At the start of her Open University (OU) journey, Lea was homeless and suffering with her mental health. She’s now completed a Social Sciences undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Psychology with the OU, is living independently and has started a business to help others in the community to feel less alone.
Lea shares how she transformed her life with the support of the OU family:
“The year I started my degree I was made homeless. Studying was what kept me on track as I didn’t have anything else, I didn’t have a home and my wellbeing wasn’t great, so doing my degree was what kept me focused. I’ve always known I like working with people and helping people, so studying Social Sciences made sense. A lot of my reason for studying was to give me hope.
My childhood wasn’t great, there was a lot of abuse and turmoil. I then suffered eating disorders and didn’t complete my A Levels properly. I couldn’t go to a brick university because of that and because I couldn’t really leave the house as my agoraphobia was so bad. As I kept seeing the OU being advertised, I signed up and started studying when I was made homeless.
The support to study while homeless
As I didn’t have access to any resources at home, I was going to a local library to study. At first, I was quite reluctant to talk about my situation, but I got to the point where I thought, ‘if I don’t say something, I’m going to fail’. Luckily, every single person I’ve spoken to has helped me along this journey.
My tutors were incredible, always checking in and ensuring I had the resources I needed. Back then, the OU sent out course materials with DVDs and I didn’t have a DVD player, so my tutor was really helpful in finding ways for me to access the materials. Another tutor suggested I apply for disability support, as my mental health made it hard for me to retain information. The OU gave me a laptop, software and a Dictaphone so I could record my tutorials.
Breaking down barriers to success
The biggest challenge was doing an exam. I don’t retain information very well and I failed it and had to re-take it, which was really daunting. But I don’t think anything is as scary as you think it is. I’ve always had a fantastic support network with the OU. I can’t really say anything was too overwhelming; it feels like it at the time because it means so much, but there was always someone to talk to even when I felt so alone.
I enjoyed it so much that I’ve just done my Master’s degree in Psychology! I never thought I’d be someone who could do a Master’s or a degree or anything. It shocked me that I was able to.
The OU literally changed the way my life is. There were other people who played their part, my support workers for example, but the OU community of tutors and the support team really helped me. I wouldn’t have been able to see my own potential without the backing of the OU. Now I’m in a place where I feel pretty okay.
‘I want to show people they’re not alone’
I’ve been in independent housing for six years now. I am working with a charity doing sexual health and wellbeing education and have also started my own business last year. I go out in the community and support the wellbeing of young people, especially around mental health and making sure people don’t feel alone.
We started last year and we’re doing a period poverty scheme, where we send out care packages with essential items for the community in need. I’m trying to show that people aren’t alone as I know what that feels like.
If someone is thinking of studying with the OU, I would say ‘go for it’! What’s the worst that can happen? You might do a qualification you don’t like, but you might find a course that will change your life forever and there’s nothing wrong with that. Give it a try because you might be pleasantly surprised about what you can do.”