110 Stories with Fircroft College

Una is that rare combination of feisty yet vulnerable. Understanding, patient yet quick-witted. Calm yet hilarious. Her personality is utterly infectious, and you naturally gravitate to her warmth, charm and easy manner. 

Una, in her post-Fircroft life, is now studying Counselling and Psychology with dreams of being a Drug and Alcohol Counsellor, something we are certain she will go on to achieve and be wildly successful in doing so. She’s a beacon of positivity, and has taken her own personal tragedy and turned it into something so overwhelmingly positive, you can’t help but feel upbeat after spending time with her.

Una has been a huge support to other students here; providing support, guidance and a shoulder on which to cry. Alongside her studies here, she works for CGL and also completed a Diploma with them as well as being a Student Champion at Fircroft! Not one to be daunted by such a busy schedule, Una takes life in her stride, very much looking forward and never back.

Her story is one of hope and positivity which we’re sure that you will love.

I came to Fircroft in January 2018, and since then my life has changed for the better in every single way. After that initial step into the building, notwithstanding the challenge of coming through the door, I am so grateful for the support and the dedicated staff. It’s the atmosphere of the college that gets you; it’s a truly special place. I like to say it’s a little bit of a magic; my retreat. It’s mine. It becomes yours. You are part of it. 

Of course, it goes without saying that this beautiful landscape, the building and its history is part of the beauty of Fircroft. But behind the beauty of the college, which of course you are struck by, the magic comes from a different place; the place where you build confidence, self-awareness and the ability to believe in yourself again. All of us who study together, share our stories, much like now, and for a very short time that you’re on a course, you share your lives with like-minded people. There is the extra bonus of the fabulous kitchen crew, who I joke to most people and say that the only reason I come here is for the food! 

I suppose my story starts back from my childhood. I didn’t have a formal education as I was caring for my alcoholic mother, and raised my brother as a result. I had a great deal of responsibility and become a very passive person. As such, I allowed people to walk all over me. Coupled with this, there was a great deal of personal tragedy in my life; I lost four people in my life due to alcohol. For that reason, I didn’t drink. However, in my late twenties I seemed to ‘make up for lost time’. At first, drinking was fun. I had a great time. But, as is the way with alcohol, it rapidly stops being fun and life started to go downhill. I wasn’t confident when I was sober. I was introverted and housebound. I suppose that’s the reason why it’s called self-medicating. I was in denial, however, like many people who are in the throes of addiction.

After some long years, I went to my GP. They listened and understood. We talked about my emotional well-being, which was frankly, crushed. With that, I was sent on a detox programme.

Then, my life changed forever. 

Through my detox, I went to Change, Grow, Live (CGL). CGL gave me the tools to build my shattered life, and through them it was recommended that I come to Fircroft. I came for an Open Day, and I was so nervous I couldn’t hold a mug. I was in the early stages of detox and I was sweating profusely. Everything was frightening, loud and busy. I wanted to walk out of the door. I felt like I couldn’t do it. It felt unreal. How could I fit in here?

Some say that i have replaced one addiction with another; but learning is so positive. I want to live to learn. I listen to TED talks constantly. I’m always looking at how I can expand my knowledge, and learn something new. Some people have lived broken lives, and it’s awful. But, you need to find your place in the world and make the change. After all, it won’t come to you. You need to find it yourself. 

This beautiful woman, who is everything to me, called Gaynor, swept me down the hall without my realising and took me to the library. She looked me straight in the eye and told me ‘you can do this’. My first interaction and real connection with the college was Gaynor. I love her to bits. I got her a cheesy card to say thank you once  I had finished my course. She has changed so many people's lives. She’s full of confidence, she’s funny. She’s got a real way with people. I want to be like her. 

So, I filled out the application form. I could hardly write, I said ‘I’ve cocked this up’ and she said ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re here’. 

With that, I went on my first course, Gateway to Learning; it was life changing. I met a fantastic teacher called Carol. She made everything so much fun, and it felt like we could truly belong. I told her I couldn’t spell, and she said it didn’t matter. In every stage we were encouraged and supported.

With this support from both Fircroft and CGL I started to grow. 

Of course, with this growth I started to get to know the real me. It was a truly frightening experience. This journey has been a rollercoaster of excitement, coupled with learning and progression but more importantly being with people who are positive rather than negative. That in itself was a huge change. I had grown accustomed to negativity. Now? I see the positive in everything. There is so much more positive in the world. As humans, we emphasise the negative. It’s what we do best. But, I’ve learned to rewire my brain. There may be a monkey on your back telling you that you cannot do this, but that’s simply not true. You need to work, everyday, like I do to make sure that you are in the best possible place. It’s all about making your brain work for you, and while it’s complicated and a long journey, it can be done. 

As you have read from my story, life throws things at you. I am prepared for anything now. My family and I are still going through unbelievable grief with the loss of my sister in law. While this is heartbreaking I have to remember that the story doesn’t end with me and our losses. I have wanted to drink the bar dry when we lost her, yet I controlled the voice. 

I suppose this brings me to my work and where I want to be next. I am studying for a Counselling and Psychology Degree. It’s completely the opposite to my work as a mentor; now I have to listen rather than give advice! My aspirations from completing my degree are to be an Alcohol and Drugs Counsellor. The follow on aftercare from a detox is practically non-existent. It’s down to the individual to find their own path, and often that can come from AA. There simply isn’t the funding or resources. Once people have got over their illness, they have to make their own way. Part of what I want to do is help people discover Fircroft, as I know it will help them with their recovery.

I’ve even started getting people to come on courses. My aim is to support people, and vulnerable women in particular. I know that once they come through the door, they will have the courage to go through the journey. Watching people blossom is truly amazing. What more can I say than that I will support this place while I have breath in my body. 

There needs to be more places like Fircroft. You need to have a peace of mind that you cannot get anywhere else. The experience is one of friendliness and support; there is no need for isolation. Respect is a huge part of the culture here at Fircroft. When you come here, it’s time to unravel what’s in your mind and where you are personally. Everyone should know that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. No one is stupid, no should ever feel stupid. You simply haven’t been given the tools to bring your intelligence out of you. If you give it a chance, Fircroft will give you that. 

To end on a high and as part of my ethos of looking forward, I want to finish my story with this…

I have been accepted into University! When the Admissions officer was talking to me, he said due to my qualifications from Fircroft, my Peer Mentor Diploma and my voluntary work, I was already a year ahead! When the letter came through the door, I was so excited and nervous. To find out I was accepted, well, I was shaking. I called Fircroft and spoke to Trish and explained I wouldn’t be in as I couldn’t think! Trish was beside herself, and said she had goosebumps. As much I wanted it, Trish and the tutors wanted me to get it too. You don’t get that kind of support anywhere else. 

Want to study with Fircroft but not sure where to start? Attend one of our Open Days. After all, we offer learning that changes lives. 

If you want to chat through your options, call our Admissions team on 0121 472 0116 or contact us here for more information. 

If you want to join in with the Heritage project, we’d love to hear from you! Share your story via the 110 Years link