A MUM-OF-ONE based in Oswestry has just been crowned overall winner at this year’s Inspire! Award for changing her life through education and has dedicated it to her daughter.

Emma Williams, who grew up in Wrexham, revealed how joining rehab and picking up an adult education course to keep her mind busy changed her life.

She has now been awarded with the ‘Life Change and Progression’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of her success in changing her life through learning.

Co-ordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards reward those who have demonstrated the power of learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

By age 14, she had left home and was spending her days drinking and taking drugs.

Suffering with her mental health, alcoholism and addiction for much of her adult life, she found herself homeless in her teens and fearing she couldn’t escape. Emma gave birth to a daughter at 21 and, suffering with post-natal depression, her addiction got worse and she began her downward spiral.

“Day and night, I didn’t know the difference,” she said.

“I felt like I was destined for a life of hardship. I spent a lot of time wanting to die. Drugs and alcohol were a safety blanket.”

Eight years later, aged 29, desperate, she walked into a recovery centre in Colwyn Bay, called Touchstones 12.

“There was a college next door to the facility. I started off small with a few employability courses to keep my mind busy. It was life-changing.”

While gaining help with her addiction, Emma applied for a job as a recovery support worker and spent the next two years as a case worker, helping others deal with their own problems with drugs.

Being made redundant from the job she loved was a blow, but she used the opportunity to fuel her determination for learning and applied to university.

Returning to qualifications she had gained in her 20s and with the new courses she had completed, Emma was able to apply to start studying for an undergraduate degree in Forensic Science.

The 39-year-old said: “Ten days later, I was sat in my first Quantum Chemistry lecture. I’ve suffered majorly with imposter syndrome, not many of the students look like me or have had similar backgrounds – but I am so determined.”

Over the next five years she completed her undergraduate degree in Forensic science, PGCE, and is in the process of completing an MRes in Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology with a focus on biological anthropology at Wrexham's Glyndwr University.

After qualifying as a teacher, she taught on the undergraduate Forensic Science degree and is now a science communicator for Techniquest in North Wales, working as a role model for females in STEM subjects.

“Now I encourage girls to study science like me,” she said.

“My proudest achievement is Maisie, my daughter, who is now 18 and currently studying her A levels. She’s a star student. She sees me come home sometimes after working two jobs and sit at the dining room table to study and just copies me. She has that same grit about her.”

Emma is one of 12 winners which feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, which this year takes place online from 21-27 September, a week full of taster sessions and masterclasses aimed to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Adult Learners’ Week celebrates lifelong learning, whether in educational institutions, through work, at home or as a leisure activity and the week will be full of tasters and success stories on why learning a new skill can change your story.

She said: “I can’t believe I’ve won this award. I was told I wouldn’t live past 30 if I continued to live my life like I did. Yet I know so many people who have been through worse. If I can inspire at least one person or show someone who is struggling, that you can change your life through education, then it’s all worth it.”

Admitting it hasn’t been easy, Emma, who discovered she had additional needs, encouraged other people to ask for help: “When you struggle to believe in yourself, the people around you make all the difference. The support I had not only my loved ones but my tutors too, helped me find my passion and my voice. I want to prove to my daughter that she can do anything she puts her mind to – just like me.”

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “During these strange times it’s still so important to celebrate individuals who’ve gone above and beyond. Emma has shown her dedication to lifelong learning and it’s clear to see that for her, gaining qualifications and learning new skills has been her saving grace.

“As we celebrate Adult Learners’ Week, albeit slightly differently, we have seen a thirst for learning at any age whether that’s through our online platform or signing up for courses in the future.

“Emma and her whole family should be so proud of her achievements in winning the overall award and I hope her story will inspire others across the country by showcasing that it’s never too late to change your story.”

To find out what’s going on during Adult Learners’ Week and for personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844, visit your local Careers centre, or search www.workingwales.gov.wales