Openness difficult as it can be is a precursor to change

Outside the University’s Halls of Residence 1996

Well, it seems change is here to stay. Of course it is though I hadn’t anticipated that it would stay in my thoughts for so long.

A significant change came when I started University. I remember at 15 hearing University being mentioned at school and immediately thinking, “That is not for me.” I was, in the end, a late starter at 23.

After completing my secondary education I went to Galway to study Theology at a small college after which I moved to Banbridge and attempted to set up, ‘The Pub with no Beer’. When it failed I took a job working in the homeless hostel in my hometown. It was while working there that I realised my limitations in helping people to change and began to consider applying to train as a social worker. Although I believed in change, largely due to the changes I had seem in my own life, skills were necessary to facilitate change in others.

It was a difficult to decision to leave N/Ireland as my passion was great for the country and I hadn’t contemplated leaving. The difficulty was there were no more than 100 places for social work students in Northern Ireland though there were plenty in England. I didn’t have the grades to compete at home so if I were to train it would be to England I would go.

The two years in Banbridge helped me finalise my time in Ireland and after much waiting, in the spiritual sense, I felt it was right to go to England.

I can see myself standing outside the door of the lecture room for my first session and thinking, “I am about to enter a different world.”

In the three years of my Social Work degree, I was pressed on all my sensitive areas. Although I had been freed from religious prejudice the political animal was still alive in me. I didn’t realise it at the time but I went from defending Northern Irish Protestant Unionists to defending my now perception of God as an Evangelical. You can imagine abortion, gay rights were going to be the sensitive areas. Indeed living in a multi faith community was also a challenging area.

I did what I knew and, as a member of both the Students’ Union and the Christian Union, I made my voice heard. The difficulty, this was England and the social conservatism I knew in Northern Ireland was not popular here.

It was not an easy time for me or perhaps my opponents. However my openness led to debates and discussions and over time I was being influenced. The biggest influence is always getting to know people at a personal level and when someone becomes your friend your barriers fall and your understanding of the world enlarges.

In those 3 years although my change was not complete I learned how to confront my prejudices and get over them. What mattered was helping the individual achieve the best possible life not trying to limit their change with my own ideas of right and wrong.