See picture: Emily holds up an article she wrote for the science journal, The Marine Biologist. She is due to have a second article published in the journal early next year
Emily Hardisty (25) calculates she has moved home roughly 39 times. Born in Dover, and then moving around Kent, London, and latterly Cornwall, she has always had to adapt to ‘no good’ situations and grow up far quicker than her peers.
“I always knew I wanted to learn things, but home life was so hectic, my mum became ill through worry and I just had to put all my energies into caring for my dad.”
“Every day I was living with someone who could one moment be your enemy but in another be his true self and be a lovely dad. It was like avoiding stepping on eggshells - you didn’t know what he was going to be like from day to day - and he didn’t remember what he’d done the day before.” Life was toxic and stopped her and her younger sister from going to school and doing normal things.
'I had to convince my dad to let me go to school'
Emily had just two short stints at primary school before she finally convinced her father during one of his calmer times to let her start attending her first secondary school - at the end of year 9. “I’d missed a lot. I didn’t even know how to switch on a computer.”
Her dad had led a crazy life - he was an orphan, lacked a good upbringing and then went straight into the army at 16. He was stationed first in West Berlin, then spent four years as a stand-out sharpshooter in the Yemeni desert during the Aden campaign, before joining the SAS.
“For a long time I didn’t know he was mentally ill - I thought he was just not being nice at times and you had to survive them. We should have got more help and he should have gone to a mental home much earlier. But my mum had her own health problems to cope with caused by my dad’s illness.
‘I tried to teach my sister what I had learnt when I got home'
“Finally I convinced him I wanted to go to secondary school with my sister, Charlotte, who is slightly autistic. Our new school did not help her with that, she got bullied straight away, and it got so bad that she was taken out of school. I continued with my GCSEs, all the time trying to teach my sister what I had learned when I got home.”
Remarkably, Emily passed all her GCSEs. “I made sure I caught up on everything after missing so much schooling so I did a huge amount of reading and studying. I took the exams at the same time as my peers.” She was beginning to realise she could learn things fast - just like her dad in his younger days.
Sadly, the GCSE interlude was short-lived. At 17 life all got too much - Emily’s dad had become too dangerous to live with and the two girls ran away to stay first with a friend and then at a b&b for several weeks.
‘I was heartbroken - they should have told me about my dad'
Meanwhile, water started leaking into the downstairs flat from her dad’s flat. The landlord found all the taps running and Emily’s dad in a bad state. He was sectioned at the highest level and moved to a secure home. He started improving and was let out, only for him to track down the girls living with their mum in Ashford. He was still deemed too dangerous if he did not take his medication and was sent back into care.
After GCSEs Emily took a hotel waitressing job and sometime later tried contacting her dad again. She called the hospital caring for him and was told he had been moved on. She contacted several more institutions that he’d been sent to and all said he had been moved on until she tracked down his last known address. It was only then she learnt he had died seven months before.
“I was heartbroken and angry at the same time. They should have kept in contact with me,” says Emily. “No one went to his funeral; it was quite sad. Then I had to prove I was his daughter to access his belongings that were just stored in black plastic bags, including unsent letters he’d written to us.”
All-round support from lecturers was crucial
Then six months down the line Emily made a key decision. “I did something I’d always wanted to do. I looked up marine science - a subject I had a keen interest in - and applied for a foundation degree (Fdsc) course at Falmouth Marine School.
“I was offered an interview and two years ago started on a first-year Btec in geology and marine biology.” She had moved down with her mother, sister and boyfriend and was planning to do year 2 when she was told her marks were so high - she’d scored a first in every module - and that she could skip it and go straight to the degree course.
She puts much of her performance down to the support of all the lecturers, among them Craig Baldwin. “Craig’s really helped me; he’s been particularly inspiring,” says Emily. “He’s good to talk to, he’s always been focused on everyone’s individual interests. My special focus is missing links in the origins of life - he’d talk about different theories linked to that - particularly the role of hydrothermal vents (deep-sea underwater volcanoes). If any relevant opportunities came up, he’d tell us and give us contacts.”
Recaps, tutorials and 10-minute chats
“Craig had a particular teaching style; he'd always recap what we’d done in the previous lecture. He’d quiz us on it so we could remind ourselves - and also check if we’d done the research and revision. It was good to have the recaps. His lecturers were always in-depth … even if he talked about one subject, he’d always manage to link it in with lots of other relevant fields. Really cool.”
Lecturers made it clear that students could talk to them about anything; they were always there to listen. “I suddenly had to move accommodation with my boyfriend within months of starting my degree course, ending up in a tiny two-berth caravan in the middle of nowhere an hour’s walk from the college and with no running water. We just had to settle for it. We’ve since moved to a static caravan with a wood burner. I’d talk to Craig about all that and my worries about having missed so much schooling but he always inspired me to carry on.”
Craig would always make time for a 10-minute chat, and all students got one-to-one tutorials every month. “Just being able to speak to Craig helped a lot.”
Those who adapt survive
Emily is now doing her top-up year for honours by studying applied zoology at Cornwall College's Newquay campus. One-way travel times of 1.5-2.5 hours to get there by public transport underline her dedication. Why not move nearer? “I’d probably not be able to take my dog with me - and I couldn’t do that.”
Taking a mix of marine and terrestrial studies is in line with her career goal of becoming an evolutionary biologist. One plan for next year is attending Exeter University to do a masters in marine biology.
“There is always a way around or out of a situation,” says Emily, who quotes Charles Darwin, one of her idols: ‘Those who adapt survive!’
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