From education to employment

Health worker forced to give up school at 12 looks to fulfil dream of becoming a nurse

An inspirational healthcare worker who left school aged 12 with no formal qualifications looks set to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming a nurse.

Audrey Lakeman, 54, who works at North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, says her life was transformed after studying at The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) and is now applying to study for a nursing degree.

The third of 10 children from an impoverished family living in a shanty town in Jamaica, she was forced to give up school to help with household chores and work at a local market to pay for food.

“My parents couldn’t afford the uniform, shoes or books. My teachers felt sorry for me in primary school because they could see I wanted to learn. I was in dark hole with no light, but I did have a dream that I wanted to be a nurse,” she said.

She joined the Jamaican Red Cross at the age of 10 and helped with charity work, including playing with children in a local hospital.

Audrey fell pregnant as a teenager but tragically lost her first son in a gangland killing in 2001 when he was 24, the same fate the father had suffered when her son was just 18 months old. A baby daughter from another relationship also sadly died aged only two weeks.

She met her husband William, 50, the son of a pastor, and they were married in 1991 and had the first two of their three children. Her husband emigrated to England in 1996 and she followed with the children in 2003 and they had their third child the same year.

They both struggled to find work and Audrey’s health suffered and she later underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumour. Unable to look after their family properly at this time, the couple volunteered to place her children foster care. The couple were later reunited with their children, at which time a judge recommended Audrey go to college.

Audrey later enrolled at CONEL and successfully completed Entry Level 1 to Entry Level 3 and Level 1 and 2 Functional Skills courses in English, Numeracy and Computing in the years that followed.

She said: “My life began to change. I was seeing results – my children behaved better and I was able to help them with their homework. I felt more worthy and a good mum, and felt a lot happier in myself.”

Audrey later achieved a grade B in GCSE English in 2015, which along with her Level 2 Functional Skills in Maths gave her the springboard to study for a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care.

While studying for the diploma she became one of 19 students from CONEL to land job as a Healthcare Support Worker after a visit by staff from the hospital in Edmonton.

“I was so nervous,” said Audrey, on her job interview. “My self-esteem was low and I did not think I was the right person and did not see myself getting the job. They then asked me back into the room and congratulated me. I cried and cried. It was a dream come true.”

Audrey Lakeman

Audrey is based in the Acute Stroke Unit but has also worked in the T4 Surgical Ward, Maternity Unit, children’s Rainbow Ward and A&E, and has been told by doctors her patient observation has potentially saved lives.

“CONEL changed my life tremendously. When I look back on my life it’s like looking at someone I used to know. My family and friends say how much I’ve changed,” said Audrey.

“Everything I went through has made me want to be a more caring person. My journey has been hard, but if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Audrey hopes to study her degree at Middlesex University or the University of Hertfordshire.

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