Ian Lethbridge, a third-year undergraduate student at Reading, shares with CONNECTED how generous donors transformed his university journey when the pandemic left him with no options.
Ian finished school determined to follow his dreams of becoming a pilot. However, after training with EasyJet for one year he found himself unable to continue funding the flying hours needed to complete his training. Searching for a new direction, he secured a place studying at Reading, but found that starting university with pre-existing debt is no easy task.
Ian said: “I came to Reading with debt already hanging over me. I couldn’t get a place in halls, so always had to find money for rent, utility bills and deposit payments in private accommodation.
“I used some of my student loan to help pay off my prior debt and pay for everyday expenses. I managed to cope for my first two years of university, budgeting hard and working several part-time jobs in a cycle shop, at a restaurant, and in an electronics shop.
“But over time I found it more of a challenge to keep up with the everyday cost of living and the increases in rent and utility bills. Then the pandemic hit and my financial problems really spiralled.”
A desperate job-hunt
Ian had hoped his Christmas holiday contract in the electronics shop would be extended, but when it wasn’t he set about searching for a new part-time job. His last pay packet came in January and by March he was in a desperate situation, on the verge of becoming homeless.
“I got by in February while looking for a new part-time job, but then the pandemic caused everywhere to stop hiring.
“I received a huge water bill and knew I couldn’t pay my rent or my share of the bills that month. I had important coursework deadlines looming as well. I was at a loss as to what to do – my parents are both self-employed and had seen a downturn in their business, so had no extra money to help me.
“I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to turn.”
Living life again
By March 2020 Ian was really struggling with his money worries and went to see the Student Welfare Team at the University and they advised him to apply to the Student Support Fund. Ian tells CONNECTED how the money he was awarded turned everything around for him.
Ian said: “It was incredible. I applied on the Thursday; the team reviewed my application and we talked on the Friday; and the money was in my account by the Monday.
“I was granted £1,750 on 1 April. This money completely alleviated my financial stress.
“I was able to get up-to-date with my rent arrears and pay upfront until the end of my tenancy so that is no longer hanging over me. And the money didn’t just help me, it benefitted my whole household because I was able to pay my share of the bills.
“Having money worries is like living with something heavy and dangerous in the loft. The longer you leave it the more of a problem it becomes.
“This financial help meant I could start to live my life again. The grant enabled me to change my perspective about my degree – I can now see university as my full-time job, and look at my study time as hours I am paying myself. I can actually concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing now – completing my studies.”
Ian is eager to express his gratitude to the University donors who made this transformative grant possible.
He said: “Honestly, it’s just totally inspiring to know that the funds came from people who were students here before me.
“To know that people feel strongly enough to help others in less fortunate situations, and to show their generosity to people like me who were really struggling, opens your heart and gives you faith in society. One day I hope to be able to repay that kindness.
“I come from a family with a history of military service and I have managed to maintain my passion for flying by training with the RAF. Training takes place each week with the RAF Volunteer Reserve unit at RAF Benson and is a huge time commitment. After I’ve finished at Reading I plan to join the RAF full-time.
“I know I can fly and I really want this. It’s just taken me a rather long and winding journey to get to this point. And the University donors are a key part of getting me to this destination. Thank you.”
Support students in need
Ian 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.