Cumbria’s ‘Alumnus of the Year’ Is Inspirational Nurse From Kendal

An inspiring woman from Kendal who overcame adversity to become a specialist nurse in record time, is made the University of Cumbria’s ‘Alumnus of the Year 2022’.

Joanne Telford, 35, from Kendal, a specialist diabetes nurse at Westmorland General Hospital, achieved her nursing role less than five years after graduating, despite leaving school at 16 and overcoming many personal challenges, is named the University of Cumbria’s ‘Alumnus of the Year.’

Reacting to news of the award, Joanne said: “during my time as a student at the University of Cumbria, I received a high level of guidance and support which allowed me to grow and develop.

“I am proud to now represent the university in this way, and I look forward to collaborating in the future, and representing those who may not feel they are a candidate for such an award.”

Joanne grew up in Kendal in a single-parent household, and at 16 lived independently with her sister, while studying at college and working several part-time jobs to make ends meet.  

Originally she enrolled in beauty therapy but after receiving support to care for her nan from the district nurses, witnessing the dignified and respectful care, and support before her death, this sparked Joanne’s interest in nursing.

After working different jobs in administration and bar work, she was made redundant from a live-in bar job and was made temporarily homeless.

After sofa-surfing, she managed to get a room in a hostel that gave her space to contemplate her future.

She applied for a care assistant role in a local residential home, which finally allowed Joanne to pursue her passion for caring and nursing.

It also provided her with accommodation and the step up she needed to gain her own tenancy with a local housing association.

In 2009, Joanne secured a job as a clinical support worker at the Westmorland General Hospital, and a year later her grandad was given end-of-life care at the local hospice.

The day before he died, Joanne found out she was pregnant and in 2011 became the proud mum to her daughter, Ida May.

Joanne with daughter Ida May

Becoming a single mum gave her more drive to pursue a career in nursing and have a greater impact on patient care.

In 2013, she completed the Access to Health and Social Care course at Kendal College which opened the door to studying the BSc in Adult Nursing at the University of Cumbria.

Joanne’s confidence grew throughout the course and despite her home being destroyed in the Cumbrian floods of 2015, she graduated with a first-class degree.

Joanne’s first role was as a general practice nurse before she moved into community nursing and a stint in a leadership role in a Covid-19 nurse team.

Due to Joanne’s diligence and strength of character, she is now a diabetes specialist nurse at the University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust, less than five years after graduation.

In her spare time, she was co-chair of the Community Nurse Ambassador Network from inception and has participated in the NHS England and NHS Improvement ‘NextGen Nurse’ project speaking to Year 10 pupils across the UK about why she became a nurse and inspiring others to enter the profession.

Joanne also spends time supporting Anti-Racist Cumbria and has undertaken level 7 modules at university. Initially planning on completing a Master’s degree, however, she is now expanding her family and expecting a baby in January with her partner, Kevin.

Vice Chancellor, Professor Julie Mennell said: “Joanne’s unwavering persistence to overcome all the challenges life has thrown at her is both inspiring and humbling.

“She is a tremendous role model to us all and especially to those in our communities who have so much to give to and for others whom may not yet have found their calling. We are immensely proud to call her our alumnus of the year, an accolade she very much deserves.”

This week’s events are the first set of ceremonies to celebrate the University of Cumbria’s Class of 2022 as the institution returns to its biannual ceremonies, with a further set planned to take place in November.

If this story has inspired you, the university is holding a summer school for people interested in nursing or occupational therapy who wish to return to study after a break.

It provides the opportunity to boost confidence and skills so attendees can apply for adult, mental health, or learning disabilities nursing or occupational therapy courses.

Book to attend via the website.