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Magistrate wins Inspirational Learner Award

PERSEVERED: Sharon Thompson

SHE WAS homeless as a teenager and didn’t know her alphabet until she was 21, but single mum Sharon Thompson has overcome all these hurdles to win a regional award from the Open University.

The 32-year-old, who puts her career success down to volunteering, has just scooped the Midlands Inspirational Learner Award 2012, organised by the National Institution of Adult Continuing Education and sponsored by the Open University.

Sharon, who is now a Birmingham magistrate and community development officer, signed up with the Open University in 2007. It was the only viable way she could combine study with full-time work and being a mum.

She gained a certificate in social sciences and a diploma in social policy while working towards her honours degree in social sciences. Her studies fuelled her interest in society – social justice and community engagement in particular.

Sharon, who jokes that she is a ‘third sector girl’ because of her volunteering, added: “I have learned the true value of lifelong learning. It has opened doors, unlocked potential that I didn’t know existed and opened my mind to new thinking."

“I love the work I do in court and I can usually understand how and why things have gone wrong for the person in front of the magistrates’ bench. The journey my own life has taken helps me greatly.”

Two years ago Sharon was invited to speak ahead of Rev Al Sharpton at an Operation Black Vote leadership ceremony, held at the Houses of Parliament.

It is a far cry from when, after battling with dyslexia, she left home at 16 and lived in hostels before becoming a single mum. But instead of accepting the lack of work she volunteered with Optima, her local community housing association, and helped to run a residents’ shop.

Through Optima she landed a job at Birmingham City Council and became the youngest person to manage a council-run community building, at the age of 25.
Sharon was nominated for her award by friend Monica Hall, who said: “Sharon continued through a number of personal challenges, including unexpected bereavements, with perseverance and Poppy Bradydetermination.”

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