Crankstart - Scholar stories

Being a Crankstart Scholar is about more than just a bursary. Below are a couple of short quotes about the programme, followed by some longer stories from our Scholars. 

Alannah Burns, Philosophy and German, Lady Margaret Hall

"The Scholarship enabled me to go to university, and indeed to complete fantastic internships which really boosted my CV, got me through job interviews, and changed my personal life, aspirations and perspective on the world of work in so many ways!"

Codie Wood, Mathematics, Mansfield College

"I found the outreach work to be so rewarding; seeing people's faces light up when they see someone who is like them studying at Oxford made me feel so proud, and reminded me of why I am here even on my hardest days."

Read the stories below to see what some of our Scholars have been up to.

Ellen Hendry, English Language and Literature, Keble College

My name is Ellen and I’m a second year English student at Keble College, Oxford. I’ve been in the position you are in now as offer holders, unsure what to expect at University, and can say I’ve really loved my time at Oxford so far.

Once I got to Oxford, I was so happy I’d gone through with the admissions process. For me, the intense feeling of meeting new people and having loads of new experiences really felt exciting. It also didn’t take too long to start relaxing into the new world as I made friends I could have a quiet cuppa with. Another thing that helped me chill was the Crankstart fund. This gave me lots of spending money that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and so I could do everything my friends were doing. The scholarship was automatically given to me so I just had to accept it.

I’ve done a few kinds of volunteering, which we do as part of the scholarship. I’ve had total choice over what I do and the team have been so useful in helping me find something I like. Tutoring has been a really rewarding way to volunteer. Being part of a charity’s social media team was also really fun, and even a nice little CV booster! As well as being able to help other people with volunteering, the Crankstart team have been so useful in securing me internships and work experience. I had no idea anybody would help me with this at uni, but just by pinging a few tentative emails to them, they’ve always jumped to help me out!

So overall, I’ve really loved my time at uni so far. I still have moments where the whole Oxford experience all just feels totally crazy, but Crankstart has stopped me from feeling out of place. The Scholarship has popped up to help at unexpected points, with extra spending money, help with extra curriculars, and the feeling of solidarity with other students from similar backgrounds.

Ellen Hendry

Erica Nuamah, Fine Art, Brasenose College

University of Oxford, so far for me, has truthfully been a highly unique and unforgettable experience. When I was applying for Universities I was desperate to leave London so that I could explore and experience a new space. Being of African heritage and coming from a state comprehensive school I believed many of the myths surrounding Oxford University, and now having actually experienced Oxford I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the people and city. My involvement in the African & Caribbean Society (ACS), access and outreach, sports and many other aspects of my experience thus far is what has shifted my first impressions.

Being a Fine Art student can be expensive as it is about self-investment, whether buying new equipment or spending the day visiting art shows. Being a recipient of the Crankstart Scholarship has meant that I do not need to hesitate about purchasing a ticket to visit an exhibition in London or Birmingham, or when purchasing electronic equipment to aid my art practice. I truly believe that this is due to the Crankstart Scholarship, because with the stress of financial worries as I have experienced throughout my life I would not be in a position where I have stability to invest in myself.

I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering in multiple projects such as Linkages with the Oxford Hub, participating in College Tours, involvement in the Student Union Shadowing Day, mentoring an applicant and working with Target Oxbridge, working for various access and outreach programmes by the African & Caribbean Society and finally working with University Access and Outreach and offering myself and my experience. In my first year working with Linkages was a very refreshing as it allowed me to travel beyond the city centre and meet various people who have lived in Oxford their entire lives. I later on realised through my volunteering work that I have a passion of Access and Outreach. This led me to pursue a role a Public Relations Officer for the African and Caribbean Society, where I have edited and shared YouTube videos speaking on the experience of Oxford Students of African and Caribbean heritage. And I’ve had many experiences where my videos have been a topic of conversation and they’ve been praised for how informative they are from prospective students and Oxford Faculty. Hearing that my efforts have made any impact at all has been the highlight of my volunteering.

In the near future I will be travelling to San Francisco, California for a volunteering placement with the CCA Wattis a contemporary arts gallery. This will be my first time every visiting North America and due to the generosity of the Crankstart scholarship I was able to arrange my travel and accommodation for an entire month. When I begin my placement I will be working with Artists in residence, creating design and promotion material, researching and helping with event preparation and execution. Going into my 3rd and final year at Oxford this fall I understand that I’m reaching a time now where I need to start thinking about what I want to do or be when I leave. I have already established a love for Public Relations due to my role with the ACS so I am hoping that this placement will be highly informative and help me decide whether my passion also extends to a creative space such a contemporary arts gallery.

