Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From a Cold Doorway to a Higher Education Pathway

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From a Cold Doorway to a Higher Education Pathway

Article excerpt

Martin Herron meets a rough sleeper turned Exeter undergraduate with the aid of Northern College's access course

After leaving school in Doncaster at 16 with no qualifications, Tim Perkins spent much of the next 30 years living on the streets. This week, the 46-year-old is starting a degree in philosophy at the University of Exeter after turning his life around.

He credits one moment of clarity for kick-starting his change of course.

"I was laid in a doorway and I was really convinced I was going to die," he said. "And I just realised I needed to find a way out."

The following day he contacted the Northern College for Residential and Community Adult Education, an adult education college near Barnsley.

"I chose them because it was residential so I knew I'd have somewhere to live. I just rang up and they gave me an interview," Mr Perkins said. "I never had any second thoughts. It was about survival - I just knew I had to get out of the way I was living."

That way of life included two six-month jail terms for offences involving what he describes as "aggressive" behaviour, and nearly three decades of living rough.

"It started when I was 16 when I hitched down to London to get work on building sites and I just sort of drifted into it," he said, adding that he later became involved with protest movements around issues such as the poll tax and the Newbury bypass.

Mr Perkins' time on the streets, mainly in Doncaster, Durham and Inverness, left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and problems arising from alcohol abuse.

"I've got scars on my face from being kicked by people just coming out of the pub who want to attack someone vulnerable," he said.

"The main thing I remember from being homeless is being tired all the time," he continues. "You never really sleep or relax. You can't afford to - you have to be alert all the time because there's always a threat that something bad will happen or someone will attack you."

But Mr Perkins said he always felt he had the potential to do more with his life.

"Even when I was on the streets I knew I had an intellect. But I never really got the chance to use it - life throws things at you and you have to survive."

Adjusting to a new life of study was difficult, he admitted.

"Northern College was fantastic; they took me on trust and I'm very grateful for that. …

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