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Nominated by: Lucie Collins

Andrea Garvey has always had an ambition to study law – however she became a mum at the age of 16 and by the age of 21 she was bringing up two children on her own. She had dismissed her ambitions as a “pipe dream”.

Severe anxiety attacks and depression restricted opportunities for work, but rather than accepting this she pushed herself to move forward. She completed an Open University one-year course, gaining a certificate in Health and Social Care. She said, “Having two children to look after I knew I had to keep fighting the urge to hide myself away. I began distance learning which helped me channel my nervous energy, I was determined to work and be a good role model.”

Andrea’s next step was to volunteer for two years in a residential home, gaining NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in Health and Social Care and then she began working with the Shaw Trust, supporting people with disabilities.

Still battling mental health issues, she says, “Bizarrely, the one thing that helped me was studying. It enabled me to focus on something else instead of my problems and became a blessing in disguise.”

Completing a Level 5 Management award proved to Andrea that she could achieve at higher levels of learning and when faced with redundancy, she began thinking again of her ambitions in law. “I had convinced myself that my legal ambitions were over, and I had missed my chance – but I didn’t believe it. Regardless of my age, this was my life and for once I was going to please myself – I was going to complete a law degree.”

At the age of 48, she enrolled at Swansea University for a full-time law degree. She says, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had no savings and I’d not been in a classroom for more than 30 years.”

Daughter Lucie nominated Andrea, she said “Mum’s life has been hard, her strength of character is inspirational – despite having set-backs she is taking control of her life and following her dreams. She had mountains of work to complete at home, whilst trying to manage on student loans as a single parent. Nobody believed she would last long … they obviously did not know my mother well enough. She would be working late into the night. Her determination to fulfil a lifelong ambition drove her on.”

When Andrea’s sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she started caring for her as well as continuing to study, refusing to defer her studies. Her sister’s death left her devastated but more determined to finish and complete her exams.

Last summer, Andrea graduated, 35 years after leaving school with no qualifications. “I was so excited, I took the gown home and wore it around the house before returning it the next day.” She’s now halfway through a Master’s in advanced law and criminology and is working towards qualifying as a solicitor. “There are so many people facing the same problems as me. It is important for them to know – we may be down but we are not out! I want young mums, anyone who has lost their confidence and belief to know – don’t give up – it is not forever – not if you don’t want it to be.”

"I chose to rise one step at a time and accepting the good with the bad. Don’t think too much about hurdles and don’t look too far ahead. You will be surprised at how much you can achieve – I know because I achieved my dream."