Mum on her way to achieving legal dream after four decades

A woman who became a teenage mum and overcame both domestic violence and a devastating family loss is a step closer to her childhood dream.

Andrea Garvey, from Port Talbot, had to put her education on hold when she gave birth to daughter Lisa when she was just 16, before having second child, Ben, in 1987.

She then endured years of domestic violence but never gave up on her dream of becoming a lawyer.

Andrea, 52, is now a proud law graduate, with her Master’s to follow later this year from Swansea University. She also recently picked up two awards; the Learning and Work Institute’s ‘Life Changing and Progression Award’ and ‘Adult Learner of the Year’.

 “For as long as I can remember, I have only ever wanted to study law,” said Andrea, and it clearly is a passion that runs in the family as son Ben also studied law and works with David W Harris solicitors.

“But after having my first child, the focus became being the best mother I could be and a role model for them.

“My mental health was severely affected by the turmoil associated with domestic violence and the road to recovery was a long one.”

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Despite working and raising a family, Andrea’s ambitions still burned brightly and, after starting distance learning with the Open University, grew her confidence and was offered a place to study law at Swansea University in 2015.

“It was almost as though I could open a book and shut down the anxious section of my mind - I felt safe,” she said.

“I was fortunate that Swansea believed in me and that they were willing to give me the chance to learn despite the fact I had been out of education for over 30 years.”

It was the next step to achieving her dream. But as she embarked on her final year in September 2017, Andrea’s life took a tragic turn as her beloved sister Kay was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“The diagnosis came out of the blue,” said Andrea. “She went into hospital to have tests for gallstones and came home terminally ill. It was devastating.

“I brought her home to live with me because I wanted to provide the best care for her that I could. Nothing else mattered to me at that point and my initial thought was that I could not continue with my studies.

“But Kay gave me a few choice words and enabled me to consider the possibility of providing care for her as well as somehow fitting in the most important year of my degree.

“Each week I would spend Thursday mornings with Kay as she underwent chemotherapy at Singleton Hospital before attending my lecture.

“Straight after my lecture finished I would be back up to the ward to sit with her. It was hell watching her fight as the cancer slowly won the fight.”

Sadly, Kay took a turn for the worse.

“It was my first day back in after the Christmas break,” she said. “I was in a lecture and my family phoned to tell me I had to come home – Kay had taken a turn for the worst. The next day doctors told us she needed to be admitted into Ty Olwen Hospice.”

Kay died in February 2018, just three days after arriving at the hospice.

“While I was caring for Kay she made me promise not to stop studying,” said Andrea. “She was undoubtedly the driving force for me completing my degree.

“But Swansea University were great. Professor Richard Owen was very good to me and I also had fantastic support from student services, particularly Sophie Picton – she is a credit to the University.

“I want to work in law as soon as possible, particularly with miscarriages of justice. I want to be the best advocate that I can be and make a difference in some small way.

“But, above all, I’m a law graduate and no one can take that away from me.”

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Picture L-R: Andrea with her Learning and Work Institute awards, the brooch she wears with Kay's photo and also seen on the day she graduated in 2018.