Helen Gardner (Part-time LLB, 2019)

Helen GardnerI happened upon the part time Law degree programme at the University of Buckingham quite by chance, seeing an article in a local paper. I was a busy mum to two young and very active boys and my husband worked long hours in London. It caught my eye as I had had an emerging fascination with the law and the programme presented me with the opportunity to pursue an interest with the possibility of attaining a degree, in an accessible way for those of us coming to it later and needing to juggle significant commitments.

I was extremely nervous about whether I would even be accepted but I met with James Slater early on and he was reassuring and confident immediately, recognising the value of life experience, not just academic grades.

We were a varied cohort, with different backgrounds and reasons for being there as well as a cross-section of ages. Yet that’s what adds to the experience. We all felt like we were ‘in it together’ and the different experiences and perspectives that everyone brought to the lectures made it all the more interesting and it certainly helped me, with no legal background at all, see how principles and doctrines worked in a practical sense. The teaching team were also varied, with different expertise and approaches, yet across the board they were consistently friendly, relaxed and supportive, really investing in the mature students as much as those on the full time course.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of hard work and there were many times I questioned my ability to succeed, but I enjoyed the challenge, the time to be ‘me’ and to invest in my future. I experienced a significant personal challenge half way through the course which led me to question whether or not I could continue, but James Salter was incredibly supportive and I pushed on.

I had never been very good at exams, panic used to take over, yet coursework has always been a strength. So the mixture of exams and assignments gave me the opportunity to study and learn in a way that suited me. At the outset, my aim was to pass (I told you I wasn’t that confident about my ability!). I wasn’t out to set off on a major career path, to be a Barrister or Solicitor, I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it, and studying a subject you have passion and intrigue for is a good start!  I also wanted to help keep my CV alive, having taken time out of work to be at home with my children, who are my overriding priority.

I can’t express how much it meant to me to be able to stand at the front of the church and receive my First class degree, in front of my children. To know I had overcome my fears, my challenges and had shown my children just what you can achieve if you put your mind to it was one of the best feelings.  Perhaps I finally recognised my abilities too!  It has given me a huge confidence boost to get back out into the world of work and I’m now developing a career in HR. The part time degree is so much more than a means to an end.  For me, it was truly the beginning of a new, exciting chapter and I can’t thank the whole team enough for believing in me.