BCU Alumni Podcast with Dr Marcia Shakespeare and Clair Graham

Inspirational graduates and lifelong friends Dr Marcia Shakespeare and Clair Graham reunited at BCU for a live recording of the BCU Alumni Podcast in celebration of Women’s History Month.

The live podcast recording discussed their life and career journeys, the impact that their work has had on our city and wider region, and their incredible advice to students, staff and fellow graduates.

Be inspired by these two extraordinary women and watch the live event now.

Dr Marcia Shakespeare

Dr Marcia Shakespeare completed a BA in Sociology and Psychology at BCU in 2009 before returning to study for a PGCE, a Master’s in Teaching and Learning, and now she is even completing a PhD.

She is the founder of the Precious Trust, a charity named after her daughter, who was killed alongside her friend, Charlene Ellis, in 2003. The charity aims to create pathways to positive futures for young girls and has directly supported almost 2,000 vulnerable women so far. The alumna has spoken to more than 100,000 young people through events and talks organised by The Precious Trust and West Midlands Police.

In recognition of her tireless campaigning work, Marcia was awarded an honorary doctorate from BCU in 2024. Her PhD is exploring the exploitation of young girls and women by street gangs in the UK.

Clair Graham

Clair Graham is BCU’s Alumna of the Year. She left school with no qualifications and a criminal record, but after doing voluntary work and securing a role as a Social Work Assistant, Clair decided to return to education, and she graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Social Work in 2009.

After graduating, Clair worked her way up from a Social Worker to a Team Manager at Birmingham City Council. Nowadays, she is the Head of Service for Contextual Safeguarding working within the EMPOWER U, Exploitation and Missing Hub at Birmingham Children’s Trust (BCT).

In 2023, Clair was awarded BCU's 'Alumna of the Year', and she continues to inspire the next generation of social workers with her extraordinary story.

