‘I want to be a beacon of hope’ Man becomes mental health nurse after facing own struggles
Matthew Fairclough studied a Registered Mental Health Nursing Apprenticeship course, offered by CNTW in partnership with the University of Sunderland.
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After four years of studying and working as a volunteer for many years, a 53-year-old man has achieved his dream of becoming a Registered Mental Health Nurse at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust (CNTW).
Matthew Fairclough from Blyth, served in the British Army, spending six months in Iraq in 2003 and struggled with his mental health as a result, as he explained: “I thought my time in the army was hard, but in 2004 I became very ill and spent some time as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward at Oldham General Hospital.”
After suffering from more trauma and bereavement in 2010, Matthew was once again supported by NHS mental health services.
The same year, Matthew decided to volunteer in the mental health services he had used, in order to help others who may be facing the same or similar struggles he did. Matthew explained: “When I was ready to leave the service which was supporting me, someone asked, what are you going to do next? I just knew that I wanted to help other people that may be going through some of the same things as I had.”
He continued: “One of the staff members supporting me suggested contacting the Trust about volunteering, which I did. The rest, as they say, is history!”
Matthew began working as a volunteer supporting patients on rehabilitation units at St George’s Park hospital in Morpeth, a role which he held for three years before securing a paid role in 2013, as a Peer Supporter with the North Tyneside Community Treatment Team, where his work involved using his own experience of mental health to help others on their journey to recovery.
In 2019, Matthew joined the newly-launched Registered Mental Health Nursing Apprenticeship course, offered by CNTW in partnership with the University of Sunderland.
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Matthew said of the course: “The apprenticeship has opened up so many career progression opportunities for me. Without this opportunity to learn and earn at the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to undertake this level of training.
“I really liked the fact that the apprenticeship allowed me to put what I’ve learned into practice straight away, rather than waiting to finish training and secure a job.
“Juggling learning and work was a big learning curve, though! I found that planning was key, not only to completing the coursework alongside a full-time job, but also for maintaining my own mental health and wellbeing.
“But my team managers and colleagues were so supportive. They offered me so much guidance and encouragement, and gave me great opportunities to stretch myself in my day-to-day role to support my apprenticeship studies. They understood my different roles and ensured I was able to meet my university requirements as well as my role as a Peer Supporter.”
Despite facing personal challenges along the way, including the loss of his mother in January 2023, after a long fight with bowel cancer, Matthew became the proud owner of his official Nursing and Midwifery Council registration.
He said: “I had to deal with the funeral and everything else during the last five months of my course, with assignments and a dissertation still demanding my attention. But I managed it - making use of the many techniques I’ve learnt, and wellbeing plans put in place, during my own recovery.”
Matthew will now begin work as a newly registered Mental Health Nurse, and he explained: “I want to be a beacon of hope and recovery for people; to show what can be accomplished, regardless of your diagnosis or past experiences.
“The patients I’ve worked with over the past four years while I’ve been doing the apprenticeship course have been some of my biggest supporters. I hope that my journey to qualifying as a Registered Nurse helps to show people that becoming unwell doesn’t have to be the end of your life or your career.”