Making The Difference

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has impacted us all in different ways. For Hannah, a student at the University of Reading, it made her already precarious financial situation a desperate one. 

Hannah tells CONNECTED about her experience of shielding on campus during lockdown, the support she received, and how incredibly grateful she is to the donors who enabled her to continue studying at Reading.

Struggling to make ends meet

Hannah’s financial situation was already unstable prior to the COVID-19 outbreak due to several medical conditions affecting her ability to work.

Hannah explained: “I have severe arthritis in my legs and ankles which makes it painful to stand, type 1 diabetes, and Borderline Personality Disorder which affects my mental health. These conditions prevent me working part-time like most students do, and the University Disability Advisory Service have advised me not to try and juggle paid work alongside my studies.

“As well as being unable to work part-time, I also don’t receive a full maintenance loan – so this doesn’t even cover the cost of my halls of residence – and despite my parents working hard they cannot afford to give me top-ups. I find it a real struggle to afford things.

“Before lockdown, I was helped with a grant of £1,500 which was amazing. I am awaiting surgery on my ankles and movement is extremely painful – at one stage I was reliant on crutches to walk, and this grant paid for my travel costs to attend regular medical appointments at a London hospital. The money also helped me to buy the right food to manage my diabetes.”

A desperate situation

This first grant made a huge difference to Hannah, however when the COVID-19 pandemic struck it pushed her already precarious financial situation over the edge.

Hannah said:

“I had to shield due to my medical conditions and remained in Bridges Hall on campus as I believed this was safer than returning home to London. Despite finding it unsettling when everyone else left campus, I made the right decision to stay as my parents, who are thankfully fully recovered, did contract the virus.”

However, money was now even more of a worry for Hannah than ever.

She explained: “Prior to lockdown, I had started a manageable part-time job in a hotel in Reading town centre, working one or two night shifts a week through an agency. However, when lockdown forced the hotel to close, there was no furlough option for me as I was employed through the agency and I lost this income.

“In addition, remaining on campus meant I incurred extra costs because I had to stock up on food supplies, buying in bulk to avoid going out. I also had to buy extra cleaning products because the cleaning contractors weren’t allowed into the building.

“Money was a huge concern for me – I didn’t know what I was going to do and was worried I would have to drop out of university.”

Support that made all the difference

Hannah explains how Reading made it as easy as possible for her during lockdown – sending emails offering welfare support and helping her to apply, as well as teaching her the tools to manage her own finances through the online learning platform Blackbullion.

However, the support that made the ultimate difference was the financial help made possible by Reading’s generous donors.

Hannah said: “I was in a desperate situation and the grant I received in lockdown made all the difference. I was a hundred, thousand times less stressed when I was given my grant. My money worries were dominating everything.

“Thank you doesn’t seem enough. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have that money. It made all the difference. Without it, I think I would have had to drop out of university altogether.

“Once I had received my grant, I was able to focus solely on my studies – and as I was on my own in halls during lockdown – I was able to put in a solid seven hours study every day which has been a huge benefit.”

The financial crisis for students is far from over, with part-time work still scarce and the worry of future lockdowns looming. CONNECTED asked Hannah what words of advice she would like to share with others who might find themselves in her position:

“Look online at what you are entitled to, and use the University’s services on offer. There are people there to help you – they are lovely, supportive and they don’t judge you. If you need help, just ask.”

Support students in need

Hannah is not the only student at Reading who has already faced – or could be facing – financial hardship over the coming months, through no fault of their own. No-one could have prepared for the impact of COVID-19.

Reading students are talented, resilient and resourceful, but they have already exhausted their back-up plans. You can help.

Find out more about our Student Hardship Appeal, or how you can get involved, through the IMAGINE campaign.