Two projects at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) have been nominated for awards by the Stand Alone charity as part of its ‘Pledge’ commitment to support estranged students.

The charity raises awareness of estrangement and works with higher education providers to increase recognition of the barriers and issues estranged students face in accessing and succeeding at higher education. The Stand Alone ‘Pledge’ is a visible and public commitment by an institution to the development of better support across the student life cycle for estranged students.

Stand Alone has for the first time nominated a number of higher education providers who have taken the ‘Pledge’ for an award in excellence and innovation. Nominations were announced at the recent Stand Alone conference, marking two years of the ‘Pledge’.

There are nine nomination categories, with Sheffield Hallam nominated in both the Accommodation category and the Outreach and Transition category, for its work in creating a residential wellbeing mentors programme in halls of residences and its estranged students’ transition fund.

The ‘Pledge’ sits within the University’s commitment to widening participation and improving access to higher education, providing support for students whose personal circumstances might mean they face barriers to their progression into higher education.

Speaking about the residential mentors programme, Lee Mansell, residential support coordinator in accommodation services said: “We know from experience that not everyone who comes to university has the support of their family and there are many reasons why people become separated from family. The residential mentor role is designed to support the wellbeing and welfare of students living in halls of residence.”

“For our estranged students, this project means that they are always able to contact a peer who lives in the same hall, who has an understanding of their needs, as well as knowledge of and access to university support staff and services. Our mentors have the training and ability to really make a difference to estranged students’ first experience of life in Sheffield and to help them succeed as individuals.”

The estranged student transition fund is an initiative led by the student funding and access support team that aims to support both new and returning estranged students with the costs of settling into university life through a financial bursary.

Colleen Mitchell, student transitions manager at Sheffield Hallam and lead for the fund, said: “The transition fund supports students in a variety of ways, individual to their circumstances. For example, students are supported with the practical and essential costs of moving to university such as the cost of rental bonds and associated fees as well as homeware necessities.”

Both shortlisted schemes are funded by the Hallam Fund, a fundraising initiative that relies on donations from Sheffield Hallam alumni and community members.

More than 50 higher education institutions (HEI) in the UK have pledged to continue their commitment to improving support and guidance for students who are estranged from their families.

“In order to recognise and celebrate the work of HEIs and especially individual colleagues within those institutions that have taken the Pledge and who are making a massive difference to estranged students as part of that institutional commitment, we decided to introduce for the first time these awards for excellence and innovation,” said Susan Mueller, project director for higher education at Stand Alone.

She added: “Without the engagement and hard work of these HEIs and staff, we would not have been able to achieve the changes that are happening across the higher education sector for estranged students – both within institutions but also sector bodies.”

The nominations come after recent research by Professor Jacqueline Stevenson from Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam and Becca Bland, chief executive of Stand Alone surveyed over 1,700 Sheffield Hallam and University of Sheffield students, to better understand how the presence or absence of a students’ family affects their higher education experience. The Family Matters report found that UK university students who get daily support from their families are more motivated and less stressed.

Sheffield Hallam University is the most prominent university in the UK for driving improvements in education and championing social mobility. The University works with a range of partners to undertake world-leading education research to inform and influence practice and policy, including working with the UK and international governments.

In 2016/17, Sheffield Hallam admitted more students from neighbourhoods with historically low numbers going on to university than any other provider in the UK*. In addition, 41% of Sheffield Hallam students come from low income households and the student body is 96% state-educated (against a national average of 90%).

As a key regional institution, the University has committed to improving education across South Yorkshire through its ground-breaking social mobility partnership: South Yorkshire Futures.

The flagship project, backed by the Department for Education, aims to improve attainment and raise aspiration for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across all age groups, whilst developing a dedicated workforce to support them.