Life Stories

Life stories

Welcome to the life stories zone.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you are the only one going through a tough time. But in reality, that’s not the case.

That’s why we have pulled together a selection of real-life stories and others’ experiences here. Hear from the SEND community.

If you would like to share your own story or have something to say to other parents, it’s easy. Just email us!

Former QAC student Adam

Former QAC Performing Arts student makes screen appearance in BBC drama ‘Doctors’

Former Queen Alexandra College (QAC) performing arts student Calum recently featured in an episode o…

Former QAC Performing Arts student makes screen appearance in BBC drama ‘Doctors’

Former QAC student Adam

Calum joined the College as a Preparation for Life (PFL) student; moving on to study Performing Arts with QAC between 2014 and 2017. In his big screen appearance, he starred as Wayne ‘Wayneboy’ Jackson.

Calum had a great time filming. Both the TV crew and director gave him a cheer and round of applause when he finished his last take.

On completion of his performing arts programme at QAC, Calum studied acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in connection with Access All Areas Theatre Company. Calum hopes to get more TV and Film work in the future through VisABLE People agency, which specialises in representing disabled actors.


QAC is a national residential College and Charity that supports a diverse range of student abilities and needs. Based in Birmingham, the College provides education, training, and routes to independent living and employment. Find out more here.

Chloe’s confidence soars at supported internship

Supported internships support young people with disabilities into work. They enable young people&nbs…

Chloe’s confidence soars at supported internship

Supported internships support young people with disabilities into work. They enable young people to achieve sustainable paid employment by equipping them with the skills they need for work, through learning in the workplace.

Steps into Work, is the supported internship scheme at National Star college. It is a one-year course that runs during term-time, four days a week. At the end of the programme, individuals will be supported to search for jobs, apply for jobs, and go to interviews. Currently, 70.5% of interns successfully move into paid employment. Chloe Smith is one such success.

When Chloe Smith started her Steps into Work supported internship with National Star, she preferred to write things down rather than speak. Chloe’s learning disability affects her ability to listen, to concentrate, and to speak. She wouldn’t use a phone and would panic if she had to talk to strangers. She had tried to get a job but without success, and never thought she would get paid work. Now, however, Chloe works part-time in the kitchen at the Spread Eagle pub in King Street, Hereford, and loves it.

Gaining employment – gaining confidence

‘My job coach helped me create a CV and helped me practice questions for interviews,’ said Chloe. ‘She helped me keep my placements by reminding me to slow down when I did things and how to plan my bus journey to get there independently.

‘Now I can speak to new people without getting worried. I am much better at dealing with problems, such as the bus not turning up; and I don’t panic when I am just asking for help.’

‘Chloe’s confidence has grown so much since she started her supported internship with National Star,’ said her mum, Emma Smith. ‘The level of support she has received from her job coach at National Star has been incredible.’

Chloe also volunteers at a St Michael’s Hospice charity shop, working on the till and labelling clothes to put in the shop. She said she has made many new friends on the employment skills course and at her work placements.

Charlie Allport, Head Chef at the Spread Eagle, said: ‘Chloe brings laughter and there is never a dull moment when she is in the kitchen. She has become a valued member of our team.’

When Chloe received her first paycheque she went on her own to her bank to ask for a paying-in book so that she could start saving her money.


National Star College provides personalised learning to prepare young people with disabilities to become more independent so they can make the most of their lives. Find out more.

compass in palm of hand

Derwen College case study: Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards

Caitlin, has taken on challenging Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards thanks to her hard work and support f…

Derwen College case study: Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards

compass in palm of hand

Caitlin, has taken on challenging Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards thanks to her hard work and support from Derwen College, in Shropshire.

Inspired by her brother and sister’s experiences of Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, student Caitlin was determined to take on the challenge too. The 23-year-old Performing Arts student has overcome the difficulties of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and visual impairment; displaying a determination and fortitude that has inspired her family, and the entire Derwen Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Awards team.

Whilst at the college for young adults with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), she has completed her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and most of her Silver. She wasn’t able to complete the Silver expedition in Summer 2020 due to Covid but hopes to finish this year. She also went on to enrol on the Gold DofE in September 2020. Caitlin is making excellent progress towards completing both awards before the end of 2021.

Caitlin has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and is visually impaired; she has a one-to-one carer to support her needs. Caitlin faces many challenges daily, never mind on a DofE expedition, but refuses to allow anything to hold her back.

