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When Hayley Goucher split up with her partner when her daughter was two, the separation provoked a profound feeling of anxiety. “I thought ‘what will I do with my life’,” she recalls.
Her daughter is now 11 and Hayley has graduated in law from the University of Kent and will qualify as a solicitor in due course. She says studying has transformed her life and her and her daughter’s future.
Hayley knew after the separation that she wanted to provide a good life for her daughter. At the time she was working at a local bingo hall.
She knew that she didn’t want to work weekends and evenings and was considering something office-based. A friend suggested working as a legal secretary. Hayley wasn’t sure it was for her, but signed up for a two-year legal secretarial course at college. She didn’t enjoy the course, except for the law classes which were taught by an “inspirational” tutor who also lectured at the local university. That planted a seed in Hayley’s head. She decided not to return to college and signed up for a law degree in 2011.
She studied part time and graduated a year ago, six years after starting her course.
Hayley has combined her studying with working. While at college during the day she worked part time in the bingo hall. After her first two years at the University of Kent she won a student prize for being the most outstanding student. It included work experience at a local law firm which specialised in family law. They asked her back the following year, offering her a permanent part-time job. She did this alongside her university course which she describes as a full-time job.
Hayley is now doing the LLM Legal Practice (Solicitors) which combines the master of laws with the traditional Legal Practice Course and also working in another law firm close to home as she felt family law was not for her. Hayley says working and studying has made life more intense, but it has enabled her to learn invaluable skills, such as, being able to juggle several things at once. Her main interest is in corporate and commercial law.
Her average week involves working during the day, then attending law school one evening and fitting in her studies around all of that. She says it is the studying that takes up most of her time and she sometimes feels guilty that she is not spending more time with her daughter. However, she says she would also feel guilty if she was not trying to improve their lives and she tries to make time every night to talk to and play with her daughter who is now 11. She hopes she is a good role model for her daughter.
Hayley says she manages everything by being very organised and planning ahead in case there are childcare or other emergencies. She admits, however, that she does feel pulled in lots of different directions all the time. She is looking forward to having just her job to concentrate on when she finishes studying.
Hayley’s parents have helped with childcare. “I would have really struggled without them,” she says and she adds that she is lucky that her daughter likes after school and holiday clubs. She has had financial support to study – a grant to do her undergraduate degree, a student loan for the master’s plus a £5K scholarship for the LPC. She says she looked into what financial support was available and just applied, writing an essay to gain the scholarship. There are also charitable organisations who can help with finances. “There is help out there. The main thing you need is confidence and passion,” she says.
The last few years have been hard work, but Hayley says she has absolutely loved university. “It really has changed my life and me as a person. It opens up so many doors,” she says. She admits she is ambitious to progress up the career ladder. She says: “I don’t see why I cannot have a successful career. I have a very strong work ethic and a big inspiration for me is to make a comfortable life for my daughter and me. When I split up from my daughter’s father, I questioned how we would survive financially. I never want to be in a situation like that again. I know that I can survive on my own now. If I met someone and it didn’t work out, I don’t want to feel that I am trapped because I am worried about being financially secure.”
Hayley is keen to encourage others to go to university. She says she would never have thought she was clever enough to do a law degree when she finished school and she thinks people often lose self-esteem as they get older. She says: “I fell into it and if I can do it so can others. You just have to be passionate about it and have pure determination.”
*Are you thinking about retraining? Workingmums.co.uk has just launched a new courses site. The site lists courses by subject, by method of training and by whether they are part time or full time.