Success Stories

Julian Alford

In 2008 Julian’s employment as an HGV driver came to an abrupt end when he collapsed at the wheel of his lorry. After recovering from the accident this caused, he was shocked to be diagnosed as epileptic and consequently lost his livelihood.

This led to severe depression and attempted suicide as Julian lost all will to live; he walked in the middle of a stretch of the M4 in the early hours of the morning hoping to be struck and killed. Instead, a police patrol picked him up and he was admitted to Prospect Park Hospital.

After treatment there he accessed counselling at Shaw Trust in Reading, where someone suggested she should try New Directions for a basic IT course. He had never used a computer, but decided to give it a go. This was when he “got the learning bug” – he enjoyed the course and achieved Entry 3 in ICT Skills for Life in 2010.

Then Julian met Jane Darnell, New Directions’ specialist in Learner Support, who suggested he might be interested in becoming a classroom learning volunteer. He started the course and his placement was in an IT class, where he soon discovered he loved helping others to learn as well. It didn’t matter to him that it wasn’t paid - Julian’s self esteem started to return as he realised he had something to offer and he felt his life coming back together again. That year he was awarded New Directions’ Adult Learner of the Year Award in recognition of his outstanding progress and achievements.

There was no stopping Julian now! He progressed to ECDL 1 and 2, from Entry level to level 2 Numeracy, through level 1 to level 2 Literacy, a mentoring course, a “being Green” course, an IAG qualification, Eco-advantage and Equality and Diversity. In 2011 Julian was appointed to his first paid position since losing his job, as a Learner Support Worker (LSW) at New Directions, working alongside learners in IT and English courses who need additional support to help them achieve.

In 2013 Julian passed the qualification for teaching adults Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) and has since begun to teach and mentor on IT related courses, including the Jobcentre Plus course to support people into work and Business Skills at New Directions. He also continues to work as a LSW.

Julian is continuing to learn at every opportunity, recently doing a Mental Health First Aid course. He would like to develop himself further, perhaps as an assessor.

Leanne Henderson

My name is Leanne Henderson. I am a single mum, with two children now aged 10 and 14. I have long-term depression, low self-esteem and confidence issues.

When I was at school I hated my Information Technology (IT) lessons. I had no interest in the subject and did everything I could not to attend! My GCSE results were nothing to shout about as I was more interested in having a good time and going out. After school I enrolled on a Hospitality and Catering course as I saw myself in Hotel management. However, the course did not meet my expectations - I was not interested in learning how to hoover or blanch cabbage - so I dropped out after 3 months. After dropping out my mum took me into town and we did not leave until I had secured a job. I then worked at a well-known fast food restaurant for around 2 years. My colleagues and I enjoyed a lively social life.

I then decided that it was time for a change so started doing some agency work in care for a few months and then took a full time permanent position as a support worker. My job involved supporting service users with physical disabilities and learning difficulties in a residential home. I enjoyed the job and found it very rewarding. I stayed for around 5 years but took some time out to have my daughter in between. I left in 2002 to have my son.

For the next 2 years I was busy caring for my two young children. In 2004 I started to attend a toddler group at Southcote IT Experience (SITE). One day Debs Edwards, the chairwoman of SITE approached me and asked if I would join a class called ‘Keeping up with the Kids’ to help boost the numbers attending. The course was about using computers. Although dubious at first, I soon realised that I was surrounded by people who really cared. I felt like I had a found a second family. The social aspect was a real incentive for me so whilst my daughter was at school and my son was taken care of in the crèche, I decided to have some ‘grown up time’ and continued attending the course.

After the ‘Keeping up with Kids’ course I quickly progressed from one course to the next gaining 3 separate IT qualifications, at higher levels. My tutor, Bridget Parslow, was (and still is) my mentor. She motivated and supported me and my classmates through each course as well as enabling us to talk about, and work through, our life problems when they arose! This nurturing environment was what enabled me to start tackling my confidence and self-esteem issues.

Such was my curiosity for all things computing at this point, 2007; I decided to enrol with the Open University (OU) to study Information Communication Technology (ICT). At the same time I enrolled with New Directions for English and Maths qualifications.

