Oliwia, a Helena Kennedy Foundation (HKF) award winner in 2021, is now studying Geography at Queen Mary University of London after overcoming several barriers to her education.

Whilst completing her A Levels at the Windsor Forest Colleges Group, Oliwia applied for a bursary from the HKF to support her at university. The bursary, sponsored by the Skills and Education Group, provides financial assistance and pastoral support as she undertakes her degree.

Oliwia has pursued her ambitions in the face of several familial and financial hurdles. Her father left the family when she was two years old, while her mother was challenged by alcohol issues and financial instability. In Year 10, Oliwia was placed in foster care, before her older sister was later given special guardianship for Oliwia.

When Oliwia turned 18 in August 2021, this guardianship came to an end. Her sister suffers from poor mental health and is not able to sustain Oliwia financially. Throughout her A Levels, Oliwia worked part-time to support herself and supplement the household income of her sister’s home.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her work was curtailed for long periods, which left her less able to save money for university. This led her to apply for the HKF bursary.

We spoke to Oliwia to hear more about her journey in education.

Being able to work hard and get good outcomes at college proved that it was possible for me to succeed, despite the hopelessness I had felt earlier in life. It was this mindset that enabled me to get into a Russell Group university, which is further fuelling my motivation and dedication.


What was your experience like at college?

“College was a place where I thrived because it allows you to be independent. I am someone who is made for this kind of environment because of how self-sufficient I had to be when I was growing up.

“I was really supported by the staff, particularly by my tutors who guided me through college. My tutor in my second year was especially supportive when I was applying to university. She understood the things I had struggled with in the past and was amazed at how much I excelled despite all the challenges. It was this support that kept me going and made me feel confident about getting into my dream uni.

“Being able to work hard and get good outcomes at college proved that it was possible for me to succeed, despite the hopelessness I had felt earlier in life. It was this mindset that enabled me to get into a Russell Group university, which is further fuelling my motivation and dedication.”

How did you feel when you found out you had been awarded the bursary?

“I felt so relieved and thankful! I was going to study geography, which I knew would involve field trips and therefore lots of additional financial costs. I wanted to make the most of my degree and so didn’t want to miss out on any of these opportunities. Receiving the bursary has reassured me that I can partake in fieldwork and not be put at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a career in the future.”

Can you tell us more about your interest in geography?

“I love geography for how all-encompassing it is, and how it gives you such a holistic world view. It involves so many different aspects of the world, physical and human, from climate change to indigenous rights. Knowledge of geography allows you to contribute a lot to society by putting yourself into others’ shoes and helping you to understand how interconnected and intersectional so many issues are.

“I am taking a Bachelor of Science degree, meaning it focuses more on the scientific parts of geography. I really enjoy the research aspects of the subject and find it fascinating to learn about things that are happening in the world right in front of us.”

What are you enjoying about university?

“Queen Mary is really diverse and inclusive, which makes me feel involved and part of a community. The staff here are so nice and supportive too. It has been an amazing first experience of university!

“The main thing I look forward to is being involved in research. As part of my degree, I will be able to work with PhD students, helping with their research in order to develop my geographical skills. This is especially exciting as the pandemic meant I missed out on a lot of hands-on geographical experience.

“I also look forward to choosing my modules to build on the skills I have already learnt and to refine my study to my interests.”

What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?

“I have no idea what I want to do in the future, as do many first years! Once I have picked my modules in my second year, I will know my main areas of interest in geography, and I can then pursue a career in these areas.

“The most important thing to me is to experience lots of different aspects of university, not just different modules but also work experiences and other opportunities. Through this, I will develop a variety of different skills that will come in handy in the future.”

Each year, the Skills and Education Group Foundation sponsors two HKF bursaries as part of our work to champion social mobility in further education.

Find out more about our Foundation and grant funding here

The Helena Kennedy Foundation is the further education sector’s national charity and enables disadvantaged FE students to progress through higher education into fulfilling careers. You can visit the HKF website here.

The Windsor Forest Colleges Group is a Bronze member of the Skills and Education Group. To find out more about our membership and how it could benefit your organisation, visit our Membership page.

The Skills and Education Group Foundation provides grant funding to help learners overcome social barriers and to enable them to advance their skills in education.

Apply for funding to support your learners!