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Hello … Are you there? Or have you gone home for Christmas?

  • 23 December 2022
  • By The Unite Foundation and Paige Mackenzie

This blog was kindly contributed by The Unite Foundation and Paige Mackenzie.

This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert highlighted different notions of family and belonging at this time of year. As you may know, many care experienced and estranged students will be staying at university over the holidays, either in private accommodation or halls. Seeing their friends go home for Christmas can be isolating. 

Former Unite Foundation scholarship student, and host of the excellent This is Us Podcast, Paige Mackenzie, writes about her reflections on speaking with students on the podcast, and how they’ve said it can feel to be stuck at uni at a time when seemingly everyone is at home with their families. Paige writes:

I know a lot of unis hold events for students over the holidays. It’s great these events happen but I know some care experienced and estranged students – and this was true of me when I was at uni – aren’t keen to get involved. 

I was very closed off and felt self-conscious and I didn’t want to be a burden. I also worried I’d be the only one to turn up and then all eyes would be on me. I definitely didn’t want that attention. Making things casual and accessible, and making it easy to just drop in, can help take off the pressure. 

On Christmas day itself, a student might be the only person in their halls or in their student house. I would encourage uni staff to reach out and contact care experienced and estranged students over the holidays. It can be a really lonely time and checking in with students can make a massive difference. 

One of the biggest things, I think, is that students who stay at uni for the holidays – whether that’s Christmas or another time of year – don’t get the same kind of break that students who go back to their families do. No reset, no one to do their washing or cook them a meal – all the benefits that come with parent privilege. It’s the same things day in, day out. It can feel repetitive and you just don’t feel refreshed in the same way for the new term. Coming back to uni after the holidays can also be emotionally tricky for care experienced and estranged students, as everyone discusses what they’ve been doing over Christmas. But I would say to uni staff: don’t censor yourself in terms of asking students about the holidays just be conscious of the range of possible experiences.

In collaboration with EACES, a network by and for care experienced and estranged students in the UK and ROI, we have produced a resource that offers guidance on how to support, and be inclusive of, your estranged and care experienced students during the winter period and Christmas. You can find it here.

If you’re reading this and you work with students in Newcastle or London, our students are holding get togethers in both cities. We’d love for you to promote them. You can find out details on the Newcastle event on Christmas Eve here and the London event being held on Christmas day here.

And, finally, to the colleagues across the sector who are doing great work to support care experienced and estranged students, we want to say a festive thank you!

The Unite Foundation Scheme offers a unique accommodation scholarship. Applications open on 1 January 2023 and you can find out more here.

Explore our blogs on care leavers and estranged students:

Other HEPI publications on care leavers and estranged students:

Today’s blogs conclude HEPI’s output for the year. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you all for your support during 2022. The blog will resume early in 2023.

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