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Young mum's life not 'wasted'

PUBLISHED: 09:10 31 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:39 05 July 2010

TEARS poured down my cheeks when Natasha, the single mum who'd had her first child at 15, given up on school and any hope of a life, realised Jamie Oliver had helped her find a future.

TEARS poured down my cheeks when Natasha, the single mum who'd had her first child at 15, given up on school and any hope of a life, realised Jamie Oliver had helped her find a future.

Standing outside a catering college in Rotherham, viewers of Channel Four's Ministry of Food saw her really smile for the first time. The brightest, broadest and proudest smile that, at last, she felt she'd achieved something.

How sad that this young woman, with drive, determination and uncovered talent, had felt her life had been “wasted” by having children young.

By hooking her into his Pass it On campaign, Oliver changed life forever for this mother who had never cooked her children a meal before Jamie came to town, feeding them from a nearby kebab shop.

Now, on the steps of that college, she had something to work for and look forward to for the first time in her life.

She'd achieved what she thought was the impossible. Even with her reading and writing problems and no qualifications, she was going to college to train as a chef.

It had taken a celebrity cook to uncover a natural ability and show her the way to make something of herself and bring a better life to her children.

How many more Natashas are out there?

The saddest fact was that the discovery of opportunity on her doorstep was such a surprise. What made her think her local college was a place for “other people”, clever people, to go?

Her local further education college, like every other across the country, exists for people like her.

But still, after years of telling people otherwise, there's still a belief that colleges exist for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Colleges are full of adults, women and men, doing just what Natasha will be doing - improving themselves and getting a life.

Her excitement when her interviewer told her she would get help with her written work and that the college had a crèche was palpable. Again, this is no secret. Help is at hand at every step.

Second chance education is where it's at now.

In every college in every town, adults, many of whom never got a qualification at school, are catching the learning bug and flying through qualifications and starting new careers, even working for themselves.

Colleges are making the world people's oysters.

Many had a bad time at school, written off by teachers because they either fell behind, were disruptive or, more likely, never got the help they so desperately needed.

Turned off education, they dropped out, got pregnant and stuck in a life of benefits, poverty and misery, passing on their negativity about the education system to their children.

If Natasha's story can inspire others to check out their local college, they'll find doors opening they never knew existed.

On Saturday, Linda Cox from Lowestoft, a mother of 12-year-old twins with a full-time job was named City College Norwich's Student of the year after gaining a first class honours in inclusive practice in education.

Just reading Linda's daily routine was exhausting. Up at 4am to fit in three hours' study in until her children woke up, then on with the daily routine of work and running the home until she went to bed when her children did at 8.30pm.

She couldn't have achieved it without a lot of support from her family, friends and employers, she said. Such support ad love of a family is a blessing.

Her husband, Alan, sounds like one in a million too, taking time off to look after the children and helping her to cut down her hours at work.

Women like Linda are magnificent. Multi-tasking isn't even half of it. With focus and determination they achieve amazing things every day, deserving in our admiration and respect.

This month, graduates at Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth collected their higher education qualifications. Many were women with jobs, families and commitments who had made education fit into their lives to improve their lot and their families' future. Awesome.

Natasha and Linda, poles apart in many ways, are the 'can do' role models for so many women believing they can't try anything new.

Rubbish - just ask Linda and Natasha.

Go get it, girls. It's all there for the taking at a college near you.

PUERILE taunting and crude offensive larking about is bad enough in 14-year-old boys.

But even teenage schoolboy “humour” is sophisticated compared to the revolting behaviour of two of the nation's most highly paid TV “personalities.”

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's so-called “prank” to Andrew Sachs was pathetic, nasty and deeply concerning behaviour for two rich-beyond-our-wildest dreams and supposedly intelligent responsible adults and role models.

If money corrupts and stardom addles the brain, these two prove the point beyond doubt.

And, like too many naughty schoolboys today, rather than take responsibility for their own actions, they get mummy - or Auntie in this case - to apologise for them. Pathetic.

The BBC should have sacked them instantly - and the “executive” who decided the pre-corded drivel was fit for broadcast.

