Transcript: Heather Shillito talks about the impact of receiving a Leeds scholarship

Transcript for the video embedded on the Why your gift matters page.

(Heather Shillito sat smiling at a table in a study area. A caption says: Heather Shillito, Law 2021.)

Heather: I'm from Leeds, lived in Leeds all my life. Usually, when people go to university they want to travel and explore a bit, but I was absolutely happy staying here. I just think it's a great city, it has everything.

(A view of the city of Leeds with pedestrians crossing each other. Students walking onto campus at the University of Leeds. Three students sit around a table and look at a screen.)

Heather: One of the reasons I came to Leeds is the access course. It's a six-week programme and it entails you firming the university as your main choice, but you also do a little course where it brings you up to date with some of the skills that people from more advantaged backgrounds will have done already, like doing research. That allowed me to come in with grades ABB, instead of the AAA that usually top law schools want.

(Heather descends the steps of the Parkinson building.)

Heather: The course was definitely something that attracted me as well, because it's really prestigious to come to Leeds. What qualified me for the scholarship was firstly household income. Your postcard area had to have a low progression to university, and so you had to be the first in your family to attend higher education. 

(Heather approaches the Laidlaw Library on the University of Leeds campus.)

Heather: Even though I knew I was entitled to the higher maintenance grant, I knew that when I whenever I came home my mum couldn't give me any financial help really, so I was working over summer trying to save up money and I thought that I was going to have to maintain this job for at least a good 10 to 12 hours a week whilst I was doing the course. So there was already some worries there. Then to find out that I had this scholarship, I felt a bit guilty letting down the job where I'd just started, but I just thought this is fantastic. I was over the moon.

(A broad view of the tall Parkinson tower clock and trees on campus.)

Heather: The main way that it helped me was taking off financial pressure and it just meant that I was able to really throw myself into my course.

(Heather steps out of the main entrance of the Leeds University Union and meets two friends.)

Heather: I want to become a lawyer and that's something that you need a lot of experience for, so not having to have another part-time job on the side meant that I could just go and do some volunteering. In the summer of second year I worked with Chapel Town's Citizens Advice Bureau, and I got so much from it because it was real client contact.

(Students sat around group discussion tables in the Library. They are smiling and using laptops and textbooks.)

Heather: One of the things that has been a big part of my life at university is keeping my passions alive. Without the scholarship I don't think that's something I could have done. I really believe that reading outside of your subjects on lots of different things is just so important for finding that breakthrough knowledge that can really take you in different places throughout your life, and I did so much extra reading and again I wouldn't have been able to do that without the scholarship. 

(Heather enters the Laidlaw Library and approaches a shelf of books. She removes a textbook from the shelf.)

Heather: I don't think I would have had the time to be able to go out and spend these extra things to work on my self improvement, and creative writing is something that I’ve kept up as it's just really helped me to explore myself outside of my law degree.

(Heather sits down at a desk and flicks through a textbook.)

Heather: Something that I did this year is a six-week mentoring course with a family lawyer, and she has actually been guiding me through what it's like to apply to a law firm. The kind of things that they look for are the qualities that you need to be showing in your application, and how you can make yourself stand out from other applicants, which is something that I've never be able to get from my family because they haven't had that experience. I have a vacation scheme coming up soon and an assessment centre for a training contract. So I am working my way towards being a solicitor.

(Heather is now seated on a sofa in a large, spacious study area.)

Heather: The LPC is the legal practice course that you have to do if you want to become a solicitor. The scary thing about it for somebody coming from a socially and economically disadvantaged background is that it costs £13,000 to do. If you aren't offered a training contract from a firm that can sponsor you, but you really want to become a lawyer, somehow you have to fund that yourself.

(Heather walks across campus toward the Leeds University Union entrance.)

Heather: Just in case I end up having to, I've been saving a little bit of money on the side just to give me that bit of security if I don't get an offer and I have to fund the LPC myself. Hopefully, if I can get a training contract offer this summer, fingers crossed, then I’ll be able to as soon as I finish the LPC start and work at a law firm.

I was always somebody who wanted to do something, make something of their life but when you come from a family who doesn't value education as such, it can be hard because they're not pushing you in the right direction and you do have to push yourself. 

I think if my 14-year-old self was looking at me here now, I think I’d be absolutely shocked at the change that I’ve made. I've just been able to really throw myself into bettering myself and doing as much as I can and making the most out of my university life.

University life has really been an enriching experience. I've changed exponentially as a person and the scholarship has been a huge part of that. When I think about all the opportunities and benefits that the scholarship has provided me with at my time at university, I really hope that someday I will be in a position where I can give back to a student or multiple students and help them in the same way that I’ve been helped.