. When I first came here my head would be down and now my head is held high. I get goose-bumps thinking of it.
“My children are the best thing that ever happened to me but this is something I can do for myself and it’s something that in the long run will benefit them too.
“I’ve just been accepted into Glyndwr University to do Criminology. Afterwards, I either want to help domestic violence victims, male and female, or work in a prison in a mother and baby unit.
“I now have a bright future, and I can’t wait to start!”
Coleg Harlech WEA Curriculum Manager Nick Taylor explained the 30-week course was organised in conjunction with Glyndwr University.
The students were able to gain Open College credits in business administration, sociology, history and study skills. Everybody who completed the course successfully was guaranteed an interview at the least.
Nick said: “By and large, the students have not had a very successful school career, so this has given them an opportunity to come back and to aim high.
“It’s an intensive course and it does require considerable commitment. You don’t get to university by accident – they have to work hard.”
Coleg Harlech Tutor Sue King was “humbled” by their achievement.
She said: “It has been a privilege to teach them. They’re amazing. They’ve all sorts of reasons why it would have been difficult for them just to get to the class twice a week, but they always made it.
”I have seen a complete transformation in them and I am so proud.”
For his part, MP Ian Lucas was delighted to be asked to present the certificates.
He said: “Education has given me everything that I have and I think it’s tremendous to come here today. It’s really inspirational.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Principal Trefor Fȏn Owen who added: “This is what Coleg Harlech WEA is all about.
“We’d like to see this kind of work being developed across the whole of Wales because there are a lot of families that aren’t able to go to formalised learning, they would prefer to learn in their own communities, so this is an ideal venue and an ideal opportunity for them.”
“It leads to far more than the individual development, it also has a positive impact on the whole community.”
It has certainly had a positive impact on mum of four Rhian Doran, 30.
She said: “I was really nervous but all of the girls just gelled straight away -the work is really hard but it’s worth it and we got all of the help in the world.
“It’s given me so much confidence and I can do things I didn’t think I could do.
“I didn’t have a life before, it was just me and the kids. It’s given me friends, it’s given me the opportunity to go to university which I never thought I’d have ever done.
“This has given me a completely new future,” she added.
For more information about the courses run by Coleg Harlech WEA go to: www.harlech.ac.uk