Cheltenham teenager turns his life around and aspires for greater heights
KICKED out of home at 17, James Collins had no choice but to find some shelter.
Now 22, James, from Cheltenham, has graduated with first-class honours and is working as a research assistant in education at the University of York.
The young man had moved to Up Hatherley, Cheltenham, with his mother and step father after his parents got divorced when he was 10 years old.
But he was forced to move out after his 17th birthday, and deal with the harsh reality of sleeping rough.
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Still attending Bournside School in Warden Hill at that time, the teenager spent one night on the streets before deciding to seek help at YMCA Cheltenham, and his life took a U-turn from then on.
He said: "My situation was desperate and I moved in straight away and was given a housing support worker.
"The next morning I had to go to school in the same clothes I'd slept in on the streets. I had nothing.
"No money, no food, no school books, and none of my belongings. I had no idea how to look after myself."
His support worker Lidia Bojczuk said the turn around had been incredible.
She added: "When he first came to us, he was extremely lacking in confidence and self esteem and would not maintain eye contact.
"He was vulnerable and was in a really bad state. We really supported him during his two years with us.
"We had to work closely with the school with stuff like picking up his homework or even simple things like his uniform. He started from scratch and had no independence skills."
James said he had little confidence and no dreams for the future when he first approached the homelessness charity, but knuckled down and got on top of his studies.
Having left school with two As and a B at A level, he went on to study history at the University of York, eventually graduating with first class honours. He is the first student at the YMCA to go to university.
Working as a teaching assistant in education, he plans to study and work his way to doing a masters in history at University of Oxford.
He said: "I want to get involved in teaching some time in the future.
"I believe that education can transform the lives of younger people. I will stand by that.
"Being at the YMCA I had a lot of space to reinvent myself and a lot of time and I used that to improve myself and better myself. It was a good thing."
Lidia said: "I'm very proud of him, and unbelievably so. We were proud when he got his A- levels and made it into university, and it was great that he went off and have done so well. It is a great testament to his character and he has really taken hold of his future."