Since the beginning of my time at Oxford I have received two acknowledgment certificates for my efforts in Access and Outreach which I am highly grateful to have been given. And I would say that I can’t pinpoint my greatest achievement in Oxford as there have been too many shining moments to name. I’m currently considering whether I want to go into further education and work towards practising as an Artist, or if I want to pursue a career in Public Relations. As mentioned before, I hope that my upcoming placement will help me with this decision.

Albert Gifford, Medicine, Exeter College

In my first year, I did all my volunteering hours in the summer. At the start of second year I decided I would prefer to get involved in a volunteering project in Oxford, so I started looking around. I spotted LinkAges on the Oxford Hub website, and that they run IT classes for over 50s. LinkAges’ goal of reducing loneliness in the elderly community really resonated with me, and having helped my grandparents with their computer on a regular basis I thought this project suited me very well.

I attended the first session, which didn’t have much of a structure, and so for the second session I made a small quiz to help with this. I was asked if I’d like to take on the role of coordinator, and from then on, I oversaw organising the sessions. Since then our weekly classes have followed the basic structure of one hour of teaching/discussion about a topic (for example scams, online shopping, social media) followed by an hour of helping with people’s specific questions about their devices.

We aim to have a 1:1 ratio of learners to volunteers and have always managed at least 2:1. I think this is important, because it’s a lot easier to take something in if you can have a conversation about it, and it means there is enough time to provide people with a useful amount of assistance. Before each class I prepare and print an information sheet about the topic we’re covering, in order to help our learners remember what’s been discussed. The numbers of learners have been steadily growing and I (along with Oxford Hub staff) have recruited more volunteers accordingly.

I was very pleased to be nominated for the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards, largely because I hoped that it would bring some publicity to the work we do (which has indeed been the case, with the Oxford Hub writing a Facebook post and Oxford City Council an article about the award). I felt somewhat that it would be more appropriate as an award for the project rather than me as an individual, as there are several regular volunteers who have dedicated a lot of time to the classes and have great relationships with some of our learners. The awards ceremony itself was enjoyable – I met some amazing people who have done amazing campaigning, outreach and fundraising work. I was delighted to be able to talk to so many people about the LinkAges IT classes and discuss the issue of loneliness among the elderly, which I feel is generally underrepresented in the media and as such is forgotten about by many people.

I shared an anecdote which illustrates how helpful the classes can be. There is a lady who has been to nearly every session since I started, and she recently learnt about the PickMeUp app. On the day of the awards ceremony, she had travelled to our session using the PickMeUp app for the very first time. She had been worried about it beforehand, so was very pleased that it had worked, and proud to have done it independently. Teaching someone a simple skill like this has the potential to have a huge impact on someone’s life – for someone who isn’t mobile enough to easily make it to a bus stop, using the PickMeUp app could make their life a lot easier.

There is another lady who I taught to use Whatsapp, which she has since been using to communicate with her grandchildren (she’s amazed at how quickly they reply). Her niece back in Jamaica sent her a link to watch videos of their church services. I hope that using Whatsapp can make her feel more connected to her family on the other side of the world. These are some specific examples of how our IT classes may help with loneliness, but I think simply discussing technology with older people, teaching them what words mean, may help them be more able to engage with younger generations and feel less isolated in a world which is getting evermore technological.

Hattie Morrison, Fine Art, Christ Church

After working and travelling throughout this summer after graduation, I moved into a quirky flat in Maida Vale, London with my two friends from university (one of which is another Crankstart Scholar). I recently left a job in London Bridge to pursue a creative freelancing career. At the moment, I am building my journalism, creative writing and artwork portfolio while managing and running a handful of campaigns (one of which is a campaign attempting to improve the access and outreach of low-income students at The University of Oxford). During my time at Oxford, I was fortunate enough to be eligible for a Crankstart Scholarship. This scholarship affected my life in a profound and undeniable way. Once I was informed of my eligibility for the scholarship, I was faced with two strategies regarding how to deal with the money:

