Harry Ward is studying drama at Kingston University. He shares his story...
Harry grew up in Braintree, Essex with his two younger sisters. They had a chaotic childhood and have had a social worker since birth. Harry attended seven primary schools, was always in the support classes and didn't have many friends because he was never anywhere long enough.
It all came to a head when Harry was aged 12. "My parents walked away and luckily my aunt and uncle stepped in to save me and my sisters from foster care." With new stability Harry caught up at school and built a circle of friends.
Harry was aware of university from the media and from school. "It seemed to me like a magical place that represented freedom and living alone" (Harry had never slept in his own room). It was this aspiration that inspired him to study an international baccalaureate at college.
But completing college was not simple. Harry nearly failed his first year because he gave up trying when he found he wasn't keeping up with his peers. It was one teacher who galvanised him to believe and try again. This was a crucial intervention; research shows that it is the intervention of role models and mentors like Harry's teacher who make such an enormous difference for disadvantaged young people like him. "I decided to prove everyone wrong and show that I could complete my course. No one ever thought I'd get anywhere."
Harry went on to be the first in his family to complete college. Now in his second year at Kingston University, Harry says that there was one further crucial intervention when not having halls accommodation put him at risk of dropping out.
"There were delays with my student loan and I couldn't get accommodation" says Harry. "As a result I was commuting every day to Essex – a five and a half hour round trip. I thought I would have to drop out, I was finding it hard to keep up and make friends." KU Cares stepped in and secured him a place in Halls. "The team were great; once I had a room at uni and wasn't travelling back and forward I was able to involve myself fully with student life. I honestly think KU Cares are responsible for my strong group of friends, my success on my course and all of the other activities I get involved with at Kingston."
Harry can already see the ways in which higher education has benefitted him compared to his peers. "Coming to Kingston has helped me see that there is so much more to the world. Before university I'd barely left Braintree. Every summer I return to Braintree to work in a factory warehouse. I see people who have been working there full-time since my first summer job in college. I'm really proud to be the first in my family to go to university, but mostly I'm relieved that my degree will offer me loads of career options, rather than dead-end jobs. And it's nice to know that my five younger siblings and cousins see that higher education is within their grasp too."