Entrepreneur is first class

AN award-winning entrepreneur and former detective has overcome a health disorder to clinch another honour.

Sharon Birch, 46, was already a double winner last month when the Footprints Day Nursery – which she set up five years ago – took two titles at the Hartlepool Business Awards.

But Sharon now has another reason to boast as she has graduated from the Open University (OU) with a first class honours degree in creative writing.

And all that comes for the entrepreneur who retired from her career as a detective in child protection at Cleveland Police because of illness.

Sharon, who now lives in Aberfeldy in Scotland, was diagnosed in 2004 with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a group of inherited disorders marked by extremely loose joints, hyperelastic skin that bruises easily and easily damaged blood vessels.

She said: “I missed going to university after school due to family circumstances.

“I joined the police force and became a career detective in child protection. I had three children, worked full time and decided to return to study.”

Sharon had to take a medical retirement after 20 years in the police force when she was diagnosed with the syndrome.

She said: “I had no idea what to do. I changed my studies to creative writing and my diploma in this has helped me to become a published writer.

“The opportunity arose to take on a failing business which we have managed to turn around. Studying relevant courses with the OU gave me confidence to do this.”

Sharon described her struggles and said: “It has been a difficult time. My family has had to learn to live with a disability, I’ve had a career change and built up a portfolio of writing.

“I’m proud to have stuck with the OU and achieving a first class honours Open degree.”

Footprints Day Nursery won both the Investment in Training and the Service Sector titles at the Hartlepool Business Awards.

Impressed judges were told how Footprints, based in Tees Street, catered for its children with facilities, including an indoor stage, quiet garden area, play yard, sand and water play, painting activities and playtime.

It has a workforce of 29 people who are all encouraged to gain extra qualifications.

Sharon’s sister Suzie Yeniceri, the business manager at the nursery, said at the awards: “We have a great team and it is lovely to be recognised.”

Over 400 people were awarded Open University degrees and professional qualifications last Saturday at the university’s graduation ceremony in Glasgow.

Speaking on the eve of the graduation ceremony, Dr James Miller, director of The Open University in Scotland, said: “I am immensely proud of all our students. many of whom have overcome significant personal challenges to achieve their award or degree.”

Statistics show 839 people graduated from the Open University in Scotland this year with 98 of them achieving firsts.