A Manchester grandmother, who lost her job as a pastry chef when the pandemic hit, has found a new lease of life by studying for a degree in sports and exercise science at University Academy 92 (UA92) in Manchester.
Before Covid-19, Kundai Maridzo-Chikwenengwe, 44, worked at high profile restaurants like the Ivy Spinningfields in Manchester and alongside celebrity chef, James Martin.
But restaurant closures and staff redundancies meant Crumpsall-based Kundai found herself out of the job she loved and on Universal Credit.
After months of job – and soul – searching, she decided to take her existing passion for strength and fitness training to the next level and work towards a degree in Sports and Exercise Science at Old Trafford-based UA92.
Kundai began her studies at UA92 – the higher education institution co-founded by the Class of 92 and Lancaster University - in September. She says: “I loved my job. Being a pastry chef is all I’ve ever known and trained for, but Covid changed all that and within weeks of the start of the pandemic, I was out of work for the first time in my adult life.
“I was keen to find a new job as quickly as possible, but thousands were applying for every vacancy and it was crushing to realise how long my odds of success were.
“It was the hardest time of my life but I am a person of faith and I finally accepted that that door had closed and that there was something new out there for me.
“I have always loved fitness and been interested in sports and nutrition – even after doing 12 or 14-hour shifts at work, I still made sure I did a couple of hours in the gym. As a chef, you have to be physically and mentally fit.
“I began to realise how passionate I was about exercise - that that that was my new calling - and began searching out qualifications. University wasn’t really on my agenda, though. It didn’t seem financially possible. Plus I would surely be the oldest person on my course and I hadn’t been in education for 20 years!”
Her outlook changed, however, when her friend found out about financial support available to help unemployed people in Greater Manchester gain a degree at UA92. The Manchester Kickstart Grant scheme has been launched by the Class of 92 and offers £5,000 to anyone in the region who is out of work or on reduced income due to Covid-19.
Kundai continues: "Things started to fall into place when I discovered I could get help with the cost of studying. I went on a small open day in the summer and I knew then that this was the path for me, so I applied.
“When I was offered my place, and the £5,000 grant, I broke down. After several hard months, it felt like this was meant to be.
“I was apprehensive about my first day but I soon realised that there were people on my course from a range of backgrounds and ages. There was a great atmosphere, too – a feeling that we were a group of people all embarking on an exciting new chapter in our lives.
“My first term was challenging and inspiring in equal measure. I’ve had to adapt to new ways of thinking and working but my abilities as a chef have stood me in good stead, particularly my teamworking skills.
“Over the next couple of years, I’m looking forward to discovering more about myself and what the future holds once I graduate. I could go into personal training, biomechanics or coaching. It feels great to have options and opportunities again.”
UA92 offers undergraduate degrees in accounting and finance, business, computer science, media and sport which are awarded by Lancaster University, as well as Access to Higher Education qualifications and Certificates of Higher Education (Cert HE).
Alongside academic qualifications, students also study character development skills including positive thinking, teamwork, mental resilience and motivation. This approach is based on the Class of 92’s experiences under legendary Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson and is designed so that students graduate not only with the qualifications but the confidence and self-assurance to thrive in life.
UA92 co-founder, Gary Neville, said: “When we decided to offer the Manchester Kickstart Grants, Kundai was just the kind of person we hoped would benefit – someone with dreams and aspirations but for whom higher education didn’t seem like a realistic possibility.
“One of our founding principles is that we want to offer an outstanding education to people with drive, determination and ambition, regardless of their circumstances.
“There are still grants available so my message to anyone thinking about going into higher education is simply to get in touch with the UA92 team.”
The Manchester Evening News recent featured Kundai's story. Read the full article here.