Why starting from scratch is the best thing I’ve ever done

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Nicola Donnelly, has overcome some seemingly impossible obstacles, and she says she couldn’t have done it without AAT. She tells us why.

A decade ago I had nothing.

I was in a violent relationship, and my kids and I had to get away. We left for school as normal one morning, got on a bus and headed to a women’s refuge centre. We couldn’t go back; I left everything behind and quit my job as a hairdresser there and then.

Starting from scratch

Other than some temping work, I had no other experience. I didn’t even have any qualifications. I left school with no GCSEs. I thought: how I am going to manage? Provide for the children? Pay rent while scraping by on benefits or minimum wage at best? I went to the local unemployment centre and as I was looking for office admin work, they suggested that I sign up to their Sage Line 50 course. I did and really enjoyed it, and realised there might be something there. My advisor then suggested I look into AAT. I hadn’t heard of them at that stage but it seemed like a manageable option, which could work around employment.

What I didn’t realise at the time was just how life changing it could be.

I got a job as an accounts clerk on a two year contract thanks to the Sage course, and I began studying AAT two evenings per week at Knowsley Community College. AAT really is a fast track to becoming an accountant. That’s not to say it was easy. Of course it was hard to juggle work, my kids and the course but it meant I could provide for them in the short term whilst building a long term future for us all. I had a good friend from the refuge who would babysit while I went to college, and as soon my family realised how serious I was about seeing this through my mum stepped in to help too. It was manageable enough for the first year, but Level 2 and 3 meant I really had to knuckle down. The kids adjusted pretty quickly though, and soon they were saying ‘we’re going to bed now mum so you can get your books out!’

Sparking ambition

I wouldn’t be where I am today without AAT. AAT showed me what ambition really means. As I worked through Level 3, I knew that MAAT was the next step for me – there was no doubt about it. I learned what I was really capable of. I wasn’t even that good at Maths at school and I left without English and Maths qualifications – I’ve since gained qualifications in both. I started my current job about six months ago. Having previously worked as a management accountant, I felt that my career growth and progression became stunted – I was reporting on meetings and strategy rather than shaping it. Then the recruitment agency got in touch to say they had something they knew would be right up my street. I am now Finance Business Partner at a major UK charity that provides integrated care services for elderly and disabled people. I take care of the Scottish division and the decisions made are all mine. Plus I became MIP in mid-2015. I honestly never imagined myself running my own business, or managing an entire region for a national charity. I left school with no GSCEs, left a life behind, and here I am doing both thanks to AAT.

After seven years of study I’ve taken a break, to allow some free time – it was just becoming too much with my job and the business. I will be going back to it though. I’ve started a blog to give others some guidance and I offer advice and hopefully inspire people on forums and social media. I thought for a while I might like to teach but it turns out I am quite shy – I realised that standing up in front of a group of people just isn’t something I feel can do, so I’m teaching via my website for now!

In short, to anyone who is thinking about studying AAT I’d say don’t even think about it, just do it. I can’t put into words how much it helped me. The money and time you’ll invest will be worth a hundred times that amount. It really did change my life and the tutors couldn’t be more supportive, they are there day and night to help you on your journey.

You can check out Nicola’s blog here.

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland.

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