Trying new things

She will give anything a go, and particularly enjoyed canoeing training sessions for her Silver Award. Though the activities were physically and mentally draining, she worked hard as part of a team and loved her time on the water.

Caitlin also enjoys being outdoors doing practical sessions. She loves all the activities around the campfire making different foods including homemade bread baked on an open fire. She also enjoys the expedition training sessions where she practised using a Trangia stove for cooking, map work, and navigation.

Caitlin has taken on a host of different activities as part of her DofE. For her volunteering, she has supported Derwen College Charity and the environment with litter picks, and collecting apples from the orchard. Fruit is then delivered to the College food centre to made into chutneys which are sold in College’s garden centre Shop.

For the physical aspect of the awards, Caitlin has been keeping fit in the gym and with swimming. She has also been learning new skills in backwoods cooking, woodland craft, and making hedgehog shelters.

Taking on the challenges

Caitlin said: “I have made new friends. “I like canoeing and Backwoods cooking. My favourite thing to make was bread.”

“I had help from my one-to-one and Mr. Evans. I like DofE every Tuesday. It is fun.”

Caitlin is now in training for challenging canoeing and walking expeditions for her Silver and Gold. She hopes to be able to achieve both over her time at Derwen and beyond.

Derwen’s Duke of Edinburgh Award leader Steve Evans said: “Caitlin completed the bronze award and expedition at Derwen College, and this achievement was inspirational. She is a very committed young lady with a strong will to achieve. Much of DofE will have pushed Caitlin out of her comfort zone but she always remains positive and enthusiastic about future challenges. We have made minor adaptions so Caitlin can take part in all areas of the award; small things like adapting zips on sleeping bags, enlarged maps, and support when using a kettle/cooking on a Trangia. But these are tiny adaptations. It is Caitlin’s determination and have-a-go attitude that gets her through the award.”

Caitlin’s parents said: “Caitlin’s elder brother and sister both worked on the Bronze and Silver levels but time and circumstances were against them getting their Gold Awards. Derwen College not only offered the programme but had an enthusiastic instructor in the form of Steve Evans, and she easily took to the programme. “She’s also had wonderful support from her one-to-one team, and we are very grateful for their support and encouragement. “The programme has given her responsibilities and the ability to try different things she probably would not have tried on her own. It has certainly challenged her and made her – and us – aim higher!


Derwen College works with young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. They provide inspirational learning, development and care to enable the achievement of aspirations which transforms lives. Find out more.

Derwen College Work Experience

Derwen College: A focus on work experience

Derwen College is an  independent specialist college in Gobowen, near Oswestry, Shropshire.&nbs…

Derwen College: A focus on work experience

Derwen College Work Experience

Derwen College is an  independent specialist college in Gobowen, near Oswestry, Shropshire.  They support students with special educational needs and disabilities to achieve aspirations and reach their goals.

This video looks at the work experience opportunities available, and in it, we hear directly from the young people in placements, in their own words.

Derwen College works with young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, providing inspirational learning, development and care to enable the achievement of aspirations which transforms lives. Find out more.

Ed from National Star

National Star College helps student land his dream job

National Star College helped Ed Scipio transform into a confident young man. What’s more, Ed h…

National Star College helps student land his dream job

Ed from National Star

National Star College helped Ed Scipio transform into a confident young man. What’s more, Ed has gone on to secure a job in his hometown.

When Ed started as a residential student at National Star College in Gloucestershire, he wouldn’t speak up for himself and was nervous about trying anything new. He had never even spent a night away from his mum.

Not only did he achieve qualifications in his Work Outcome programme, but he was elected Student Union President and received a Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award and a Gold Achievement DofE.

Since leaving National Star in July, Ed has landed himself a job delivering meat three days a week for Devizes butcher, Walter Rose & Sons. With a customised wagon on the back of his power wheelchair, Ed has become a popular sight around town.

‘We’ve known Ed for a while and when he finished college we decided to get him in to work by helping with deliveries around town,’ says Jack Cook, from Walter Rose & Sons. ‘He’s made a real difference to the business and everyone around town knows him.’

Ed was born premature at 24 weeks. He spent a great deal of his first seven years of life in hospital. He has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.

While at National Star, the occupational therapy team worked with Ed and his chair driving skills. He also accessed aquatic therapy and physiotherapy to develop his strength.

Ed hopes to move eventually into supported living.

‘National Star helped me get a job that I love and gave me independence,’ says Ed.


National Star College is a specialist independent college for people with physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and associated learning difficulties located in Gloucestershire.

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