How a return to education sparked a career-change and the founding of a charity

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UWS graduate Carol Burt-Wilson, MBE, is founder and Project Manager of I Am Me Scotland, a community led charity, based in Renfrewshire, but with a national reach.

Carol, who completed the BA Human Resource Management degree at UWS Paisley Campus part-time, tells us how her studies at College and University prepared her for building an award-winning charity tackling hate crime and led to her being awarded an MBE.

I Am Me Scotland aims to tackle disability hate crime by changing attitudes and behaviours so that disabled and vulnerable people can feel safe in their communities.

They have two main initiatives, I Am Me and Keep Safe.  I Am Me is a suite of educational resources aimed at changing attitudes and behaviours.  This includes the #MakeaDifference programme, which is a progressive educational programme for primary 1 to primary 7 and supports the curriculum for excellence; and Keep Safe, which is a partnership initiative with Police Scotland and communities to create a network of safe places for people to go if they feel lost, scared or vulnerable when out in the community.  Free Keep Safe cards are available to people who may need support in the community and a Keep Safe Scotland App helps people to plan journeys in advance.

Leaving school at 15, Carol was keen to get started in working life and didn’t think further or higher education was for her. Carol explains:

I was never academic and spent my school years not really fitting in.  I preferred PE to English and always had difficulty with spelling and reading.

I left at 15 and was lucky to secure a job working in the local haulage company W H Malcolm’s when I turned 16.

I started as the office junior and loved my work, so much so that I used to run to work every day.

Actually, I still run everywhere, just not as fast!

I worked there for 4 years, worked hard and succeeded in securing the role of Payroll Officer.  It was a really busy job and I loved every minute of it.  I didn’t want to leave, but was offered a job with much more money and was dazzled by the bright lights of the city, a job with other young people and a long awaited social life.

I began city life working in a call centre and absolutely hated it!! I was bored, there was no variety, I had no control over my own work, no opportunity to be creative, to develop things, to be physically active and I couldn’t run to work! 

I managed to secure a new post in HR and really enjoyed the work. I saved up for a deposit to buy my own house (age 21) and moved to more “secure” employment working in an admin role for Renfrewshire Council.  Again, I really enjoyed my work, but it wasn’t challenging and I needed to be busy, so I found myself at the local college in a quest to learn interior design or something equally creative that would keep me active.  There were no design courses and I still to do this day have no idea how it happened, but I ended up signing up to do a HNC in management, part time in the evenings for two years!  I was ever so slightly terrified as I was someone who had left school at 15 and had never been interested, or more to the point, any good at academic work.

However, never one to shy from a challenge, I went and to my surprise I really enjoyed it.  I had two fantastic lecturers who helped and supported me, but most importantly praised my work and helped build my confidence. I passed and I received merits!!  I even got to graduate and wear a gown!

After college, I met my husband and had a baby. I really enjoyed maternity leave and returned to work part time.  We were incredibly lucky as parents as our daughter slept from 7pm to 7am every night from a very early age.  This gave me too much time in the evening and after painting the house, and anything else that would move, I decided I needed to do something more productive with my evenings. 

I went along to UWS and enrolled in a BA in Human Resource Management (CIPD).  Having the HNC enabled me to start in year two. Still unsure if I was academically able, I was nervous, though it was an evening course over 4 years and would still enable me to work part time.

I realised that I wasn’t naturally academic and would never be naturally smart or be the best writer or most accomplished speaker (I tend to make up words), but I knew that if I worked hard, I could achieve something.

Carol Burt-Wilson, MBE

I was very nervous when I started and wasn’t sure if I would manage the work, or understand what I was to do. The first few weeks were hard as I adjusted to the building and new routine.  I kept getting lost!  However, I was lucky and was working alongside a fantastic group of students who, like me, were all mature students and wanted to be there to learn something new.  I got a B1 for my first ever essay and being slightly competitive, that set the bar for me.  I realised that I wasn’t naturally academic and would never be naturally smart or be the best writer or most accomplished speaker (I tend to make up words), but I knew that if I worked hard, I could achieve something.

I decided to work through the summer break and completed my degree in just under three years.

Although I no longer wanted a career in HR, the subjects covered a range of diverse areas, including, Strategy, Marketing, Scots Law, Employment Law and Personnel Development. It was a fantastic range of skills that could be used in a variety of sectors, but within this I also learned how to build effective presentations, design and deliver training, identifying gaps and tailor the approach to the needs of the audience. I learned how to research and write reports and the importance of evaluation.

These are all skills I use in my current role as project manager within the Charity.

So how did the Charity start? It all began in 2012 after watching a TV programme about Disability Hate Crime.

I am me Scotland logo

I had never heard of disability hate crime before and the Story of Gemma and her death was heart-breaking. After watching the documentary, I started to do some research and the findings were awful. I wanted to volunteer to help raise awareness, but could not find any group that was challenging this.

The research had indicated that most people did not report incidents to the Police as they were worried they would not be believed or did not think that what had happened was serious enough.  Some also worried that things may get worse if they told anyone.  Many of the offenders were young people and incidents were often classed as low level anti social behaviour.

I contacted our local Police division and asked if they would work in partnership to develop a project for young people to raise awareness of hate crime.  I then met with the Leader of the Renfrewshire Council to ask for support and with the help of Engage Renfrewshire, we set up a small community group to lead the work.  This was in 2012, in 2015 we received charity status and I was offered the opportunity to work for the Charity full time. 9 years from the very beginning, we have a robust partnership with Police Scotland, continued and valued support from Renfrewshire Council, a community group that has developed into a management committee, Charity status and a board of trustees.

The educational programme reaches around 10,000 children each year and Keep Safe has over 850 partners across Scotland, with a further 1000 Keep Safe Ambassadors.  We have recently developed a brand new online educational platform and have worked with children to design and develop an anti bullying app for Renfrewshire.  Not bad for a wee team of 4.

We have a range of multi award winning initiatives and the Charity received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2018.

I received an MBE in 2019 in recognition of the work.  I still may not be the most confident, but I now know that I can work hard and I know that I can do this. 

If you would like to know more about I Am Me Scotland visit their website at https://iammescotland.co.uk

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