Out of control because their pay packets and lack of censure led them to believe they were untouchable. The BBC has created monsters from our licence money. But we've had enough.

COME on programmes like GMTV and This Morning.

Their audiences are made up of people feeling the crunch of the credit crisis. The last thing they want to see is a parade of the “must have” toys this Christmas - especially when “must have” costs £200.

“Must have” today is food, heating and keeping a roof over families' heads - not a £199.99 programmable dinosaur.

GMTV has already paraded the cute little chap. A price tag of almost three weeks' food shopping is irresponsible and insensitive to the hard-pressed parents already struggling to make ends meet.

I hope these lifestyle programmes will go easy on Christmas this year with more advice on enjoying simple pleasures of family time together rather than spending money they haven't got.

SATURDAY'S X Factor was a travesty. Scott Bruton should never have been sent home in favour of dreadful dreary Daniel. No way.

I'm not a Scott fan - he's too big for his boots - but again the saccharine sob story won over talent. How much longer will Cowell and Co peddle this pap?

Daniel's droning to his wife was not a patch on Scott's final performance. But sentimentality was victorious.

No wonder Simon Cowell is furious with Peter Kay for the hilarious birth of Geraldine on Britain's Got the Pop Factor, the funniest thing on TV this year.

He summed Cowell's ventures up in a nutshell. Sob stories sell. So where does that leave real talent?

Back in Pontins at Pakefield?

COME back John Prescott - all is forgiven.

The former deputy prime minister and his glorious wife, Pauline, served up TV gold this week as they explored the class system.

Not a previous fan of “two jags” Prezza, by the end of the first episode I was shouting Prezza for PM. Oh how Britain might have been different with Mr and Mrs P in Number 10.

Laying bare his insecurities of his background, watching him mix with the chinless wonders at Henley Regatta, who just didn't “get” their privilege, and learning how the Prescotts were frozen out of the New Labour set and excluded from Chequers, made his achievement of reaching the Queen's Second minister all the more remarkable.

And his snipes at Cherie Blair were fabulous.

Likeable, genuine, sincere, honest and fantastic company, it's sad we only got to see the real JP and the glamorous Pauline after his retirement.

But the more Pauline shone, the more I troubled I became. How could he? And with Tracey Temple?

HALLOWEEN tonight and households will be living in fear of what comes next.

A tiny tot in fancy dress shepherded around neighbourhoods by parents is the acceptable face of the American tradition here.

But that's just a fraction of the story.

Teenagers rampaging terrorising people cowering in their homes, fireworks through letterboxes, windows pelted with eggs.

Tonight is general nuisance night - but nuisance and mischief is plain terrifying for many.

I don't do Halloween, the mean spoilsport mother I am.

We carve a pumpkin for the doorstep, and I get treats in for callers - I'm not that mean - but my children don't go trick or treating because it's something I don't believe we should buy into.

They, quite rightly, don't like the idea of knocking on strangers' doors after dark demanding sweets either. They don't feel deprived.

Parents of teenagers tonight have a duty to ensure they're not out causing mayhem and terror for people.

Tonight, of all nights, is a time when parental control and responsibility must be taken seriously for the safety and peace of mind of others.

WE live in an area where people rely on their cars.

Elderly people more than most see driving as their lifeline. They dread the day when they have to stop driving.

That's why the current law relying on people's honesty to renew their licences over 70 is ludicrous.

Not that elderly people are likely to be knowingly dishonest, but sometimes people are so desperate to keep driving they'll be economical with the truth.

And we all know people who insist there's absolutely nothing wrong with their sight but who can't really see beyond their nose.

Every claim is subjective.

The current system of a driver declaration to allow old people to carry on driving must be changed, urgently, if only to prevent another tragedy like the case of 86-year-old Allan Skoyles who ploughed into three pedestrians in Great Yarmouth and should never have been behind the wheel.

What's the problem with statutory tests for the over 70s?

If people have nothing to hide, they'll be on the roads until their 90s. If they have, then they should never be in control - or not, in many cases - of a lethal weapon.

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