A BARRY college worker who couldn’t afford to buy lunch as a student has won a national award for his inspirational story of learning against the odds.

Thomas Ferriday watched motivational clips on YouTube when he left school with no GCSEs, but now he mentors other students and hopes his career will take him all over the world.

The 22-year-old has just been awarded an Inspire! Award for adult learning in Wales.

The annual Inspire! Awards are hosted ahead of Adult Learners’ Week.

Winners are rewarded for demonstrating the power of learning in raising expectations, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities, and their stories also feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, from June 17 to 23.

He took the Into Work award at a ceremony held in The Exchange Hotel, Cardiff, on Wednesday, June 5.

The brickwork technician spent years living with different family members due to problems at home, before moving into a bedsit when he was 17.

Homelessness charity Llamau provided him with a support worker to help with day-to-day living skills and arranging his finances – helping him to access Income Support.

He applied for 40 jobs and didn’t receive one interview, but he was determined to start earning, so he enrolled at Cardiff and Vale College’s brickwork department three years ago, beginning a Level Two brickwork diploma course.

“I worked out that I needed £5 a day to buy food, pay bills and get myself to college,” he said. “I knew how to make my own food, but it was hard work living on not very much. I made bolognese, simple things, bought pizzas from the supermarket and often skipped breakfast.”

He took extra classes in maths and English, progressing onto a Level 3 Brickwork Diploma and representing the college at the Guild of Bricklayers competition.

He said: “I didn’t have much money, and there were days I barely had enough for lunch, but I kept going to college because I knew it would help me to get a job and have a brighter future.”

Last year, he was celebrated in the Cardiff and Vale College Student Awards, and five months ago, he landed a job at the college as a brickwork technician where he engages with new learners starting their own journey.

“I’ve been through a difficult time and I don’t want to see other people go through the same,” said Mr Ferriday. “I was bullied at school because I wore glasses and was small.

“I told myself from a young age that I was going to work hard and take every opportunity I could get, to get away from troubles and find something I loved. I tell the students the same thing.”

“I failed my GCSEs, I tried painting and decorating, and I didn’t do well on the course. But I knew I had lots to offer so I kept trying.”

He said: “There was a guy with severe disabilities who had done amazing things, he hadn’t let anything hold him back, and he was studying at university. I thought, there are so many people going through hardships. Many people have difficult backgrounds but they’ve changed their lives by learning.”

Now he hopes his skills will help him to achieve his ambition of travelling the world.

“I’d love to work on building projects in Africa,” he said. I’ve saved some money and hope to plan something for later this year.”

Brickwork lecturer, Paul Sebburn, nominated Mr Ferriday for the award.

Mr Sebburn said: “Thomas’ work ethic was fantastic. From day one he wanted more work, he was never late, had 100 per cent attendance, and always turned up to his lessons with a smile on his face.

“He’s worked so hard to get where he is and will be the first person to say he hasn’t found the academic study easy but he’s persevered.”

Mr Ferriday added: “I’ve always struggled but I’ve always been determined to do my best and do extra to achieve my goals. Working hard has given me so much. I have money to spend on myself. I’m also learning to drive. I think I’ve proven that those who said I couldn’t do it were wrong - and I intend to keep improving.”