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Bernadette Taylor, 71, starts fashion design degree at UEL

Inspiring new mature student hopes to use her skills to help cancer patients 

She was thrown out of a sewing class at school for being ‘useless’. Now, at age 71, Bernadette Taylor (pictured above) is about to embark on a degree in BA (Hons) Fashion Design at the University of East London (UEL).  

Bernadette has 50 years of informal design experience behind her, with creations that include bespoke, handmade wedding dresses and fashionable clothing for her daughter.

She says, “My dream is to complete my degree with a fashion show where people with cancer are the models and stars for a day. That would make me happy.”

She notes, “My last job before retirement was at a local hospital as a nursing assistant, so I spent a lot of time with cancer patients.”

Bernadette was born in 1946 in Stepney, East London, and still lives in the area. While at school, she says a teacher not only told her she was not good at sewing, but asked Bernadette to leave the sewing class.

“It’s funny how things turn out, isn’t it?” she chuckles now philosophically.

Bernadette left school at 16, and spent nearly 50 years in a number of different jobs. She did accountancy in banks in the City of London, took time to raise her son and daughter, worked in local government and finished off her professional life as a nursing assistant.

How did Bernadette, who was once told she was ‘useless’ at sewing, turn her hand to design? It all started with her daughter.

Bernadette says, “I just couldn’t afford to dress her in the things I wanted, so I decided I would design and make them myself. It just went from there. I’ve never had a formal lesson in my life.”

By chance this year Bernadette spotted an advertisement in a local newspaper about a 12-week UEL course called New Beginnings, which prepares people who have been out of education for a long time for enrolment in a degree programme at UEL.

She says, “I thought, ‘That looks good!’ and decided to phone the number listed. I had a nice chat and was invited to come along for a meeting, but I ended up chickening out!”

She gave herself a second chance when the advertisement cropped up again.

“I went along this time, did the course, passed, and now I’m ready and raring to go,” she says.

Bernadette counts the American fashion designer and icon Iris Apfel, who is 96 years old, among her inspirations. She says her son, the head chef at a top restaurant in Denmark, and her daughter, a partner at a law firm in London, are both immensely proud of her.

Bernadette says, “I’m looking forward to learning more about my passion. I know it’s three years, but the thought of those people who live with cancer, and the chance to do something special for them, will keep me going.”  

Bernadette's inspiring story was recently broadcast on ITV News.