An Unpredictable Year

Olivia, a third-year undergraduate student at Reading, opens up about the unforeseen financial challenges the pandemic has created for her, and how crucial the support of donors has been in completing her university journey.

Olivia tells CONNECTED how she applied to the University’s Student Support Fund – which provides emergency grants to students in unexpected financial crisis – because she found her debt building up after losing her part-time job during the UK’s first national lockdown.

She explained: “I’m in my third year of study at Reading and for the last two years I’ve had a part-time job working at a shop in the Oracle shopping centre, in the town centre. I worked one evening a week, and at weekends, and I used to do a lot of overtime shifts as well.

“They paid well and this job was vital to my being able to make ends meet; my student loan almost covered my rent, but left me with no money to live off. So my income paid for the rest of my rent, my groceries, my phone bill and all my other everyday essentials.

“But I was on a zero hours contract, as many students typically are. When lockdown began I was simply not given any more work. I really needed that job, but was left with nothing.”

Paying the rent

Olivia moved back home over the summer to save money, but still needed to find a way to pay the deposit and rent for her student house the next term. The pandemic had also taken its toll on her parents and she wasn’t able to ask them for extra help.

She said: “I moved back home to live with my parents over the summer, but my landlord required the deposit, plus one month’s rent upfront in August for the student house I’d be living in for my final year.

“That was a huge amount to pay out when I wasn’t working and couldn’t ask my parents for help – this year hasn’t been easy on them.

“My dad had to leave his job due to extreme stress, and my mum works part-time as a supply teacher and is only getting occasional work at the moment. I know they really want to help me, but are just not in a position to do so.

“I had to use my maximum overdraft to afford my rent and my debt just kept building up.”

Trying to find a way

Olivia didn’t give up hope of finding a job to ease her money worries and is still persevering in her search.

She said: “I had hoped to find work again this term but nowhere is hiring. My old employer is now only interested in hiring people who can work more shifts than my timetable allows me to do, and they’ve probably stopped hiring now because of the second national lockdown.

“I’ve been looking at the University’s Campus Jobs but there isn’t much available, and when there is there are so many people applying that I’m not getting through to the interview stage. It’s really frustrating – I want to work but there is nothing out there.

“I’m staying hopeful that something will come up, because I’ve got this far in my studies. I really want to get to graduate now – I can’t fall at the last hurdle because of my financial situation. I’m doing all I can to find work, but the pandemic has made that pretty much impossible.”

Providing some certainty

Having exhausted all of her other options, Olivia applied to the Student Support Fund and found the help she needed.

She said: “I’d like to say a big thank you to the donors who have supported me. Everything is unpredictable at the moment, and amongst all this uncertainty it’s reassuring to have this help.

“I will mainly use the money I’ve received to pay my rent which always has to be paid in advance, and to clear the debt I’ve built up since losing my job.

“I now feel financially covered for this term. It’s made a big difference and I’m so relieved that I can now focus on my final year of studies.”

Supporting students

Unfortunately there are more students finding themselves in desperate financial situations as a result of the pandemic – similar to Olivia’s.

The Student Support Fund provides emergency grants to students in unexpected financial crisis; when they have run out of other options and dropping out of university is a very real possibility for them.

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