Student Life: "My Mam pushed me towards education."

BA (Hons) Sociology student Natalie Jubb on going from poverty to university, balancing work experience with study, and the positive power of sport.

Young woman boxing

Image by Ron Lach

BA (Hons) Sociology student Natalie Jubb writes for Social Policy Matters about going from poverty to university, balancing work experience with study, and the positive power of sport. 

I’m from Darlington, a small Northern town, where I grew up seeing those around me struggle.

For the majority of my childhood, I lived below the poverty line; my family had less than £6000 per annum. My early years were spent worrying about where the next meal would come from, and how to care for my sister, who had been diagnosed with arthritis—she required a warm home to ease her pain, but we simply couldn’t afford the bills to heat the house or to fill the electricity meter. From the age of five, I was acutely aware of money and what it is like to not have it. This led to me taking a degree in Social Policy.

Education helped me to get out of poverty

My Mam pushed me towards education, and despite my initial objections, I soon saw that it was the way for me to get out the cycle of poverty. All I wanted, all I want, is to help my family. To give them the life they want for me. I am lucky enough to have had a good education which allowed me to get into university. I believe I owe it to my community to give back, which is again why I chose social policy: to help those who are not as fortunate as me.

Now, I’m in my second year of study, reading BA (Hons) Social Policy. I chose the University of Birmingham because of the allure of a big city without the expense of London; I knew I’d need to be in a city to gain work experience and to build up a network of contacts in similar fields. I was lucky enough to get a reduced offer from Birmingham.

Sport guides me through tough times

I’m part of the pole fitness society here at University, so you can usually find me spending my spare time training. Sport—especially my first passion, boxing—has helped me to gain confidence and allowed me a place where I can forget momentarily about bigger issues.

In college, I was diagnosed with depression. Alongside family troubles, this led me to miss a lot of school, but I learned to educate myself and thankfully I ended college with three A*s. Now I volunteer as a coach at the local boxing club, teaching both kids and adults boxing. It is so important for me to give back to the sport that helped me through a lot of dark times.

All I want is to help my family...I believe I owe it to my community to give back, which is why I chose to study social policy: to help those who are not as fortunate as me.

When it comes to Social Policy, I’m interested in poverty, class issues, and inequality

I have first-hand experience with poverty, so it won’t come as a surprise that I like to explore this within social policy—especially after coming to university and being surrounded by southern accents that can imply privilege. This has been challenging for me.

Poverty is at the core of many of societies issues. Take knife crime, for example. How can you expect youths to watch their parents suffer and not look for ways to make money? Benefits have been cut, our systems and government are corrupt. Poverty, class, and inequality hold a special place in my heart because I believe that they are fundamental to a good society, my biggest goal is to one day prove this.

I’ve been on the hunt for good work experience and found success with LinkedIn

I started with the University's Careers Connect, which is full of great opportunities. However, most opportunities were full time so would not fit around my studies. Soon after, I was offered a mentor through the University of Birmingham Mentoring Scheme, which I grabbed with both hands! I am so thankful to have received such a caring, intelligent, and friendly mentor in Liz Hamlet, who introduced me to LinkedIn. I had a LinkedIn profile but had not explored the benefits of being present on such a brilliant platform. Liz showed me how to navigate LinkedIn and use it to my advantage. This is where I have found the most success finding work experience.

Now, I do work experience with the Digital Poverty Alliance

The mission of the Digital Poverty Alliance (DPA) speaks to me: they want to end digital poverty by 2030. When we discuss poverty, we don’t often consider how some people struggle to access digital resources. People need the internet to find work, healthcare advice and civic support. I urge everybody to consider the many forms poverty can take.

I work as an administrative assistant and volunteer as a policy research assistant. For the admin role, I take care of diary management, contacting possible connections and ensuring important meetings take place. For the policy role, I research existing digital inclusion policies and reach out to local communities to enquire about any digital inclusion strategies they have.

Balancing work experience and study is a challenge

I sometimes need to be in two places at once! I try to wake early to fit in a gym session before I start work at the DPA at 9am. After I finish my shift, I go to campus to study, then head over to the boxing club to coach and afterwards train again myself. Before I go to sleep, I often do a little more volunteer work for the DPA. I used to have a job at the Sea Life Centre, but unfortunately had to leave as I could not balance my hours around university.

I’d love to work for an MP

My dream work experience placement would be in central or local government. I’d love to shadow an MP for the Labour Party in a paid role; work experience is still a job, and being paid would be ideal.

I’m driven by a strong desire for change

I haven’t had the easiest upbringing, but I also haven’t had the toughest. There are so many people in need of help. I would love to be in a position where I can ensure real change is made to benefit those most vulnerable in society. We need more people in high places—in government, in public services, in third sector management—who have lived experience of things such as poverty.

I want my sister to be proud of me

My elder sister motivates me to work hard and do well. She’s been by my side through everything, from my darkest days battling poor mental health, to travelling across the country to ensure she never missed one of my boxing matches. She raised me when my parents weren’t present, and always reminded me that I am worthy of all I desire.

Find out more about Natalie on LinkedIn.