Hello and welcome to the BCU alumni podcast I'm Bethan from BCU’s alumni team and in each episode we welcome a different member of the Alumni Community back onto campus to tell us what they've been up to since they graduated. In this special episode we are on tour at the Seacole Building in our city south campus so thank you to those of you in our audience today and those of you watching online. In celebration of women's history month we are joined today by two inspirational graduates Dr Marcia Shakespeare MBE and Clair Graham. Dr Marcia Shakespeare graduated with a degree in sociology and psychology in 2009 before returning to BCU to study for a PGCE as well as a master's in teaching and learning and now she is even completing a PhD. Marcia is the founder of the precious trust which is a charity which is named after her daughter Letisha who was killed alongside her friend Charlene on the 2nd of January 2003. The charity aims to create Pathways to positive futures for young girls and has directly supported almost 2,000 vulnerable women so far Marcia has spoken to more than 100,000 young people through events and talks organized by the precious trust and west midland's police. In recognition of her tireless campaigning work Marcia was awarded an honory doctorate from BCU earlier this year and her PhD is exploring the exploitation of young girls and women by street gangs in the UK. Clair Graham left school with no qualifications and a criminal record but after doing voluntary work and securing a role as a social work assistant Clair decided to return to education eventually graduating from BCU with a degree in social work in 2009 after graduating CLA worked her way up from a social worker to a team manager at Birmingham city council and nowadays she is the head of service for contextual safeguarding working within the Empower Uexploitation and missing hub at Birmingham Children's Trust. Last year Clairwas awarded BCU alumni of the year and she continues to inspire the next generation of social workers for the extraordinary journey. In this episode we're going to be exploring Marcia and Clair’s journeys asking what inspires and motivates them and how they became the inspirational women that they are today. Marcia and Clair thanks so much for joining us here today it's very fitting to obviously be celebrating your Journeys as part of our women's History Month celebrations but what is really lovely is that you're actually lifelong friends so how did the two of you actually meet do you want me to go ahead yeah go for it um we actually met in college um on an access course where we just met um we was doing this access to go to university and we just became friends from there yeah so I remember um Marcia telling me about the first time when she saw me in the reception area at the college and she said she said that when she first saw me she was thinking to herself oh this this woman has come not to mess about you can tell that she's come she's come to work she hasn't come to mess about she seems like she's got a plan and she ain't messing about at all so I remember when we first met it was it was interesting as well because prior to meeting Marcia I knew about her daughter dying um and the circumstances that she died in and as a family I remember visiting the scene of where um the girls had been shot and putting flowers and candles down so it feels kind of like a spiritual connection thing that happened that years after we would meet at college and then become the friends that we are now. I'm really keen to find out what your time at BCU was like and what you have achieved since then but it only seems right that we go back to the very start then so Clair we'll start with you can you tell us about your time growing up and what it was that eventually inspired you to study social work here at BCU so education has never really been a big thing in my family um I come from a family where mainly they are they have been gang associated gang affiliated and that just seems like the norm so education wasn't something that was really pushed So at around 14 I was permanently excluded from school um I was missing a lot I was missing from home for weeks days um with nobody really knowing where I was and I guess for me we talk about in contextual safeguarding and when we think about what the research says children missing from home children permanently excluded from school children living in deprived areas um adverse childhood experiences within the homes are all drivers to why children will go missing and get involved in gang activity and that's not every child but the vulnerabilities are there and that certainly was me but we talk about reachable moments reachable moments in children's lives and it's whether they're lying on a um trolley in A&E from a fatal wound or a nonfatal wound or when they're in custody and they're arrested or when they become parents and so for me it was when I became a parent um pregnant at 16 had my son at 17 that I thought something has to to change you know a lot of my friends were either I was losing friends through either them going to prison or through them dying and I just thought to myself you know this this little human being is is waiting on me really to to care for them and look after them and I think that was the driver for me really to start reflecting and finding something for myself and social work just happened to be and I actually just fell into social work I'm not even quite sure how I got there um but I did get there and I was given a lot of opportunities and inspired along the way. Marcia can you tell us about your journey then what were you doing before you came to University and what was it that motivated you to return to education well before I actually came to University at the time where before Leticia was murdered I was doing an ACC I was doing access in regards to a d32 and a 33 course I was a and beautician um so I was doing a course there so I was doing my d32 and d33 um I remember when Letisha was murdered I just begun my course and I decided that on the following week after being murdered that I was going to go back to college cause I remember it I remember the day when Letisha saw that I got you know in for college to do this do 32 and 33 so I could see her face so I went to college um I completed that course within 12 months um and then I thought where do I go now I at the time I also had a business I had a hair and beauty business at the time which I intended to have a training school um which Letishawas going to be part of but unfortunately because she lost her life I decided that I needed to take take another step so I then went on to work with West Midland's police um when I went to New York and I did some research there on gangs um violence to see what could be done to break the wall of silence