Quick Read Journey: Bell Romain

I think all the lecturers were a little bemused by an overweight 35 year old woman wanting to take on an incredibly physical job, but not one of them tried to tell me I couldn’t do it.

I’ve worked in various roles since I was 13, from lifeguarding to teaching. I’ve usually worked with people, supporting them in a range of ways.

Most recently my career was in the third and public sectors, working in community development.

I’ve always enjoyed grass roots work, helping people to realize their skills, potential and that they have the tools they need to achieve their dreams.

In late 2018 I’d been working for a local authority for almost a year when my Dad died suddenly. They were really supportive until I got back to work and my manager started bullying me.

Despite loving working with people, I’m actually quite a loner and introvert and really struggle to work in a small team where there’s constant interaction. I just didn’t fit in.

My Dad’s death came out of the blue and hit me hard; It changed my way of thinking. I realised that there was never a right time for anything and that life is too short to be miserable. You really don’t know what is around the corner.

I was a real tomboy as a kid and my Dad used to teach me all he could- woodwork, welding, anything I wanted to learn. I’d been working on our 1900s house renovation for years and discovered I loved working with lime. I’d finished the spare room not long before he died and he used to say how proud of me, and how impressed with the room, he was.

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One of the contractors who did some of the external works was also impressed with my attempts and invited me along to do a few days work with them. I have an old shoulder injury and I’m not particularly fit or nimble so I was worried I wouldn’t have the stamina to stay with it but I loved it- it made me feel alive.

I had a chat about money/ career options/ likelihood of me sticking with it (!) with my husband and we decided I could at least give it a go. I’m quite a risk taker and he is very sensible and steady, so we balance out! That was 18 months ago and I’m still with it!#

I knew of a level 3 course in specialist plastering locally, but I needed to have my NVQ2 first.

I approached Coleg Sir Gar in Ammanford and applied for their plastering course.

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I think all the lecturers were a little bemused by an overweight 35 year old woman wanting to take on an incredibly physical job, but not one of them tried to tell me I couldn’t do it. They’ve all been so supportive and have offered me opportunities to learn more and to take on new challenges.

There’s definitely a competitive edge to me- I like knowing that I’m top of the class in a group of boys who are far fitter and younger than I am! It makes me feel that I’ve proved myself. Cyfle Shared Apprenticeship scheme took me on in my first year and I have a placement with a heritage and conservation firm in Pembrokeshire where I’ve had the opportunity to work on the listed gardens of a castle.

My placement officers and the whole team have been great and really supportive- especially when it’s come to managing my caring responsibilities through lockdown. I couldn’t have imagined the level of support that they give. My placement colleagues are also great fun and inclusive- no-one has batted an eyelid at my presence.

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I’m happy. Truly happy for the first time in so long. I know that I’m where I’m meant to be. I’m fitter, I’ve lost weight, I feel proud of my achievements and what I’m doing.

I spend a lot more time at work now, but I don’t begrudge it. There’s a great feeling when you’re tired at the end of the day and you know you’ve earned it. From odd jobs I’ve done for people, I’ve also saved up enough to do my MSc in Building Conservation (the first year anyway!) and I have an interview next month, so I have everything crossed!

 

What advice would you give to others? 

 

Take the leap. Whether it’s your age, gender, ability, or something else making you question whether you should do it, give it a try- what’s the worst that can happen? I’m a great believer that learning from mistakes is better than harboring regrets.

I’m on about a quarter of what I used to earn at the minute (piddly apprentice rates!) but I’ve gained so much more than that in other ways.

Don’t let the financial side put you off though- there are grants and bursaries available to help.

Don’t stay in a position you hate because there’s no other option. You might have to work for it, it might be tough at times, but hard is better than miserable, trust me.

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