Later that year I also started working in the Crèche at SITE once a week as I was allowed to top up my benefits by £20 per week. This helped me get used to routines and a working environment again but in a setting in which I was comfortable and felt supported. The experience also helped me realise that I did not want to pursue a career in childcare.

After completing my ‘Certificate’ in ICT I was recommended for a job working for the OU as a moderator for online forums. I did this for 3 years, which helped broaden my ICT experience and it was my first taste of supporting other learners. During the same period I gained further IT qualifications with New Directions.

By now I had developed a real passion for learning so In 2011 I decided to start volunteering for New Directions at SITE. This meant I could stay within the SITE family and do yet another course. Whilst on a supporting learners course, we were asked if any of us would like to progress onto a teacher training course. I wasn’t sure what I should do. Could I really be a teacher? On the way to the course the following week, I saw a learner on the bus that I recognised from a Case Study I had seen at New Directions - I asked her if she thought I should go for it. She thought it was a good idea and I found that we had lots in common. I was still unsure so confided in Bridget Parslow. As she agreed with the learner from the bus, I put my name down to start my teacher training the following term.

After I completed the teacher training course I was very nervous about actually working as a tutor, my first opportunity was to help cover some of Bridget Parslow’s classes whilst she was off work. I worked alongside a colleague and this really helped boost my confidence. In 2013 an opportunity to teach a new employability course at New Directions came along. This really appealed to me as I had first-hand experience of how the welfare system works and how the learners would be feeling. I am now a sessional tutor who loves her job of passing on knowledge, boosting learner confidence and helping others begin their own learning journeys.

Mark Savin

Mark first came to New Directions in 2009, when he accompanied learners to classes at Wilson Road. At this time Mark was a careworker volunteering for the Affinity Trust group, supporting adults with various learning difficulties.

What made you decide to do a course at New Directions?

Whilst supporting a client, Mark ‘caught the learning bug’ and became inspired to do the First Steps IT class.

After this brief five week course, Mark progressed on to further IT courses, as well as Maths and English.

Whilst taking the courses, Mark decided he would like to become a volunteer classroom support worker with us. He trained with us to support learners and gained a nationally recognised certificate in learner support. Mark’s placement during this course gave him the opportunity to provide support for other learners with learning difficulties, on a basic IT course.

During this busy and active learning period Mark was officially recognised for all his hard work with an end of year Adult Learner Achievement Award.

Mark continued learning and became a regular volunteer for New Directions. On completion of the learner support course, Mark was invited to apply for a Learner Support Worker paid position, which he successfully gained and is still working in. Mark has just passed the three year mark with us.

What is the biggest thing you feel you’ve achieved, whilst working at New Directions?

Mark now feels much more confident and feels that he is a valued member of staff and part of a team that is doing a great job. Mark takes a lot of encouragement from his colleagues as they tell him how important his supporting role is in the classroom, and takes pride from seeing the progression of the learners he works with.

Mark’s story is all the more remarkable, because like a number of the learners he supports, he too is a registered disabled adult.

Sarah Jackson

Sarah has been challenged by bipolar disorder. She had to stop working due to this and was signed off in 2004. In order to manage her ongoing health issues she has been successful in studying and volunteering.

Sarah thought voluntary work would build her confidence, maintain her skills and make a good use of her time. She wanted to live out her faith and support others. The benefit of this to Sarah is that she will be more attractive to future employers when she is ready to go back to work.

In 2012 she wanted to get back into work. She completed PTTLS and CELTA in 2011 and then contacted New Directions in September 2012 to request a volunteer position in an ESOL class. She started January 2013. Sarah felt it was good to be able to observe a teacher, keep her teacher training in mind and enjoyed working with the class. She has kept on top of Health & Safety and Equal Opportunity courses through volunteering as well.

Unfortunately she became unwell and had to go into hospital. This has put her plans back but she is still determined that when the time is right she will get back into employment.

Sarah felt voluntary work also provided a good structure for her day. As someone who has been unemployed for a long time she feels it has been good to have some kind of structure. She feels it is really helpful to create one when off for a long time as can become debilitating if left to drift.

