The £2 billion fund, announced last July, was set up to create job roles for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. In total, six Kickstart employees have been offered six-month placements in a variety of roles across the University.
Staffordshire University graduate Ashleigh Shone has started as a School Event Liaison and Outreach Officer and hopes her own journey into higher education will inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
As a teenager Ashleigh was taken out of mainstream education and through choice went into care to get a better understanding and diagnoses of her mental health disorder. During this period Ashleigh lived in several foster and residential homes including the YMCA.
The 24-year-old from Dresden said: “My home life and mental health was very quickly deteriorating; I wasn’t worrying about my education, I was worrying about where I would be sleeping the following night or what I would do at 2.30pm when school closes. I wouldn’t unpack my bags wherever I was because I knew it wouldn’t be permanent.”
When she became pregnant at 17, Ashleigh spent the first four months of her daughter’s life living with the Gingerbread Centre charity before finding a home of her own. After gaining qualifications in Maths and English at college she completed Staffordshire University’s Step Up to Higher Education course which enabled her to enrol on to the BA (Hons) Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice Practice degree.
During her studies, Ashleigh volunteered at her old school, supporting pupils who struggle with social, emotional, behavioural, and mental health issues.
“As a young single parent, I knew I was at a disadvantage but that motivated me more to become the best version of myself for my daughter. My experience and journey at uni opened my eyes to a whole new world of aspiration and inspiration.
“As someone who struggled in mainstream education, who left with very few qualifications and left as a care leaver I feel really honoured to be given this chance. I feel I will really expand my skills, experience and knowledge to be able to help others.”
24-year-old Thomas Wragg, from Chesterton, has also started a placement as a Peer Mentoring and Wellbeing Officer after graduating with a History degree from Keele University last summer.
Thomas said: “Graduating in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t easy. There weren’t many jobs related to my degree and there was generally more competition for roles because of people being made redundant.
“When I heard about this role with Staffordshire University through the Job Centre, I knew I wanted it and went home and applied straight away.”
Thomas’s varied role will involve mentoring current students plus helping with events, social media and reporting. He hopes the placement will provide a stepping-stone to a career in education and plans to stay at Staffs to complete his teacher training.
He added: “Getting work experience is more important than ever and there are not many opportunities to get paid at the same time. This is a perfect role for me – there are not many better places to work!”