In 2012, Ray Ansah walked across the stage at Guildford Cathedral and graduated from the University of Roehampton with a degree in Sports Science. At first glance, Ray seems like your typical university student; however, after hearing his background story, you quickly realise that this accomplishment and this young man’s perseverance are nothing short of extraordinary.
Posted: 3 July 2013
Ray grew up in a single parent family in Hackney, the child of Ghanaian immigrants. His father left when he was young and by the age of 11, Ray became involved in a local street gang in his area.
“The street gang was solace from what was happening at home. My mum wasn’t working and she wasn’t well. The gang was a way to vent the frustration that was building up in me.”
As Ray progressed into his teenage years, his activities in the gang heavily impacted his school life. It was also around this time that his mother decided that she wanted to give up the flat where they lived; resulting in constant unsettlement for a three to four year period where he and his mother were moving from place to place.
“Once my GCSEs were finished, I enrolled in a sixth-form college and we settled down in Camden.”
Things calmed for a bit but shortly after his mother’s condition worsened. “It was at this time that my activities in the gang were at their peak. I was missing a lot of my college and getting involved in really serious crimes.”
Miraculously, Ray managed to work his way through college and get his A Levels. He was then accepted to a sociology course at Kingston University.
“For me, when I got the university offer I thought that I had stepped through a door. I thought I could leave the gang life behind me and move on, but things didn’t work out like that.”
Ray tried to distance himself from his gang and tried to make a fresh start at university; however, by the end of his first semester he was struggling financially.
“I was trying to balance the costs of living and trying to support my mother who was in and out of work but I couldn’t do it. One weekend I went back to the old area and met up with guys from the gang. One of them offered me a chance to make some quick money. I thought it would be enough to solve my problems.”
The plan was for Ray and another gang member to burgle a house where they were told was a large amount of money. However, when they broke into the house the situation was quite different.
“The money wasn’t there. We came away with petty cash. We were seen by a witness and about half an hour later the police stopped me. I was taken into custody, remanded and I didn’t see the outside world for another two and a half years.”
Ray was sentenced to Feltham prison for young offenders. He describes his time there as like living in a different world: a world of rapists and murderers and those protesting their innocence.
“About a year and a half into the sentence I got some really bad news that my dad had died. For me, as much as he wasn’t always in my life, I had seen him every now and then. He was inspirational to me. So when he died it was gut wrenching.”
It was this event that would change Ray’s direction in life.
“Before he died my thinking was that nobody would employ me as I had a criminal record, so when I got out of prison I would go back to the gang and make as much money as I could. But after his death, I thought to myself how embarrassing it was that I couldn’t go to my own dad’s funeral, and even if I was allowed to go, I’d have been going there in handcuffs, which is a massive shame.”
From that point on Ray began studying for qualifications in prison in order to make himself more employable. When he left jail, Ray visited The Prince’s Trust to ask for help in rebuilding his life.
“I went into the trust and I met a woman there named Yvonne. I’ll never forget her. She asked me one question: ‘What’s your passion? It was a great question, something I’d never been asked before. But when I thought about it there was only one thing that came to my mind: football. Football was something that my dad had given me an incredible passion for when I was growing up. I love it.”
Yvonne helped Ray to get onto a course called ‘Get Started with Football.’ The course involved obtaining a coaching qualification and going to Charlton FC training ground for a week and meeting the manager.
“Doing that course was one of the best times in my life. Not only was I working with academy coaches but I got to speak with the manager, some of the players and ask questions. I wanted to do more, so the trust put me in touch with an organisation called the Pro-Touch Academy which helped me to develop my coaching qualifications. It was at that point when I decided I needed to get a degree.”
In 2009, Ray applied and was accepted to a Sports Science degree course at the University of Roehampton. During his time at Roehampton he utilised the coaching qualifications he had built up to coach the Roehampton 3rd team. Seeing his success in turning his life around, The Prince’s Trust asked Ray to become a Young Ambassador. The role involves him visiting organisations such as schools and youth clubs to share his story with other young people.
During his time at university, Ray was not always totally open about his past for fear of being judged. However, he did tell many of his fellow classmates his story and was often met with a sense of admiration in recognition of him turning his life around.
In 2012, Ray graduated from the University of Roehampton having finally completed the degree that once seemed so out of reach. Since leaving university, Ray has put his qualifications to good use. Today he works as a Sports Development Officer with the Centrepoint charity for homeless youths and as a Development Coach with Chelsea Football Club.
Ray had some kind words to say about his time at Roehampton: "My years at Roehampton were some of the best times of my life; not only did I learn so much from completing my degree but the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals with open minded views was priceless and very much played a part in the man I am today."
He also offered this advice for any young person who has fallen on tough times or who feels that they can’t change their destiny: “Life is not about the past or the present but about how you can affect the future. We all make mistakes but with a worthy focus or passion you can make it through the toughest situations life can throw at you.”
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