The year was 2004, in many ways, the most eventful year of my life. I was 14, contemplating sitting my S.A.Ts and then starting my G.C.S.Es. My Special Needs tutor Steven Pritchard was suggesting to my family to start contemplating where I was going to go when I left school at 16. Before I knew it, we were venturing all the way up to Sunderland to visit E.S.P.A College and Residential Care and after just two visits, I was impressed enough to want to attend.
During my final year at Nobel School in late 2005, I was requested by E.S.P.A College to come and spend two days at one of their residential units, Westfield and attend Tasker College for an assessment. That I did and I was so impressed that I did not want to leave. By September 2006, I had 10 G.C.S.Es and was a fully-fledged E.S.P.A Residential student. It would prove to be a very character-building first year for me in many ways. Being so far away from home meant I spent most of my first year feeling very homesick and learning how to be independent proved to be a steep learning curve indeed. The highlights were probably the weekend trips at Westfield and Friday leisure at Tasker but the very best bit was joining the Performing Arts Group. In doing so, I finally found something that I enjoyed and I ended up playing one of the brothers in ‘Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream-coat’ at the 2007 E.S.P.A Graduation. Little did I know that I would go on to become probably the last ever student to stay for 4 years, a rarity even before the recession kicked in! In that time, I made many new friends, including former students through E.S.P.A Reunions but otherwise far too many to mention. I became increasingly independent to the point that I could perform most everyday tasks unsupervised, a message that did not always sink in at some units. By the time of my second year I had developed a keen interest in Performing Arts which definitely saved my time at E.S.P.A. For the 2008 Graduation, I played the part of Mr Mushnick in ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’, definitely showing the funny side of greed in my portrayal of such a character.
It was during my first and second years that I developed an interest in Creative Writing, Film-Making and various other activities. In my third year, the time had come to slowly but surely build up the confidence I needed to enter the workplace. Initially I occupied the Receptionist’s Office at the Cloisters before eventually being transferred to E.S.P.A Head Office in my last year. Another barrier I overcame was that of going to General Further Education College. I did not particularly fancy going to G.F.E College in my first year as settling in at Tasker and Westfield was already proving difficult. In my second year, I felt more confident about G.F.E and that led to me achieving I.T. Essentials Level 1 at Shiney Row College in my second year and NVQ Level 2 Business and Administration at South Tyneside in my last year. At first I thought the latter course was not challenging enough. I achieved a Silver Award in Duke of Edinburgh in my second year which meant for lots of exploration and adventures and fund-raising through washing the staff’s cars, 25 in one day, and selling homemade patisserie and jewellery for whatever charities I and my peers chose to support. I chose the N.S.P.C.C. I attended my first two camping trips in the Lake District and Robin Hood’s Bay, not easy when you are doing it for the first time, not to mention all the walking.
In my third year which was supposed to be my last, I achieved with great difficulty, an AS Level in Sociology at Bede College and put in by far my best performance as Riff-Raff in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ at the 2009 Graduation. I regard that as my best performance as it was also the hardest part I ever had to learn, especially when it came to performing the ‘Time-Warp’. I also took up Art and helped to organise and contribute to the E.S.P.A Art Exhibition first at the Sunderland Museum and then at Sunderland Minster. It was at Sunderland Minster where, during the E.S.P.A Christmas Service, I did poetry readings in my second and third years. At the last possible minute, the Graduation had already come and gone, I was granted funding for a fourth year. Being the only student of my kind with only a few third years for company, I soon felt out of place and even Performance did not motivate me like it used to, especially after injuring myself in rehearsals but I did enjoy the Gymnasium and Swimming. I swam a whole mile at the Raich Carter Centre. I played a narcoleptic Argentinian in ‘Moulin Rouge’ and finally graduated from E.S.P.A College again in the summer of 2010. I achieved my ambition of moving from Westfield to Cedar’s Lodge a few months before hand.
After an unfortunate prolonged period of inactivity back in my native Stevenage, I eventually moved into E.S.P.A’s then latest residence in Forest Hall in January 2011. I continued doing my placement at E.S.P.A Head Office and also went on to gain voluntary placements at Oxfam Bookshop in West Jesmond and Disability North in South Gosforth. I grew into a keen writer and blogger in my spare time and even started learning to drive a car! I was also recalled to Tasker to help organise and take part in the performance at the 2012 E.S.P.A Graduation, no wonder the T.A.G (Training and Awareness) Group call me their ‘life-saver’ as I also regularly stood in at T.A.G Conferences. Overall, I developed many new skills and interests, visited many new places and discovered new talents I never knew I had thanks to all the support I received during my 6 years at E.S.P.A.