Mariana Ghertan caught COVID twice and tragically lost her mother and grandfather during her Healthcare apprenticeship. Here she shares how with the support of her tutor and family she successfully completed her training is now looking to fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse.

Juggling two jobs, one as a cleaner and another as a receptionist, as well as being a mother of two boys meant that life was busy for Mariana Ghertan.

Deep down she had always loved looking after people and had a passion to build a career that involved helping others. When her husband encouraged her to follow her dreams and do a healthcare apprenticeship, she was initially sceptical.

“I’m from Romania and hadn’t completed any further education after finishing school,” said Mariana, 36, who lives with her family in Enfield.

“I moved to the UK 17 years ago, and as English isn’t my first language I was worried that would impact my ability to do a course or apprenticeship. I was scared of change but my husband pushed me to follow my dreams and encouraged me to go for it.”

Mariana enrolled on a Healthcare Support Worker Level 3 Apprenticeship at North Middlesex University Hospital with Capital City College Training (CCCT) in March 2020 having gained her Level 2 while working at Person Centred Day Opportunities in Enfield.

Apprenticeships are paid jobs that are available to all ages and involve four days at work and one day of study towards a recognised qualification, which Mariana undertook at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

“I started just before lockdown and so I only had a couple of days of study at CONEL before it changed to home study, and on the other days I was working in the hospital caring for people, which I loved,” she said.

However, Mariana faced significant setbacks during her apprenticeship including contracting COVID twice and losing her grandfather who had brought her up with her mother in Romania.

“The first time I had COVID was over the Christmas period before the vaccinations. My grandad also died of old age while I was recovering and my husband lost a cousin due to COVID, and we were unable to attend their funerals because of lockdown,” she said.

“My breathing was very bad and my family were all very worried. I shut myself away in the bedroom in order to protect my husband and sons. It was an extremely difficult time, which resulted in me taking four weeks off my studies.”

Mariana caught COVID again nearly a year later, which resulted in her missing another three weeks. And on top of that her mother was tragically killed in a car crash aged just 59.

‘I received the phone call to tell me about my mum just before my exams. I was completely broken and told my tutor that I was going to quit the course and leave work,” said Mariana.

“However, my tutor was the most incredible support. She encouraged me not to give up and offered me more time. I spoke to my husband and sons who had seen how much hard work I had put in. They said that my mum was proud of me and would have wanted me to finish, so I did.

“Working in a hospital would not have been possible for me without an apprenticeship. If it wasn’t for the amazing support of my tutor, my husband and my sons, I would never have stuck at it.”

Mariana took some time off after completing her apprenticeship to help with family arrangements back in Romania and now hopes to train to become a nurse.

‘My Level 3 qualification has provided me with enough UCAS points to do nursing,” she said.

“I feel very fortunate to have been given the support to follow my dreams.”

Mariana’s achievements earned her an Excellence Award from Capital City College Group (CCCG), which includes CCCT and CONEL along with City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College.

According to the Health Foundation, 314,000 more full-time equivalent NHS staff will be needed over and above existing vacancies in England by 2030/31. Find out more about our Healthcare and Social Care apprenticeships here.

John Poulter was paralysed in a work accident and spent 14 years in recovery. Here he tells his inspiring story about how the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) gave him the chance to train as an electrician and run his own business.

John Poulter was 42 when his life changed forever.

The father of three was paralysed from the waist down when a forklift driver dropped a heavy pallet on his lower back when he was working as an HGV driver in August 2007.

John said: “I was dropping off a delivery. The forklift driver came out and the first two pallets came off without a problem. He then got a call on his mobile and while he was talking, he hit the tilt button and my life as I knew it ended.”

John’s recovery took 14 years, and he is now an electrician with his own business after training at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

Prior to the accident, John, now 56, had worked as a butcher and served in the British Army in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Germany, Korea and the first Gulf War.

He was by his own definition “a man mountain” who would spend every spare moment when he was not working at the gym.

He said: “I had heavy muscle build and was still disciplined after coming out of the Army and wanted to develop myself. At weekends I was weight training and free running up and down hills with air cylinders and kegs to build up my cardio and breaking all my personal bests.”

John was airlifted to the Royal Surrey County Hospital and then transferred to the Royal London Hospital where he underwent two operations and then to a spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire over the next four weeks.

He then spent the next 18 months at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore and over the following 12 years continued to undergo surgery and rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville.

“Those were the darkest days of my life,” said John.

“I was very angry and the most bitter, twisted individual you could come across. When I first got a wheelchair, I kept asking myself why am I sitting in it, why am I going through this, why me?”

John married his wife Adrienne a year before leaving the Army. They had two sons Craig and Perry and a daughter Becky who were teenagers at the time of the accident.

“I think the impact on them was more than it was on me,” he said.

“My wife has stuck by me through thick and thin. She was hard as nails and straight-faced on the outside but broken on the inside. She never let her appearance show her weakness and that’s what kept me going.”

Medical and psychiatric teams at Stoke Mandeville helped John to overcome his negativity and supported him throughout his recovery.

“My psychotherapist reprogrammed my way of thinking. It took two to three months to trust her and from there we moved forward all the time. Everything in my brain was saying what can I do? I had so much energy but nowhere to divert it,” he said.

In 2015, while John was living and still undergoing therapy in Buckinghamshire, his doctors asked him what he wanted to do next and suggested he go to college.

He began applying for electrical courses and was turned down by 44 colleges across the UK before being accepted and offered a place at CONEL.

He said: “I kept get red flagged all the time, college after college. Then CONEL took me on the assumption if I prove I can do it, they will put the building blocks in place for me. I told them if you tell or show me something, I’ll soak it up like a sponge and will achieve good results.”

John moved to Tottenham and went on to complete two Electrical Installations diplomas with Distinction at CONEL and became an advocate for diversity and inclusion at the college.

It was something of a homecoming for John who was born and grew up in nearby Enfield.

John said: “I can’t fault anything about CONEL. If it wasn’t for the college, I wouldn’t have moved forward. Everyone at CONEL treated me with dignity and has got my respect for the simple reason they opened one door, and every door after that has followed.”

Towards the end of his time at CONEL John launched his own business, JRP Electrical. He is currently studying for a Level 4 electrical qualification while also giving his time to help and inspire the next generation of electricians at the college.

He runs his business with Adrienne and son Perry, providing the tendering, design and contracting of electrical works for domestic and large developments. When visiting sites he uses ramps, chairlifts, cherry pickers and creepers to aid his mobility.

Earlier this year John met Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at the launch of the Mayor’s Academies Programme, a £44 million investment to provide free skills training to get people into work and boost the capital’s recovery from the COVID pandemic.

CONEL secured £250,000 to run a Green Academy Hub that is working with employers to create training opportunities in the construction and green industries.

“The only person that can tell an individual they can’t do something, is themselves,” he said.

“I don’t admit failure, I never have done. I’ve always given everything 100 per cent commitment and looked at my results and thought can I do better.

“You can and will overcome the challenges you will face. Keep pushing because you will get there in the end. Your best days are not behind you, they are yet to come.”

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