Blyth man completes mental health nursing apprenticeship to become 'beacon of hope' after his own struggles

A former patient of NHS mental health services from Blyth has started his new job as a mental health nurse in a bid to help people going through the same thing he did.
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Matthew Fairclough, 53, now works as a registered mental health nurse at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Trust (CNTW) after completing a degree apprenticeship alongside his previous full time job.

He was previously a peer supporter at the trust, using experiences from his own mental health struggles to provide hope and encouragement to patients.

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Matthew said: “The apprenticeship has opened up so many career progression opportunities for me. Without this opportunity to learn and earn at the same time, I would not have been able to undertake this level of training.

Matthew Fairclough recently qualified as a nurse. (Photo by CNTW)Matthew Fairclough recently qualified as a nurse. (Photo by CNTW)
Matthew Fairclough recently qualified as a nurse. (Photo by CNTW)

“I really liked the fact that the apprenticeship allowed me to put what I have learned into practice straight away, rather than waiting to finish training and secure a job.

“Juggling learning and work was a big learning curve, though. I found that planning was key, not only to completing the coursework alongside a full-time job, but also for maintaining my own mental health and wellbeing.

“But my team managers and colleagues were so supportive. They offered me so much guidance and encouragement, and gave me great opportunities to stretch myself in my day-to-day role to support my apprenticeship studies.

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“They understood my different roles and ensured I was able to meet my university requirements as well as my role as a peer supporter.”

Matthew first came into contact with NHS mental health services in 2004, when he was admitted to Oldham General Hospital’s psychiatric ward.

The army veteran, who served in Iraq in 2003, received more NHS mental health support in 2010 after suffering further trauma and bereavement. He says it was “probably the hardest year” of his life.

He volunteered with CNTW that same year, and landed a paid peer supporter job in 2013.

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Completing the apprenticeship, which is run by the trust in partnership with University of Sunderland, makes Matthew the first CNTW peer supporter to make the jump to being a nurse.

He said: “I want to be a beacon of hope and recovery for people, to show what can be accomplished regardless of your diagnosis or past experiences.

“The patients I have worked with over the past four years while I have been doing the apprenticeship course have been some of my biggest supporters. I hope that my journey to qualifying as a registered nurse helps to show people that becoming unwell does not have to be the end of your life or your career.”

Matthew faced more personal challenges on his way to completing the apprenticeship, losing his mother to bowel cancer in January 2023.

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He said: “I had to deal with the funeral and everything else during the last five months of my course, with assignments and a dissertation still demanding my attention.

“But I managed it, making use of the many techniques I have learnt and well-being plans put in place during my own recovery.”

Matthew was officially registered on August 1 and says he feels “nervous” and “excited” to be on the wards with his new responsibilities.