• Leah Berger

London Pub Owner Changes Students Lives Forever

Not one, but 5 students left the premises of the Sekforde pub this year with a huge smile plastered across their faces. Their lives changed forever by a £15,000 scholarship.

David Lonsdale is the owner of the Sekforde Pub which uses its profit to provide scholarships for students in need. Despite all that is going on with the current lockdown forcing his pub into closure he remains very positive and happy remarking, “we’ve been through pandemics before and it all passes eventually, at least Trump is gone - that is one thing we can all smile about”.

He cares a great deal about the environment and is trying to use his privileged position to generate some help for struggling students in Islington. He says: “I have enjoyed a life of great security happiness and privilege. I think there is a tendency for privileged people to imagine we deserve to be. We don't. It is all just the luck of life. The world in which we live is horribly unfair.”

David says a lot of his inspiration behind the scholarship program stemmed from his childhood. As a child, he lived on a farm in Cornwell where his family produced all their food and worked on the land themselves. He describes his life on the farm as a happy and sustainable one and informs me solemnly, “I am not sure this sort of life exists any more for any families today”. David's desire to create the Sekforde House Trust, which funds the scholarships, came from his grandmother Kathleen Lonsdale, a famous scientist. He says: “My grandmother Kathleen went to university at 16 in 1919 and obtained the highest marks in physics in her first degree. This was all because she was awarded a scholarship - otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible.” He remembers Kathleen fondly and laughs to himself as he recalls: “As a child, what fascinated me most, was that she had been to prison during the war and that she had tutored Prince Charles in science at Windsor Castle in the 1950s. I couldn’t understand why the Queen would let someone who had been to prison teach her son!”

Kathleen may have been the inspiration behind the scholarship program, but David put it all into action. He purchased the Sekforde pub in 2015 and transformed it into the ambient, cosy and magical place it is today. He explains, “I purchased the Sekforde because I wanted to create a special pub which would use all its profits to support students and would use technology to reduce its carbon emissions dramatically”. And he certainly has accomplished this. With the help of his friend and structural engineer, Hadi Sarmadi, they restored the Sekforde and made it into one of the most sustainable pubs in London. The Sekforde uses an underground river below them to cool all the beers and ales in the pub, it is also used to power the heating system which keeps the pub warm during winter. The pub is now a grade II listed pub in the Clerkenwell Green Conservation Area, and it won a RIBA sustainability award in 2018 after the pub reopened for the first time.

David immediately launched the scholarships alongside the opening of the pub in 2018, as the first four students were funded. All the profits from the Sekforde pub are put into the trust and used to provide scholarships. “At the moment the trust awards about £100,000 per annum which represents the profits from the Sekforde,” says David. “In the future, I hope the Trust will also provide free accommodation for students. There is a particular need to provide accommodation for students from overseas. Imagine if you could arrive in London and know that you had somewhere decent to move into with friendly scholarly housemates from all over the world. It would take away so much pressure and enable you to focus on your studies immediately.”

Despite the potentially dismal effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the pubs’ profit margin, David went ahead and handed out scholarships this year. He says: “This year we have selected five women who are all studying journalism. To find out about and report the truth could not be more important today.” He emphasises that he invests the scholarships in students who are truly going to use their potential to make the world a better place and hopefully help others too. This is a great act of generosity and hopefully, it will inspire a 'pay it forward' trend amongst the scholarship recipients.

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