Sarah Brierley, 21, from Todmorden, has been employed as an apprentice legal assistant for Ruth Winter of Winter Solicitors, Lee Street, Bacup, since October 2019.
At a graduation ceremony at Accrington Stanley’s lounge, Sarah was shocked to be presented with the Business and Professional Services Apprentice of the Year 2022 trophy and certificate.
She said: “After my A levels at Todmorden Sixth Form, I had been working as a hairdresser, but I realised I was not in the right environment.
“I wanted to work in business administration and so started looking for work, this was the only job I applied for and I got it.
“There were members of Ruth’s family who were vulnerable so, when the lockdown was announced in March 2020, I was the only one left in the office, while Ruth had to work from home.
“It was stressful to be on my own running the office, dealing with the post and inquiries, I had to create new templates for our new ways of working.
“Because people could no longer come in to sign a will in person or set up a power of attorney, we needed to devise new Covid-secure templates, Ruth then made sure everything was correct.
“I found myself thrown into the deep end having only been in the job for six months, but it also gave me so much more confidence.
“I like talking to people and I love getting to know clients, especially the older ones because I love listening to their stories.
“I also like helping Ruth to arrange divorces, especially when people are in a bad situation and you are able to give them their life back.”
Sarah completed her Business Administrator Level 3 apprenticeship and was the first student from the Nelson and Colne College Group, studying at the Accrington centre, to select a legal unit in addition to the main core subjects.
After completing her qualification in 2021, she was offered a paralegal position within the company.
She said: “Initially, I got to see my tutor face-to-face at the office, but the rest of my study was done throughout the pandemic with only Zoom and phone calls. The only time I went into the college was to sit my exams.”
Training Assessor from Nelson and Colne College Group Jane Barkley said: “Sarah deserved to win this title because she made a total career change from the sociable world of hairdressing to a one-Solicitor practice and she had challenges along the way as she struggles with spelling and also had to learn and understand legal terminology to able to write letters and prepare court documents.
“She worked really hard and overcame the challenges; I thought she was fantastic.
“Sarah then took full responsibility for the office because Ruth had to isolate. Sarah was a fantastic support for Ruth and her business.”
Ruth Winter opened her practice in Bacup in 2014 and has always offered apprenticeship and work experience opportunities.
Ruth: “Sarah is a valued member of the team. Not only does she feel like family but we are often asked whether she is my daughter. I hope that Sarah will continue with her studies and we are currently reviewing what courses are available at local universities.”