• Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

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Student social worker on mission to help others after brain tumour diagnosis


A University of Sunderland student, who has undergone brain surgery, is now hoping to give something back to the community that had helped him through the difficult times.

David, 37, from Consett, County Durham, began making his dream career a reality by volunteering for local authority organisations before going on to study a BA (Hons) Social Work degree at the University. After graduating in September last year, David decided to continue his studies at Sunderland with the MSc Inequality and Society course.

“I want to be a social worker,” David said.

“I want to support people and build relationships working in the community. Social work was the best option for me as I feel partnerships between workers and service users helps to empower individuals and families to facilitate change in their lives.”

David’s Journey

Before pursuing his true calling in Social Work, dad-of-two David worked as a head chef for 15 years, a career which not only saw him working at a number of popular venues in the north-east – but it also took him abroad to Spain for five years. However, he found the unsociable hours, workload and pressure of the role took its toll on his family life, leaving them with very little quality time together.

Then in 2018, after suffering from painful migraines, blurred vision, tinnitus and loss of balance, David was diagnosed with a large left-sided Acoustic Neuroma – a benign brain tumour – which he had partially removed a year later at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle before receiving radiotherapy at the Freeman Hospital. David now has yearly check-ups to monitor the size of the tumour.

There were more difficult times in store for David – as during this period, he and his wife Sarah-Jane and their two children Jack and Amber, who were aged nine and three at the time, struggled to find alternative housing and it wasn’t until they received support across local authorities by ward councillors and housing officers that they managed to find a new place to call home.

Even though this was an incredibly challenging time for David, it only inspired him to take a leap of faith and embark on a new career journey which would completely change his life for the better.

David explained: “When I returned to better health, I decided I wanted to take up a caring role in the community. I enrolled on an Access to Health and Social Care course at Sunderland College in October 2018. I also volunteered with Hartlepool Borough Council as a peer mentor within substance recovery services taking time to build relationships with service users, listen to their stories and support them as much as I could with the training I received. We discussed social theories, cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), wellbeing, mindfulness and self-care.

“I started to buy into a new way of life, being in a supportive environment enabled me to grow as a person, I learned so much and I am forever grateful to the social work staff and service users for the experiences they gave me.”

At the age of 34, David began his Social Work degree at the University in 2019.

Reflecting on the degree, David said: “I was able to work with some wonderful adults and children building meaningful relationships, utilising my new skills and my life experience. I had the privilege of entering peoples’ private lives to support them to overcome difficult circumstances. In my opinion positive outcomes for people leaving services is the greatest reward a social worker can obtain.”

So what is next for David?

Unfortunately, David has received the devastating news that the remaining part of his brain tumour has regrown, and he is now booked in for a further consultation this year. However, he remains more determined than ever to fulfil his career dream.

After graduating from his postgraduate degree in MSc Inequality and Society next year, he hopes to apply his knowledge into a career as an Assessed and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE) social worker, safeguarding children and families.

“My time at the University of Sunderland has shaped my personal and professional values in a life-changing way,” David said.

“I hope by sharing my personal experiences of life before university I can inspire others to study at the university and embark in a career in social work”.

Cally Bleasby, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Sunderland, said: “We are so pleased that David chose to come and study social work with us. His story of overcoming adversity, using his experiences as motivation to give back and pursue a career supporting others is inspiring for everyone that hears it. His resilience, determination, positive outlook, and keen desire to learn will serve him well in his career as a social worker.”