A FORMER secretary has become the first Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) associate to qualify in real estate agency.

Niamh Thornton, 31, joined Barry Crux & Company chartered surveyors in York aged 19. Her secretarial role expanded over the years into marketing, advertising and learning technical skills. When RICS launched its associate scheme in 2009 to recognise people working in the industry with more than four years’ experience, she jumped at the chance.

But Niamh, who has two children, had to overcome an additional obstacle to achieve the qualification.

Last year she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, better known as Lupus, a long-term autoimmune disease.

She returned to work in the New Year and launched back into her studying.

She said: “Juggling the illness, studying and the work and the kids has been interesting, but I’m really pleased to have got to this stage. It has made it all the hard work I have put into it worthwhile.”