Reflecting on Stand Alone’s legacy conference 

Endings can afford a time for positive reflection, even when they are tinged with sadness. This was the overriding mood I experienced during Stand Alone’s Pass the Baton online conference, which considered the legacy of the national estrangement charity after it announced it was to close. 

Working with Stand Alone   

Go Higher West Yorkshire’s (GHWY) work with students who are estranged from their family – who have no contact with their close family members – has been influenced by the tireless work that Stand Alone has done in advocating for this group of individuals.  

In my co-presentation at the Pass the Baton conference with Helen Sykes (Head of GHWY) – titled ‘Working with Stand Alone to push our local agenda for estranged students’ – we outlined our work with the charity.   

This goes back to 2018, when we ran our first collaborative campaign for Estranged Students Solidarity Week (ESSW). The following year, Susan Mueller (former Director, Higher Education (HE) and Projects) was one of the guest speakers at ‘With Estranged Students: A GHWY Good Practice Event’. This was the start of a supportive working relationship.   

I sought advice from Susan in developing our collaborative Stand Alone Pledge, which outlines the support offered by our 13 HE members, and the relevant section of our understanding and supporting care-experienced and estranged students CPD. I was guided by her expertise, especially in terms of up-to-date definitions around estrangement, and her invaluable feedback helped to strengthen both resources. 

Supportive and inspiring  

It was evident from the conference that GHWY was not alone in finding Stand Alone inspiring and supportive.  

During the 12 years it operated, the charity brought to the fore the challenges and barriers faced by estranged learners in accessing, succeeding in, and progressing from HE.  

The breadth of its influence was reflected in the conference speakers, which included HE representatives and key stakeholders such as NEON (National Education Opportunities Network), UCAS and the Unite Foundation. Each of these outlined the changes that Stand Alone had effected within their organisation, and their Legacy pledges to continue driving the work forward. 

It was also evident that there is still much work to be done to effectively support estranged students. I was particularly interested to hear Arron Pile (Residence & Campus Life Manager, University of Salford) discuss his institution’s planned adoption of person first language (i.e. referring to a person who is estranged, rather than an estranged person).  

The importance of language was picked up by a student representative, who spoke about the importance of inclusive language. They suggested, for instance, that academics do not wish their students a happy holiday with families, which can exclude those who are estranged. 

The presentations from Dr Rachel Spacey (Policy & Engagement Officer, University Mental Health Advisers Network) and Julie Willis (Student Experience & Support Manager, Keele University) also made it clear to me that there is much work to be done in addressing the cliff edge that many estranged students face post-graduation. This includes the need for greater transition support around employability and housing.  

Stand Alone’s legacy 

Significant barriers remain for estranged students when accessing, progressing in, and succeeding in HE but the conference highlighted some of the important work that has been achieved to date. This includes estrangement now being a core element of widening participation, and support for them being embedded in HE policy. 

It was also clear that the momentum that Stand Alone helped to build will not be lost, with organisations – including GHWY – making Legacy pledges to continue their work to improve outcomes for estranged students.  

Stand Alone is having conversations with many of the organisations in attendance about where its extensive and useful resources will be housed once its website closes. UCAS, for instance, will take ownership of Stand Alone’s student finance resource. It is also anticipated that EaCES (Estranged and Care Experienced Students) will take over ESSW.  

It was this legacy that made the conference a time of positive, if bittersweet, reflection. It is undoubtedly sad that Stand Alone is closing, but its work will continue to be driven by diverse organisations across the country who seek to improve the circumstances of estranged students. 


 Susan Darlington, GHWY Partnership Assistant