As part of NIACE’s activity for Black History Month 2012, I’m interviewing unsung heroes across the learning and education sector who are currently ‘making history’. Today’s interview is with 45-year old Paul Jarvis, one of our 2012 Adult Learners’ Week award winners, who used learning to change his life around after 26 years of drug misuse. Paul now works as a Blenheim CDP project worker, supporting others to take control of their lives.
Tell me a bit about your upbringing and early years.
I was born in Wapping, East London, the 11th child of 13, in a one parent family. I was raised there until age 9, then we moved to East Ham and then to Dagenham. At age 15 I left home and went to work in a place between Ascot and Windsor as a riding instructor groom and went on to train horses.
I went back to London in my late teens and got into dancing and club dancing. This is how the recreational drug thing started and obviously became problematic very early on. I had 26 years of drug misuse.
What are you doing now and how did you get to where you are today?
I am a substance misuse practitioner, supporting people who have similar problems like I had. I am also leading on prescriptions – we are a prescribing service as well. The organisation I work for, Blenheim CDP, is all over the country – I work in Oasis, the Shepherd’s Bush office.
I do one-to-one key work sessions and I do groups as well. I refer clients to ETE to find out any skills they have or any training they need or college courses available to them. I help them stabilise their lives and get back into society.
I always knew I wanted to get in the field I am in, but I couldn’t until I addressed my own issues, which I did by getting myself into rehab and it snowballed from there. Through the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI) and Blenheim CDP I did some voluntary work and I studied Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I also completed my NVQ 1, 2 and 3 in Health and Social Care and Advance Drug Awareness Training.
Who or what inspired you to get involved in learning?
For me it’s the whole process of being involved in learning. I always knew I was not stupid. I went to a predominantly white secondary school, in a predominately white area and teachers didn’t have time or the patience for me. Consequently I found it very difficult, I didn’t fit in at school and I left before I should have left.
This time round I was ready for it. I knew I wasn’t stupid although at the time I never had the coaching or the guidance I needed as a child and at school I was just kind of brushed under the carpet.
Once I got away from the lifestyle I was living, my brain became clearer, I became mature and calmer and I started embracing learning.
On reflection it would have been nice to start this, years ago. I love the stuff that I have learnt and have not stopped learning. If a little bit more time and patience was spent on me as a child – who knows where I would be today, but I am very proud of where I am at the same time.
What was particularly helpful, outside of formal learning, in helping you to progress and achieve?
A positive male role model. When I got caught up in the criminal justice system I was given a male key worker and he got me to open up and talk. That was the first time any male person got me to do that – I only ever talked to females before. His approach blew me away and he is a good inspiration to me.
What impact has winning an Adult Learners’ Week award had on you?
It’s given me more passion, energy and drive to do more. I have loads more responsibility at work now and I have grown so much. It was nice to have that kind of recognition from Blenheim CDP.
I don’t believe you have to come from a substance misuse background to do the job I do, but I do think that it helps in some situations. For example Blenheim CDP has used me on their promotional stuff and I think it’s nice for clients to be able to see that it’s possible to turn your life around and to achieve success.
The clients get where I am coming from – somebody who has been where you are at and now is on the other side– it reinforces what is achievable.
With significant strides in race equality over the last 30 years, what do you think the barriers are today for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) learners and how do they differ from those experienced 30 years ago?
When I was growing up in Dagenham 32 / 33 years ago, you had the British Movement head quarters. We had NF painted on our door one time. It was a very kind of white dominated area full of racial tensions.
On the one hand things have changed significantly since then, but on the other hand I do feel that there is a misrepresentation of black teenagers, especially because of the fashion culture of music styles, the rapping and that kind of stuff. Young black people can be easily tagged as something that they are not because of the media.
I would like to think that things have changed for the better, yet there is always room for improvement. I think its easier now than when I was a teenager, that’s for sure. Things are much more diverse now than what they were.
We know that there are significant differences between particular groups and sub-groups of minority ethnic learners, what can practitioners/providers do to support these learners?
It’s about promoting the services that are available – there is a lot out there, but it’s about letting people know about it. During my own journey I didn’t realise at the beginning how much support is out there.
What would you like to see changing over the next 30 years for learners?
Having to fund yourself just segregates people who don’t have the means to do that. There is a bit of a divide when you leave school and go into further education. It’s kind of them and us – if you’ve got money then you are alright and if you don’t, then you won’t get the education. Everybody in this country should have access to further education – it should be about ability not affordability
How do you see your role as a BAME learner and the impact this may have on BAME learners, aspiring leaders and the wider community?
I do definitely have a role and that is to say to the people that I come into contact with, “Don’t give up, there are other options out there for you. There is support and guidance out there for you and everyone is capable of turning their life around. Don’t allow yourself to be written off – if somebody gives up on you then find someone who is not prepared to give up on you.”
It’s about empowering people and building up their self-esteem and helping them see their skills that they can’t see – when you are in a chaotic life style you are not going to see them easily.