because there was a wall of silence around who was going to actually um be convicted for the two girls who were murdered after that I decided that I needed to reskill um I was fortunate that when I was when I started my life um I had education I had csse but csc's were very old in regards to going to University so then I decided to do access course which enabled me to go to university and that's where it began where I decided to go to university and at that point I wasn't going to go to university we didn't have a plan to go to university there wasn't a plan I didn't know nothing about referencing um there was another young lady who was younger than myself about leticia's age she actually was teaching me how to do referencing um Claire was excellent at English um maths wasn't very good so we both struggled with struggled so we decided that was the next path so I thought okay let's try this so I thought okay let's try University I was the first person in the family to go to university I didn't know where or what I was going to do in University so that was really the pathway so you both arrived at BCU as mature students then with a huge amount of life experience how do you think you were able to apply what you learned about your yourself and the world to your university studies I think I think in regards to the first day in University was a eye opener for myself in two ways um I remember going into uce at the time um and was in a maze of finding where do you need to be what course because I initially went to do a social work course unfortunately I didn't get the grades to do a social work course so I went into clearing I went on to the clearing and I managed to get on to sociology and psychology course so I walked around and as I walked around um trying to find myself I went into the ladies and as I got there I saw a lot of young students that was all about leticia's age and I remember just bursting out crying tears were just rolling because I'm like what am I doing here and there was one young student who says hi come on what you what what's up I know you um you can do this and from there um it was like all the way going forward then I met my lecturers and meeting my lecturers the one thing what they said which even per even more so was we didn't know you was coming and I thought I'm not sure what that means and it was the first year when I attended University they actually had a module and that module was on my um case of the Aston shooting which was quite surprising thinking wow I've got to University in a different way so yeah Clair remind me the question and I'm just so endorsed in what you were saying I know you asked about what was the first day like at University or what was to apply yeah what you've learned about yourself prior to University to your studies um I think lived experience is kind of what drives my learning and my development so at University it was It was kind of easier for me I guess because I'd done a lot of voluntary work and I'd worked in the field of residential care and adult care and I was never touching children so don't invite me to Children's lectures I'm not doing nothing to do with children my whole aim was around adults and adults with mental health and I'd had the grounding from that the Practical life skill work experience for me what was really good about University is taking the theory and applying it to the Practical because I had the practical but I didn't understand what informed what I did and how I thought and what the thinking was behind actually what we do like for example assessments of older adults you know you do an assessment but what is the theory that underpins it and for me University brought to life the reasons why I did what I did it also helped in the first year I think of the social work course there was a a module on um reflection on self and values and I think for me it helped me to kind of put my childhood history and adverse experiences into perspective as to the way that I think the way that I work and some of the behaviours that may be positive and may not be so positive it really enabled me to reflect on self um but my lecturers that I had at the time also helped to contain that and um helped me to reflect on myself as well and guided and inspired me and and just gave me that self-belief that I amI can be and I am more than what I thought I was at the time I'm not surereally just is what you're saying in in regards to as when going to University what life experiences and learning the knowledge and the experiences of understanding Theory mine was based around psychology so being based around psychology it was like you know what's P saying you know what's Marx is saying all of these people and clearly I'm telling you from the starting of University of doing that social sociology and psychology course I clearly still didn't have an understanding it's not until going through the different years of gaining more and more knowledge to see why we are what the the pathways what we've been through um has given us the opportunity to understand and see things and be able to present ourselves in such a way that you know um as they would say the IR are keys but present ourself to make part halfways for those who are coming Beyond us so University allows you to have that um which you know is great and I remember my mother saying to me when I went to University she says well once you go in there to do sociology you're not going to be doing that you might do teaching you might do something else but it gives you so much to be able to open so many doors absolutely. Clair can you tell us about what your role now involves and how you've been able to use your own experiences to support young people in our city so my role currently is um head of service at Birmingham Children's trust um head of service for contextual safeguarding which means that my service looks at the identification the prevention the reduction of harm to children criminally exploited sexually exploited gang affiliated um involved in serious youth violence and children that go missing so obviously that's me in a nutshell as a child and that's crazy that's crazy Clair because we both took two different um courses Clair took social work took um Social Work degree and I did the sociology and psychology and yet at the end we both do the same similar things where I look at exploitation um was the first stage in regards to my daughter's crime um and I look at exploitation criminal exploitation gang um violence grooming so it's although we've talked different paths we've basically come to the same point of where we're generally working and doing the same thing where we're trying to break down these barriers in regards to child exploitation criminal exploitation gangs homes parenting you know and family because we've been through the Journey