Jump to accessibility statement Skip to content

Case Study

Leigh-Anne Coffey

Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

BA (Hons) Social Work

Leigh-Anne Coffey was inspired to get into social work after witnessing her family receive support when her grandmother fell ill. She was attracted to the University of Sunderland after seeing the level of support offered and enrolled on the BA (Hons) Social Work. She’s now in her third year and has grabbed every opportunity with both hands, getting involved with mentoring, volunteering, and being offered a position with the charity she completed one of her placements with.

I spent most of my adult life working in a high street bank, which I loved, but after having my second child, I felt that I needed a career with purpose where I could make a difference to people and the community. At around this time, my grandmother fell ill, and we received support from a social worker. Inspired by the social worker who advocated for my grandmother, I decided to begin my journey into social work. I started volunteering for a befriending service for older adults and I offered emotional support to individuals living with Motor Neurone Disease. This helped me develop skills such as communication and signposting people to services to promote wellbeing.

None of my family or close friends had attended university, so the initial prospect seemed quite daunting. Being a parent and mature student, I was worried about whether I’d be able to balance studying with my family life, or whether I could give up my part-time job. After looking at what other universities offered, I felt that Sunderland provided the most student support, which was important to me. I was also attracted to the BA (Hons) Social Work as it offered the option to study part-time. From the get-go, Sunderland was very supportive and accessible!

I was concerned that my experience wouldn’t be enough to get onto the course, and what the timetable would look like to fit around my family commitments, so I got in touch with the Programme Leader. The team assisted me with all my queries, and I even attended a live Q&A event where I could ask more questions. While studying on my Access course, I enrolled on the University’s progression scheme, completing some e-learning modules, which provided me with extra UCAS points. This reassured me that if I was to fall short on my Access course, I would have those extra points as a buffer.

I was delighted to find out I was eligible for the social work bursary, which has helped take the pressure off my family’s finances. The University was also able to support me with extra funding towards study costs, which I wasn’t expecting, but has helped me through a tough time during the cost of living crisis. As well as this, in my first year, I discovered the Silver Fund, which provides funding to enrich your experience. I applied for the Fund to see if it could be used to take some students to a social work retreat in Belfast, and it got approved, so I was over the moon! The experience helped me, and the other students, grow our confidence and learn more about reflection in social work.

My favourite part of the course is the overall delivery of it – it feels very student-centred. The small cohort size helps encourage discussions between students and lecturers, and the hybrid learning style has been key to me being able to manage studying and parenting. I also like the fact that the staff are accessible to students. If you have any issues, the lecturers genuinely want to help you. If anything hasn’t made sense, I’ve been able to discuss this with my tutor and been signposted to resources that can help me.

I feel that the module content has provided me with an in-depth understanding of topics, helping me to critically reflect on them and develop in my own professional judgement. There are also lots of opportunities to take on other projects – I’ve been involved with BA Buddies, which is a peer mentoring scheme for students on the course. Inspired by this, I went on to create a peer support group through the British Association of Social Workers for UK students, as I was shocked to learn not all universities offer this. I’ve also taken part in the Social Work England events when they’ve visited the University, got involved with the Local Appropriate Adult Scheme, and sat on a board for a new nursing apprenticeship.

For my first placement, I was placed in a charity that supports parents who are going through the child protection system. I felt that my learning from university gave me a good basis of knowledge to navigate the system and support the parents effectively. The placement enriched my learning experience, and I feel this was instrumental to my development as I’ve since been offered a position with the charity.

My advice to any prospective students looking to study at the University of Sunderland is to just do it! I remember feeling so anxious that I was taking a risk being older, leaving a secure job, and potentially putting my family in a financially uncomfortable place. However, the University has given me advice, support, and reassurance throughout, and I can honestly say I’ve never looked back. Speak to your tutors; don’t be afraid to ask questions! Read all the University emails and announcements – if you read the content, there are so many offers of support, events, and opportunities to get involved in. This might sound cliché – but my experience has been life changing.”

Published 8 March 2024

More case studies