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If I can do it, so can you – Alan Gore’s inspirational story

I love hearing other people’s stories of triumph against adversity, particularly involving education and technology changing people’s lives. I got a DSc from University of Kent at Canterbury Cathedral last year and was honoured to be invited to present the computer science department awards to students before the cathedral ceremony.  Alan Gore won two of the prizes and his lovely mum Jan contacted me after hearing my speech about how education and technology had helped me to bring my family out of poverty. When I heard Alan’s story I asked Jan if Alan would write a blogpost that I could share about his education and life journey. Here it is below. What an amazing, inpsiring man with such a supportive mum. Enjoy. 

***

I’m writing this on a plane to Svalbard in the Arctic Circle where I will be taking a break with my partner, a research physicist studying the Northern Lights. I’m 28 years old, a recent graduate from the University of Kent, where I collected my degree at the same award ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral where Sue Black was awarded an honorary doctorate.

I was excited to meet Sue and hear her story that day, partly because of her work about Bletchley Park (a place I’ve enjoyed visiting multiple times whilst living and working in Milton Keynes) but also because of what she represents: someone who, despite adversity and an unconventional route through education, has achieved great success in a field that still feels dominated by a narrow part of society.

Whilst I cannot claim to have gone through anything like her experiences, I’m also a mature student who didn’t follow the traditional route to University. If you’d asked me 10 years ago where I expected to be now, it certainly wouldn’t have been here; at that time I already felt that I was “too late” to achieve my goals of going to university and entering the tech industry. I’m writing this in the hope that my story might serve to give some hope to someone in a similar situation.

Throughout my school years I listened to the mantra that at every stage (SATS, GCSE, A Levels) you had to work hard as this was the only chance to progress and do well in the next stage, all the way to university. My parents divorced in my early teens and, perhaps in an attempt to have control over something in my life, I stopped attending school. I left school with only a single GCSE with my plans of university shattered. I didn’t have the five GCSEs needed to get to college or even to get a basic job. My school wouldn’t allow me to re-sit them because of how little I’d attended. I was “too late” to change the path I’d chosen by not attending.

The following year I sat the 4 additional GCSEs I needed for college with the National Extension College, a distance learning charity that at that time would take my mother’s stockpile of Tesco Clubcard Vouchers as payment! After this I started on a BTEC IT Diploma and did well, but ultimately dropped out again, feeling inadequate when compared with my peers. 

By my late teens I felt hopeless, with no chance of work or education. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, as well as trying to come to terms with my sexuality. I retreated from friends and family and I continued drifting like this for years, spending most of my time online, trying to escape a day-to-day life in which I felt I’d failed and was too late to change things.  I was forced into change by my father falling into financial difficulties. Facing the reality of him losing his home and supported by treatment for my depression, I started looking for work.

Eventually I found a role as a supermarket delivery driver; the work was hard with shifts often exceeding 12 hours, but I enjoyed it and did well, progressing to a driver coach/instructor role and then supervising the department. I learned how to handle everything from rescuing vans stuck under bridges to answering irate phone calls from customers and drivers, whilst trying to help someone find something on the shop floor. I regained some confidence and my Mum suggested maybe I could give education another try. 

I enrolled in an Access to Computing course at the local adult college. Access to Higher Education Diplomas are available for anyone who hasn’t already completed an A-level or equivalent qualification; they pack the equivalent of 3 A-levels into a few days a week over the course of a year. They’re designed so that on completion students can go on to university, and the majority of universities accept them. The Access qualification was hard work; I balanced a 30-hour working week with a similar amount of studying, but it paid off. I received a distinction (equivalent to 3 A*) which meant I qualified for scholarship funding at Kent. I received offers from all 5 of the universities I applied to (Aberdeen, Cardiff, Kent, Lancaster and Stirling); the only limitation I faced when applying for Computing degrees was the lack of a maths A Level. 

Going to University, I was apprehensive, I’d be 6 years older than most of the people I’d be living and studying with. I chose a 4-year programme with a year in industry, which meant by the time I graduated I’d be nearing 30. Was this too late? What’s more, many of the people there would have sat dozens of exams over the course of their education, whilst I’d sat almost none.

Exams certainly proved a challenge, as did my lack of maths knowledge. However I found I did well, especially in programming where my Access qualification had given me some excellent tutelage, as opposed to most of my classmates who’d done next to none at school. When it came to applying for work I was similarly worried about the gaps in my CV and history. I also found this wasn’t the barrier I expected.  At the end of my first year, I secured a paid summer placement with the Bank of England, followed by a year’s paid placement with a firm in Milton Keynes whom I now work for.  

University wasn’t plain sailing. My mother was diagnosed with cancer (thankfully now in remission) towards the end of my first year and I found I often suffered from “imposter syndrome” throughout my degree. However, I was helped by a variety of amazing people, from the friends I met in halls in first year, through to university career advisors, managers on placements and of course my partner. I graduated with a first class honours degree in Computer Science and won multiple awards, securing a job with my placement company in Milton Keynes, where I now work (and live on a 55ft narrowboat!). 

