Open Eye: 'Without qualifications there's no work here'

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The Independent Online
Susan Coleman lives on Stornaway, the capital and only town on the isle of Lewis, with her husband, a welder, and two young children. She is about to embark on her second course, Death and Dying, on the long road to a degree.

"I found the telephone tutorials pretty hard at first, but I got used to them. There are some advantages to hiding behind a phone - people can't see the expressions on your face!

"I don't have a computer, but I haven't had any problems getting books - most of what I need is in the course materials supplied by the OU. For the set books I have to phone to Inverness and order them but the OU gives plenty of warning so it's not a problem.

"In some ways I think it's more difficult being a student than in, say, London, because you don't get to go to any meetings, it's all done over the phone or by post. I only met one other OU student, once, at our exams. On the other hand, it may be easier to study in a city where hardly anyone knows you. Here people are always ringing up or popping in.

"I've lived all my life on Stornaway, except for a few years working away. I don't feel isolated. All my family is here. Stornaway is bigger than you might think, it's a proper town. There are shops and clubs. There's no cinema though, it closed down a few years ago.

"The work here is fishing, which is poor now, the tourist industry and a fabrications yard. My husband works at the yard when it's up to speed but when it gets quiet he moves away to work. He's just gone away now, I don't know how long for. It's better that than to have no work. The only work I've done on Lewis is cleaning, but there's a big hospital and if I get some qualifications I hope to get a job in the social work department. I wouldn't want to move away. I suppose the good things here are the lack of crime - you feel your kids are safe - and there's no hustle and bustle. It's an easy way of life."

Joanne Kelly is the single parent of an eight-year-old. For the past 14 years she's lived on Harris, having moved from Liverpool. She took her first OU course Understanding Health and Social Care last year and is signed up to do Managing Roles and Relationships this year. Her goal is a Diploma in Health and Social Welfare.

"They are upgrading the local college, but at the moment the OU is my only option for university level study. Without qualifications here there is no work except casual jobs in hotels and tearooms, and they don't pay much. If I can get the Diploma I hope there'll be an opening in the local social work office.

"Harris is small - fewer than 1,000 people. I think it's easier being a student here in some ways because there are fewer distractions.

"The nearest town is Stornaway on Lewis. The village where I live, Leverburgh, has a couple of shops but that's about all - and there's a pub six miles away.

"Most of the local men earn a living from fishing. There are also tourist bed and breakfasts, home help, and caring work, and a couple of weavers, although demand for tweed isn't what it was. The tourist industry is increasing but the fishing is in decline.

"It's very beautiful and very peaceful. I'm looking out of my window and all I can see are hills and water. If I was the kind of woman who was content to sit and look out of the window all day it would be fine. But I'm not happy with the lack of work here."