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From debt recovery to helping the homeless

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Published on 04 October 2021

Clare Knox
Clare Knox

For many people, getting back into education after a long time away from the classroom can be a daunting experience – but for mature student Clare Knox, it proved to be life-changing.

Having worked as a collections advisor for 10 years, Clare could no longer ignore her passion for charity work, so in 2016, at the age of 32, she decided to take a leap of faith and apply for the Community and Youth Work degree at the University of Sunderland.

Four years later, Clare has landed her dream role as Project Lead of The Fells in Durham, a homeless men’s hostel run by the charity Changing Lives.

Clare, 36, from Washington, said: “I wanted to make a difference and positive change within communities and Changing Lives is an amazing organisation, which supports the most vulnerable people within our society.

“The project I work for is a 45-bed support accommodation for males. My team and I support men with multi-complex needs such as mental health and addiction. We offer support to break the cycle of homelessness and to make a positive change. This helps us to improve the lives of others and for the people we support to integrate successfully back into the community.”

Clare graduated from Sunderland in 2019 but her journey at Changing Lives actually began two years earlier while on a student placement.

Now, years of hard work and dedication have paid off and she is thrilled to be heading up one of the charity’s biggest supported accommodations – a far cry from previous role in debt recovery.

“My life is extremely different now,” Clare said.

“I am more confident in my role and I adore my job. I go to work every morning happy that I’m part of this outstanding charity. Knowing I try and make a change and improve people’s lives every day – that doesn’t seem like a job to me.”

Clare added: “It is never too late to make change in your life and to follow your passion.

“Completing my degree has inspired my 13-year-old son to do the same. It was one of the best feelings for my family and son to watch me graduate.”

Despite her success, Clare still keeps in touch with her tutors at the University, who are always on hand to offer her help and guidance.

“I have never had tutors believe me in me as they did,” she said.

“They are inspiring and encouraging, and so supportive. I cannot thank them enough for the impact they had on my life and the inspiration that they gave me even on the toughest of days.

“One of my fears was public speaking and completing presentations, this stopped me from going to University for many years. But this degree helped me to build up my confidence in completing presentations and to public speak in meetings as this is a crucial part of my role now.”

Liz Woolley is Senior Lecturer in Community and Youth Work Studies at the University of Sunderland, recently shortlisted as University of the Year, in this year’s THE – Times Higher Education – annual awards.

She said: “Clare epitomises the message which we are so proud of on our Community and Youth Work course; someone who has committed themselves to working with people and communities who have been ignored by many.

“As a student Clare shaped her future through dedicated study and creating opportunities, as an employee at Changing Lives she is using these experiences to create opportunities for others. We are so proud.”

Gill Curtis, Service Manager at Changing Lives in Durham, said: “Clare is extremely passionate about the work she does and is dedicated to supporting the vulnerable residents she works with. She is methodical and organised, and I am sure this is partly due to the structured studying she completed at the University of Sunderland.

“The qualification she has gained via the University has enabled Clare to understand this area of business and quickly progress to a Project Lead role, where there is a requirement to have attained a certain level of education.

“I am certain she is only at the start of a very successful career with Changing Lives, and I would encourage anyone thinking of a career in this sector, to follow the educational path that Clare has taken.”

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