Sarah received an email requesting if any volunteers wanted to do extra outside of the classroom and Sarah felt she could offer a lot to the job searchers and so applied. She now works on Fridays at ND central as well Mondays in ESOL classes. At Central she offers admin support, information for job seekers and supports them into learning. She empowers other people to be able to make improvements in their life. Sarah views it all as part of building her confidence and seeing a future. She is slightly nervous of what employers might make of her history but she is doing everything to overcome that.

In addition to volunteering at ND Sarah also volunteers on Tuesdays at CIRDIC 1 to 1 for English conversation – survival language skills, Wednesday – she covers a drop in centre at Church doing lunch for people with low incomes / friendly face / support. She offers practical help with signposting to the right organisations, and chats through problems with people. On Thursdays she visits an elderly lady as a be-friender so she can go out.

Sarah feels very grateful as she has a full and active life. Looking forward to building on this in the future and gaining employment as well as doing all this fantastic community work.

She really likes ND and feels it is a friendly and accessible organisation. She is really glad still to be here and appreciates all the support. The feedback she gets from customers is that they really appreciate the service we offer as they feel comfortable and safe.

For the future she would be interested in IAG training.

Trisha Stapleton

Trisha began her teaching career working as a library assistant in a community school in Dublin.

She joined New Directions as an IT tutor in 2009, beginning her teaching at Surestart Children’s Centre, Whitley. Her learners were mainly young mums, keen to improve their education.

Trisha then moved to the Wilson Road Centre in West Reading and continued to teach Beginners’ IT, Entry 3 and the European Computer Driving Licence, with additional teaching at Ranikhet Primary School.

During this time Trisha continued developing her formal teaching skills, completing her CTLLS (Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector).

After New Directions moved from Wilson Road, Trisha continued teaching at the Avenue Centre and Reading Central Library. Developing an interest in Information Technology Media, Trisha has been improving her photographic and image editing skills. She has delivered a basic course in digital photography for a local support charity.

Trisha has since developed her teaching skills in the areas of supported learning and community centres, teaching a range of groups of all ages and abilities, from different social and ethnic backgrounds.

Continuing to enjoy her teaching and professional development, Trisha graduated last year, having completed the final stage of her professional teaching qualifications, DTTLS (Diploma to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector). Trisha looks forward to many more years of community teaching..


My name is Nicholas and I started with New Directions as an IT student 3 years ago. I had previously gained a BTEC HND business studies with a minor on management services from Bournemouth University in 1985 and a post graduation in management studies through a CNAA DMS from University of Derby Business School in 1986.

After this I did an unsuccessful chartered institute of management accountants traineeship in the 1990s and a few clerical jobs where I learnt a lot.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s ASD which went unchecked for a long time. After much more successful treatments Reading community mental health team and the Asperger’s authorities recommended Microsoft office IT training at New Directions as my first step back into work. I had not worked a long time and although mainframes, circuit boards, and commands were ancient and familiar to me, PCs, chips, mouse and Windows were relatively new.

I started on very basic courses learning to use a PC by controlling the cursor through its peripherals i.e. mouse and keyboard, initially.

After that I did more advanced work on the OCR level 1 and was recommended for ECDL Part 1. My tutor gave me relevant books and I used these to explore as much as I could of the Microsoft office operating system. I scraped through ECDL due to my Asperger’s but was recognised as a candidate with high potential with a learning disability.

On my next course which was in course assessment but about the same level as ECDL Part 2, I was assigned a tutor who engaged me in the process of streamlining my approach and thought processes to get just what I needed to pass the course. This proved to be highly successful, and I now have enough Microsoft Office skills behind me to do accounting technician access Level 1 course from September 2014. This course could open the door into accounting technician qualification and then possible chartered or certified accountancy training programmes which tend to suit Asperger’s better due to the more predictive structured nature of double entry principle.

I would like to thank New Directions for the help they have given me and also the leading Reading Charity for whom I work as voluntary assistant treasurer. Their accountant generously provided a computer on which I could practice and he tried to instil basic double entry theory into me which could well prove to be invaluable in the accountancy profession.

These two parties have worked wonders in the last 3 years and I can now get to grips with the initial capture of accounting information, its entry into the day books and double entry system, both manually and understand better how to translate it into computerised systems.

Whatever your level, skills or aspirations New Directions can provide a course to suit you. The opportunities are there and with the right combination of success factors you can develop on them.