A year ago North West Regional College student Claire McCarron would never have dreamed of getting on an aeroplane by herself and travelling alone.
Born with Congenital Hip dysplasia, the 28 year-old has endured multiple surgeries on both of her hips and faced many challenges caused by the pain of her condition.
But fiercely independent, Claire tries not to ask for help. She rarely uses her crutches or zimmer frame unless her pain levels are too high, and point-blank refuses to use a wheelchair.
For this reason, Claire has avoided travelling alone for many years, and a simple trip on the bus to Belfast for some shopping, would have been impossible for her if she didn’t have a friend of a family member with her.
However that all changed recently, when Claire was one of a group chosen to travel to Denmark for a three week Erasmus+ mobility.
During the trip Claire said she learned valuable skills that have instilled confidence in her, and given her the motivation to push forward her new business Claire McCarron Photography.
Claire was recently a speaker at a dissemination event for the Erasmus + INCLUVET project which promotes the inclusion in work based learning of students with learning needs.
She’s also been using her experience returning to her former school St Cecilia’s College speaking to students about the challenges faced by young people with a disability.
Claire explained: “I been at the college quite a few years and completed courses in Administration and my Level 3 Diploma in I.T. I also completed all three levels of the City and Guilds in Photography.
“I have a lot of operations over the years which has made education challenging for me, as I’ve had to miss lessons because of my multiple surgeries, in fact I’ve had so many, I’ve lost count. I also had my hip replaced in September 2011 at the age of 20.
“I have great support at home from my parents and my dog Max. Mostly I can get around ok, sometimes if I am in a lot of pain, I’ll use crutches, but I won’t go into a wheelchair unless I absolutely have to. I have to be in a bad way to use a wheelchair.
“That caused me difficulties when I had to travel because I always had to take someone with me. Although I’m independent for the most part, sometimes I do need help and I would never have liked asking people I didn’t know to assist me.”
A meeting with NWRC Student Events and Liaison Officer Danny Lyttle changed everything for Claire when he revealed that she had been given a place on an Erasmus trip to Denmark. Erasmus is an organisation that offers staff and students opportunities to study and work across Europe to develop knowledge and skills.
Claire continued: “I went to Denmark for three weeks and it really increased my confidence. The skills I learned helped me to be more confident when I am out and about on my own, and also the ability to make my own decisions. I’m much less shy of strangers.
“It also gave me the confidence to take part in the Erasmus + INCLUVET project event, I’m not sure I’d have done that a few years ago.
“My condition means I can’t drive myself so I do rely on public transport and lifts. Now, when I want to get the bus to Belfast, I can, and I don’t need anyone to help me. I flew to Glasgow a few weeks ago for the first time on my own to watch the filming of Mrs Browns’ Boys Christmas Special.
“My next plan is to fly to Canada and I’m also hoping to get another trip to Denmark.”
Claire is also working to develop her new start-up business ‘Claire McCarron Photography.’ The local woman is already employed across the North West as a freelance photographer and is a regular on the press team at the Brandywell on Friday nights where she shoots the matches.
“I haven’t missed a game since May. Photography has given me a totally new outlook since I started it in 2016,” said Claire. “I bought myself a camera and I worked my way up to Level 3.
“I’m involved with workshops across the town where photographers share their ideas, and I’ve enrolled on the Photoshop short course night class at NWRC. I also help around the college as a student volunteer.
“The college has done so much to help me and I have formed so many friendships. The Learning Link Team are fantastic and have given me one to one support to help with my study skills. My advice would be to anyone like who is thinking about coming to the college to speak to the staff, the Learning Link and course tutors.”