'It’s all just gone wrong': Young people face up to uncertain futures

For David Potter and his fiancee Sam Sime, 2020 was supposed to be the biggest year of their lives.

After spending most of their adulthood studying, the pair, aged 27 and 26, had finally finished their PhDs in physical chemistry at Leeds University and planned to get professional jobs, get married and buy a house in a nice Leeds suburb.

Instead, Mr Potter had a job offer rescinded, their wedding has been cancelled and the couple are spending their housing deposit just to survive.

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He said: “It’s so hard to get that first job offer and it feels like you’re starting again. To have it pulled is frustrating.”

Thea Fenwick was supposed to be competing in skiing competitions. Pic: Tony Johnson

To make matters worse, the desolate job market has made it difficult for Mr Potter to find anything else, while the couple are still paying rent.

He said: “It’s kind of a shock. You know everything isn’t going to be easy and handed to you but after eight years of studying a STEM subject you hope there will be opportunities.”

Ms Sime, who managed to get a job through taking a minimum wage role as an entry point, said: “I think the real kick is that when you do a PhD, you take a stipend that is below the rate of tax. The situation that David’s in now, he can’t get Jobseeker’s Allowance because he doesn’t have any National Insurance contributions.

“You take a low salary for four years to become this specialist trained researcher but the problem is that employers see a PhD and think you won’t want to work there, that you think you’re too good and you’d want to leave.”

David Potter and Sam Sime are spending their housing deposit on rent. Pic: Gary Longbottom

Mr Potter is also ineligible for universal credit because of the savings he has built up for a deposit on a house.

He said: “You work hard to save and try to be sensible and not go crazy with spending and then you find out later that actually you’re probably just going to have to drain those savings because you're not entitled to anything like that.

“Maybe that’s fair enough - we’re not the most in need.

“We’re comfortable enough not to have to worry about being on the street at the moment and we both have parents who wouldn’t allow that to happen.”

Josh Chapman was supposed to be in London, working in communications. He's now stuck at his parents in Clowne for lockdown. Pic: Tony Johnson

It is a similar story for 21-year-old Joshua Chapman who had his dream job offer taken away when lockdown began.

Mr Chapman couldn’t believe his luck when his first interview after finishing his degree at Sheffield University was a success and he landed a communications job at the Salvation Army, an organisation he has been a member of for as long as he can remember.

He said: “I applied for it on the day of the job ad closing, I was still at uni and wasn’t expecting to get a job. In all honesty I couldn’t quite believe my luck. I was absolutely over the moon.

“It was such an exciting prospect that I was going to be working in London every day. It didn’t cross my mind that the job offer might not be there any more.

“I was absolutely gutted when I found out that the role no longer exists because of the funding issues they’re now facing because of the coronavirus crisis.”

He’s currently at his parents’ in Clowne, a village just outside South Yorkshire, doing temporary work and applying for full-time jobs.

“I left my part-time job in retail - my last day was the day it closed for lockdown.

“They asked if I wanted to be furloughed even though I was leaving and I said no, because I had a job offer.

“It was going to be such a huge stepping stone,” he added.

Another young person facing an uncertain future is 18-year-old Thea Fenwick. Right now she is a care home cleaner, though it was only months ago she was competing internationally as a top-level skier.

Ms Fenwick is grounded in Whitby until the pandemic is over and she can fly abroad, meaning she is completely unable to train.

Even worse, it looks as though her university place, which guarantees the next stage of her athletic career by allowing her to compete at the World University Games, is in jeopardy.

Ms Fenwick said: “I had to move back a year because I’d missed so much school because of my skiing.”

She has just one subject outstanding, GCSE science, which she had been hoping to take this summer. Unfortunately, because Ms Fenwick was studying online without teachers, there is nobody to give her a predicted grade, which means she may not be able to go to university.

“At this point, I don't think I'll have enough qualifications to be able to do it now. I’ll probably still apply and I’ll hope for the best.

“If that goes ahead, that’s the plan, but I don’t really want to get my hopes up.”

Ms Fenwick was on the GB development team, which is essentially the junior British team, competing in an event called slopestyle - downhill skiing with jumps and rails.

She came third in the European Championships and had been hoping to compete in the Olympics before tearing ligaments in her knee and having to have reconstructive surgery.

“All of a sudden this horrible, horrible injury happened and I was off for two years. It’s all just gone wrong really.”

Having now recovered, she’s unable to train because she’s stuck in Britain until lockdown is over. She’s working as a cleaner in a care home, which she feels isn’t “enough” and is looking for a more “front line” care job in the battle against the virus.

While the care home she works in has had cases of coronavirus, they have been contained. Nevertheless, she’s living in an empty holiday cottage to limit the risk to her family.

Given some luck, Ms Fenwick thinks she might be able to get back to the level she was competing at before her accident. She gets some funding from a SportsAid programme for disadvantaged athletes and had been hoping to move to Australia or New Zealand for the summer to ski but that looks like it may not happen, as she may not be able to work enough to cover the cost of her flights and accommodation.

After multiple disappointments, she’s now trying not to make plans too far in the future.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up again,” she said.