My name is Claire Reynolds, and I am a former alumni of St John Rigby R.C. Sixth Form College, Orrell, Wigan, having studied there between 1994 and 1996. However, I am not the only alumni. Sir Kenneth Branagh attended the same educational site when it was a grammar school, and during my days at college, there was a shrine to him outside my A-Level English Literature and Language classroom. Another alumni is my fellow classmate, the actor Iain McKee, who has starred in many film and TV roles, ranging from The Parole Officer (2001) with Steve Coogan to Castles in the Sky (2014).
My ambition as a teenager was to be a journalist, and whilst studying at St Thomas the Apostle/Our Lady Queen of Peace, Skelmersdale, I was fortunate enough to complete my high school work experience at The Wigan Observer and The Catholic Pictorial in Liverpool in 1993. And during my time at St John Rigby, I contributed with other students to our college magazine, called the Rigby Review. And my peers had our own society, called The Sly Foxes. After passing my A-Levels in 1996, I was studying a BA (Hons) Modern European Studies with Afro-Asian Studies, Creative Writing and Theology as minor subjects. Sadly, in 1996, after external events, I was diagnosed at the age of 18 with manic-depression, now commonly known as Bipolar Mood Affective Disorder and had to defer my education on hold until the following year. In 1997, I returned, but unfortunately had to leave my course after three months due to a bereavement in the family.
I returned to full-time education in 1999, after spending six months visiting my relatives in New Zealand. I enrolled on a BTEC Media Studies Course at Skelmersdale College, and my education hasn’t stopped since. My personal journey with The Open University started circa 2002, studying an Openings Course, Y002. The nostalgia of writing assignments on paper and posting them to your tutor and receiving their feedback. This short course led me on to many, many others. After years of severe writer’s block, I took myself back to nightschool at Skelmersdale College, and studied Black and White Photography, and a few years later, at Wigan and Leigh College, I studied my NCFE Level 1 Creative Craft in Photography. Working in a darkroom and learning how to process camera film from scratch was so therapeutic and it gave me an outlet to express myself through a different type of lens and see the world from a new perspective. My specialist areas are street photography, landscape and travel photography.
Studying with The Open University in 2002 gave me the confidence to start applying for voluntary work, for West Lancs Council for Voluntary Service, The British Heart Foundation, The Samaritans, and more recently, The Chrysalis Centre for Change, St Helens Mind and Willowbrook Hospice.
The Open University gave me the hope and optimism that I could achieve anything if I set my mind to it and applied myself. It took many years for me to get a suitable full-time job, and my core work experience has been within the customer services industry. In 2014, I had the urge to study again.