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A Belfast mother of two who completed an Access to University Diploma at Northern Regional College will embark on the next stage of her educational journey in September when she begins an Adult Nursing undergraduate degree at Queen’s University.

Kellie-Ann Winchester (31) from South Belfast was the recipient of the third annual Barbara MacAuley Personal Achievement Award. The award is presented annually to an Access student in memory of Barbara Macauley, a former member of the College’s Access and Essential Skills team at Newtownabbey who passed away in 2021.

Congratulating Kellie-Ann on winning the award, Barbara’s brother Tom said she was an ideal recipient as someone who returned to education as a mature student and is progressing to university to train as a nurse.

“I hope Kellie-Ann’s success will inspire others.”

He continued: “Barbara was passionate about the benefits of lifelong learning and how it could help people achieve their full potential. This award is a fitting way of remembering Barbara’s selfless nature and commitment to her students, as well as recognising the importance of the Access and Essential Skills programme.

“So many people of all ages benefit from further education and the sector doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves for the life-changing opportunities it offers.”

Welcoming Barbara’s family to the College, Gemma McGranaghan, Curriculum Area Manager for Access, Health and Social Care, said she was delighted they were maintaining the strong link that Barbara had with the College:

She said: “The Barbara Macauley Personal Achievement Award is a wonderful way to honour a much-loved friend and colleague.

“This is a fitting way of ensuring that Barbara’s selfless nature and commitment to her students will be remembered. Kellie-Anne is such a deserving winner and I’m delighted that her dedication and hard work has paid dividends and she is going to study nursing at university this autumn.”

Kellie-Ann, who left school at 16 with just basic GCSEs, admitted that when she was a teenager, she was not at all interested in learning but always felt she would ‘get back into it’ when she was older. 

“My children Kobi and Lola, who are now 8 and 9 years old are ‘Irish twins’, born just 10 months apart. When they were still quite young, I decided it was time for me to get back to the books. 

“My first step was to get Maths and English qualifications, so in 2016, I enrolled at the Northern Regional College’s Newtownabbey campus to do Essential Skills classes as a part-time student and followed this up in 2021 by doing Essential Skills ICT.”

Kellie-Ann said that getting her Essential Skills qualifications not only boosted her confidence but gave her a thirst to learn more and the Access Diploma seemed a natural progression. 

She continued: “I realised that the Access Diploma could be my pathway to university, so I applied to do the Diploma in 2002.”

Around this time, Kellie-Ann was helping to nurse her terminally ill mother at home, and this was her first direct interaction with healthcare workers. The experience was to encourage her to consider nursing as a career.

“I had many conversations with the nurses who were caring for my mother, and I was always impressed by their care, dedication, and professionalism. Until then, I had never considered becoming a nurse, but they were such good role models, you could say I was inspired by their example.”

With her appetite for learning whetted, while she was doing the Access Diploma, Kellie-Ann also completed two other courses at the College, Level 2 End of Life Care and Level 3 Health and Social Care Communication.

Kellie-Ann was elected class rep and her work on behalf of her peers was recognised at the recent Student Achievement Awards when she was the winner of the Kindness in College award, nominated by the other students.

When it came to applying university though, Kellie-Anne admitted that she was embarrassed filling out her UCAS form.

“I had to put down ‘G’ for one of my GCSE subjects but when it was pointed out to me by one of the lecturers, that I should actually look on this as a positive as it showed just how far I had progressed, I persevered, and I am so glad I did!”

Kellie-Ann is the first person in her immediate family to go to university.

“I was over the moon to be accepted to study Nursing at Queen’s. I feel that studying at Northern Regional College has really prepared me and I am really looking forward to starting in September.”

Encouraging anyone in a similar situation who left school without qualifications to go back and get qualifications to help with their self-confidence and career progression, she said:

“To be honest, I was absolutely terrified at first of going back as an adult learner, but I have a great family support network and once I settled in, I never looked back.”

Kellie-Anne added: “I really saw the better side of education at Northern Regional College and although I am excited about moving onto the next chapter, I know I will miss the College.”