‘My mum was a little bit upset when I dropped out of my history degree at Trent University in Nottingham after just one term. I had vaguely thought it would lead me into teaching (like my mother), but I just wasn’t enjoying it. So I began a round of awful jobs just to pay off my overdraft including becoming a white van driver, and office removals.
‘But I’d done a bit of outdoors activity with the Scouts, and at school. In the sixth form I had been on a youth watersports training programme which had left me with the basic level of qualification to teach kayaking. We used to practise on a canal in Hackney, north London, with the Laburnum Boat Club. So I started teaching kayaking part-time to children at weekends.
‘It made me think I could take a degree in outdoors activities, and I got a place at University of Central Lancashire. I was a ‘mature’ student compared to the other undergraduates, although not by much. Put it this way, I was still up at three in the morning finishing assignments like everybody else. The course was much more academic than you might think – it’s not all practical. But I did bring with me a little bit of experience, and I understood some coaching theories thanks to my earlier qualification.
‘In all, it was such a good experience that I decided I’d like to look at becoming a lecturer – although I knew I needed life experience first. After graduating in 2007, I worked as an instructor in Ireland for eight months, and then with Outward Bound for a year.
‘Now I’m back at UCLan where I’m responsible for the stores and the health and safety policy. I also instruct students in kayaking, and do a bit of freelance work elsewhere. I can’t see myself doing anything that’s not related to the outdoors now. The pay is not too bad; certainly enough to live on – although you should expect your first couple of jobs to be low paid. The pay is never going to be as good as other professional industries. But you have to decide: do you work to live, or live to work?
‘I think my mum’s happy too now – I got there in the end.’
Images: Dan Butler