A charity that supports people who have become estranged or disowned from their families has written an open letter to Vice Chancellor David Richardson requesting a meeting to discuss how UEA can develop support for its estranged students.

Stand Alone is the UK’s first charity for estranged people of all ages. Chief Executive of the organisation Becca Bland is hoping to convince Professor David Richardson to sign a pledge backed by the Office for Students and signed already by over 60 universities.

Ms Bland said: “As part of our commitment to all students who are estranged from family, Stand Alone will be writing to every VC who has not yet taken the pledge, asking them to do so.

“It’s our aim that every student in this position is studying under supportive policies, which help them with the stress and material disadvantage of studying alone.”
The pledge would require UEA to commit to developing a named contract for estranged students, providing support for finance, accommodation and mental health care.

According to Stand Alone there are at least 32 estranged students at UEA, and at the Norwich University of the Arts there are at least 19. These students make up a small percentage of the thousands across the UK who are three times more likely to drop out or struggle financially than any other group.

Stand Alone wrote to Professor David Richardson following yesterday’s coverage in the Times, which revealed how many UK universities are “failing to support” their estranged students, including those at UEA. She said she was responding to “the case study in the article of a UEA student outlining her poor experience in finding support at your institution.”

The Times article was written by a UEA student and this newspaper’s comment editor Chris Matthews. One estranged student he spoke to was third year LDC student Beth Bacon, who became estranged in the last year.

While Beth never outlines having “poor experiences in finding support” at UEA, the article says Beth’s father “stopped funding her education when she was 16. Although she lives with her mother she said she ‘often has to sofa surf between different relatives and friends’ houses in cities where work is more readily available’.”

Beth told Matthews “living out of a suitcase can be dehumanising and I often feel like a burden on the people I am staying with, I don’t want people to think I am using them for their accommodation. I know this is sometimes how it must come across, but I don’t really have a choice.”

60 percent of people estranged from their families receive no support from social services, and four percent of estranged students go on to use poor interest payday loans while studying, according to Stand Alone.

Ms Bland said Stand Alone research also found that over 30 percent of estranged students had registered homeless or had considered registering homeless before their course began and also struggle with homelessness once on course, especially during the summer vacation months.

Addressing the VC, Ms Bland said: “I would be delighted to meet with you to discuss how the University of East Anglia can further develop support for estranged young people at key points across the student lifecycle and enhance the success and experience of its estranged students as part of its Stand Alone Pledge commitment.”

A spokesperson for the university said: “Our aim at UEA is always to support our students and we note that the student mentioned by the charity has not outlined any poor experience in finding support at UEA. We would be very happy to consider the charity Stand ALone’s request to sign the pledge around support for estranged students but have yet to recieve that request.”

If UEA signs the Stand Alone pledge, support for estranged students could manifest with a bursary to prevent students falling into homelessness over summer, when students are expected to ‘go home’. The charity said support could also include 365 day access to university accommodation, or better access to mental health services.

Research from Ipsos MORI shows that 1 in 5 families in the UK will be affected by estrangement and over 5 million people have decided to cut contact with at least one family member.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, stable accommodation is a key factor in re-engaging young people with education, and maintaining positive overall emotional and physical wellbeing are also important to their chances of success.

Stand Alone’s call for better mental health support comes after just under 9,000 students signed a petition calling for better mental health support. The university has since invested a further £250,000 for student support services.

You can read the full letter to the Vice Chancellor here.

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