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OU student crowned Wales’ Adult Learner of the Year

Open University student James Harris was crowned Adult Learner of the Year at the Inspire! awards in Cardiff on 22 May.

James, from Merthyr Tydfil, spent half of his adult life in prison after he was handed two sentences in 2008 and was jailed for 76 months. But instead of hitting rock-bottom, James - who was 23 when he was first sent to prison - decided to turn his life around and dedicated his time to learning new skills.

From psychology to personal training, James gained more than 30 different qualifications while serving his time, as well as mentoring around 30 other inmates, helping them to achieve basic literacy skills.

He then began studying for an Open University degree but was released from prison before taking his final exam. He now works night shifts on the railway tracks and studies during the day, determined to complete his qualification.

James was the winner of the ‘Into Work’ category at the ceremony and then went on to be crowned overall adult learner of the year, he was presented with his award by Welsh Government Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James AM.

Reflecting on his achievement James said:

“My studies have allowed me to broaden my horizons and as a result, my outlook on life and my priorities have completely changed. I’d love to work in a rehabilitation unit as a therapist and I know to achieve that, I’ve got to work hard.

“I want to use my own personal experiences, combined with my studies, to help others battling drug addiction.”

James was joined at the ceremony by his family, some of the tutors who taught him at HMP Parc and OU in Wales Learner Support Manager, Beatrix Bown, who nominated him for the award.

Beatrix said:

“It was a privilege to be part of such an inspiring evening and to sit with Jimmy and his delighted family. We can all be justly proud of what he has achieved and our part in it.

“Jimmy has used his time in prison to turn his life around by realising his academic potential and now plans to use his degree as a platform to a new career.” 

Director of the OU in Wales, Rob Humphreys, said:

“Our learners can often drop out of their studies once they leave the structured prison environment, in the light of this Jimmy's achievement is even more remarkable and he is an incredibly worthy winner of this award.

“We have a very proactive prison team in the OU in Wales along with a dedicated group of tutors. The support and encouragement given by the education staff at HMP Parc was also key in Jimmy's success, which he acknowledged in his acceptance speech. They are now using his success story to inspire and enthuse prospective and current OU prison learners. We wish Jimmy every success in his future studies.”

The Inspire! awards are organised by the Learning and Work Institute Wales and are hosted each year ahead of Adult Learners’ Week to celebrate the achievements of outstanding learners in Wales who have shown exceptional passion, commitment and drive for learning, often in the face of difficult circumstances.

You can find out more about James’ story in this video.

Image credit: Welsh Government

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