Realising my potential

Harriet Drury explains how her decision to return to education in her 30s was helped by the support of someone who never had the opportunity to study.

Harriet Drury
Harriet Drury / Photo: Nick Callaghan

“It’s not an overstatement to say that studying at the University of Edinburgh has been the most empowering and life-changing experience of my life,” says Harriet Drury, who graduated from Edinburgh in 2014 with an MA in Social Policy and Sociology. “I wouldn’t be looking at such an exciting future if I hadn’t made the decision to return to education.”

The decision was made possible after Harriet received a bursary that enabled her to afford the financial and time demands and of full-time study. She was 34 at the time and mother to three young children.

I left school at 16 with no formal qualifications and a rather negative view of education. The idea of going to university was amazing but terrifying at the same time, and I wasn’t sure how I would make it work with being a mother of three.

Harriet began her journey by completing short courses at the University’s Centre for Open Learning, which is dedicated to providing opportunities for all ages and abilities. She credits the Centre with allaying the fears she had about applying for a full degree.

“It was an eye-opening experience. The teaching staff were fantastic and really built up my self-esteem by encouraging me to aspire to a place at university.  I wasn’t confident at all in my academic abilities – I suppose I was worried about being rejected. But with their support and encouragement I found the confidence to apply, was awarded a place and also sourced the financial assistance I needed.”

Breathing space

Harriet’s assistance came courtesy of the Lord and Lady Trotman Bursaries, established by the couple to help students in the Edinburgh area achieve what Lord Trotman’s family finances denied him – a place at the University of Edinburgh.

“The bursary made my time at university possible, there’s no doubt about that,” says Harriet. “It gave me some breathing space so I could fully embrace my studies. I often wonder whether I would have made it through without its support – I certainly couldn’t have held a job on top of looking after my kids and studying full time.

“That’s why it was such an honour to meet the Trotmans’ grandson at a University event in the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It always felt touching that the family had supported me in achieving something that Lord Trotman couldn’t, just because of his financial circumstances at the time. It was lovely to be able to say thank you in person.”

Full potential

Harriet’s achievement can also be credited to her own commitment, too. She obtained first class honours upon graduating and is rightly proud of the changes in her life since studying at Edinburgh.

I have a great sense of pride in my achievements and my self confidence has grown exponentially: not only through my my own personal experiences but in enabling me to change my family life. Prior to my degree, my work experience had been of low paid jobs, making life with three children challenging to say the least. That’s all changed and last year I was able to take my family on our first foreign holiday. It was amazing and so very special.

Harriet Drury

Her future is brimming with opportunities, too:

“I never dreamed I would graduate from the University of Edinburgh with a first class degree – but I did. Now I’m ready to realise my full potential. I’m currently preparing to start studying for my Masters – and who knows, maybe a PhD will be next!”

The Lord and Lady Trotman Bursaries

Lady Valerie Trotman explains the reason why she and her husband decided to support bursaries at the University of Edinburgh:

“My late husband Alex (Lord Trotman) was born in London in 1933 and his family moved back to Edinburgh when he was seven years old to escape the Second World War bombings. His family was of modest means and they lived in a tenement in Gorgie. Alex won a scholarship to Boroughmuir High School, but a university education was out of the question financially. Although he had a very successful career with Ford Motor Company, starting as a trainee in Dagenham, England and retiring as Chairman of Ford in the U.S., he never forgot his disappointment at not being able to attend the University of Edinburgh as a young man.

All his life he was passionate about education, believing one should never stop learning. He became a Visiting Professor for the University’s Management School and also was founding Chairman of the University of Edinburgh Campaign Board. The motivation behind establishing a bursary for students from the Edinburgh area was to help others achieve what he had not and I am dedicated to continuing the Trotman Bursaries in his memory. I think that bursaries are such an important cause to support because quality education is so vital to the success and well-being of our present and future generations.”