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Emma Williams - Life Change and Progression Award Winner (Joint Winner)
Nominated by: Wrexham Glyndwr University

Wrexham-born, Emma Williams had left home by the age of 14. Experiencing problems with her mental health and addiction, she found herself homeless in her teens. Emma gave birth to a daughter at 21 and, suffering with post-natal depression, her addiction got worse and she began her downward spiral. “Day and night, I didn’t know the difference,” she said. “I felt like I was destined for a life of hardship. Drugs and alcohol were a safety blanket.”

Eight years later, aged 29, she walked into a recovery centre in Colwyn Bay, called Touchstones 12. “There was a college next door to the facility. I started off small with a few employability courses to keep my mind busy. It was life-changing.”

While gaining help with her addiction, Emma applied for a job as a recovery support worker and spent the next two years as a case worker, helping others deal with their own problems with drugs. Being made redundant from the job she loved was a blow, but she used the opportunity to fuel her determination for learning and applied to university.

Returning to qualifications she had gained in her 20s and with the new courses she had completed, Emma was able to apply to start studying for an undergraduate degree in Forensic Science. The 39-year-old said: “Ten days later, I was sat in my first Quantum Chemistry lecture. I’ve suffered majorly with imposter syndrome, not many of the students look like me or have had similar backgrounds – but I am so determined.”

Over the next five years she completed her undergraduate degree in Forensic science, a PGCE, and is in the process of completing an MRes in Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology with a focus on biological anthropology at Wrexham Glyndwr University. After qualifying as a teacher, she taught on the undergraduate Forensic Science degree and is now a science communicator for Techniquest in North Wales, working as a role model for females in STEM subjects. “Now I encourage girls to study science like me,” she said.

“My proudest achievement is Maisie, my daughter, currently studying for her A levels, she’s a star student. She sees me come home sometimes after working two jobs and sit at the dining room table to study and just copies me. She has that same grit about her.”

She said: “I was told I wouldn’t live past 30 if I continued to live my life like I did. Yet I know so many people who have been through worse. If I can inspire at least one person or show someone who is struggling, that you can change your life through education, then it’s all worth it.”

Admitting it hasn’t been easy, Emma, who discovered she had additional needs, encouraged other people to ask for help: “When you struggle to believe in yourself, the people around you make all the difference. The support I had not only from my loved ones but my tutors too, helped me find my passion and my voice. I want to prove to my daughter that she can do anything she puts her mind to – just like me.”