Students without family support over the winter break

Ideas and practices that universities and colleges have put in place to respond quickly to the needs of students without parental or wider family support during this time.

Students without family support who remain at university over the winter break may face significant challenges in terms of isolation and loneliness, financial hardship, inadequate study space or IT equipment, and limited access to support services. For those without parental or wider family support - such as care leavers, care experienced students, estranged students, refugees and asylum seekers - these challenges are likely to be exacerbated this year due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

These interventions have been developed at pace and have not yet been evaluated for effectiveness. Their inclusion is not intended to stipulate particular approaches or endorse the actions of specific institutions. They are offered in the spirit of sharing practice that others may find useful and applicable to their own contexts.

The university is providing support specifically targeted at care experienced and estranged students, as well as support aimed at any student who is staying in Leeds. Students are actively encouraged to access the support.

Specifically for estranged and care experienced students (regardless of living situation): 

  • A one-off payment of £150 to all of these students to use however they see fit, including on living costs or for gifts
  • A takeaway and movie social where students will receive a £10 voucher for Just Eat and will have the opportunity to chat after watching the film (this was planned after discussion with this group of students) 
  • Two creative taster workshops called ‘I Belong’ during the Christmas break, aiming to help students feel less lonely and more connected with other students, to increase their wellbeing and sense of belonging. Participating students will take part in the evaluation before the sustained programme continues next year, targeting a range of students who self-identify as feeling isolated.

Residence support (for those in university accommodation)

  • Staff will be available and wardens will be on call to provide support to students living in university accommodation during the holidays.
  • Staff will be delivering food parcels to any students required to self-isolate. 
  • The residence teams will be running social events such as quizzes, and giving out gift bags.

Social activities (for all students)

  • There are a number of sports and physical activities on offer including a guided group walk and exercise classes.
  • There will be various social activities taking place over the break, such as Christmas bingo. Students can join a Teams or Facebook group to connect with other students staying in Leeds.
  • Leeds University Students' Union are also giving away festive food packs and offering a takeaway Christmas dinner for students remaining in Leeds.

Other support

  • Security teams will be available 24/7 to help all students throughout the holiday period. The chaplaincy service is offering emergency wellbeing support over the core Christmas period with a contact phone number available 24/7. 
  • Any student who is self-isolating and living in privately rented accommodation can request an emergency food parcel.
  • There will be a student information telephone helpline open from 21-24 and 28-31 December.

Support is in place for all students remaining at university over the winter break, but the We Care Team provides bespoke support for care experienced and estranged students. Specific support for these students over the Christmas period is as follows: 

‘We Care at Christmas’ campaign 

This is led by Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell KCB, and the We Care Team. The university’s care experienced and estranged students are also supporting with the logistics of sorting and wrapping gifts. All students will receive the following:

  • A Christmas card signed by the Vice-Chancellor and staff from the We Care Team. 
  • A gift package. Students were called individually (160 in total) to determine their specific requirements and each student will receive:
    • a university hoodie branded with their initials (colour and size chosen by the student), festive socks and sweet treats
    • a supermarket voucher
    • Christmas arts and craft packs
    • gifts for their children (where applicable) including books, crafts, selection boxes and an additional supermarket voucher so they can choose something for their child(ren)
    • a small cash payment into their bank accounts (likely to be £20).

See more information

Events and pastoral support

  • Festive Christmas Get Together via Microsoft Teams. Everyone who confirms attendance in advance will receive a pack sent to them which includes hot chocolate, marshmallows, teabags, sweet treats etc. Students are invited to join even if they switch off video and audio, just to be part of the We Care community.
  • Microsoft Teams Virtual Cuppa on Christmas Day – an opportunity for students and the We Care Team to get together to celebrate and offer ongoing support.
  • We Care Virtual Cuppa between Christmas and New Year. These are held monthly, but extra sessions have been arranged during the vacation period.
  • A closed Facebook group (currently 84 members) with regular giveaways and competitions and regular posts to encourage students to engage and get to know each other.
  • Working closely with Accommodation Team, Wellbeing, Disability Services to signpost and provide fast track referrals where required.
  • Students are able to opt-in to a weekly check in with the We Care Team via phone, text, Teams or email, whichever the student prefers and for as long as they are required. This was initiated during the first lockdown, but has continued and will now be built into the longer term support offer. 
  • A ‘New Year’ socially distanced walk in early January (from the university campus to the North Sea at Roker).

See more information

The university is hosting a socially distanced Christmas lunch for care leavers, estranged students and international students remaining at university over the winter break.

The university have previously offered such a lunch but this year it was even more important to ensure the event was able to happen so that all students who remain at the university are able to access some festive cheer. The event was organised centrally but with advice from the widening participation team and student union representatives to ensure that the needs of these particular groups are met.

The university has also issued a survey to all students to determine their plans for the whole winter break. This is to enable targeted support where required. E-cards and a gift are also being sent to all care experienced students.

The university is delivering the following support for care experienced and estranged students:

  • All students have been asked to inform the university where they will spend the winter break. Those remaining on campus will receive calls from supported and briefed student-staff on behalf of the colleges throughout the winter break (including special and bank holiday days).
  • All colleges will be inviting residents remaining on campus to drop in to college stands. Here they can speak to a member of the team and receive information about what is happening on campus over the holidays and collect craft activities and goodie-packs. 
  • The university will be sending out weekly ‘keeping in touch’ emails, Facebook group posts and monthly newsletters to ensure care experienced and estranged students receive this information.
  • The university also has a new app which students can download to find out about events.
  • A Christmas stockings project, this year raising over £6,500 to buy hampers for students full of Christmas joy along with a card signed by the Vice-Chancellor. See more information 
  • Food hampers to any students who are staying in York and would like them. See details
  • A dedicated contact is running (virtual) social events for care experienced and estranged students in the run up to Christmas
  • Weekly online coffee and chat sessions for independent students have been offered since the beginning of term and will continue throughout most of the break.
  • End of term online murder mystery social event.
  • An online Christmas party during the Christmas week to include charades, a quiz and Pictionary. Students will receive a takeaway voucher via email to enable everyone to eat together.

The Home Comforts project has been developed by the network and piloted at the University of Sussex.

The project links current university students with local foster families, working collaboratively with leaving care teams, universities and fostering teams.

Support includes shopping deliveries during isolation periods, socially distanced walks and chats, phone conversations, and cards and letters sent to mark special occasions.

There are plans to maintain this contact, and to continue outdoor meets/walks over the festive period.

Published 16 December 2020

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