I mentioned in my blog last month that I had been nominated for an Enriching Student Life Award. Well, last Thursday night I put on my posh frock, attended the award ceremony, had a lovely 3 course meal and was very shocked when they announced I had won! My blog this week is to thank the student who nominated me and to explain how I can help other students who are estranged from their family.
Enriching Student Life Award
About 6 weeks ago I was delivered a mug and a teabag from the Student Union with a letter informing me that a student had nominated me for an Enriching Student Life Award. I was very touched that a student had gone to the effort to nominate me and I have to say, that cup of tea was special! A couple of weeks later I received an invitation to the awards dinner informing me that I had been shortlisted in the Enriching Student Life category. I didn’t know it at the time by the student who nominated me was Michael O’Connell-Davidson, who is in his final year of BA Journalism and is a student I have been supporting since before he started at Cardiff University.
This is what he had written:
‘ Einir Evans is the reason I am at University. I have achieved a great deal during my studies, but I can say with the utmost confidence that I would not have even been able to set foot in Talybont without her help and support.
Einir works in student support and looks after care leavers and students from vulnerable backgrounds. I was homeless at 16, and I never believed that I would be able to make it to university. I had no support, nobody I could ask, and I came to believe that going to university was a pipe dream. But Einir changed that.
As somebody who believes that University should be a diverse place that welcomes students from all academic backgrounds. Einir is part of the reason Cardiff University as an institution manages to be the sort of diverse place I speak of, and the sort of diverse place we all want to study. Einir deserves this award.’
Before I go any further, I am not the reason why Michael is studying at Cardiff University, he is here because of his talent and hard work. But for Michael, getting here wasn’t as easy as it may be for other students, so I gave him a helping hand.
As Michael explained in the nomination, at the age of 16 he was made homeless, by his father at the behest of his new girlfriend. At the time he was in college so sofa surfed before going to his local authority for support. They put him in a bed and breakfast with other “vulnerable people” that was completely unsuitable for a 16 year old. Michael found a part-time job in a chip shop and decided to rent a room in a shared house and applied for Housing Benefit and Income Support.
While his peers were preparing to go to University, Michael called Student Finance England (SFE) to enquire what funding he could get as an independent student if he went to uni. At this point Michael was still trying to establish some sort of relationship with his father. The first question SFE asked him was when did he last speak to any of his parents? He told them that he had spoken to his father a week before asking if he would help with his student finance application and he (or mainly his girlfriend) had refused. SFE told him that they couldn’t treat him as independent as he has spoken to one of his parents within the past 12 months. They also told him that the only other way to be treated as independent would be to prove that he had self-supported himself for 3 years before he started his course, if he was married or had a dependent child! At that point Michael had been supporting himself for 2 years.
Some of you might be familiar with this kind of advice from Student Finance. As you can imagine, Michael was devastated. This is when he made contact with me. We discussed his options; could he get proof from his local authority that they put him up in a B&B? Didn’t SFE realise that being in receipt of Income Support and Housing Benefit as a 16 & 17 year old is evidence that you have no parental support? The whole situation was very stressful for Michael and he didn’t believe he could ever go to university.
At the same time Michael was offered a job as a production assistant with a local newspaper. So Michael decided to take the job. While this was a fantastic opportunity, it only made him realise how much he wanted to be a journalist and wanted to go to university so he got back in contact with me. We worked out that if he delayed coming to university for a year he would have supported himself for 3 years, all we needed to do was get evidence of his income, from benefits and employment, for the 3 years and liaise with SFE.
Eventually SFE assessed Michael as an independent student which meant he has received full funding for his whole course without any involvement from his parents. This was a major obstacle to overcome to even get here but for many students in the same situation as Michael, it was only one obstacle. Michael really struggled in his first year as he felt different to other students. His past experiences had made him grow up much quicker than his peers. Other students didn’t have all their worldly possessions with them in their room in Talybont. And unlike other students he had nowhere to return to in holidays or if he wanted to leave Cardiff for the weekend.
With a bit of support from the Student Support Centre, Michael overcame all of the obstacles. He will be graduating this year, potentially with a first (cross fingers) and will be going on to study for a Masters next year.
Support for students in similar situations
Cardiff University had committed to assist students from a care background since 2007, when Buttle UK established their Quality Mark. However, we had nothing in place to assist students, like Michael, who hadn’t been in care but who had no family support. It is because of Michael that we decided to extend the support we offer to care leavers to other estranged students.
I am the dedicated contact and I can help students in similar situations to Michael. I can advise on the student finance rules, help apply for funding and gather evidence and liaise on your behalf with other organisations including Student Finance. Throughout your journey at Cardiff University I can act as a Mentor, so if you have any queries, I am here. We also offer financial support and support related to accommodation. Please see my previous blog for further information.
I would like to thank Michael again for nominating me. It was lovely to have recognition for the work we do in Student Support. Hopefully, by sharing Michael’s story, we can also raise awareness of the support available to students in similar situations so they can access support.
As ever, please get in contact with me if you need advice or assistance.
Einir Evans, Key Contact for Care Leavers & Estranged Students
Your Student Life, Supported.
Advice & Money I Careers & Employability I Counselling, Health & Wellbeing I Disability & Dyslexia
Contact Einir by Email: EvansE23@cardiff.ac.uk or Tel: 029 2087 4787.