GROWING up in children's homes in Leigh and Atherton, poet Lemn Sissay says his life in care was 'dark'.

But the 48-year-old refused to let bad times overwhelm him, going on to be awarded an MBE for services to literature among many other achievements.

Lemn's mother came to England in 1967 and, after finding herself in difficulties, sought to have her son fostered for a short time.

He was placed into the care of Wigan Social Services at the age of just two months and fostered by a family who he says were told to treat it like an adoption.

Lemn was with them for 11 years before they put him into care where he remained until he was 17.

The award-winning writer and broadcaster said: "When you're a child and bad things happen, you find a little glimmer of light and you hold onto that.

"My experience in care was dark but, outside of the children's home, were the people of Leigh and Atherton. They really kept me sane and they really made me feel like I belonged.

"The people of Hag Fold Estate estate really took me to heart.

"I will never, ever forget that.

"I'm not defined by my scars but I am defined by the incredible ability heal.

"I had some bad experiences but they don't define me. What defines me is how I work through them and what I learn from them."

Lemn, associate artist at London's Southbank Centre, is currently in the final days of his campaign to become chancellor of the University of Manchester.

Alongside Lemn, former Cabinet minister Lord Peter Mandelson and Hallé Music Director Sir Mark Elder have been shortlisted.

They are now facing a vote by the institution's electorate to become the university’s next ceremonial figurehead.

Lemn, who set up the Lemn Sissay PhD Scholarship for care leavers at Huddersfield University, said: "It was the Students' Union at the University of Manchester, they wanted to nominate me as a candidate to run against Peter Mandelson and I accepted.

"It's the biggest students' union in the country so their request was one to take seriously.

"One of the main aspects of my Chancellorship is to encourage the university's social responsibility.

"That includes making sure that people understand the university is for them whether they are a high-flying student at college or they are a bricklayer.

"That opportunity is something which can enhance their lives.

"How we are looking after the most vulnerable people within our society, children in care, care leavers, the homeless."

Lemn began writing poetry at a young age and has penned a series of books alongside articles, records, broadcasts, public art, commissions and plays.

He said: "I remember being 11 or 12 and writing poetry. It's as long as I can remember.

"I think if any young person or adult has a passion for something creative then it allows them to flourish."

While he has his poems, Lemn has missing pieces of his childhood and is appealing for Wigan Council to give him access to his files from his time in care.

He said: "They have got 18 years of my memories.

"I have no family to recall it.

"I never had my school report. I don't have photographs."

Lemn was 21 when he was finally reunited with his mother, after a three year search, working for the UN in the Gambia.

He said: "It was wonderful. I found her in Africa and she lives in New York now.

"It was great. I see her about once or twice a year."

The results of the University of Manchester's Chancellorship will be announced on Monday, June 22.