SHE left school at the age of 14 and managed to keep a job for just over one year until she was almost 30.

Now Sonia Burn is employed, volunteers in a number of roles, has several qualifications under her belt and has just held her first solo art exhibition.

In less than a decade the 38-year-old's life has been transformed.

"Sometimes I don't realise how far I've come," says Sonia. "Everything I said I couldn't do I could do."

At school in her home town of Newton Aycliffe, Sonia's behaviour was up and down, she struggled with social anxiety and depression finally got the better of her.

When she was just 14 she decided school wasn't for her. "I didn't get much in the way of help and left school. That didn't help with my depression.

"At that time I was glad about getting out of school but as I got older I thought 'what am I going to do?'"

It wasn't until Sonia was 29 – having battled with another bout of depression in her 20s – that she finally sought the help she needed.

She worked alongside a therapist who helped arrange a volunteering post as a receptionist for the Butterwick Hospice in Bishop Auckland, where she still volunteers today.

From there more opportunities opened up and she became a volunteer at Newton Aycliffe's Pioneering Care Centre for the Colour Your Life art programme.

As a child Sonia had a passion for art and her own style developed, inspired by a small aboriginal ornament belonging to her mother.

One of the artists who taught the sessions for Colour Your Life discovered her talent and offered her some space in a studio in Sunderland Bridge.

"Hearing what other people were saying was nice. It changed the way I thought about my ability – I didn't see it as an ability or skill or talent before then."

In 2015 she was asked to run a Colour Your Life class and after a few refusals, on account of her lack of confidence, she eventually caved in.

Attending the class at the time were girls and women aged between 19 and their late 30s who were victims of human trafficking.

"Some had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but were really responsive.

"They said it relieved stress and that they were feeling better about themselves."

The project is now a members group which Sonia is employed on a casual basis to oversee. Effectively she is "in charge".

Since volunteering she has also gained a number of qualifications in mental health awareness, dementia care, education and training and even got the chance to complete some of her studies at Bishop Auckland College – where she secured a level three NVQ in business administration.

About five years ago Sonia submitted some of her artwork in the hope it would be included in Newton Aycliffe-based Greenfield Arts's annual Open Art Exhibition.

She was successful and has exhibited every year since.

Her partnership with the PCP and Greenfield Arts saw her curate a Colour Your Life exhibition for the Greenfield Gallery where last month she opened her very first solo art exhibition.

Incorporating clay, metal, pen, glass-painting and acrylic works inspired by cultures across the world, her Travels Through Art showcase was hailed a success and even resulted in a few sales.

Sonia moved out of her family home three years ago, has recently become a black belt in Chi Taekwondo and has plans to become an art therapist.

She has already tested out an art therapy session at Butterwick Hospice and soon hopes to display work in galleries in shops from Bishop Auckland to Richmond.