Photographer turned mental health carer in frame for prestigious award

A leaflet read at a jobs fair at Blackpool Job Centre helped open so many doors for Michael Wilson that he now works full-time at a Preston secure unit – and has been nominated for one of Nelson and Colne College Group’s first-ever Student Awards.

As with many small business owners, the promising photographer had a tough time during COVID, as weddings, christenings and other events were abandoned, and he was forced to shut-up shop.

Lacking career direction, he learned of an initiative to train mental health workers at The Harbour Hospital – which caters for adults with mental health needs.

A six-week spell of training led to employment there and eventually a job at Guild Lodge secure unit in Preston.

“From the moment I started the course, I knew this is what I wanted to be. I felt part of a family, part of a team, and this was my calling” reveals the 35-year-old who has family working within the NHS, “Before, I thought I just didn’t have the skillset and I wondered if I was emotionally ready for it. But I had dealt with pressure and difficult customers before.”

Now aiming for a career helping patients transition from secure units back into the community, Michael is working with people who have just been released from prison, and/or are receiving treatment for conditions such as depression and severe anxiety.

And he has had plenty of support from staff at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust – and his tutors from Lancashire Adult Learning (which is a part of Nelson and Colne College’s provision).

Michael’s “Step into Work Healthcare Support Worker programme” course included written modules and exams. He also had spells on adult and older adult plus male and female wards. “I always felt supported at The Harbour and if things got pressured, they had taught me the coping strategies to deal with that” he revealed.

So impressed were his tutors by Michael’s pioneering progress that they nominated him in the Adult Community Student of the Year category of Nelson and Colne College Group’s first Student Awards. His nominator said: “He has been outstanding and an advocate for mental health, demonstrating a real passion for supporting those at their most vulnerable. His quality of work and attention to detail was excellent encompassing the qualities and skills required.”

Michael’s application actually landed in the most popular category, and he beat off thirty highly impressive adult community learners to reach the final. He is now in a top three awaiting the judge’s decision at place at the Mercure Dunkenhalgh Spa and Hotel, on the evening of Wednesday 26 June.

Want to know more about, or even enrol, in a Step into Work Healthcare Support Worker programme? Visit

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