Case Study Profile

Newcastle Hospitals Branch – Helen Kilpatrick


Helen has been a Bridges to Learning ULR for over five years. Becoming a UNISON member when she joined The Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust as a domestic assistant in 2003, she soon found herself thrust into the limelight, as her other colleagues realised that her conviction and good communication skills meant that she could be their voice in discussions about the NHS’s Agenda for Change. It is no surprise then that by 2006, Helen was the chair of the UNISON branch in the Trust. Training as a shop steward was Helen’s first taste of learning for years and, enjoying the self-confidence she gained, she was determined to continue in learning. Like most of her colleagues, Helen left school without any qualifications and did various jobs to support her family when she was a single mum; something she has regretted ever since. Hearing that the Trust was to be involved in the Bridges to Learning project, Helen trained as a Union Learning Rep in 2008 and really got the learning bug. She started her learning journey by achieving Literacy levels 1 and 2. Since then she has achieved UNISON Return to Learn, Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector, WEA Understanding Health course and many other qualifications and in 2012 was the winner of the Adult Learners Award in recognition of her achievements. Helen regularly organises learning events and courses for her members, in partnership with John, her ULR colleague in the Trust. It’s such a delight for Helen to see the progress that people have made over the last few years, as a huge number of domestic, healthcare and ancillary staff have, like herself, taken up the opportunity to develop skills that they missed out on the first time around, and she is especially proud that one of her colleagues has gone from being a domestic supervisor to healthcare assistant and is now on a career path to becoming a qualified nurse, thanks to Bridges to Learning. Having recently returned to her role, following maternity leave, Helen is enjoying her role as a ULR once more and is keen to get back into learning herself and hopes to be one of the first of the Trust’s staff to achieve her Functional Skills qualification in Mathematics this autumn. As she says: “I’ve always managed the basics but when my teenage children ask me to help with their homework it reminds me, like a lot of parents I am sure, that I want to overcome my fear of maths and help them, and it’s going to help my confidence too, so it’s feel the fear and get on with it!”
“I’ve always managed the basics but when my teenage children ask me to help with their homework it reminds me, like a lot of parents I am sure, that I want to overcome my fear of maths and help them, and it’s going to help my confidence too, so it’s feel the fear and get on with it!” - Helen

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