At St George’s we recognise that for some students there can be additional unexpected challenges during their time at university. With fees increasing and the rising costs of attending university in London, there are more and more instances each year of students finding themselves in financial difficulty caused by circumstances beyond their control.
We are adamant that financial need should not be a barrier to learning. The Hardship Fund and the Access to Learning Fund which it supports exist to ensure that students are able to access support when faced with unexpected or emergency financial burdens.
Some members of St George’s student body have caring responsibilities, including James Westwick-Paine, who cared for his terminally-ill mother while studying here. James received an Access to Learning Fund grant in 2017/18, which is supported by the alumni Hardship Fund.
James graduated from St George’s in 2017 and is now a doctor at Kent and Canterbury Hospital. His mum was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 15. After beating her initial diagnosis through trying circumstances, the cancer subsequently returned.
“Going through caring responsibilities and caring for mum was one of the hardest but most positive times of my life. On my 21st birthday I took a phone call from her saying that she had fallen and broken her arm. That weekend, she was told that the cancer had returned essentially everywhere.”
“I was at medical school in my second year. We knew things were going to be hard but didn't realise quite the route things would take. She was given six months to live, so I carried on with medical school for half a year. It became obvious mum’s health was failing, so I decided to take an interruption of study which was all sorted out by the university.”
“I thought mum was going to pass away that year but she didn’t. So I came back, finished the year and started my BSc. It was now getting to a point where mum was almost entirely housebound and couldn’t leave without my help. After a year, she was completely bed-bound. I was looking after mum and travelling 60 miles to St George’s every day.
“It was all so exhausting. I was half-way through my BSc and realised it wasn’t fair on myself, my mum or the university to carry on. I asked for the rest of the year off because I expected mum to pass away and that I would be back for T Year which the university happily agreed to. Over the year, mum didn’t pass away but did get much worse. The cancer had basically spread to all her bones and she was in a great deal of pain. I would get the neighbours to check on mum during the day and then would come back home during the evening to get her comfortable for bed, spend time with her. I did this during T, P and F Year.”
“Mum passed away in my arms on the 8th of September 2017. By that stage, I had found out I was going to be a doctor and my girlfriend Nikki was going to be a midwife.”
“Caring for mum was one of the hardest but most positive times of my life.”
Despite graduating from St George’s, James remains a member of SPACE (Student Parents and Carers Empowered), a student welfare group overseen by the Students’ Union. The group hosts regular meetings, as well as child-friendly events throughout the year.