How Winchester University supports care leavers to succeed

31st October 2014

There are many care leavers who, with the right support and guidance from learning providers and social services staff, gain a degree. The latest in our series of blogs for National Care Leavers Week is an account of how a care leaver has been supported to learn at Winchester University.

When I was applying to universities some of them asked for additional references to support my application. I am a member of the Surrey County Council Care Council, and the lead staff member quickly provided me with a reference which helped me to secure my place. Additionally, my personal advisor helped me to plan for the university move by telling me about what I was entitled to financially. This included a weekly allowance to pay for my accommodation and another to pay for my living costs. She helped me to contact the university finance team and arrange for a weekly standing order of my accommodation allowance to be set up and paid directly from my account to the university. Accommodation fees are normally paid in three termly instalments but the university was very helpful and supportive in setting this up. My personal advisor also told me that I would receive a bursary through three instalments during the year. She told me the dates that I would receive this money so I could include them in my budgeting plan and so keep on top of my finances.

My first week of university

When I picked up my keys to move in to university halls I was given an unexpected one-off credit to a catering card for use in all of the university cafes and restaurants. This relieved a bit of the pressure of cooking my own meals while I settled in. During the first week of freshers, a member of student services who worked specially with care leavers invited me to meet up for a chat. When I met her, she explained the support the university offered and also told me that I could contact her with any problems I might have or whenever I fancied a chat. This made me feel more secure and confident that I would be supported. The student services advisor also told me about the King Alfred scholarship which the university offers to care leavers and she gave me the amounts and dates of when each instalment would be paid into my bank. She also passed on my contact details to a member of the Widening Participation Department who was keen to employ care leavers, to work with children in care and care leavers in the surrounding areas of Winchester, at events that promoted higher education.

During my first year of university

I was employed by the Widening Participation Team. This helped me to earn some useful money as well as gain experience to add to my CV and the course I am studying. The advisor from student services continued to email me every so often to check that I was okay and to let me know of any events involving fellow care leavers at the university which I may be interested in. An intern working for the Widening Participation Team also set up a support group for care leavers to attend and meet each other. Lastly, my personal advisor from my local authority kept in touch and was always available to discuss my finances with me.

My first year experience of university has been an extremely positive one. I have been able to settle in to university halls, live independently, make many new friends and achieve academically. The pastoral and financial support that I received from my local authority Personal Advisor and staff at the University of Winchester before starting at university, on my first week and throughout my first year, has definitely helped me to succeed.