ourselves um and it's not just a textbook once you've actually been through that Journey you've got that real life experience that underpinning knowledge where you have that more empathy more understanding and more insight in how change needs to be happening absolutely and and and just to add you know it's things that I tell my um staff from my own experiences you know you want to you want to stop exploitation from happening you want to stop children from going missing there are some children that you will never stop them from going missing because I was one of those children but what you could do for me if you were working with me is give me the tools and the strategies to keep me safe while I was missing and so that's kind of like the lived experience that I bring to my role I think I've got one of the best jobs not think I know I've got the best job that I've got it's hard it's challenging it's emotional it's traumatizing at times but I would never give up that job because I would want my staff to be and I'm influencing and encouraging them to be the adult trusted adult that I needed when I was a child and want to give that to other children yeah definitely um and I think just as what you're saying Clairit's so important for although we might have the knowledge but it's to pass that knowledge on to enable the next professionals because it's the professionals are having that trusted adult I went my pathway was education so equally I'm meeting the children who are the missing children the ones who have been exploited in school and these children need to have trusted adults trusted practitioners who are going to be there for them giving them those tools giving them those strategies to be able to cope because as Clair says we know for a fact we will not break that cycle but it's about enabling the young people to be able to cope with the conditions what they are actually having and I guess to add you know there's the aspiration of Hope and I think the reason why me and Marcia tell our stories is to show young people and children that you can aspire to be more than what you are just because you've been through certain things in life certain adversaries um there will always be opportunities and we want to be the aspirations for them to say well look we we've been through it we've made it it may be difficult it may be challenging but we want to empower motivate Inspire the next generation of children they're not lost causes we're here to tell them that they're not we're here to show them you know where we've got to to continue to inspire and give hope yeah Mar here you founded the precious trust in 2012 which whilst also completing your further studies at BCU so what inspired you to launch your own charity then and how does the organization also support young and vulnerable women well the reason what for the precious trust which you know it didn't open till the 2012 which from leti's murders 2003 was a long time where people think well that's a long time before you've actually built a charity and for me the importance about building a charity wasn't just the fact that because Leticia was mured that oh let's set up a charity it was about having the right people within the charity um having the right knowledge to move forward so that we could do something what was proactive preventable for young people the charity the reason why I opened it was from the starting point when Leticia was murdered um the starting point a young girl was groomed and manipulated and because of that I looked around I did some research and I realized that a lot of young women in particular and girls were being missed and that's why the charity focused particularly on exploitation of young girls being groomed involved in gangs through that Journey the the the stories um what of actually come across uh astounding to see what is taking place within our society today you wouldn't believe the amount of young girls who have been gang raped and by many of people being drugged raped and they've seen it as normal behavior um and to be ableto work with these young people to give them hope to give them the tools to give them the strategies through the precious trust which is now developing to the precious consultancy because of the wealth and the depth of information just from working with these young people more has to be done because it's for the years of doing the precious trust it's just a repeat cycle every year seems to be the same with different young people so that's why you know even speaking to CLA that you know to build some think in regards to having some tools and strategies for these young people which can be distributed um in social work in education across the board to enable young people because we know the problems there and as I say when you've been out and I've been to well over 500 schools across the west binland and it doesn't matter even if it's a private school whether it's a school in the inner city that every school is enduring some form of exploitation some issue is happening in the schools around young people and it's about reaching these young people as much as I've been to every single Workshop it's about meet it's about meeting these young people um collectively and that has to be done through resources which can be distributed by different organizations so it's so so so important you've both had to deal with incredibly tough challenges in your lives how have you managed to move forward and also use these experience to help shape who you are today I I'd say with me there's um there's been two key things in my life one I trust in God and to my parent upbringing I've been very fortunate to have my mom as well as my father who've instilled principles as well as values and the love what my parents have endured and next not even ensured have given me has given me that strength that my father always said um and God Rest his soul he always said whatever problem you have you have to face it you have to address it and those principles has always has gone away uh always carried me all the way through into go through the challenges and when you see all the young people and you're a stronger person to them it's about giving them hope so I would just say that um family is a big thing and when I talk about family I kind of mean like my immediate like my husband and my children I think they inspire me again just like Marcia I believe in a spiritual healing um and strength and courage but I also think I've had a lot of people come in and out my life at different points and stages and then people that have come in and out for a reason and people that have remained and I have a real strong committed Board of close people that enable me to be my authentic self um gives me courage gives me inspiration empowers me will tell me the truth at times even as harsh as it is