Professor Carol Fuller
"Our motto is better together than alone. We are a collective, a mixture of academics, local community partners and local women empowering each other."
Professor Carol Fuller grew up in the local area of Whitley. As a mum with a young family she had few aspirations or qualifications but after taking an Access to Higher Education course at college, she started at university at the age of 32.
She has since continued her studies, obtaining a master's degree and PhD in Sociology and is now a Professor of Sociology and the Research Division Lead for the Institute of Education.
" I came from an environment where no one had aspirations and I was puzzled as to why this was the case. Why did some children have aspirations while others didn't? This became the focus of my PhD which was a study of aspirations in working class girls."
" I was fascinated by students who despite their poverty were aspirational. I was interested in what was different about them. Through my research I discovered it's not about poverty and it's not about academic ability because some participants were low achievers but highly aspirational and vice versa. I discovered it was about confidence and how much power they felt they had to control their own lives."
Carol then began to look at ways in which to change people's sense of empowerment.
"Research has shown you can't tell anyone they can do something. You have to enable people to explore and discover their own abilities for themselves. People often do have aspirations, they just don't know what to do about them."
She created a focus group to ask the local community what they wanted from the University that would enable them to move forward.
From this, the Marvellous Mums project was born. Carol worked with her colleague Dr Maria Kambouri-Danos to create it with funding from the University, and in partnership with Whitley Community Development Association and support from Sure Start, and Reading Borough Council Social Services. Carol and Maria met with local MP Alok Sharma who loved the concept of Marvellous Mums.
He arranged a meeting with the Job Centre. This resulted in a pilot for unemployed women who wanted to go back to work known as Marvellous Me.
"Both programmes are very dear to me. They embody years of research into identity confidence and resonate with my own life experiences. It's about self-empowerment and social justice!"
The ten-week programme is designed to empower the participants in all areas of their life. The sessions include social and cultural outings, goal setting and reflection, as well as practical support, such as interview techniques.
Participants' increased confidence has seen some join the Prince's Trust and establish their own businesses, others have felt confident enough to speak at public events, return to work, leave destructive relationships or start college.