Student of the year Natalie fights back from life of crime

Natalie Atkinson with her NUS Award and the University of Cumbria team.
Natalie Atkinson with her NUS Award and the University of Cumbria team.

Life has turned around for an ex-youth offender who has been crowned the Student of the Year.

Natalie Atkinson from Lancaster was once a troubled teen with over 50 convictions for assault and battery.

Between the ages of 13 and 18, she moved in and out of prison and secure children’s units, living with rapists, murderers and drug dealers which led to depression, addiction and self-harm.

But Natalie overcame all of these issues after her release to become a housing worker with the YMCA and embark on a degree at the University of Cumbria. Now she is about to graduate with a first class honours degree and has been accepted to study a Master’s degree in Criminology at the London School of Economics (LSE) in September. And her positive attitude and commitment to her studies saw her scoop the National Union of Students ‘Student of the Year’ Award at a ceremony at Bolton’s Macron Football Stadium.

“It’s amazing and to be honest I am still in shock,” said Natalie, who was recently the subject of a BBC3 documentary ‘Banged Up and Left to Fail’.

“Looking back, if someone had said to me a few years ago that in 2014 you will be graduating with a first class honours degree, moving to London to commence a Master’s degree and looking forward to a 
successful career, I would have laughed.

“Returning to education was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome.

“When I first started university I was so nervous that I would not fit in, as I thought everyone would know I am an ex-offender and that I would not be able to do the work. However I quickly became settled and got into the swing of uni life. My confidence has grown and I now believe in myself that I can achieve and fulfil my potential.

“I have gone from being a prolific offender living a chaotic lifestyle to living a settled and happy life, so if I can do it then anyone can.”

Natalie was nominated along with thousands of students from other unions all over the country.