As a white male from a middle-class background I write this with no illusions that my relative success means that the same opportunities I had are available to all. The data around education and employment in the tech industry, especially for those from “non-conventional” backgrounds makes for difficult reading (1) (2). I’m immensely grateful to all those who supported me and very much aware that without them and the academic options available, I would not be where I am now. 

I hope that my story might show that it’s never too late to change course and return to education. Despite an education system that drills into children that they must do well in the next exam or else they’re locked out of progressing, it is possible to return to education years later. It might require more effort, but it’s doable. 

Furthermore it’s vital we keep these routes open for people and promote them so that students don’t unwittingly limit their potential. Since I studied for my Access qualification, funding for further education has been cut by around half a billion pounds;  the result of this is that adults over 24+ have to pay (by student loan or otherwise) for any Level 3 or Level 4 qualifications and this has led to a marked reduction (31% according to a government report) in the number of people taking such qualifications. People are (rightly or wrongly) put off even starting on the journey to university by the student debt that now also accompanies our degree programmes. 

I hope that in time our government will come to recognise the value of such funding and reverse some of those cuts. In the meantime I will do all I can to support people going on a similar journey to mine, be it through talking and writing about it or helping provide some of the opportunities I was given, for example by setting up paid internship programmes. 

Written by Alan Gore

 

Sapper Holland – Lest we forget #RemembranceSunday2018

Thinking of my great grandfather Frederick Arthur Holland from #Weymouth who died during #WW1 #RemembranceDay2018 when my wonderful Nannie Elsie Leah Reynolds was just 4 years old 😭❤️😭

My great grandfather Sapper Holland died aged 32, the same age as my sons are now, my grandmother Elsie was 4, almost the same age as my grandson Felix is now. It just doesn’t bear thinking about😱

My grandmother grew up in very reduced circumstances with her mother working 3 jobs just to provide enough food to eat.

And despite being a fun loving and funny person always carried sadness in her heart from her father being taken away from her at such a young age 😭❤️😭 #WW1 #RemembranceSunday2018

Why is it harder for women to be leaders? I spoke to Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4 Late Night Woman’s Hour #leadership #culture #diversity

twitter.com/bbcwomanshour/status/1019839333379997696

30 years ago I escaped from a violent marriage… #DV

www.youtube.com/watch

30 years ago I escaped from a violent marriage, I ran down the road with my 3 small kids + a suitcase of nappies.

I rebuilt my life after 6m in a @WomensAid refuge, went back to school, changing my/my family’s lives forever. Here’s some of the story…

Turning pain into joy, 8 years on from the day our brother left us

Awesome trip to Hampshire for our brother Stephen's memorial day yesterday. Can't believe it's 8 years already since my little bro went. Glad that we can now celebrate his life and our own lives now ❤️ Thanks to my awesome sister Sarah, Daisy, Leah and Lesley and family for making it such a special day. Special mention for amazing great aunt Molly now 97 years old ❤️

Loved visiting our gorgeous Nan Elsie Leah Reynold's grave, gravestone finally now in place and leaving some flowers 🌺 Also loved visiting the church where Sarah, Stephen and I were christened inthe 1960s and having a good chat with the vicar who kindly took a pic of us 🙏🏼 #turningpainintojoy ❤️

The day my brother died

I just found this piece of writing in a book of notes that I was looking through for something else entirely. I think I wrote it a few months after my brother died in 2009, I just edited it a bit and posted below.

Once my current book Coding: a user guide is submitted to Penguin, deadline 1st January 2018, I’m going to write my autobiography. Suicide is a really hard subject to write about, this piece of writing is what happened and my immediate thoughts after my brother died. I’ve written a few other pieces related to this one:

Falling into the abyss: what depression feels like to me

Young Rewired State and my brother Stephen

Raymondos

Happy Mother’s Day

If I can do it, so can you

I hope you enjoy them. I’d love your feedback on anything I’ve written about. Going on an Arvon writing course a couple of weeks ago has really made me realise how much I love writing and want to do more of it. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my work and I look forward to hearing from you ❤ 

 

The day my brother died

My phone rang. Well actually it didn’t ring, it barked. I’d spent some time recently changing some of the ringtones on my phone so that I would know who was ringing before I looked at my phone. I’d chosen a barking dog ringtone for my sister because she loves dogs.

It was 11.30pm. My sister Sarah never rang late in the evening, so I knew something was seriously wrong.

 “It’s only me.” Sarah said.

“Have you got someone with you?

I felt a terrible tightness in my chest. My existence suddenly came into sharp focus with an acute hyperawareness of everything around me. The room seemed to buzz with silence.

“Yes, Paul’s here.” I managed to whisper.

Dread filled my heart. I somehow knew what she was about to say. I fell onto the sofa, moaning.

“It’s Stephen.” She said and started crying, a dreadful animal cry.

“Oh God.”

My head started spinning. I knew what was going to come next. There was a pause which seemed to last for ever, but was probably just a second or two.

“He’s dead.” She said finally.

