For Kathleen Sowerby graduation is only weeks away. She studied BA (Hons) degree in Illustration for Commercial Application and was also honored with the Illustration Award for her year at the Northern Exposure Degree show in June. Kat joined us as a mature student on the Access to HE course after battling with agoraphobia and looking for a way to get back on her feet, practice an almost forgotten passion in the form of illustration and gain her confidence back. We caught up with Kat for the Festival of Learning (previously Adult Learners Week) to chat about her experience here at CCAD and her advice to anyone looking to get back into education.

 Hi Kat! Congratulations on the award! We’d love to hear some of your advice for anyone out there looking to gain some more qualifications or get back into education.

I think the best advice would be to just do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t um and ah about it. Just do it. Sign up, enroll and get yourself to that first class and meet everyone. A lot of the time what stops us from following through with any major life-changing decision, is the uncertainty, the what-ifs and the why-fors. Or you have an idea in your mind about how it will be and this idea is almost always wrong. We either believe it will be the best thing ever, and are disappointed with the reality, OR we imagine a hell on Earth meant to make us struggle and suffer, while the reality of it is just nice.

It’s in our nature to over-think and get stuck in our own destructive preconceptions. So just, go and give it a chance.

Can you tell us how the Access to HE course at our Middlesbrough campus helped you to further your illustrative career?

It was essentially the doorway to that career and until I had completed and passed the course, it was closed. I very much doubt I would be where I am now (On to study my Masters Degree in September) without that Access to Higher Education pathway.

And how did you find out about our access course?

Through the Careers Advice via the Jobcentre. I had been out of work for two years by this point. I lost my job due to ill-health and then struggled to find work in a country reeling from a recession and struggling further under Austerity. In newspapers and websites there seemed to be work and jobs aplenty, but I rarely heard back from any that I applied for. It was incredibly demoralising.

Are you glad you came to study with us at Cleveland College of Art and Design?

YES! 100-times YES! Like I said, unemployed, struggling to find work, it is enough to make you doubt everything about yourself. For two and a half days a week, I had something else to focus on and unlike the endless and unrewarding job search, I was actually accomplishing something. I was exercising a muscle that hadn’t been moving much in the last fifteen years. It was really tiring (I had to be up fairly early to get the bus from Hartlepool to Green Lane) those bus rides are brutal (not much leg room), especially in the winter. But I would do it all again if I could.

What are your plans for after graduating?

I have secured a place at Teesside University, to do a Masters in Concept Art for Games and Animation.

 That’s fantastic! Did you have any apprehension before starting the Access to HE course at all?

Yes. Quite a bit. I had a rough couple of years even before I found myself unemployed. I lost my Mum to Breast Cancer and less than a year later, myself and my partner of five years, split. About a year after losing my Mum, a family feud erupted. I won’t go into the details, but it was bad and it put me in an awful place. After a few years of struggling, August 2013, we moved and I was able to put some distance between myself and that toxic situation. It was then I started to seriously consider the access course and I was filled with this determination and enthusiasm that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Once I signed up and was committed to going however, I started to feel very anxious and that was only amplified by my first day getting the bus from Church Square to Green Lane. So many young people, many of whom knew each other or were friends. Every time I heard laughter I would worry it was aimed at me. But I had a cheap MP3 player from my dad, filled with music put on there by my friend and I would sit and listen to that. It kept me distracted enough from what was going on in the bus, and so I managed my anxiety that way.

The classroom was different though, cos I couldn’t have my music on then, but I would get there early enough to be able to grab the seat closest to the door. It seems really really silly, but I didn’t feel comfortable anywhere else! At least in the first few weeks. After that, I didn’t even notice that worry, eventually all that mattered were the briefs and what the tutors were teaching. It was such a wonderful feeling to NOT feel scared again. It still is a wonderful feeling and I don’t think that, unless you have been in a really bad place, mentally like that, you just can’t appreciate what that means.

It sounds like you started to settle in well!

I was hungry for something to do with my time, so I dived into the work head-first and I settled into the routine of it easily enough. Once I got over my initial shyness and anxiety I really enjoyed the company of the other students and made some good friends who I am still in touch with. But Amanda and Sara (our tutors) made me and everyone so welcome. They got me through that, they helped me open that door to university.

 Thank you so much to Kat for the interview, if you’d like any more information on our Access to HE course please visit our course page or contact our Middlesbrough Campus 01642 288000 and have a chat with our Recruitment Team