1. I could approach it in the way I usually deal with money - anxiously and frugally.


2. I could see it as a golden ticket - as an opportunity.

I decided that to me, this money was not for saving- it was for investing in myself. As soon as I realised this, I promised myself that I would use the money in a way that would make a positive, long-term effect on my personal and academic life. I wrote a list of experiences I wanted to have during my time at University and I can say that thanks to the Crankstart Scholarship - I completed the entire list. I attended balls, I wrote a book and I bought materials to realise an artwork that I had been envisioning for years. I became a member of The Oxford Union and attended talks that completely altered my perspective on the world. I bought myself books, books, and more books. I went to college formal dinners and brought my family along to them, too. Even simple things that I could rarely justify before university were made possible. Some of my favourite memories from my time at Oxford involve sitting in wood-panelled college rooms at ludicrous hours of the night, having obscure debates about things I had never even heard of before Oxford, and ordering pizza deliveries. The scholarship allowed me to not only enjoy my time studying, but socialising too. I had free time to develop myself, my friendships and my understanding of my subject.  Most importantly, every vacation I sought out and completed at least one work-related trip. It was these trips that were and remain to be the most rewarding and impactful way in which I used the money provided by the Crankstart Scholarship. Visiting and working in these places during my time at University has continued to benefit my daily life - I understand far more about the world I live in because of these experiences. With my scholarship, I worked in and visited Iceland, Catoira -Spain, The Pyrenees - France, Berlin, Palma, Mallorca, Genoa and Venice – Italy, New York City, Miami, Florida and Japan

I was exposed to a plethora of different environments and cultures, and with this my studies became far more informed. I developed a deeper and more visceral love for my subject. This past summer I hired a rusty campervan and drove across Japan. I worked at Kyoto Art Centre, and visited countless art galleries and exhibitions. The trip completely changed my perspective on the art landscape in a way that I had not anticipated. After a two week rest at home in Wales, taking a break from rice and 45°c heat, I set off to New York City to work for the photography festival (Photoville) that I had worked for last year with the help of the Crankstart Summer Bursary. I worked on an exhibition at The United Nations HQ and hung work by The National Geographic and The New York Times. I was met with yet another culture very different to my own and got to see, in such a short space of time, the polarising and juxtaposing nature of the planet from one corner to the other.

After returning from my job in New York City I attempted working an office job in London Bridge, but I quickly realised my need for daily creativity. Since leaving this job, I have been searching for creative, part-time work to help sustain my new life in the city, while freelancing and managing a couple of very exciting projects- one being a social media campaign I am working on to help publicise and inspire low-income students eligible for the Crankstart Scholarship (prospective and current) at Oxford University.

I have interviewed over 30 current Crankstart Scholars with the aim of creating an Instagram campaign which spreads the message that Oxford students are not all from privileged backgrounds, that we are proud of where we come from, and that no financial situation should get in the way of applying to Oxford. An example of some of the inspiring and heartwarming answers we’ve had to the interview questions are below:

I’m proud of being a Crankstart Scholar because…

  • I feel part of a community of young people who are living proof that our socio-economic backgrounds do not need to define us, and that with drive, talent, determination and a little bit of support - financial or otherwise - our potential is limitless.
  • It feels like I'm part of a force for change.
  • I know I am a part of a group that are slowly changing the demographic of Oxford- a demographic that needs changing.
  • It shows that sometimes support is all you need to reach your potential

I have a list longer than my arm of things that I hope to achieve in my life, and right now I am trying to lay the groundwork to make a couple of those things possible someday, by working on a range of different creative projects at once (exhibiting and selling my art, working on campaigns for causes I believe in, name a few). Longterm, I would love to curate and manage  an art space that hosts talks, workshops and exhibitions with the underlying aim of facilitating the education and inspiration of minority and underprivileged groups. I believe in the power art possesses and I hope to one day use my personal background and combination of state-school and Oxford education to help elevate, unite and support those who are often left unsupported. The scholarship provided me with so much, and I hope that, one day, I can set up a similar network of support for others.

Jonathan Collins, Engineering, Worcester College 

In December 2017, four Scholars won the opportunity to spend an evening at Old Trafford with Sir Alex Ferguson. Read an account of the experience by Jonny Collins, Worcester College.

Awaiting for us in Gloucester Green was a car to take us up to Manchester, driven by our driver Sayeed. He was a really nice guy and we all got on well with him. We all enjoyed the irony of the fact he had no interest in football, given where he was taking us to!

We arrived at Old Trafford by four pm after being lucky with traffic. However, entry was not until five so we all went to Costa for a drink to stay warm. At five, we then entered through the VIP Hospitality Entrance.

We were shown directly to Sir Alex’s private room, where two of his long-time friends were waiting. At this point it became clear we were going to have a lot of face to face time with Sir Alex, hence we were all naturally very excited!

Eventually Sir Alex and his brother in law arrived and introduced themselves. I can’t emphasise enough how welcoming and nice Sir Alex was. He talked to us throughout the evening and made us feel really welcome. I assumed we’d have some sort of official club employee in charge of us but it quickly transpired that Alex himself was in charge of us!

