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Graduate takes a difficult past and her degree to champion the vulnerable

Date 20.01.2020

A graduate who was made homeless as a teenager and now works at the Houses of Parliament cites studying for a University of Northampton degree with helping turn her life around.

Tammy Banks – originally from St. Neots, Cambridgeshire – studied Psychology and graduated in 2002, but her academic career very nearly didn’t get off the ground.

After a family breakdown Tammy left school at 14 with no qualifications and became homeless at 15, living in a hostel for the rest of her teenage years. She explains: “Being a teenager isn’t the easiest time for anyone, but my life was complicated and chaotic.

“But after being made homeless, rather ironically, things slowly started to come together. I studied Health and Social Care at college and won a Student of the Year award. My tutor encouraged me to apply for universities, which I found really surprising. I had never considered this before, I didn’t know anyone who had attended university and I didn’t have any GCSE’s so I assumed most universities wouldn’t even consider me.

“But the University of Northampton – then called University College Northampton – were more forward thinking and saw my potential. After numerous conversations and reassurances from my college tutor, I applied and the University gave me a chance.”

Tammy’s move from living in a hostel to student halls of accommodation proved to be revelatory experience: “It was really eye-opening – suddenly, I saw things that I had never experienced. Like parents openly caring about their children as they moved them in to University and other less tangible things like the feeling of hope and opportunity.

“The University was also very supportive. They ensured my personal tutor and other key people knew about my challenging background, enabling me to feel supported but not judged. I’m glad to hear that, years after graduating, they still do this.

“There were times I was overwhelmed, like managing my student loan and keeping up with my studies whilst working a part time job. Also, although I was capable of understanding and analysing the material, I had missed key elements of my education so I had to learn basic techniques like writing essays.

“But I had some fantastic lecturers who inspired and encouraged me to want more for myself and helped me realise we all have the power to make a difference. For three years, I lived a completely different life that changed my direction. University showed me what possibilities were out there.”

Since graduating Tammy has put her experience to good use, continuing to champion vulnerable people in society. She is a lay member on a House of Commons special committee tasked with upholding MPs professional standards and also runs TAYE, a safeguarding focused training company.

Imparting her own ‘can do’ advice, she adds: “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. We all have our own inner strengths and resilience, but sometimes we just need to look a little harder to find it. Sometimes, the greatest achievements are the ones you didn’t know you were capable of.

“In the past, many people told me I couldn’t achieve something and only a handful of people were telling me I could, so quite often my determination was fuelled by sheer obstinancy! University can help you achieve your dreams and go on to make a difference.”

For more about Tammy, see her TAYE profile.

Find out more about Psychology at the University of Northampton on our website.