Mature Students: Janis Stacey had designs on a better career

AFTER HER A-levels, Janis Stacey left school and walked into a job as fashion designer. About a year later, having married, Janis left to raise a family, deciding to return to her career as her children were approaching their teens.

She soon realised that the economic climate had changed and her short time in the trade before leaving was deemed insufficient to be trusted with an immediate return to a design job. Janis could not get the positions she wanted and as she had recently separated from her husband it was important financially and personally to regain her career.

Janis decided that she would need further qualifications and in 1990, when she was 35, she enrolled at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston to do a three year BA honours in fashion design.

"At first I was intimidated and found relaxing with my tutors difficult, but I quickly calmed down and settled in well. To be honest, after my initial nervousness, I found the workload fairly easy. After working and bringing up two kids it didn't seem too bad at all, plus I had done most of the type of work I was doing before - all the designing and pattern cutting that is - so I took to it well. I enjoyed doing essays because I had always enjoyed writing. Overall I wasn't worried about going back into education because I saw it as a means to an end."

One thing that the mature student faces when returning to higher education is the exposure to a different environment to that in which they may have spent a great deal of their adult lives.

"One thing that university certainly did do for me that I had not been expecting was make me realise that equality between the sexes does exist. Before going to college I had always been made to feel like a female rather than a person this didn't happen when I went to Preston and it was something that I really enjoyed. I felt that my personality developed a bit and I became more confident, more down to earth. Friends say I became a lot more stroppy."

One test to be faced by many that return to college is how they will cope having a young family and how this will affect their children, their work and their relationship with fellow students. Janis drove to and from the campus from her home and returned in the evening, doing much of her practical work at home .

"The studio was really cramped so it was probably beneficial for me to come home. I was able to get more work done more quickly. I did make friends and I am still in touch with some of them - occasionally I think I was guilty of mothering some of the other students.

"My kids loved it when I was studying. I think that they thought it was quite cool having a fashion designer student for a mum, anyway they got free clothes and naturally were always my models. They got to go to Paris to model for me and it also gave them a taste for student life which I was glad about because they've both gone to university themselves now.

"As for money, they never missed out. I had only been working in a poorly paid job before I went so I did not really notice the drop in income. Because I had two dependent children the grant was OK too. My dad gave us a hand with the rent which probably made life a lot easier."

Janis graduated with a 2.1 and her final collection was featured on the Clothes Show as part of Graduate Fashion Week. She is presently designing for Top Shop but has since returned to the same university to do a postgraduate certificate in education. She would ultimately like to return to the university where she studied to teach the fashion design course.