Vivienne McComb
Access to Arts, Social Sciences and Primary Teaching
After a career of 22 years, I was at a loss what to do with my life after losing my job in 2011.  I was a single parent and it felt as though my whole world had come tumbling down and I didn’t know where to turn.  All my experience, and all the courses I completed, were in this one area and, at the tail end of the recession, there were no jobs!  How were we going to survive?   It was a time of personal reflection and taking a look at the direction I wanted my life to take – not just for me but also for my three children.  I found that no matter what I was involved in, I always took time to help people and really wanted to make a difference to people’s lives and the Access to Humanities course offered a route into Social Work, which seemed to be a natural course.

Starting the SWAP course was scary: returning to an actual classroom after 23 years and thinking that I would really be out of place as a ‘mature’ single parent but it turned out that there was a real mix of students with different backgrounds.  The course was tough and tiring as we were in 9-5, five days a week… but it was meant to be tough so that it would be fully prepare me for moving onto University.  The staff were supportive, but most of all the students pulled together to support each other through the course and even now, many of us still keep in contact with each other – yes those that I was scared of at the beginning!  I do have to say that there was one thing that felt really strange about the timing of the course in my life and that was sitting the Intermediate 2 Maths exam on the same date as my oldest son!  I completed the course with an AAA profile, Communications and Literature 1, three Highers and an A in my Maths - I won’t mention my son’s grade! K  

I had mixed feelings moving onto University of Edinburgh.  I wasn’t accepted onto a Social Work course and started the BA (Hons) Community Education in September 2013.  I didn’t give up on my Social Work dream and had been looking into alternative ways to progress on to this, one of which was taking compulsory policy modules.  It was these modules that led to me finding my true passion, and I transferred to MA (Hons) Social Policy with Social & Political Studies for the start of my second year at University. It’s funny the turns that life takes and definitely a case of ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’!    Making that decision to go on the SWAP programme has changed my life and my outlook in so many ways!  I graduated with a 2:1 in 2017 and then continued straight onto a Masters in Public Administration at Queen Margaret University.  Throughout my time in education, I have been able to progress matters for parents and carers studying at UoE as a representative for these groups.  I spoke at the Gearing-Up Conference on behalf of student parents which ‘opened the eyes’ of staff as to the lived experience, highlighting the excitement and fears which we face – not just for us but for our families.  From my own personal experiences and my dissertation research, I was able to work with SWAP and The Robertson Trust on a pilot Scholarship for lone parent students.  The funding for lone parent students will help others in my position complete their degree, but more than the money is the development programme that goes along with this: mentoring, personal development and a paid internship.  This has got to be one of the proudest things I have contributed to in my life!  

As for the future, I have been offered a position on the Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Scheme but after that I am not sure what path life will take me.  I do know that making a real difference to others where it matters is what I want to do. No matter how difficult things have been, or how difficult they will become, I wouldn’t change that initial decision to apply for the SWAP course.  Without it, I would never have been able to achieve what I have achieved, nor would I have realised what really makes me happy.  My children also have a mum to be proud of, and a good role-model.  So if it’s something that you are thinking about – I’d say go for it!  It’s not easy, but as they say anything worth doing isn’t.  
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