Go Higher: 'I was petrified when I started'

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The Independent Online
MANDY NEWMAN, 39, did a five year part-time degree course in Fine Art at the Hertfordshire College of Art and Design, in St Albans, now Hertfordshire University. She juggled the course with bringing up her three children who were then aged two, five and 11.

"I was 18 when I left school and went to art college to do a foundation course, but at the time I had quite serious family problems and a young child, so never progressed to university.

"I worked until I got married but then gave it up to have children. It was only after my third was born that I decided it was very important for me to do something for myself.

"I was desperate for a challenge and always regretted not going on to do something after art college. Eventually I decided on a part-time art course because I had a burning desire to continue with my art work, the college was close by, and being part-time I thought it would be easier to juggle my family with my work.

"I was petrified when I started. It was completely bewildering and the prospect of academic work was daunting. They certainly stretch you. They take you, shake you up and turn your preconceptions inside out, but it is immensely rewarding.

"It was also immensely hectic as I had to balance my work with the needs of my children. Lectures were on two days a week, but we were also expected to do at least 18 hours of private study and visit galleries.

"Looking back I don't know how I managed it. I was juggling babysitters, childminders and creches all the time and was constantly running back and forth between lectures and schools.

"Often it meant me doing my painting on the floor with my children painting on the walls, but if that was the only way to manage something, it had to do. It was the most wonderful time I ever had. I loved learning. It gave my life definition and made me feel I was being taken seriously for the first time.

"It changed me dramatically. I found my confidence and self respect, grew up emotionally and intellectually, and got a new lease on life. I also became really good friends with my fellow students who I still see from time to time.

"I've not stopped working since my degree. I've done a bit of teaching, organised exhibitions of my work and I'm currently doing a course on professional floristry which will not only develop my work, but add to my skills."

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