It feels like such a long time ago that we were all forced into isolation back in March 2020. Yet, I remember vividly the fear that ran through me when the Prime Minister told us all to ‘stay at home’ for the very first time – a fear shared by millions of people across the country.
That day I was overwhelmed with questions that just didn’t have answers. When was I going to be able to see my family? How was I going to finish my degree? Would my friends be safe? And then it dawned on me. My income stream was about to be cut off, and my questions quickly turned to: how am I going to afford to live?
In 2016 I made a bold decision to change career and headed off to university for the first time as a mature student. Like most students, I knew that my student loan would only just about cover my rent, and that I would need to work if I wanted to eat.
I ended up working in my students’ union bar, and up until the pandemic it was a fantastic place to work. I was paid the living wage, I had control over my hours, and my colleagues were brilliant – but things quickly went sour as the pandemic started to bite.
When the bar was forced to close, the students’ union worked hard behind the scenes to support us, but with no trading income, commitments to pay our wages quickly turned into apologies that only minimal support could be provided. In the space of a few weeks, I went from earning hundreds of pounds a month to almost zero. Even with the introduction of the furlough scheme, I was left penniless, as the university refused to allow the students’ union to furlough those on zero-hours contracts – a decision that cost me thousands of pounds.
I’ve always believed in the power of trade unions and had joined Community long before I changed career path and went to university. But like most people, from time to time, I checked my direct debits, worrying about my outgoings, and wondered if I really needed to be a member of a trade union whilst at university – especially with such a good employer.
I reminded myself that you never know when you’re going to need your union, and even if I didn’t ever need it, other people would – so I decided to keep my membership.
Little did I know how important that decision would end up being.
As soon as the national lockdown started, Community sprang into action for its members – including people like me who had seen their financial security disappear overnight.
Introducing the Community Member Support Fund, Community was offering grants to members who had fallen through the cracks of government support, helping people to meet their living costs. I applied for help the day it launched, and it was in my account just days after I applied.
The whole process was quick, easy, and most importantly came with no judgement. I needed help, I told my Union, and they were there for me. The grant paid for my food that month, and without it I would have been in serious difficulty.
So my message to those who aren’t yet a member of Community is simple – join. If you’ve ever thought you can’t afford it – ask yourself if you can afford not to.
Above all, there is power in a union – join today and be a part of it.
To join Community, visit www.community-tu.org/join.