“What happened?” I said. Inside my head my brain was screeching.

“He hung himself…in the garage.”

“Oh God.”

“Where’s Rachel?”

“She’s at the hospital with him, she had to cut him down.”

“Oh no, and the boys?”

“They’re with Rachel’s parents.”

“Oh God.”

I started wailing and couldn’t stop. My whole world started collapsing in my head. My little brother Stephen was dead. By his own hand. My little baby brother. Dead.

Paul put his arm around me. I sobbed and sobbed.

“My brother’s dead” I cried.

“He’s hung himself.”

***

I thought we had all escaped. I thought we had all put that pain and abuse behind us, and moved on with our lives. But now that Stephen was dead, I knew that wasn’t true. We had not escaped. The dreadful experiences we had gone through as children had caught up with us.

I thought we had beaten them into submission and walked away the victors. But Stephen’s suicide now meant that I’d been kidding myself. We hadn’t escaped at all.

We had tried to escape, but some of that rotten, maggoty existence had stayed in our minds. It had stayed in our minds for thirty long years slowly and almost imperceptibly gnawing its way through, rarely lifting its head.

Now, the game was up. I’d spent thirty years congratulating myself on escaping, on my brother and sister escaping and feeling ridiculously proud of what we had all achieved in our lives. But now?

What now?

Now that Stephen was dead, now that he had killed himself, my life, our lives were exposed as a sham. Suicide is the opposite of success.

I had thought that we had escaped and gone on to lead normal, even exemplary lives. But no. The maggoty rot had returned.

Our lives had been a sham. We were dragged back, like it or not, into our past lives where we had no control, no self-esteem, no life.

We had lost.

 

“Raymondos” – an exercise in writing dialogue – Arvon non-fiction course 2017 at Totleigh Barton

“Raymondo’s” – original version

My nan was great fun to be around. When my brother and sister were small she used to pretend that they were top hairdressers in their salon called “Raymondos” she would get all of her hairdressing accoutrements out of the cupboard and Sarah and Stephen would do her hair for hours on end. Or so it seemed. I would be sitting on the sofa watching and chatting and reading a book. Probably something by Enid Blyton.

Nan had loads of hairdressing paraphernalia: grips, clips, Vitapointe cream (which I can smell now as I write about it), curlers, pins, brushes, combs, setting lotion and papers. I must have joined in too sometimes as I can remember putting Vitapointe on my nan’s hair and then brushing her hair with a bristle brush. It makes me smile to think of those times.

*****

“Raymondo’s” – dialogue version

I was at my nan’s flat with my brother and sister, Sarah and Stephen who were around 5 years old, playing hairdresser’s with my nan.

“Now Raymondo, I’d like a shampoo and set. Please give me a lovely hairstyle, I’m off to a ball tonight in my best frock and I want to look beautiful.”

“Yes, nannie. I’ve got the brush, I’m going to brush your hair and make you look lovely.”

“Now Cynthia, can you please help Raymondo with the setting lotion and papers”

“Yes nannie. Raymondo here you are.”

Sarah picks up the packet of papers and the setting lotion ready to pass them to Stephen.

“Can I have the lotion please Cynthia” Stephen said with a giggle, delighted to be calling his twin sister by a made up name.

“Here you are Raymondo” Sarah replied and handed over the lotion, accidentally squirting some of it over nannie’s dress.

“Oh no! Raymondo, Cynthia, you are such naughty hairdressers!”

I looked up from the sofa and we all burst into laughter.

*****

Many thanks to Arvon Totleigh Barton, Lois Pryce and Sukhdev Sandhu for a wonderful week.

 

Amazing walk in Tenerife- El Teide view 

Spent a fabulous and exhausting day climbing up to 9000 feet today in Tenerife. It was really hard going for quite a bit of the uphill walk, but well worth it when we saw the view of volcano El Teide. Our guide was Andy Tenerife Walker who picked us up from where we are staying, took us on the walk with about 8 other walkers, and brought us back again. The walk we did was the Wow Factor walk. Can’t wait to come back and do some more…

XMAS PRESENT IDEA!! A personally dedicated copy of Saving Bletchley Park

Live in or near London and want a personally dedicated copy of Saving Bletchley Park for a loved one for Christmas?
Order Saving Bletchley Park here now for delivery tomorrow:
You should receive it tomorrow – Thursday
Bring it along on Friday lunchtime at 1pm to the Royal Festival Hall Cafe, on London/s South Bank and I’ll dedicate it for you 🙂
Please let me know here that you are coming here:
See you on Friday!!!
Merry Christmas!!!

20/5/2016 – On BBC Woman’s Hour then off to Buckingham Palace to get an OBE 😀❤️👍


Jenni Murray interviews me on BBC Woman’s Hour – 35 mins in 


  
  
  

Thanks Maserati for the wonderful car and chauffeur for the day 😀


  
  
  
  
 My wonderful family 😀❤️😀

  
  
  
  
  


  
What a fabulous day!! One of the best days of my life 😀❤️👍🎉🎉🎉🎉