Nowhere Else To Turn

Psychology student, Ella Gee, found herself in a precarious financial position when COVID-19 meant she couldn’t find work. Unable to rely on her family for financial support, Ella was at serious risk of being forced to drop out of university. 

Ella comes from a low-income background and always knew it would be tough financially to go to university. It is thanks to the generosity of donors that she is now in her final year of a psychology degree at Reading.

When she was sixteen, her father suffered a brain injury. His experience of treatment inspired Ella to pursue a career in psychology, and she now hopes to specialise as a Clinical Psychologist for individuals with brain injuries.

Ella said: “I’ve just completed my placement year at a specialist brain injury clinic in Wales, which is the only clinic of its kind in the UK. This is the same clinic where my dad was treated.

“After I complete my undergraduate degree, I will be entering the workplace to gain more hands-on experience but hope one day to return to do a master’s in the future, to achieve my ambitions of widening access to specialist brain care across the UK.”

Ella believes she wouldn’t be where she is in higher education today – let alone taking steps towards her future ambitions of revolutionising care for people with brain injuries – if it wasn’t for the generosity of donors.

Doing my best

Ella tells CONNECTED how despite her admirable work-ethic, donor support has been vital to her university journey, especially in the face of the global pandemic.

She said: “I am on the highest student loan you can get because of my family situation; we don’t have much money and I have been in part-time work since I was 16 to help support my family.

“I always pay my own way, and I pay my share of rent and bills when I’m at home. There was never going to be any money left over to help me at university, so I knew it would be really hard.”

Ella was eligible for the Pioneer Bursary in her first year, which – at the time – awarded £1,000 to students whose family income was between £27,000 and £28,000. “The Pioneer Bursary made a huge difference. It took so much stress out of my first year,” Ella said.

Ella has since progressed well with her studies at Reading, while also working part-time in restaurants and bars to supplement her income. But when COVID-19 hit during her third year of study, her future at Reading looked uncertain.

She said: “I was on placement in Wales when lockdown began. At first I didn’t know what to do or what would happen, but the clinic and the University were great. I began running an online rehab group as part of my work and I enjoyed the opportunity to continue working with patients during this challenging time.

“When I was coming into my final year, in September 2020, I thought maybe things were getting better. I thought that with the relaxed restrictions I could probably get work in a bar or restaurant, but there was nothing available and we soon went into another lockdown.

“I did my best to get by on my own in the first term, but by January 2021 my money had run out and I couldn’t pay for my accommodation and living costs.”

Out of options

Ella had nowhere else to turn. With no other options, she emailed the accommodation team to ask for a payment plan to help her pay her rent. The team suggested she applied for the Student Support Fund.

She said: “At first I didn’t think I could receive hardship funds because I already had the highest student loan available, and I was worried that I would be letting myself down by asking for help.

“I have always tried to manage by myself – paying my way through part-time work – and I was dreading contacting the Student Support Team at Reading. But in the end, I had no choice, so I applied.

“The team were so friendly and not at all judgemental. They reassured me that I was doing the right thing by coming to them for help. The application was straightforward, and I was relieved to finally be working towards a solution.

“I was so shocked when my application was approved and I was given more money. It took a huge weight off my shoulders.

“I have never been at university without worrying about money before. It has always been on my mind, and now, for the first time ever, I can focus on my studies without stressing about it.

“I want to say a massive thank you to the donors who are supporting me. Without their help I wouldn’t even be in higher education. It is such a relief to stop worrying about money and to focus on my studies. I just want to excel now and prove to myself that I can do my best, no matter how bad this year has been.”

Find out more about the Student Hardship Appeal.