um but I think you need people like that around you you need those people that will be your advisers your counsellors your people of wisdom your people that look Beyond you know what you're thinking to be able to you know give you the strength the motivation to continue and to bounce back and I think that is a lot of where my resilience comes from it also comes from when I see when a child is taken out of a traumatic um hurtful harmful abusive situation and is nurtured to grow and develop I've got a young man at the moment who because of circumstances threats to life and everything we had to work really closely to lift him out of a situation and when I see how he's flourishing now and the opportunities that are presented to him that makes me feel like that's why I do my job and that gives me the strength and the courage to keep fighting for our children we have a legacy out there a generation of children that we need to continue the journeys the battles the fights the challenges that we've been on to continue to have hope for our next generation of children so you know I think there's multiple things that keep me going and keep me fighting and helps build my resilience but certainly and holidays are good as well so you know about time make sure you always take your regular breaks and you go on your holidays and you you know you really switch off and find time to reflect on self um because I think self-care and well-being is equally as important so you both made the decision to return to education after obviously going through major life-changing experiences so how do you feel that you've been able to use the education and the skills that you picked up from your time at BCU since you graduated I think it's about having a voice um a voice where people can understand how you're speaking and you you're able to present yourself in such a professional way of people where people can understand so coming back to University which has been a challenge for the years um has enabled that where people tend to look at you more to say well you're educated enough you know how to present yourself you know how to present information as well as um practitioners the government all the important people who need to make changes because it's about making change it's not just about me going out and having that inspirational conversation with someone it's about making changes where it's where it matters so yeah University's been great in regards to um moving forward I think we never stop learning do we I mean we we go to university but University is not a beginning and an end it's a period of teaching academically um and then you you move on and you go into your next job and you're still learning learning never stops so I think for me I continue to learn and and I love having students I you know I'm ahead of service and people look at me and say you're ahead of service why have you got students you know that's for the social workers and and I'm like because I like to learn from students and I I want them in my service so that I learn from them and they learn from me because the learning never stops no so you know I think I've took my learning from University I'm a practice educator so I I have students and I just want to continue to grow students with the knowledge that I have and continue to learn from them as well as they will learn from me so yeah that's me and last question for you both then if you could go back to your very first day here at BCU what is the one piece of advice you would now remember we're mature you know so we're going to remember all of that I think if if say that again what is the one piece of advice you would now give yourself um it would have I can't even say in regards because I would have part of me says you know education education education but sometimes you have to go on Journeys to put you into places um to be where we are now because as much as you know as Clair said we've got degrees but our life experiences are Master degrees um so my first advice would be know as many people as you can yeah it's a hard one really like what advice would you tell yourself I I would probably tell myself that um the lived experience that you have is also a powerful tool and use it because I think when I first came to University there's a little bit of stigma around you know being care experienced un care experienced as as well and you know having a background of offending as a child and you know people kind of look at you and should she be even be doing social work she she even here but actually I think I'm stronger for it I think I'm more knowledgeable for it so Embrace Embrace who you are Embrace self still hard though because as you as you said the experience of you saying about you um with care my experience was thrown in as an innocent victim to a violent crime and it was a case of where I was thrown into an environment which was an environment which I wouldn't choose for my enemies um it was like cameras lights conversation you know and talking about appealing for you know criminals you know something which was completely new to me although people seem to think as you say why are you here why are you doing this it wasn't something what I chose but it was something that was chose for me and as going back to the values and the principle as my parents whatever comes before you you have to face you have to stand up and try and make out of a negative into a positive so being able to work with people who can move you into different positions but more importantly to make a change um it's always been about making a change and I thought going back to University would allow that to help young people in regards to violent crime in particularly the first question I was asked after the the case had gone through what would you do my first initial thing was I want to help the people of Birmingham I could have clearly just went to some secluded place and just buried myself but it wasn't about about me things were were happening to say that two young girls were shot well four young girls were shot down by a machine gun somebody has to stand up we are the adults we have to make those change changes and the only way that could be done is through having more knowledge um to be able for us to do that well. Marcia, Clair, thanks so much for coming on to the podcast today and coming back obviously back onto campus as well I'm sure all all of us here have been incredibly moved and inspired by your Journeys and what you've achieved so thank you for sharing those stories with us can we give them a round of applause please thank you thank you thank you thank you to those of you here in the audience and those online too for coming along and watching this very special episode of the BCU alumni podcast we will be back again very soon so we'll see you again then thank you.