Lecturer to swim 7 lochs to raise funds for students hit by COVID-19

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Dr Phia Steyn swimming

A University of Stirling lecturer is set to swim 7 lochs in 7 days in a bid to raise funds to support students struck by financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Dr Phia Steyn, who teaches African History, is aiming to raise at least £3,000 for the University’s Student Hardship Fund – a grant-giving service set up to provide a lifeline for Stirling students facing money worries.

The Fund, which supported almost 250 students last year, has seen demand rise this summer due to COVID-19 and the subsequent impact of lockdown rules. 114 payments were provided between mid-March and the end of July by the University, providing direct help for students left unemployed or stranded in Scotland due to the pandemic.

Veteran open water swimmer Phia, who has swam both the English and North Channels, will set off for Sutherland in the north of Scotland this weekend (9th August) to tackle her first challenge - the 9.5km of Loch Naver - before travelling across the Scottish Highlands to swim 7 Scottish freshwater lochs in a week. The aim is to swim the full lengths of these 7 lochs, wind and weather conditions permitting.

Phia, who has been carrying out early morning training sessions in Loch Venacher since the easing of lockdown, said: “A number of my students who found themselves in really dire situations, have benefitted directly from the support of the Student Hardship Fund - it provided a way out of their troubles when they thought all was lost.

“I’m conscious that due to the impact of Coronavirus, the Fund is needed now more than ever and I’m hopeful that my swim challenge will help raise awareness, as well as much-needed funds for this cause.”

The swim challenge will start on Sunday (9 Aug) with Loch Naver (9.5km), followed by Loch Hope (10 Aug, 9.87 km), Loch Assynt (11 Aug, 10.24km), Loch Luichart (12 Aug, 8.12km), Loch Laggan (13 Aug, 11.33km), Loch Garry (14 Aug, 11km) and finish up at Loch Mhór (7.8km) on Saturday 15 August.

Kerry Bryson, Director for Advancement at the University of Stirling, said: “Student Support Services has seen demand for assistance almost double during lockdown, and over June and July, when the Fund is usually inactive due to summer holidays, the Hardship Fund provided essential financial support to almost 40 students.

“Many of those had found themselves directly impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown - they had lost their jobs in bars and restaurants for example, or had found themselves unexpectedly stranded in Scotland, all while continuing to face rent demands from private landlords and the pressures of other living costs.

“Our staff and alumni have been fantastic in supporting our fundraising drive, carrying out a number of quirky challenges, including dog-walks, book marathons, and cooking drives and we’re grateful that Phia is throwing herself in to help support the Hardship Fund.”

Leena Giannouli, who studies BA Psychology at Stirling, recently benefitted from the Fund, she said: “Due to the pandemic, I found myself facing difficulties. As an international student, I could not go back to my home country because the borders closed and I was left without a job to support myself financially. I was running out of options - it was very hard for me to cope and this was taking a toll on my mental health. It was a time where I felt lost, afraid and unsure of my future.

“I am so grateful for receiving help from the Hardship Fund. It enabled me to continue my studies and I honestly do not know what I would have done without the grant I received.”

Donations to Phia’s fundraiser can be made by visiting the 7 Lochs 7 Days crowdfunding page or donations can be made directly to the fund by visiting the Student Hardship Fund website.