We then went through for dinner (which was amazing!). It finally sunk in how fortunate a position I was in to be there when the employee at the desk asked who I was here with and my reply was “Sir Alex Ferguson”! We were on an eight person table. Former CEO of the club David Gill came over and introduced himself before a quick chat with Sir Alex. Alex recommended I got the Steak and he later recommended the pies after the match, both of which were delicious.

We then went through into the boardroom. It was a bit surreal to be in a room of all the most senior officials at Manchester United on game day. It was even more surreal to have Sir Bobby Charlton watching on as we posed for a photo with the current trophies United hold (the Europa League and the League Cup).

We then ordered dessert before heading out to the director’s box for the game. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Sir Alex in the first half!

Unexpectedly, Michael Essien was sat directly in front of us. He is a good friend of his former manager Jose Mourinho and as such was sat in Jose’s seats in the director’s box. Michael was very polite and after a quick chat with Alex made a point of introducing himself to all of us. He also very kindly had a photo with me at half time.

It was a pleasure to enjoy the view from the director’s box; undoubtedly it is the best view in the entire stadium! As the first half went by, Alex chatted to myself and Hamid about the game and football in general. As a Middlesbrough fan, I made sure to chat to him about my team and see if he had any interesting stories to share about the club.

At half time, we went back through to the restaurant and had dessert. I had the sticky toffee pudding, which was again delicious!

The second half then started and we went back out. We had all switched seats this half, so Michael Essien was now sat directly in front of me! United were 1-0 down at half time but they won the game 2-1 (after two goals in quick succession) and that meant they were through to the knockout stage as group winners!

We then headed back to Sir Alex’s private room, where he signed the program we were given for me and we had a few drinks and snacks (including the aforementioned pies!)

He said we should invite our driver up for some food so we did but Sayeed declined and said he’d already eaten! We all had a laugh at the fact he turned Alex down; he really was not joking about having no interest in football!

When our taxi arrived, Alex said his goodbyes and we all thanked him for an unforgettable experience, before we went to find our car.

Renee Kapuku, History, Keble College

Returning back to the dreaming spires as I enter my final year studying History, I cannot help but adopt a somewhat nostalgic outlook. Perhaps it is a luxury afforded by being able to take the time, stop, and think about how such an invigorating, fast-paced and unique environment has not just changed during my time, but completely changed me.

I cannot help but look back and remember how daunting the city used to be in my first year. Everything appeared large and over imposing – the libraries seemed to have an endless array of books I would never manage to read, the colleges seemed to have acres of grounds I would never succeed in exploring, and even the tutors seemed to have a wealth of knowledge that I never thought I would quite grasp. And yet, as I look around now, I feel comfortable and at ease. Despite the stress, of course, of my looming finals, I walk confidently down the streets of Oxford. I pull out books with ease and familiarity off their bookshelves. I saunter around my college like it is my second home, and I (strangely!) look forward to the prospect of having tutorials with some of the world’s greatest intellectuals. Most importantly, I feel like I have made my mark, and grown.

There are so many things I would love to share about my experience here. I have enjoyed my course – specialising in black nationalism and 20th century America in my thesis and recent modules has been spectacular. When I first came to Oxford, I dreaded handing in essays and was absolutely terrified that my work was inherently not good enough. I had a chip on my shoulder. Somehow, little old me from North London, Tottenham, had been squeezed in by mistake. But how wrong I was – I was surprised by the openness of my class, by the genuine interest shown by my tutors. Slowly, I built my confidence to the point that I was anticipating classes and enjoying my reading again. I started to really fall in love with Oxford.

Returning to Oxford after spending two months in New York working for a non-profit organisation thanks to the assistance of the Crankstart Scholarship seems unreal. I never thought I would have the chance, opportunity or the means to go to the US – alone! And yet it happened, and I had a fantastic time. I was fortunate enough to work with a few other Oxford interns, which truly made the place feel like a home away from home. I was sorely sad to say goodbye, but who knows? Maybe I shall return one day!

But the most rewarding experiences of all were borne out of my love for Access and Outreach. As a Crankstart Scholar, and a student of African and Caribbean heritage I know too well the issues associated with Access and Outreach in regard to diversity. Last year, as president of the Oxford African and Caribbean society, I was fortunate enough to work closely with the Oxford Admissions department to devise workshops and a day-long conference for students like me in Year 12, interested in applying to Oxford.

The Annual Access Conference went on to become the largest student-run conference in the UK, with over 200 students attending. I was incredibly pleased, not just due to the attendance, but the immeasurable impact myself and my team were having on these students by raising aspirations.

Oxford has been an invaluable and truly transformative experience. I would not change it for the world, and I am thankful the Crankstart team were there to support me every step of the way. The dreaming spires of Oxford no longer instil fear – but a deep sense of contentment that I was allowed the opportunity to make difference.