M started school at the age of four in Jamaica. She lived in a rural area and had to walk over a mile to school. She walked alone as, unlike in Britain, it wasn’t the norm to be taken to school by the parents.

She came to Britain when she was ten and went to school in Tottenham, London. She found the language difficult as Jamaican English was very different to English from England. She enjoyed school but housing was difficult, the climate very different and she hated the fog. She had expected an experience like Dick Whittington with streets paved with gold. When she came to England she lived with her Auntie  and cousin who were already here; in Jamaica she had lived with the extended family. She lived in London for a year and then was given a choice to stay in London {with her father} or move to Bristol with her mother. She went to Bristol and has never moved since.


She liked school as it wasn’t boring and the teachers were passionate about their subjects. She started secondary school in a secondary modern school but moved, in year 9, to a grammar school. There were no extracurricular activities so she often went to an ice skating rink.

Her parents didn’t take an interest in school or visit school before she went. She left school at 15 with 2 O levels and 6 CSEs. After leaving school she didn’t know what to do so she signed up to do a comptometer course and ended up with Wills tobacco in Bedminster. She became pregnant and left her job when she was seven & a half months pregnant. She says that boys were never invited home and relationships were hidden and secret, so many girls became pregnant.

She moved out of the family home and went to live with her child’s father. She said there was no stigma about not being married but a sort of fatalism ‘oh well they all do it’.

In 1972 she did a general nurse’s training at Frenchay. She could do this with CSEs. She didn’t feel racism on the course as there were many commonwealth citizens. This was followed by a three month induction into hospitals. She then started working on the wards. She loved nursing and in 1975, she moved hospitals to Bristol maternity hospital. She wanted to do midwifery but the entry criteria for the course had suddenly changed and you had to have A levels. So she applied for a position of a general nurse in maternity, was accepted and went for the job. On the first day she went to reception to start the job but was directed to the kitchen as they thought she had to be kitchen staff. When she went to the kitchen she had to state that she was for the nursing team. She worked there for seven years

She had several children in rapid succession but after the fourth she stopped work as her child had learning difficulties and she became a full time carer. She shared this with her husband. Her intention was always to go back to nursing but she didn’t for twenty years. By this time she no longer had the qualifications needed.

She looked for other options and trained as a counsellor as she was already doing voluntary work in Barnardos. It felt liberating after being in the house for so long. People always came to her with their problems so, with the help of a mentor, she fast tracked and became a counsellor in 1993. She worked with Womankind, helping refugees and asylum seekers and counselled groups. She did voluntary work and some paid work.

She was a school governor for six years at her children’s secondary school and chair at Felix Road Adventure Playground. One day she saw an advertisement at Easton Community Centre for health trainers. She applied and got the job and had to train at UWE for three and then again for six months.

M was always aware of the importance of self-development and learning opportunities. She says that learning keeps the brain going, increases self-worth and helps the family to see there are things that can be done.

All ten of her children are interested in learning; some left learning but returned later. She says her older daughter is a good role model as she went to university and now manages Weatherspoon’s; she grasped learning and knowledge.

People that have influenced M’s learning are her head master in Jamaica as he was very humane and not a bully. Her aunt was a teacher in Jamaica and M respected her.  This aunt was not allowed to teach in England although she was a qualified teacher in Jamaica and the Jamaican education system is based on the UK system. M’s mother was the ‘help’ in a colonial house and didn’t have access or the opportunity to learn. There was a lot of prejudice at this time. This has served to make M more determined to learn.

M has now been working for 10 years as a health worker, working in the community and forming partnerships with different organisations such with the Learning Communities Team.